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Madeleine Begun Kane,
Humor Columnist,

Madeleine Begun Kane


In these cost-cutting days, you don't have to be outplaced to be downsized. Workspace Squeeze has invaded the workplace, victimizing almost everyone who still has a job.

The Squeeze often attacks suddenly, usually overnight. One day, you arrive at work in your customary caffeine-deprived haze. Something seems different, but you aren't quite awake enough to figure out what it is. Three cups of coffee later, it hits you -- an office-mate has invaded your space.

"This is inhuman," you say. Well, yes ... especially if your new roomie's a copying machine.

You'll be tempted to sprint over to Human Resources to protest your fate. But before you do, consider what happened to the fellow in marketing who dared to complain about his 20% pay cut. Or that gal in accounting who had the gall to bitch just because her spreadsheet software was repossessed.

Complaining about almost anything can be risky business. Even if you keep your job, you'll probably forfeit your door.

Of course, if you're already a member of the cubicle crowd, you don't have a door to lose. And while you may also be subject to a roommate onslaught, you're more likely to suffer the indignity known as the Incredible Shrinking Cubicle.

One morning you stagger through your doorless opening and collapse into your lumbar support-less chair. It takes only seconds for you to survey your grim, gray "It's Barely A Cubicle" model. The kind with walls so squat, you can peer over them without standing up and catch your neighbor doing something repulsive.

You stare, as you always do, at that naked entryway, feeling a wave of door-envy overtake you. Suddenly you notice something's amiss. Claustrophobia engulfs you, but you don't know why. Then it dawns on you. Last evening, during the painfully brief interval between going home to bed and returning in the morning, some brawny gremlins have repositioned your walls.

If you're not already in this situation it's only a matter of time. Why am I so sure? Because employers are always looking for new ways to save cash. And because many are starting to suspect that their telecommuting staff is in bed watching Oprah naked (the staff, not Oprah) instead of doing actual work.

How can bosses keep an eye on employees and still manage to hold real estate costs down? By creating an onsite workforce of stressed-out sardines.

Such a strategy isn't arrived at lightly; reallocating resources takes tremendous thought and planning. ("If each middle manager loses four square inches and the riffraff each loses nine, I can quadruple my bonus.")

Someday, perhaps, it may dawn on Corporate America that hearing your neighbor scratch himself and drool while you design sensitive software, negotiate a billion dollar deal, try to translate a privacy policy, or do anything else that requires actual thought; may tend to impair productivity.

But until that happy moment arrives, here's some advice for the office-space-challenged:

  • If your roommate or neighbor is too loud, out-shout him. Let him endanger his job by demanding a quieter berth.

  • If a copying machine suddenly takes over your office-space, construct a permanent "out of order" sign. But be considerate; post clear directions to a copier that works.

  • Finally, work weekends whenever possible and make sure everybody knows about it. That way no one will be suspicious when you show up one Sunday with a burly crew ... to help you relocate your walls.

© Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
1st Published Bridge News

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