Milton? What's happening. We're gonna need to go ahead and move you downstairs into storage B
November 13, 2007 8:09 AM   Subscribe

The 'Winners' of the Wired News Saddest-Cubicle Contest The winner -- if you can call it winning -- of the Wired News saddest-cubicles contest is David Gunnells, an IT guy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His desk is penned in by heavily used filing cabinets in a windowless conference room, near a poorly ventilated bathroom and a microwave. Here are some of the runners-up
posted by psmealey (51 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"Gunnells recalls a day when one co-worker reheated catfish in the microwave"
Yay! for losers.
posted by tellurian at 8:18 AM on November 13, 2007

I keep a really messy desk (not food or anything, just really disorganized), and my boss hates looking at it, so she moved me over to the far corner of the office surrounded by 3 sides of a cubicle. It's awesome, because nobody can see what I'm doing unless they actually walk around behind me.

Which is why I can post so much on metafilter all day.
posted by empath at 8:23 AM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

I once spent a Canadian winter working in an unheated server room (with only one server running) wearing fingertipless gloves debugging a spaghetti code Visual Basic app. Not good times.

I wonder how the companies mentioned will enjoy their new found infamy?
posted by srboisvert at 8:24 AM on November 13, 2007

How did the guy who has to work in a shipping container NOT win?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't really understand why 11 is included, but 10 certainly resonates.
posted by Peter H at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2007

This reference might date me (or worse), but the "winner" looks like Rob Malda.
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2007

At first I thought the shipping container cubicle was really sad and probably in violation of either an OSHA or Geneva Convention regulation, but then I thought heck, if it worked for Hiro Protagonist...
posted by Spatch at 8:29 AM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I could've totally made this list. Right now I'm typing in a cubicle that sticks out halfway into the heavily used hallway leading to the bathroom and the elevator bank. I have zero natural light, and my monitor (17" CRT, with low resolution, so the refresh rate doesn't kill me), angled in such a way where I have the tiniest modicum of privacy, while completely sacrificing comfortability. I started two weeks ago, and the office manager stopped by last week to let me know that I should lock up my stuff, because "things tend to walk away from this cube". The cube walls are a depressing gray that I think offsets the depressing burnt orange of the surrounding walls. I feel like a winner.
posted by Mach5 at 8:30 AM on November 13, 2007 [6 favorites]

Mach5 - pics please.
posted by empath at 8:39 AM on November 13, 2007

"Not only are these cubes small and cramped, but none has any natural light. When we have telemarketing nightmares, this is what we see."

One: there's natural light coming in from the right in that picture. I work in a basement, dammit: no natural light means no windows, not "no window in front of your desk".

Two: I've seen and worked at shitty little halfcube rowhouses like that. It sucks, but it's a pretty solid way to get a lot of folks into one place and so call centers will use them when the work doesn't require a lot of room to move or ancillary material. Add August heat and a broken air conditioner to the mix if you want to talk sad.

Uphill, both ways, through the snow. Feh.
posted by cortex at 8:41 AM on November 13, 2007

My old desk at the CBC was no day at the beach. It was underground, so there was no natural light. I shared a cubicle with another unlucky drone, so there was no privacy. Everyone sat in their own sad little space with headphones on all day because it was the radio archive department, so there was practically no talking (which was both a good thing and a bad thing).

I also had a job at UofT's Hart House where my "office" consisted of a former storage closet until they took pity on me and moved me into the middle of a room between two other people.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:41 AM on November 13, 2007

Milton? What's happening. We're gonna need to go ahead and move you downstairs into storage B

Love that movie, Office Space.

Fun post. is not a workable substitute for not having any privacy.
posted by nickyskye at 8:41 AM on November 13, 2007

I used to have a desk made out of two kitchen cabinets and a piece of old counter top, not even close to ergonomic height. It was in a eight foot wide hallway of an old lab.

