Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The New Doors and
The Changing Structure of the Workplace

I'm back in the classroom again for something like the 45th year (portal to portal) and just for the record I'm having a grand time--pleasant students, interesting stuff to teach or learn.  A bit of my happy face derives from the fact that this year (unlike some) the Good and Great actually assigned me an office weeks in advance, and put a nice little metal nameplate on the door.  As a recalled retiree I do get a little squirmy about my identity here, though I really shouldn't take it personally: we (!) have been convulsed in a major expansion-remodeling for longer than anyone wants to remember and even some of the mainstays have found themselves at times living in trees.

The new office is okay and in truth I don't spend a lot of time here, but I notice one intriguing wrinkle: automatic-closing doors.   Yes: unless you direct otherwise, the door suavely swings shut behind you, whether you are in or out.  And "direct otherwise" pretty much means scaring up a wedge and kicking it into place.   And unless you remember to set the latch, the unwedged door will lock behind you, meaning you have to go down the hall to the library desk to borrow a key, or (if you are inside) to get up and cross the room whenever (rarely) anybody knocks.

Perhaps you can see where this is going.  I do notice that most of my (!) colleagues work with their doors closed.  And it wasn't always this way.  In the old days, most people worked with their doors open.  And yes, people popped in and out all the time.  My goodbuddies were (a) next door (b) across the hall and (b) two doors down.  If you learn by gossip, we must have been some of the best learners around.

These days as I say, most of the doors are closed.  But  it's not just the doors: back when dinosaurs strode the earth, there was a regular morning coffee klatsch and a group that assembled regularly for lunch.  I sometimes found them boring or tiresome, but I was pretty much as a regular at the former, if not the latter.  I seem to remember there was even a ladies' auxiliary although I think that faded fairly early.

This is probably beginning to sound like a whine but I don't really mean it that way. Times change, people change, big deal.  But they do change--and really, doors are probably just an incident: there are all kinds of forces that impel us (them?)  to more atomization. Example, in the digital age it is so much easier to work at home (or the coffee shop: I, a serious coffee shop maven, see two of my colleagues down there much more often than I do in the building).   Perhaps more important, our (their?) career advancement, even their job security, probably depends more on people on the other end of the Skype hookup than it does with anybody in the building.

As I write, I can see that whatever I'm saying has to do with much more than the law school, or even the university.  It's certainly true of (what I hear about) law firms, and progressively more true of corporate life in general.  Corporations used to make stuff; these days, as one of my colleagues likes to say, they are just loci of the intellectual property rights.  Or networks of hustlers entrepreneurs.

And?  And?  DamifIknow.  I must go talk this over with somebody.  Unfortunately, his door is closed.  Or, if he was hired in the last ten years, he'd probably have me shot for a burglar.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

Once all the doors are closed, your are divided. Once you are divided, you are more easily conquered.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank