Over the course of the past 15 years I’ve worked in a variety of physical environments. I’ve worked in the offices of a fashion conglomerate (think glitzy and Carrie-Parker-ish), major financial institutions (grim, serious places), factories, office parks, high-rises… you name it. Since my work is project based, I tend to work in the offices of clients more than in my own. Since 2005 I haven’t even HAD my own office. I camp out 100% of the time at clients. The settings are sometimes grim (windowless industrial lighting) and sometimes stunning (a beautiful penthouse office in the center of Buenos Aires). Much of the time they are somewhere in between.
If you work in a corporate environment, a window is considered a real perk. In cubicle farms, only the lucky worker assigned to a cubicle up against a wall of windows gets this perk – often by accident. In most office layouts, cubicle dwellers may even be the only people with a chance of a window view – many middle managers’ offices are interior offices. Promoted to the windowless office – hurrah.
At my latest client – my first in Florida – I’m lucky to have a view of trees and a boardwalk along a riverside. I’m sitting in a cube that gives me what most people would consider a solid view. It’s only a fluke of fate – I happened to start on a day when another contractor had just left, so I got the unoccupied cube. I spent most of 2008 in a windowless room, shared with dozens of other consultants and lit by fluorescent lights. The view is better, without a doubt.
But what is that view of trees worth? And what does it mean when that view is so highly prized? Does it carry a price? I have noticed in two days back in a corporate office that my back once again hurts, I started coughing from the spaceship-like recycled air and my eyes have taken on a pinkish sheen. Ever since I moved to the Northeast, I had suffered from dry skin and weak lungs. A month in Florida had fixed that, making my skin and lungs feel as good as they had in years. I thought it was the harsh climate up north, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was life amongst the cubicles.
I know it can be tiring for people who feel stuck in ‘wage world’ to hear people who’ve left corporate life drone on about the benefits of ‘going it alone.’ It’s tough to leave a corporate wage behind. Knowing you can make all that money makes stepping away from it tough. For me, so far, it’s impossible. I’m not an employee anymore, but I still dip back in from time to time for another go at the trough. But I can tell you: even though I haven’t worked in seven months, as soon as I finish my current contract I’ll take off more time. The mental and physical strains of cubicle world are stunning. You may not notice. You may be used to those strains. I was – I assumed it was normal to have a sore back, a mild but persistent cough and tired eyes all the time. I learned this year, staying at home, that this is NOT the normal way to feel.
That tree that you can gaze at all day out the window is worth a lot, but the simple fact is that the you are not looking out the window at that tree, wistfully – that tree is looking IN at you… and it feels bad for you.