The worst part was that the tile floor had a drain right where i had to roll my chair around, so I'd get stuck in the grating often. And of course the sewer gases would come up from time to time.
posted by Exad at 8:43 AM on November 13, 2007

I used to have a cube where the men's and women's bathroom doors opened up right into it. I have no sympathy for your lack of light.
posted by Big_B at 8:46 AM on November 13, 2007

posted by Big_B at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2007

A graffitto in my college radio station asserted, "nobody wins in fart wars." I think the same sentiment applies here.
posted by oats at 8:49 AM on November 13, 2007

I work in a basement, dammit: no natural light means no windows, not "no window in front of your desk".

Same here. It also means temperatures low enough that when I leave work in the summer and the inside of my car is 120°, I sigh with relief at finally being warm.
posted by DU at 8:51 AM on November 13, 2007


Veal Fattening Pen
posted by psmealey at 8:53 AM on November 13, 2007

A little cheese with this whine...? sheesh
posted by HuronBob at 8:54 AM on November 13, 2007

Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays.
posted by psmealey at 8:56 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Depressing. It is even worse if you look at the beautifully turned, molded, forged, carved, & designed office's of long ago.
posted by JBennett at 8:56 AM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have pics, but they are on my camera at home, I'll post em when (if) I get home. I forgot to mention:
- No cellphone reception, as I'm close to the core of the building
- Door that slams
- Chair with a whole 1/4 of padding
- Everyone looks at me when they walk in or out
I'm normally not one to complain, but I can only take so much!

I think what made it worse was the MAJOR step down I took in cube awesomeness. This was the view from my old cube, the window was my back wall of the cube. Yes, thats the statue of liberty, and ellis island.
posted by Mach5 at 8:57 AM on November 13, 2007

Mach5 that is simply horrible. How could employers do this to a work force they supposedly depend on? And. Why would anyone tolerate this? Are jobs this scarce or pay that good?

Man. I am out of touch. I guess I treat my employees far too well. Damn. I could save some serious cash and have them work in a rent-a-shed.

I had my share of terrible jobs and awful work environments but not when hired as a supposed valuable trained professional in the corporate environment. Why the hell don't they have the employees work from home if space is such an issue. Jebus. It would be cheaper for everybody.

This kind of indignity is inexcusable. Shame on these companies.
posted by tkchrist at 9:08 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've found that most businesses fall into two distinct categories when it comes to their accomodations:

1) The Taj Mahal. Where the business owners are so convinced of their impending success and greatness that they spare no expense to outfit the home office in a manner befitting the soon-to-be industry juggernaut that they are. The plush cubes remain 1/4 occupied due to several rounds of right-sizing due to cash-flow issues.
2) The workhouse. You're paid to fucking work, not act like you're at a day spa! Don't fucking like your closet? Fucking quit, you fucking loser! You want a fucking divider? It's coming out of your fucking check! Fucking whiners! Or so the daily pep-talk goes, phoned-in by the owner from his new S-class.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:11 AM on November 13, 2007 [6 favorites]

How did the guy who has to work in a shipping container NOT win?

That was my first thought, too. Privacy is better than being in actual cubicle, I guess, but that looks ridiculously depressing. It makes me appreciate my office much more.

I can relate to his pain during the winter - when we get any sort of cold weather, my office magically drops 20 degrees lower than the rest of the office, and my toes turn into popsicles.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 9:17 AM on November 13, 2007

Why the hell don't they have the employees work from home if space is such an issue.

Then you don't get to berate them in person, of course!
posted by aramaic at 9:19 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I really don't understand how cubicles have stayed so long as a fixture of US office life (they're pretty much unknown in the UK, nearly all offices are open-plan). Even the guy who came up with them thinks they're miserable.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:20 AM on November 13, 2007

I have a large and attractive office, in a beautiful building in Harvard Yard. A Gilbert Stuart painting hangs above my massive antique desk.

But I don't have any windows. I so should have entered this contest.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:22 AM on November 13, 2007

My immediate reaction is always "why do people put up with that crap?!" I mean, I can understand someone with poor skills and huge debts clinging desperately to a soul-destroying job in a depressing building, but anyone with valuable talents is crazy to stick around. Just leave, there are places with windows and proper desks.
posted by malevolent at 9:24 AM on November 13, 2007

I know some people who worked as contractors out of the Pentagon who would have taken the cake. They had "horse stalls" barely big enough for a laptop, sometimes shared between multiple workers, and often packed into converted utility/storage closets that had never been meant for human habitation. And, of course, everyone eats at their "desk" because there's no time to leave during a death march.

