I’ve worked at the same organization for longer than many readers of this post have been alive. As a seasoned employee, I’ve come to take various creature comforts for granted, such as onsite parking, a boat load of vacation time, and an office. Due to some staffing changes as well as a new, young executive with visions of Google, I was recently moved to an open workspace I fondly refer to as “The Pit.”
An open workspace reminds me of the great open classroom experiment I lived through in the 70’s. Some genius educators determined that tearing down the classroom walls and creating an open and loud space made sense. While in Social Studies class, I could hear the math instruction going on to my right, as well as the vocabulary being studied to my left. I blame the open classroom concept on my complete inability to understand certain basic 5th and 6th grade concepts such as Roman numerals, Greek mythology and, well, math. About two years into the experiment, someone, probably older and wiser, decided it was time to put the walls back up and create an environment more conducive to learning.
Fast forward a few decades and I’m living the same experiment at my place of work. There are no actual cubicles in The Pit, but instead several rows of desks, awkwardly facing opposite rows of desks. I don’t even have a wall on which to place a calendar to count down the days until retirement. It seems as though no thought was given to specific work function when this space was put together. Certain creative staff members in our division are required to work collaboratively. Others are crunching numbers and require library silence. What results is a large, awkward workspace filled with the chicka chicka sounds of a lot of keyboards, interspersed with an occasional creative burst, and sprinkled on Friday afternoons with a lot of boisterous socialization. (So much so that I often wonder if there is alcohol involved, but when I turn around to check, there is no actual evidence.)
I have conquered this with headphones and a great Pandora station; however, as a woman of a certain age, I am concerned about emitting bodily noises and not being aware enough to cover them up with a well-timed cough. I am also weary of eating at my desk. I don’t want to offend co-workers with offensive food odors.
Unfortunately, my coworkers do not feel the same way. A certain young lady who sits in very close proximity has a hard boiled egg just about every day. I like hard boiled eggs, but on my own terms. (The same young lady has never once blessed me when I sneeze. I find this to be a surprising breach of etiquette. I have never once failed to bless her uncovered sneezes, which are frequent and expressive.)
This week, I became aware of a terrible body aroma. Concerned that it was coming from me, I went to the ladies room to take a few sniffs. I was totally clean. All I got was a whiff of my perfume. I returned to my desk, and the smell, now making it impossible to concentrate no matter how loud I turned up my radio station. I searched behind my trash can and recycling bin, wondering if I had missed the basket and had a moldy piece of last week’s lunch back there. Nothing. But the more I lived with the odor, the more I was convinced it was feet. Smelly, smelly feet. I took a little stroll around my side of the awkward row of desks, and everyone was fully clothed. But when I asked a friend and co-worker who I knew would be walking by the opposite row of desks to check, she indeed confirmed that the egg eating, sneezing young lady across from me was working sans shoes. Talk about a toxic workplace.