10 Reasons Working in an Office is Awful(ly Awesome)

 

  
There are fewer symbols of crushing defeat more overwhelming than a dimly-lit office with uncomfortable chairs, buzzing neon lights, and lifeless drones of workers staring at you with their dead little eyes.  Offices are where dreams go to die and your ambitions of becoming a tortured writer or international starship captain wither and fade beneath budgets, reports, memos and annoying office politics. We’ve seen it before in movies and TV shows; the business office has got to be one of the worst places in the world, finishing just above Hell and being stuck listening to your girlfriend talk about how intuitive her cats are. 

But many offices drones actually find their jobs quite fulfilling, and have many positive reasons not to hate their lives – which makes sense when you think about it.  If we all had to work for Bill Lumberg or David Brent, the suicide/snarky quotes rate in this country would be astronomically high.  So before you go running off to join a commune and become one with nature, perhaps its worth considering all the reasons working in an office can be really awesome. 
 

It’s Very Hard to Self-Motivate

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
It may seem like it’d be a lot easier to get your work done, your spreadsheets formatted, your Gibson hacked each day if you didn’t have the host of difficulties that come with working from an office.  First off, you’d be saving a good hour and a half off the bat in commute time by working from home.  Plus, lunch is in the room next door, it’s cheap and likely healthier than anything else.  You don’t have to worry about meandering bosses or coworkers cornering you for pointless discussions about teamwork and pictures of their children/pets.  By telecommuting, your 8-hour day just easily became a 10 hour day! 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Some of us are so easily distracted, and when the video games are right there it’s so easy to convince ourselves just a few minutes of Battlefield 3 would really clear our heads.  Then we can get down to work.  But, you know, after that we could really use a bowl of macaroni and a fresh pot of coffee—just to steel the gut and the nerves for the day ahead.  Before you know it, it’s 3pm and you’ve got virtually no work done (but your Kill/Death rate is amazing).
 
It’s such a problem that basically any business literature on the subject of allowing workers to telecommute begins with the same phrase: “Make sure they are good self-motivators.”  If we’re surrounded by work and people working, we will work more.  If we are surrounded by video games, junk food and porn that’s just a click away, we will not.  While it may be better for your short-term fulfillment to work from home, working in an office can be very beneficial to your long-term prospects. 

You’re Surrounded by Capable People and Their Ideas

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
We’ve all worked under the boss who seemed to have no idea what the team was working on, nor did he or she particularly care, as long as they could pat everyone on the head and go back to playing Farmville.  And we’ve all been stuck on that team full of people who refuse to carry their weight and seem intent on coasting to a partner position. 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
Despite the fact that you many us think many of your coworkers are borderline incompetent and your boss couldn’t tell a spreadsheet from a crossword, any office you work at has employed a group of people who are at least halfway decent at their jobs.  Even if your coworkers are less intelligent and capable than you, they can still offer valuable insights and perspectives on problems you might never have considered—not to mention the back-and-forth that results from this kind of interaction. 
“So what?” you may say.  Why can’t you work from home and just hold regular conference calls to bat around ideas?  You’re falling prey to what can playfully be dubbed The Shower Fallacy.  Even though we all think that our best ideas come when we’re intensely thinking about a problem, the truth is, some of the best insights come when your mind is left free to wander, making free-form connections that it might not have made when trapped in the cage of “How do we increase productivity 5%?”.   

In other words, sometimes the best brainstorming sessions come during those periods where you aren’t brainstorming—over lunch, during a casual conversation, or when you’re taking a shower.  If your only interaction with coworkers — or more generally people in your field — is during preset meetings rather than over the multitude of interactions an office produces, odds are you aren’t getting the best input.  But speaking of free time… 

A Reasonable Commute Can be Beneficial

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
One of the pleasures of not working in an office is the lack of commute (assuming you work from home).  Honestly, who misses the long drives, the endless traffic, the death-defying balancing act of coffee, McMuffin and makeup?  It’s easy to look at the average of 46 minutes spent getting to and from work as dead weight loss — it’s time you could spend on yourself if you were free, and time you could be working if you were at the office. 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
But a short commute that doesn’t suck up too much time—and especially if it’s on public transit so you don’t have to focus on the road—can actually be something of a boon.  Similar to how your best ideas come in the shower, a short commute takes you away from all distractions, and plops you down in an environment where you’re free to think about what you like, but because you’re just about to work your thoughts tend to orbit around work topics like a solar system.  It’s a time to psyche yourself up for the day ahead, to put your priorities in order, to put that final flourish on that key presentation.  Without it, you could be jumping in to an Iron Man competition without bothering to stretch. 

Free Stuff

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
Enough high-minded musings about proper states of mind and office synergy; let’s start talking about things that get us through the day-to-day.  One of the unfortunate things about working in an office is that it’s not your home.  If you spill coffee on your shirt, congratulations! Now you’ll be mocked for that all day long.  Forget to pack a lunch?  Guess you’re spending a good $8.99 on a decent sandwich.  Want to do something after work?  Guess you gotta go home and change into shoes that don’t make your feet bleed. 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
While you may not have access to all your awesome stuff and the awesome things, you do have access to a lot of stuff designed to make your life easier.  And the best part is that someone else is paying for it.  Let’s add up the free coffee, free meals, free toys — and if you’re lucky—free car, free travel, free access to proprietary databases and software, free photocopies you can use to promote your band.  All of these things can add up to huge savings in the long run (especially if you really like office Nerf wars). 