One person I used to know talked about a job where he had to keep a telephone on his lap all the time, because it didn't have any other home. When he wasn't there, it sat on his chair; when he was there, it lived on his lap.

All because some government type wanted the prestige of having a Pentagon office address.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 AM on November 13, 2007

All because some government type wanted the prestige of having a Pentagon office address.

Yeah. If there was some sort of prestige you could leverage out of suffering soul crushing indignity I could almost understand. OR. There had better be substantial cash.

Now for people just entering the job market in a given profession I think paying some dues is fine. But it's a slippery slope. Pretty soon a company figures they can treat everybody that way. And. Apparently, judging from this contest, they can.

But if your desperate for work then I would rather wait tables or do landscaping than spend 8-10 hours trapped like a rodent in some sort of inhuman shoe box that is obviously intended by the corporate masters to be a career dead end anyway.
posted by tkchrist at 9:38 AM on November 13, 2007

I guess I'm alone in slightly envying anyone who gets a cubicle at all, then? Open-plan: the work of the devil.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:43 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow. I should have posted a picture of my old office to this. It's not hell, but it was close.

(Yeah. No dividers at all. Just row after row like that. Screen hard-mounted and barely adjustable. Sure we had sunlight, but we also had people screaming over their phones while we tried to work through NT login issues.)
posted by mephron at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2007

Open-plan: the work of the devil.

God, how can people work in open-plan? I mean, cubes are bad, but open-plan is...

All the problems with cubes, with the added antibenefits of immense paranoia and no noise barriers.
posted by mephron at 9:46 AM on November 13, 2007

in germany all of these workplaces would be illegal.

but smell the freedom catfish we have here... oh boy.
posted by geos at 9:48 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The great benefit of working for nonprofits is they don't usually care if you decorate. Thus, my windowless, freezing, concrete block office deep in the bowels of a building (I am so safe when the bomb goes off! Suck it, irradiated losers!) that I share with the copy machine and the laser printer and the server and the modem and a whole lot of blue USB cable on the floor is now spongepainted white over orange, has cheerful rasterbated sunflowers mimicking windows, troll dolls and a bulletin board full of nonsense. And I am happy there.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:52 AM on November 13, 2007

For 6 years, my office was the dingy back room of a low-end grocery store. The heater was broken, and the only thing between me and the elements were steel roll doors. What do I win?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:53 AM on November 13, 2007

Maybe I'm some kind of crazy extrovert, but I love my open-plan office. I work in a 'pod' of four people, and we work away in companionable silence most of the time, or whack the headphones on if there's something that really needs a bit of concentration. My office has a fairly constant level of noise because people are on the phones to clients a lot, but overall it's light, airy and really nice.

Being walled in with beige cube walls sounds like my version of hell.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:56 AM on November 13, 2007

One company I worked for grew out of its improvised office plan -- we had started in a professional building and ended up subletting every office we could of the dentists, psychiatrists, and accountants there.

One office we checked out had stereotypical death-office misery: beige dividers, overlit flourescents to compensate for the too-far-away windows, and exposed wiring wherever the recently-vacated tenant couldn't get their phones to quite reach their desks. The executive's office at the back was only accessible through an L-bent hallway with the receptionist's desk at front. So nobody there could see the private shower with crystal fixtures, dark oak office with mirrored bar and private patio.

We ended up moving in there. To the credit of the management, the folks who ran things were housed in the windowless offices around the cube maze and the sweetly furnished suite was left empty.
posted by ardgedee at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2007

No dividers!! What a bunch of winers.
At least they're not in the rain.
At least they're not in the middle of life-threatening machinery.
At least the cubicles aren't cardboard.
posted by MtDewd at 10:07 AM on November 13, 2007

At my last place of employ, a residence, my desk chair was situated on the large, carpeted lid by which the sump pump was accessed. It would occasionally malfuntion. A great story involves the boss knocking his new Mac in there. There was a pool table in the center of the room used as a project center. The worst cubicle there was the Sales Associates: a wiring closet, I shit you not.

