how can I get used to cube life again?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I just started a new job in a new city after realizing during the pandemic I wanted to live in a different part of the country. I worked completely remotely for most of the last two years because my previous organization was very Covid-cautious, but my new job has me in a cubicle in the office five days a week (we get 26 carefully rationed WFH days a year.)

I discovered while working remotely that I feel so much better with natural light at my desk at home, the ability to take a walk in the middle of the day in my nice neighborhood, and other WFH perks like starting a load of laundry in between calls. I’m back to a cube farm where I sit far away from the windows, and my office in my new city is in a downtown that has not recovered from the pandemic yet, so there are super limited options to take a lunchtime walk or find a non-sketchy park to sit in during my lunch hour. I am also a knowledge worker, and the nature of my work is not one where I can genuinely spend eight hours a day intensely working — my brain needs a break and some processing time.

What can I do to get used to cube life again and, frankly, make it bearable? I feel like I am shooting myself in the foot in my new job (that I am excited about!) feeling upset about having to be in the office (my entire team works in other states, so I am a classic coming-in-to-be-on-zoom employee). I want to give this new job a chance and feel like a whiner complaining about these things while so many people are less fortunate than me.

Readers, what advice do you have?

Read an update to this letter

{ 367 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, the letter-writer asked for tips for adjusting to cubicle life, not advice on how to change her new employer’s policy. I’ve removed several threads that ignored what advice is being sought to the point of being off-topic and derailing. (And please keep in mind that there are many employers that won’t budge on remote work. The LW also indicates in the comments that she searched for 8 months before finding this job; many people are not in positions where “just find a new job if they won’t let you work from home” is practical advice.)

      1. Ann Onymous*

        Yes, I love my Happy Light! I do sit near a window, but winter days are short and cloudy where I live so the Happy Light makes a big difference.

        1. Lucy P*

          What’s a Happy Light? I have a window, but often have to close the blinds to keep out the heat or the cold.

          1. Ann Onymous*

            These are lights that are intended to help with the lack of sunlight experienced during winter. Happy Light is a specific brand made by the company, Verilux. Using one is, according to my psychologist father, the best treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s based on his recommendation that I got one.

            1. Sally*

              I have one of these lights. I don’t think mine is the same brand that others are mentioning, but it really helps me in the winter or when it’s overcast or rainy or both.

    1. The salt lamp lady*

      I also have Himalayan salt lamp on my desk. I don’t know that it does everything they claim it to (google if you are interested), but the lovely pink glow makes me super happy. I get compliments on it all the time. People saying it looks cozy and homey.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Agreed. No matter what one believes about the health claims, the pink salt lamps are wonderfully cozy, and their soft glow is soothing, at least I think so.

        1. lilsheba*

          I agree too. I have 3 in my house, one of them was the one on my work desk when I was in an office.

      2. Bee*

        Right, like the ~~health benefits are probably fake, but cozy light benefits are real!! And a salt lamp is probably going to come off more professional than the string of Christmas tree lights I have in my home office. (I tried a sun lamp for SAD, but it just felt oppressive to me, with none of the joy of sitting in the actual sun. Soft cozy light seems to do a lot more for my mood.)

        1. Roger Beagle*

          There are sun lamps that actually mimic outside light, its not just fake light. You can’t use them for a certain time during the day or can get really hyper, which is crazy. But these are different than just cozy lights.

        2. Sloanicota*

          I googled “aesthetic Christmas lights” after I found myself depressed taking down all my twinkly strands, and I found a lot of really nice looking, less Christmas-coded ones that I now have up on my mantle. They really do make me happier!

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I have warm-white fairy lights up around my desk at home year-round because it’s super dark in winter where I live and they look cozy and cheerful.

          2. IndyDem*

            One of my coworkers has a iPhone charging cord that has Christmas light bulbs on it, she uses it year round to keep herself in a festive mood.

      3. nobadcats*

        I have a little desktop mister, (brand name Misuto), that really helped me combat the dryness of the office during all seasons. It’s very subtle and has an auto-shut off. It cycles slowly through soft, mellow colors, which brightens one’s mood. You can even stop it at a color you like. My boss liked mine so much she got one for herself.

