2018-02-14 / Opinions & Letters

Common area

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

I’ve been with my present employer for 15 years now. I’m on my fifth office location and my seventh manager. So, who’s counting? I guess I am.

When I first started with the company, the office I worked out of was in the old restored Dearborn Train Station on Polk Street in the Printer’s Row area of Chicago. That’s a real intimate enclave in a big city. The office was on street level and was a real component of the neighborhood vibe. Customers would stop in the office and visit, drink coffee, and bring their big dogs in with them.

That office was welcoming and homey and a fun place to work.

We moved from Printers Row to a new high rise nearby on busy State Street, “The Great Street,” down near Roosevelt Road. The allure of “new” turned out to be a bad move for business. State Street has tall planters down at that end which divide the street. Our location was hidden behind a concrete wall, there was no-where to park, pedestrian traffic was thin. The new construction office space was just drywall and gray padded cubicles and the place lacked a personality. There was no vibe, no hum, no nothing. Out of the blue, the company closed that office with one day’s notice to us agents. And in testimony to a rotten location, that office space sat empty for the following seven years.

But the best was yet to come. A friend who worked in our office at the John Hancock Center introduced me to the office manager there. We had lunch at the Four Seasons and that commenced the years of being spoiled. The company budget at the Hancock Center was much more robust than the neighborhood branches. The offices were on the 30th floor and had stunning lake views, plush white leather sofas and lots of staff. The office parties were lavish, the conference room was enormous and there was a large clear glass vase filled with candy bars and referred to as the “bottomless chocolate bowl.”

While we were being spoiled at the Hancock, dark clouds were forming over the real estate industry. After the market crash, the keys to the Hancock got turned in and we headed to humble quarters down on a nearby narrow, dark, side street. The white leather sofas disappeared, as did the chocolate bowl and the lake view. Now the ceilings were low, the staff small, the cubicles recycled and we heard the street traffic two floors below. We knew it was lunch time when smells from the restaurant below found their way into the vent system.

The humble quarters never did gel, foolish economy to the extreme - they were, and again we moved only to leave a space that sat vacant for many years.

Our last move was a nobrainer. The company had just acquired the branch of a nearby competing firm. The acquisition came with an office of agents now switching firms and a long-term lease of decent, but dowdy space, in a good building.

So, two offices were smooched together into one, resulting in a combination of work forces, corporate cultures and leftover furniture. It was all done with the promise of a total office re-do, a new look and a bold new design. That was five years ago, and we’re still waiting.

I think my employer made a big mistake promising the grand office re-do which never happened. From the moment of that announcement, the attitude in the office was set. This is all temporary, this will all be replaced - that’s been the mantra of the office inhabitants. The spills, the chips and the dings, none of it seems important because nothing much matters.

And once a tone is set, boy does it take hold. At the Hancock, coats were hung in the closet, food was consumed in the kitchen, desks were clean, chairs pushed in. Behavior and decorum matched the surrounds. Now in the stained and drained office where I labor, it’s like working in the Wild West, only with an extra layer of trail dust.

Meanwhile I’d like to take a look at the aging plans for the long promised big office redo. I’m thinking there’s still time to add a spot for reinstating that “bottomless chocolate bowl.”

After all, patience should merit some sweet reward.

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