What your cubicle says about you
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Your colleagues and you may sit in the same office, with the same overall decor, but if you reflect for a moment, every cubicle in your office is really quite different. You only have to peek into a few cubicles, or cast your eye over a few worktables, to realize that this difference can be vast. However, a few clear patterns do emerge—some cubicles are neat and tidy, and some others in a state of eternal tumult. Some workspaces are particularly nice and warm, others cold and clinical.
We believe that office-goers like ourselves can actually be segmented into various types, based on a study of our cubicles. This can help address the needs of each segment with greater care. Our human resources teams should undertake insightful studies such as this. But because they don’t, we bring you a primer on Workspace Inspired Segmentation of Employees (which folds into a nice acronym, WISE). Here are some important WISE segments.
The extremely minimalist cubicle is very neat and clean, with not a single paper on the table, the softboards rather bare, and absolutely nothing out of place. In fact, you may mistake this cabin for one that is unoccupied, until you see a colleague actually sitting there. Note carefully how rapidly this colleague deals with papers that reach him or her, writing something on each of them immediately, and then despatching them off the table with great speed. If you leave anything behind in these cubicles, even with good intent, you will never see it again, because your colleague is bound to dispose it off immediately. I suspect some of these extremely minimalist people are afflicted with obsessive compulsive behaviour, but to their genuine credit, they also reduce the workload of the office cleaning staff. A final point. This segment of meticulous managers has become extremely rare, so there should be an office guideline protecting them before they become extinct.
The happy mountaineer firmly believes in mountains of paper everywhere. You will see huge piles of paper and documents on his table, on the side racks, often on the floors as well. These mountains climb higher with the passage of time. You may think this person will never find a required paper within this hilly mess, but this is precisely where you would be totally mistaken—because many happy mountaineers know exactly which pile of paper contains a particular document, and they will dive right in with great accuracy. Unfortunately, this knowledge is confined only to the occupant of the cubicle, and should you want to find something in his or her absence, banish the thought because that is virtually impossible. Once in a few years, the happy mountaineer will attempt a grand cleaning up, and during this operation, the office will resemble a combination of an earthquake-stricken area and a battlefield. During such moments, please leave the happy mountaineer alone.
Family and friends
The “family and friends” person is determined to demonstrate to everyone in office his or her expansive and impressive personal network. This cubicle is, therefore, marked by warm and fuzzy photographs of the spouse and self, children, parents, sometimes even grandparents, and occasionally the parents-in-law as well. Then on the softboards you will find photographs and picture postcards of friends and self on holidays to Europe or Japan, treks in some other exotic land, people smiling at the camera in the midst of fancy restaurant meals, or holding big frothy pitchers of beer at a bar—you get the picture. Even the coffee mug used here may have a family or friends’ picture printed on it. You may be left wondering whether this is a cubicle or a memorabilia store, but as long as your colleague feels at home in this family environment, and does his or her work brilliantly, well, this is all to good effect.
The great achiever’s cubicle or office is unmistakably glorious. To begin with, there is a line-up of awards or trophies that the person has won over the years, all polished and shining. Then there are certificates that line the walls or softboards—rows of certificates that reveal the remarkable extent and scale of achievement in so many diverse spheres. These could be certificates from universities, industry bodies, bosses, executive education programmes, sales conferences and so forth. Don’t go too close to read them, because they are meant to generally impress at a distance, and may even contain a couple of certificates from high-school painting contests.
Finally, there are photographs that show the great achiever receiving various awards from celebrities and public figures, as indisputable proof of the wonderful achievements on display. Nothing pleases the Great Achiever more than yet another award or certificate to line his walls, which is an insight the organization can usefully bear in mind.
The intellectual’s workspace is, first and foremost, marked by an impressive line-up of books. You will find here books on management, economics, history, accounting, finance, law, biographies—not to mention arcane fields like archaeology or quantum physics, which also occasionally make an appearance, to remind you of the high intellectual orbit which this manager operates in. These books will take the average person many lifetimes to read, but the intellectual manager has, of course, read all of them. If the books look new and unopened, don’t mention this, because such a comment can have detrimental consequences for your relationship with this sort of manager. These offices also feature picture frames that contain intelligent quotations from the likes of Adam Smith, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Emmanuel Kant and some names you may never have heard. Gaze at them with awe, enter and leave such offices silently and most respectfully.
This is not a comprehensive list. If you know of any other interesting WISE segments, do write in to us.
Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. His new book is titled The Curious Marketer. He belongs to the WISE eaters’ segment, and so his office desk always contains a few packs of healthy dark chocolates, almonds and walnuts.