Of course, we also had LAN parties of the boss' son using our workstations over the weekends and his wife walking around in a bikini all the time. So the furnishings weren't really the apex of the misery.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:08 AM on November 13, 2007

And at least the winner has two monitors...
posted by Lillitatiana at 10:17 AM on November 13, 2007

The first month at my last job, they put me in a storage closet. Probably because I started out as a temp. I didn't really mind, because it was fairly spacious. Every once in awhile the head maintenance guy would come in, shuffle around uncomfortably for a minute, and then say, "So...has your boss managed to find you a permanent place yet?" I do not blame him for feeling territorial. Also, it had no natural light.
posted by granted at 10:27 AM on November 13, 2007

Did someone say open plan?

/ Jack Lemmon, "The Apartment"
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2007

On the flip side, I witnessed an office that was designed or co-designed by graphic designers.

Really nice acid washed concrete, bare wood, exposed steel beams, a free floating conference room in the middle of the area, with glass all around it, hanging above a row of 'open plan' tables.

They spent god knows how much on the massive kitchen and the large bar made from a solid trunk of a tree.

Luckily they installed AC in the server room, so they got something somewhat right.

But what got me was the video editing suites which were put into these black boxes with thick white shag carpet, a single, under powered, loud, shower vent fan for the entire room (you know, a room with a quad G5 which comes with a kilowatt power supply) and desks that were extensions of the wall, so you could not move them. You could cut video in there, but the audio would suck, and the lack of any decent airflow, coupled with the nice dust and odors accumulating the thick shag carpet, I don't know if i would want to work in that space in 2 years.

Someone should do a before and after photo series of these new modern office designs, before the employees move in, and then show up two years later on a tuesday at 11 am and start taking photos un announced, and see how they *actually* use the space.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:12 AM on November 13, 2007

I love this. My worst work setup ever was back in the late 90's. My desk was at the end of a hallway, facing a door. From my side, the door was useless because my desk in the way. From the other side, which was a hallway in an entirely different company, it was just a door. A very enticing door, because at random intervals during the day, someone would open that door, and find themselves staring me in the face. Then they would either stand there, and make some lame ass comment about my desk being in the wrong place, or they would be startled and quickly slam the door, the force of which would blow everything on my desk to the floor.

If this wasn't bad enough, I was forced to have the RealPlayer installed on my Mac workstation. Why? Because I was working at RealNetworks. I left at the first possible opportunity, for less money, and a real office. Of course any company willing to give me my own office was bound to fail.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:20 AM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

I work sitting next to one of the arch windows on the first floor of this building; my firm has the whole floor, and it's wide open, with vaulted brick ceilings, and looks and feels like a very handsome library at a place like McGill.
But there's no privacy, and clutter is very upon-frowned, and cubicle #1 here looks pretty good to me. Nice and cosy and enclosed, free to spread your stuff around and to bring in your granny's old lamp.
posted by Flashman at 11:42 AM on November 13, 2007

I had a job where we were working out of the bosses house and I had to program in his 9 year old daughter's bed room after she went to school. Lots of natural light, though. And stuffed animals and Strawberry Shortcake sheets.

However, the ahma made dumplings for lunch. Like, lots of dumplings.
posted by shothotbot at 12:44 PM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think that cubicles are like the modern-day penitentiary: a design thought to be humane in concept, but in practice, mad-making.
posted by footnote at 2:09 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Open-plan: the work of the devil.

The fluorescent green office in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) was particularly hellish, but it's depressing ambiance had nothing over 1928's The Crowd [YT clip: here's all 11 parts].

There's more big-screen employment ennui in Chasing the image: Office spaces [via scanners: blog], including another shot of The Apartment (1960) and Office Space (1999).

When it comes to sharing, though, Mr. Incredible's pillar was the best cube mate evar. Lucky, lucky Pixar.
posted by cenoxo at 6:18 PM on November 13, 2007

I totally lose this contest.
posted by bumpkin at 8:56 PM on November 13, 2007

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