        Now that I work from home, I have that same mister on my work desk and a second one on my nightstand.

        1. Sariel*

          Could you please put a link to this product? My office is usually 76 degrees and about 15% humidity — a desktop mister sounds wonderful!

          1. nobadcats*

            Dang, looks like mine has been discontinued. I got it from amazon, but even google doesn’t pull it up. But! I found a similar product on amz that is pretty much its twin (except that mine is all white and doesn’t have a remote control). I watched the little video and it functions just the way mine does.

            Also, now that I’m WFH, I put about five drops of sweet orange oil in mine, very soothing.

            Search amazon for: ASAKUKI 500ml Premium, Essential Oil Diffuser with Remote Control, 5 in 1 Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Fragrant Oil Humidifier Vaporizer, Timer and Auto-Off Safety Switch

            (I’d add the link but amz links are huge and ugly.)

            1. Just graduated*

              Just be careful if you use essential oil and have pets – lots of them aren’t pet safe

        1. There You Are*

          Mine lasts forever because I replace the bulb whenever it burns out. And I’m 100% certain that it is a hollowed out chunk of salt because I tasted it. :-D

          I also don’t believe there’s anything special about Himalayan pink salt, nor do I believe that salt lamps provide any measurable therapeutic benefits, so I don’t care if mine actually is dyed white crystal. I like the color and that’s all that matters. :-)

    2. Anon (and on and on)*

      These help me soooooooo much!! Half hour a day in the morning makes me feel so much better. It wakes me up and brightens my mood like you wouldn’t believe.

    3. Sad Desk Salad*

      This helped me a lot when I switched from an office to a cube. I also found a small plug-in fountain that was quiet enough to not be heard from outside my own cube. Failing that, earbuds and the mynoise app helped a lot. I live in a dry area but relax and focus really well when I’m listening to rain falling.

      Also, I’m not sure what your environment is like–whether your boss is keeping track of your keystrokes or whether your butt’s in your seat all day–but if not, taking a walk outside a few minutes every couple of hours helped me a lot.

      1. M.Dash*

        +100 on You can create nearly any ambience you can imagine by mixing different background sounds.

    4. CubeFarmer*

      I have a light for my office plants because I didn’t want to deal with having a depression lamp at my desk. I enjoy my little plant friends and their light.

      1. Anna*

        Plants at your desk can help a bit with the ambiance. I am also having this problem and am trying various approaches to brighten my space and create natural breaks in my day.

        I often find I am stuck eating at my desk, but if you have a break room maybe a change of scenery. I will turn away from my computer and listen to a podcast.

        My latest strategy is to join a gym nearby. When my schedule allows, I use my lunch break to take a class or hope on a treadmill.

    5. NotABlossom*

      It doesn’t have to be a Happy Light. You can get a regular lamp and a daylight bulb. I’m speaking from experience when I say I can tell the difference in my mood when using them.

  2. kiwiii*

    I wonder if one of those Sun/UV Lamps in your cube may help. You also highlight nature as useful — any low-to-no sunlight plants you’re a fan of?? or two low-sunlight plants you’d be game to switch out monthly or something?

    As for getting up and moving around between meetings — that’s someone lots of people have always done in offices. Walking to the kitchen to make yourself some tea, taking the long route to the bathroom, finding coworkers to chat with — all activities I employ liberally.

    1. scientist*

      Yes! I really like having a UV lamp AND a couple plants at my desk. If there’s really no natural light, invest in a couple higher-quality, realistic artificial plants. And also yes to the you-can-still-get-up-and-move-around – in my last cube job, I went outside and took mini walks through the neighborhood a couple times a day. I know you said it’s not the best place for walks, but even circling the building a couple times and getting that fresh air and natural light can help. You can also use that time for making quick needed phone calls or taking a brain break on your phone.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Or carefully selected real plants – I had a money tree that hadn’t seen natural light for eight years, and I was worried that if I took it out of the fluorescents it would suffer because of the change, so I offered it to another cube farm denizen. (Jokingly worried, not seriously. I was also moving across the country and didn’t want to take it with me anyway.)

      2. Joielle*

        Or get grow lights! I have a windowless office but my plants are thriving under a couple of little grow lights that look like tiny umbrellas. It sort of mimics natural light so you get both benefits.

