Geek It Happened to Me Work

Working in the Kitchen

01 ms ottawa officeMicrosoft Ottawa’s Kitchen. It has a decent view.

Every Microsoft office has a “touchdown area”, a place filled with cubicles where visiting or mobile workers can work. I avoid these like the plague.

Thanks to all the work I’ve done in cafes or coworking spaces, I prefer to set up in Microsoft’s “kitchen” spaces. The wifi is just as accessible there, but the lighting is natural, the tables are larger. the fridge with all the free Diet Coke is nearby by and it doesn’t feel so boxed in. Unlike cafes, you can leave your stuff at the table when you go for a bathroom break.

So, when I hung out in Microsoft’s Ottawa offices on Friday while waiting for my coworker and travelling buddy Damir to finish his meeting, I eschewed the touchdown cubicle and set up shop in the kitchen. These photos show what my “office” looked like, and believe me, it’s a lot nicer than a veal-fattening pen-like cube.

02 ms ottawa office

A lot of office workers might balk at the idea of working in a kitchen space, but consider this: people have been working in kitchens for millennia. Its centralized  placement in homes and workplaces as well as its layout and design are the product of countless generations doing work that sustains life.

On the other hand, the modern office has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. Its design is based on the concept of employee as interchangeable production unit and the hypothesis that people are naturally lazy and must be coerced into being productive.

Hence in the absence of a workshop-like environment (such as the Hacklab, where I often work), I opt for the kitchen.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


“Cubical” vs. “Cubicle”

I’ve seen too many misuses of the word cubical in the past couple of days, so I thought I’d post this quick guide.

A cubicle is the office workspace created in by a system of dividing walls, such as the one below:

An office cubicle with a computer, a phone and little else.

The cubicle system evolved from Herman Miller’s Action Office, a system for open-plan offices designed by Robert Propst. Propst wanted to design a system that boosted productivity; it was never his intention to build something whose primary purpose was to pack as many workers as possible into as little space as possible. He is said to have denounced the cubicle systems inspired by Action Office as “monolithic insanity”.

Cubical means “shaped like a cube” or “having the qualities of a cube”, such as the Borg ship in the photo below:

A Borg cube, as seen from the main screen on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Perhaps the confusion between the two words arises because both cubicles and the cubical Borg ship are designed to house interchangeable drones who work in the service of a hive mind. Remember: they don’t have “Casual Fridays” on the Borg Cube!

Guy in shorts and golf shirt in a Borg chamber at "Star Trek: the Experience"