This is a very moving event

May 13, 2000|By Rob Kasper

MOVING, THE EXPERTS say, is one of life's more stressful events.

This week I heard what they were saying, as long as they spoke loud enough to be heard over the whine of the power saws. The power saws were located about 10 feet from my desk, behind a sign that reads: Keep Out -- Construction Zone.

I am in the throes of an office move. My colleagues and I are moving from the familiar squalor of the newsroom on the fifth floor of the building at Centre and Calvert streets to the renovated, if slightly dark, spaces on the second floor. In nautical terms, it is like moving from steerage where everyone was sitting next to each other, to the vast commodious spaces of first-class accommodations.

Already I see signs of improvement. Yesterday I watched one of the workmen replace an acoustical ceiling tile in a hallway next to my new desk. To my great delight, no mice fell from the sky. I mention this because the last time workmen removed a tile from above my old desk on the fifth floor, a mouse dropped from the ceiling and scooted away.

There are still a few areas under construction, which we, the word people, are prohibited from entering. Some rubble might hit us. The con- struction guys, however, are not afraid of wandering into our writing zone. They don't seem to be worried about getting hit by a stray metaphor.

This week, instead of working, I watched the various crews come and go. One day the cubicle crew first took apart several office cubicles, then, like the repair crew in Humpty Dumpty, they put them back together again. All this activity was needed because someone had been shorted two feet of cubicle space.

I watched as the computer guys carried in new units, tried to install them and then found out there was a small problem. The electricity had not been hooked up. The wonders of the computer age could not be tapped without simple electricity.

And I learned new styles of communication as I listened to the conversations of the construction guys. For instance, when bosses want to talk to me, they ask " Got a minute?" But yesterday morning I listened to one construction supervisor set up a meeting with one of his employees. The exchange went something like this.

Boss, barking into two-way radio: "Tell Greg to drop that cigar, get his behind off the loading dock and get up here."

I also read up on office-move research. I read that office moves produce stress. Part of the stress of the move comes from sifting through what researchers call "files and piles" of accumulated papers and books. It struck me that moving your office work space is a lot like cleaning out your basement. There are all these items you want to keep, "just in case" you might need them. But then there are the forces -- usually a spouse or an office supervisor -- urging you to throw that "junk" out.

I can see both sides of the argument. I feel connected to the piles of paper on my desk. They mark my territory. But they do tend to get out of control . While packing my "files and piles" for the move, for instance, I unearthed an invitation to a friend's wedding. I won't be going. It was held in 1994. So much for my filing system.

I read that another area of tension created by an office move is the fight over what researchers call "decor protocol." This is basically a fight over who gets to put up posters. Researchers in the folklore of the office -- there really is such a field -- say a typical struggle is between bosses who want to preserve the professional look of the office by controlling the type of decorations office workers put in their work spaces, and workers who want to "personalize" their space by taping posters, cartoons and memorabilia to the walls.

One way to deal with this solution is to create an open-office configuration. That is what we have. Here, only the bosses have offices with walls. The rest of us, who, if the truth be told, have a hankering to commit decor-protocol violations, sit in low-rise cubicles and don't have any walls to deface.

In my new space, I don't miss seeing any of the old, illicit decorations in the old office. But I do miss looking at the clocks and calendars. Like most people who work on daily deadlines, I am a clock watcher. I am used to looking at a clock on the wall and telling myself, "Holy cow! You gotta get to work." I am also used to seeing three-month calendars on the newsroom walls. These three-rung affairs show the current month sandwiched between the previous month and upcoming month. The idea is that someone can see at a glance what the date would be for next Tuesday, or what it was two Tuesdays back. Getting the day and date right is, some people have told me, the only part of the news business we consistently get right.

Yesterday, a quick check with the office decoration authorities revealed that the clocks have passed muster but the calendars are still in limbo. There is some feeling that posting calendars on the pillars of the newsroom would disturb the decor.

Somehow , I get the feeling that the people who work in the decorative arts field do not have a high opinion of the sense of style possessed by those of us who work in the newspaper business.

I can't imagine where they got such an idea. Maybe they heard about what happened in a previous office move, back when The Sun moved its offices from Charles and Baltimore streets to the "new" building at Centre and Calvert.

Then, according to lore, a group of photographers gathered some cockroaches from the old building. When they got to the new building, they got on the elevator, stopped and released a roach or two on each floor.

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