Lessons in cubism

Given a choice between working in walled office or a cubicle, most people would be pick the office. So, when Community Living British Columbia announced it would be moving many employees out of their offices and into an open space environment, at least three staffers tried to convince their boss to reverse that decision. On March 10, 2006, one employee in Nanaimo emailed community living chief executive officer Rick Mowles to express her concern with that announcement - part of an open space office initiative to make authority workplaces more "welcoming" for the developmentally disabled.

She noted that, before cubicle inventor Robert Propst died, he "renounced his idea because of the damage it has caused to personnel working under these conditions." In fact, she and a colleague also found several Websites "which talk about the brain actually being physically altered by being compelled to work in a cubicle."

"We would appreciate your comments (even though we DO understand, from when you met with our team, that you do not enjoy receiving emails [Smile!])," the employee concluded.

But her manager Mark Christie had different worries. In a separate email to Mowles - which was also obtained via a freedom of information request - Mr. Christie wrote "the issue in this office is not so much that Cubicles are a bad idea if we were starting out with a new building, but in an existing building that has the correct number of offices the expense and time/work of removing the walls to put up cubicles doesn't make much sense."

And what was Mr. Mowles response to the employee? "The critical issue to keep in mind is the focus of the new [work] model [at the authority] is about working outside in the community (families, individuals, agencies and community development), not sitting in offices or cubicles," he wrote. Although he promised to meet with staff to discuss the issue.

In an email, communication director Sally Greenwood stated, in the end, the Nanaimo quality service office wasn't renovated - although, like other community living workplaces, it will be if and when its lease is renewed. Two of the authority's seven quality service offices have moved to an open space environment.



CLBC went to enormous expense to do the same thing despite similar opposition in other offices - North Van, for example.

Does Rick Mowles really believe it's "welcoming" to have to discuss one's intimate personal/family crises in front of a whole office, with no privacy! [I guess that question is actually asked and answered, since CLBC just had to apologise and promise to stop posting such information in the media and online when advertising caregiver jobs.]

It's also a bizarre spending priority when you have over 3,000 adults on waitlists along with no one knows how many thousands of children and youth denied vital services because of underfunding.

Yet another depressing example of the skewed priorities that guide the endless bureaucratic restructuring -- structure first, people last!

Some people just love to change things, unfortunaty some of thiose people are managers. Puts their stamp on things so to speak. To hell with the expense it will be done my way. When they leave a new peroncomes in and changes it back to basically where it was before. The clients? Oh do e have clients with problems? Never knew that.

Open landscaping or cublicles are the prefered design for bureaucratic offices, whether in government or business, because it prevents employees from being able to maintain a level of privacy or self-respect consistent with being identified as professional or even semi-professional staff.

I agree Budd. The loss of privacy makes it a lot more difficult to surf the 'net too. Darn those cubicles.

Well Kevin, it's of course a free world and anyone's perfectly entitled to believe that the risk of some social worker Web surfing is more important than the humiliation facing a disabled adult who has to discuss in public the implications of not getting adult diapers because of funding cuts. (Funding cuts, by the way, which might not have been as severe if CLBC hadn't blown the limited budget on tearing down perfectly serviceable offices in the first place to build cubicles.)

If CLBC's big problem is staff abuse of Web access, there are nanny programs to control that, but I hardly think that's the issue here.

I'm confident most people would find that a pretty strange priority for an organization whose grand restructuring plan is about 5 years overdue and still many years from being achieved, with an "innovative" new governance/service model that's a disaster, staff morale through the basement, thousands of clients on endless waitlists and basically being forced to admit that it's unable to meet its core mandate due to underfunding.

Yup, any good leader in such a context would spend all day patrolling the cubicles and keeping the old eagle eye on those computer screens!

"The critical issue to keep in mind is the focus of the new [work] model [at the authority] is about working outside in the community (families, individuals, agencies and community development), not sitting in offices or cubicles,"

This raises some questions:

How many CLBC clients can a Social Worker visit in a day, month, year? How about the large number of CLBC clients that don't want the Social Worker to visit their homes; those that can't communicate with anyone let alone their social workers; and those whose families are no longer in touch so the only people that know about the clients are the care workers or the Group Home owners; and those adult clients that don't want the Social Worker talking to their families?

So, if I understand, Mr Mowles actually doesn't want the Social Workers in the office. He wants them out in their cars, with their IBM Laptops, going door to door working with clients, families, individuals, and leveraging miracles in their comunities by wirelessly updating records and requesting services. So why the cubicles in the first place? Why not have the Social Workers and administrative staff work from their cars or rapid transit? Think of all the work that they can get done while they are driving from Prince George to Dawson Creek or from Cranbrook to Kelowna; or trying to get around Surrrey?

(Bet that the Social Workers can't wirelessly update their computer records on the road, anyway, and that they have to hook into the mother ship to share the data they typed up while visitng their clients - so much for their business plan.)

How much has CLBC spent on their headquarters' offices since the creation of CLBC and does the cubicle design apply to CLBC HQ staff as well?

When will the Good People in CLBC act?

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