The Unhealthy Office Life

You might know that I returned to a position that requires me to be in the office each day about two months ago. I’ve been fairly focused on my running and overall health for the past year up to making this change, so I’d like to reflect upon why I think the office is intrinsically unhealthy and built that way from almost every angle.

Let’s start with my office hours, 8-5. Eight in the morning is almost entirely inconvenient from a running perspective in that starting longer mid-week runs closer to 4am severely affects my sleep cycle. I’m finding it very difficult to keep the momentum of this schedule. Oddly, I have far fewer issues with a 5am start. Beginning at 9am would solve this issue almost entirely and leads me into my second point…

Providing me one hour of lunch puts me in the difficult position of trying to do something productive with that hour. I don’t need an hour to eat (more on that later), and the “assigned” lunch hour is quite disruptive to the natural flow of my day. I’ve tried just working straight through this hour. I’ve certainly run errands just to get them done, but I’m by the end of the week, I’m struggling to find something to fill this gap of time with something worthwhile.

Which leads me to how others use this time. I’ve done lunches with other team members. It normally leads to overeating things I normally wouldn’t or at the very least, just overeating period. I have become accustomed to picking at small portions of healthy snacks almost all morning, eating perhaps a sandwich or salad over lunch and then continuing to graze through the afternoon, although it does begin to taper off as the day gets later. I have never seen anyone else eat at their desk, let alone snack. I will continue to do so, but I am oddly aware that I’m the only one doing this throughout the day and it is a little bit awkward.

At this point, I am quite sure that Chinese buffet lunches across the street are killing my teammates softly.

Then we get to the pop machine. For all intensive purposes, I’ve given up pop entirely, and it was so very difficult. I detest the temptation to fall back into this trap. Now there is a few slots of Gatorade available, but everything else is not something I want to make a habit out of. I try hard to bring my own food and drinks, but on a day where I find myself stuck, I revert to green tea or coffee. I just wish I had more choice.

Yes, I did have to go out and buy a gigantic bag to shuffle all of my stuff back and forth. Yes it can hold two laptops. This was part of my requirements.

Now we’ve not gotten to the ergonomics of the desks and chairs of course, and well, let’s just say my chair is a $20 special from some fly by night factory warehouse sale and not winning any design awards any time soon. I see other nicer chairs around the office, but apparently I have to hit a certain pay grade before my backside becomes worthy of a proper seat.

I’m quite fond of the Ikea Galant wrap around desk. For $300 or so, it is massive and ergonomically perfect for me. I can push my monitor back and get some space between me and the screen. It is infinitely adjustable and looks okay in just about any environment. Instead I have a quite elaborate cube that makes no sense to me. It is laid out opposite-handed from what I think is natural, and the actual desk space is never quite deep enough. I have 89 cabinets and drawers, with little or nothing to actually put in them. I quite sure that the cube is an order of magnitude more expensive than the Galant and an order of magnitude less productive as well.

I can’t see coworkers. I can’t easily collaborate on things. Conference rooms are routinely overbooked. I’d be very well off financially if I bought conference room space and leased it out to the highest bidder.

I have an awkward laptop docking station that basically renders the laptop useless and makes me feel at-desktop-home. I set my big, honking IP phone on top. I wonder why we don’t just use Skype, Lync or some computer based IP solution and avoid the hassle of the phone altogether. I wonder if I should start working in the break room, because at least there is a lot of natural light there.

Remember the two laptop thing? Yeah, the corporate junker is not my style. When it was presented to me, I admit that I briefly entertained finding the nearest exit. It probably doesn’t have the horsepower to run an IP phone application, but it does have a camera that I don’t think anyone ever uses. It does have insane battery life however.

Anyway, all of this led me to wonder who makes these decisions on how an office should be laid out or what people want in an office environment? I read about how 37 signals lays out their office space and then witness the ensuing arguments that break out on Hacker News about how an open office space works/doesn’t work.

More fundamental than that are working hours, how people schedule their eating and what they actually have available to eat. What do they work with? What do they work on? Upon what do they sit?

Does anyone seriously consider these things? Is it easier to just follow the status quo? If there is a conventional wisdom here, who is it benefiting?

Wouldn’t companies benefit from healthy and happier employees? Isn’t being healthy and happy a faster track to productivity and creativity?