Office Culture

FTLComm - Tisdale - February 14, 1999
The QuickTime VR above is the view of the SGI claims centre office as it is viewed from the wicket. The wicket (window opening and counter) is the customer service area of the office and as you can see, this office space looks unoccupied. There are actually as many as five people working in this work space, when this picture was taken Friday afternoon. Three walked by the wicket completely oblivious to it, or the two of us standing there waiting for service and a fourth was observed in one of the cubicles. The receptionist's station is the cubicle in the foreground it is likely that this person is also somewhere in the office. If you look closely you will notice the left shoulder and blond hair of one worker in the very centre of the picture working at a terminal.

The interesting thing about this setting is that within a work environment there is a division of labour, in some businesses that division is much more sharply defined then in others. Were you to go into one of Tisdale’s four banks you would soon discover that a similar work environment exists, but if a clerk is unable to attend to you, one of the other people would at least greet you and either lend you a hand, or offer to see what the hold up is. In the town office, the people there go about their work, but as soon as someone comes in, they greet the individual and see that some one attends to them. However, it looks like SGI does not have a coping mechanism with the public.

Up until this summer the SGI building had a counter which you could walk up to, but that was replaced by a solid wall with this six foot opening into their world. The division of labour or level of staff morale, is such that no one is willing to even recognise that people are standing or waiting at the wicket. I had time to take these pictures, chat with the other person waiting and see one lady walk by with a smile on her face, but the two of us standing only a few feet from where she passed, were as pictures on a wall, as she gave not the slightest recognition of our presence as she passed. I found that one act of this woman to be one of the most impressive detachments from reality I have ever seen.

The young woman at the terminal experienced some trouble and went for the assistance of a male who came from an office cubicle on the rear right of the picture. He came with her up to the receptionists work station then together they went to the other locations at which she is working and both were completely oblivious to the two of us standing only feet away. Once again I had the feeling that I was watching this scene from a surveillance camera and that I was not present.

In Tisdale, a small town, where everyone gets to know everyone else, people greet one another, are civil, polite and almost always friendly even in the most tense situations. Yet here in this building, that civility is suspended. Immediately, one wonders what could produce such an atmosphere, is Dilbert alive and well hidden in a cubicle in the SGI building, is there an old fashioned authoritarian administrative structure in place where people strictly do what they are told nothing more and nothing less, is this a corporation that has lost touch with good manners? All of these questions remain unanswered, I have only this picture and this experience to rely upon.

Finally, after several minutes, I decided that it was time for some balanced rudeness, if I could be ignored with such completeness, then surely some outburst would not be noticed, besides perhaps the affects of the bright sunlight had made me invisible and it was time to test to see if I could be seen. I banged on the counter and assertively uttered one of those "Excuse me!" comments, the blond lady at the terminal looked up but did not respond, to which I repeated my little performance and that brought her to her feet and she came to the wicket with one of those looks that reminds one of indignant distraction. I handed her the single piece of paper I had come in to drop off and gave her a modest piece of my mind "something about good manners and civility."

If you have occasion to drop by this place and have an experience similar or quite opposite, I would really like to hear about it because of the various things that can happen to a person being ignored is one of the most unsettling.