You Aren’t as Trapped as You Once Were

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
One of the most universally-agreed upon bad things about working in an office is an inability to take a 15 minute nap at 2:30.  Anyone who’s snuck off to the break room and furtively napped for a few minutes can attest to how even a short nap can reinvigorate you and help you get through till 5.  On top of that, a full 40 hours of each week (at the very least) are required to be spent in an office—taking valuable hours away from hanging out with friends and generally faffing about watching Futurama reruns.  No matter how much work you do or don’t have, you aren’t the one who sets your schedule.  The most efficient worker still can’t leave before 5pm without getting suspicious looks. 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
However, it turns out that employers are wising up to the benefits of balancing the benefits of office time with a freedom and flexibility that allows employees not to feel trapped.  Especially in offices filled with younger people, the new key words are flexible hours and telecommuting.  Hell, Google even has specialized sleep pods that allow employees to nod off during the day if they feel the need.  Which brings us to our next point… 

Some Offices are Awesome

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
Dull gray cubicles.  Flickering, buzzing, harsh fluorescent lights. Beige and khaki as far as the eye can see.  It’s hard to imagine a more aesthetically devoid environment than the typical depiction of the American office.  It seems specifically designed to destroy all potential thoughts of escape, to dull the mind and make each worker a mindless drone concerned about little more than performing their assigned tasks.  

Why it’s Not That Bad:
At least that’s how offices used to be.  Now some of the offices of leading world companies look more like playgrounds or art exhibits than places of business.  Google Zurich is famous for having all sorts of amenities, including a freaking slide.  The offices of Selgas Cano in Madrid look like a straight-up accident.  The offices of Twitter are sleek, relaxed, and definitely eye-pleasing.  Perhaps taking the cake, however, is the offices of Swedish ISP Bahnhofs.  Dubbed “The White Mountain“, these offices are located in a former nuclear bunker, and look like some sort of Bond villain volcanic lair. 
 

Even If Your Office Isn’t Awesome, It May Be Soon

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
“PFFT!”, you say. Your office is still a festering cesspool of drab late 70s functionality.  There are almost no bright colors beyond Pam’s “wacky” scarves and Tim’s off the wall ties.  Everyone is still assigned to a cubicle and executives sit high and mighty in their private offices.  None of them care if you’re happy, energetic or feeling fulfilled, all they care about is whether you do your job well.  Clearly your office sucks—and so do most you’ve worked at during your employment as a certified accountant of boring.   

Why it’s Not That Bad:
The trend toward more open, collaborative offices that foster cooperation and good feelings is nigh-inexorable by this point.  And as stodgy as you may think your boss is, he or she is in business to make money.  When they begin seeing the clear benefits a few abstract paintings and open workspaces provide, remodeling will be a no-brainer.  If your office is a depressing place to be right now, just give it a few years and soon you might not have slides, but it will at least feel more like The Office and less like Prison Break. 
 

Once You Leave, Work is Over

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
So you’re trapped in the office for 8 hours a day.  That’s 8 hours without your TV, video games, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, or dog.  Eight unforgiving hours stuck only with people who are either telling you what to do, competing with you or demanding that you pull your weight on the team.  Theoretically, it would be much nicer to work from home, or I don’t know, be a paleontologist and spend months in the Gobi desert excavating Velociraptors.   

Why it’s Not That Bad:
However, one of the nicest things about having a physical office to go to in the morning, is having a physical office to leave at night.  Despite the advent of the always-on Blackberry, there is still something of an unwritten rule that once you leave the office in the evening, work is done for the day.  And before you say this tradition is dead, recently a Scottish law made it illegal for employers to contact employees after work hours.  Even if you are a high-powered consultant or whatnot, being away from the office means that if someone wants to call you in, they have to weigh the cost/benefit of the time and hassle that it will take versus doing it themselves. 
 
Working from home means that work is always around you and can easily bleed into the hours you had previously set aside for that Twilight Zone marathon. 

Good Social Environment

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
We all have terrible boss and coworker stories.  It’s a venerable tradition at every American dinner party to host the bi-monthly “Who has the worst story about their boss or creepy coworker?” competition.  We don’t choose the people we are forced to work with, and sometimes it seems that we often tolerate them with what might charitably be described as “livable hatred”.  Getting along with them is part of our job description, so we do it.  But we’re not happy about it. 

Why it’s Not That Bad:
Except we are.  Studies show that the vast majority of Americans actually like their coworkers, and furthermore the office is one of our chief sources of social hook-ups.  This may seem counter-intuitive after watching an episode of The Office, but when you ignore how those few massive assholes distort your perception, odds are you’ve made more friends than enemies in your professional life.  You’d have to, otherwise both your rolodex and your long-term professional prospects would be precisely nil.   

It’s Not Hard Manual Labor

 

 

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Why the Office is Awful:
The movie Office Space ends with the offices of IniTech burning to the ground and Ron Livingston picking up a shovel to help with the clean up (if you needed spoiler alerts for that, welcome to 2012, it’s been 10 years since anyone has spoiler-alerted that movie).  Working with his hands, he seems refreshed and free from the hypocritical mendacity of the modern office.  There’s something simple and freeing about working with your hands, breaking a sweat and feeling tired and exhausted at the end of the day.  In contrast to sitting on your ass, doing nothing but marching inexorably toward obesity and type 1 diabetes, moving numbers around on a screen.   

Why it’s Not That Bad:
The problem is, the pastoral idea of manual labor is a modern invention of a society where we all have the luxury of sitting down all day.  Or, more precisely, not working in stressful physical environments that put us on a short path to chronic pain, arthritis, and disability.  And unlike office work, any investment in your manual productivity is inevitably going to give diminishing returns because of this finicky thing known as mortality. 

Of course it’s easy to say “Well at least you aren’t working in a coal mine and keeling over dead at age 35 from the black lung” when someone complains about formatting spreadsheets for the millionth time, but next time you’re hating your job it might help to have a little bit of perspective. 

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