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Zen and the Art of Cubicle Living

One day recently I worked out of, quite possibly, the best office I have ever been in. Granted, this is not a high bar for a cubicle drone like me. Still, the design touches were lovely: It was a glass cube with an ergonomic green chair and mahogany desk. There was a frosted-glass door, so theoretically, I could have worked pants-less. (I was fully clothed.)

The lighting was straight out of an ABC primetime family drama: a bright reading lamp to my left, a copper light above me, and another, softer light that glowed behind my laptop screen. Behind that was a magnetic board, where, if this were my actual office, I would have affixed a photo of my friends and me jumping simultaneously into the air.

My little slice of Work Heaven was just for show, for indeed, it was situated in a showroom—in the New York offices of the Steelcase furniture company. The men’s shoes in the cubbies below my desk belonged to no man in particular. The little bronze tchotchkes on the shelves were suited to the tastes of your typical high-end office-solutions buyer.

Olga Khazan/The Atlantic

This office was so slick it even ...

The Murky Boundaries of the Modern Work Day

When I ask David Cook, a pastor from North Carolina, how often his work life seeps into his personal life he laughs a bit as he answers, “All the time.” That seems to be a pretty common response when you ask people about the boundaries, or lack thereof, between work and home. In fact, most people I spoke with for this story let out a resigned chuckle when it came time to assess where exactly the distinction between work time and personal time was, if there was one at all.

“It’s very hard to know when I’m working and when I’m not,” says Cook. The fact that he sometimes works from home might be part of the issue, but the very nature of his work can make it difficult to decide what’s work and what’s not, since many of the people that he socializes with are also a part of his congregation, he says.  

But people with inherently social jobs, like Cook, aren’t the only ones who find the boundaries between work and home difficult to navigate. For some, the inability to determine their schedule means that the workday often lasts well past family ...

The Shrinking of Personal Space at Work

First they came for the offices, replacing four-walls-and-a-door situations with desks in cubicles, even for workers of considerable stature.

Now they’re coming for the desks themselves.

On both sides of the Atlantic, big companies are moving toward more flexible setups that do away with assigned workstations. The financial motivation to make the most of premium office space is primary. But another big driver now, and going forward, is mobility.

More people are working remotely now, creating workstation vacancies that irk the people paying the rent. But there’s more to it than that, according to Jennifer Busch, vice president of architecture and design at office furniture maker Teknion.

“It used to be that when you referred to the mobile worker you were talking about a person who works outside the office,” Busch tells Quartz. “Now you’re just as likely to be referring to someone that’s in the office environment, but they’re mobile because their technology has untethered them from their desk.”

Meanwhile, companies are becoming more conscious of the needs of different employees, according to Busch. Some people thrive on the energy of the open office (and it very likely is an open office) while more ...

What Performance Management Is and Is Not

At a recent academic conference a scholar was explaining his research in which he sought to determine whether performance management worked—whether it improved performance. He took a traditional approach (called “meta-analysis” by the cognoscenti) examining all of the different reports that analyzed this question seeking to draw conclusions from this entire collection of research.

Unfortunately, he had one problem.  How to decide what counted as “performance management.” After all, many of the reports he analyzed offered no specific definition of “performance management.” Many simply used this two-word phrase as if its meaning was simple and obvious.

Moreover, many of these reports used the phrase “performance management” when all anyone was doing was collecting some data that might (or might not) be related to performance—to some public purpose that the organization might (or might not) be trying to achieve.

No actual management was involved. No managers were doing any managing. They had some data. But how they were using their data was unclear. They might have been doing nothing more than storing them in a database. Maybe they were also posting their data on a website.

Clearly, however, not all of the organizations that asserted they were doing “performance ...

How the Story You Tell Yourself Can Make You Happier

Harnessing happiness has become something of a cultural obsession. Countless studies have linked our happiness to moneyagelocation, and timing of having children, to name just a few.

But there’s arguably an easier way to make your life feel more meaningful: Tell yourself a positive story about your life. That’s the thinking behind a slew of research on happiness, and one motto of positive psychologist Shawn Achor, who researches and lectures about the link between happiness and success.

Achor’s observations draw on his days as a student counselor at Harvard University: “These students, no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there, nor on their philosophy or their physics. Their brain was focused on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the stresses, the complaints.”

The gap between the opportunities and achievements of these students and their happiness led Achor to this conclusion: Happiness requires “changing the lens” of how you perceive your reality. The change is gradual and requires some disciplined work, he says. One example is a daily exercise in writing down one good thing ...