      3. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

        If you like legos, try lego plant kits instead of (or in addition to) artificials! I have the orchid and the bird of paradise ones in my office which gets basically no direct sunlight, and at home I have their mixed bouquet in a vase because I like pretty flowers and hate spending money to replace dead ones. They’re reasonably realistic for what they are, and I really enjoy looking at mine.

    2. desdemona*

      I was going to suggest this! A sun-lamp and a plant or two. That boost of faux-sunlight & greenery can do wonders.

    3. Gracely*

      I was going to suggest OP getting some succulents or some other low maintenance plant to help add some greenery. Herbs like parsley or thyme tend to do well inside, and just need a little water every couple of days. Plus, bonus fresh flavor for your lunches when you trim them.

      Another option might be to cover the drab cube walls with a nice fabric. Or maybe try one of those little zen sand gardens?

      1. MMM*

        I have a snake plant that is seriously thriving even though it only gets office fluorescent lighting. Only have to water once a week! Highly recommend

      2. Emilia Bedelia*

        Pothos work great for inside an office – they don’t need light, and can be easily propagated for infinite plants

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Our office (open office plan) is freckled with pothos here and pothos there – all growing in water! I’m pretty sure they all came from one plant near a window that was in a pot, and kept growing and growing and needed “hair cuts” from time to time. A couple of people brought in little jars and it became a trend. Happy little baby pothos (potheses? pothi?) everywhere!

      3. TinySoprano*

        Herbs are a great idea! Just loads of plants in general is my recommendation.

        When I was in a non-window-facing environment I had an African violet on my desk, which I called Frank. Frank got a name tag and became a minor office celebrity. People would stop by to ask how Frank was, get excited when Frank flowered, and IT gave Frank his own phone extension, which they would direct telemarketers to. Alas, Frank perished after some overzealous watering from well-meaning colleagues while I was out sick one time.

    4. lilsheba*

      For some reason my last job forbid having any kinds of plants, real or fake, and I never understood why, and of course they never explained why.

      1. Divergent*

        I used to work for a company that took care of plants in offices, and there’s a lot of weird liability involved (for instance, our insurance covered damage, including damage to important documents, for plants that we installed but the company had to cover damage from their own plants, because the pots were of variable quality. But if we watered a personal plant “just this once to be nice” then it was on our company again, so we had to be pretty careful)

      2. Rosemary*

        I could understand no real plants because of potential allergies or bugs…but no fake plants?? That seems silly.

        1. lilsheba*

          I completely agree. They do NO harm whatsoever. I bet they were just lazy and didn’t want to confirm they WERE fake.

          1. Queen of the Introverts*

            My mom was in IT and more than once had to remind people not to water their fake plants, ESPECIALLY if they were hanging over their computer. But she never would have outlawed them.

        2. Bookmark*

          Yeah, I’m very confused about the fake plants, but I’ve lived through several officewide houseplant soil insect infestations, and I can understand why an office might ban the plants rather than constantly battle tiny flies everywhere.

      3. St Paul Ite*

        My workplace banned real plants due to the possibility of plants getting bugs or little flies and infesting the office. They banned fake plants as a fire hazard. I’m surprised they didn’t ban fresh fruit since we had more fruit flies from people leaving bananas that got overripe on their desks.

  3. DisneyChannelThis*

    This is going to sound trite but download solitaire, minesweeper, etc. All those classic PC games are short and give your brain a reset and a boost. You can put them on your phone if work tracks PC use. You’re missing the dopamine from a change in scenery of getting up to put the laundry in, quick round of solitaire can fix that (and has a designated end point unlike scrolling endlessly through social media).

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Coloring apps were a recent discovery of mine, and I love it! I’ve been using Happy Color, which is free with ads or a paid version with no ads. Loved it so much that I paid for the no ads version on day 2.

        My mom was in the hospital most of December and having something that took no mental energy for those moments that I was sitting in a hospital room watching someone sleep, waiting for a doctor, was great. Never would have thought of it on my own.

    1. LimeRoos*

      If you just google Minesweeper the results page has a fun version, so you don’t even have to download it.

      1. curmudgeon*

        Your results page, at least. Google searches give different people different results. (Not sure how much variety there is for “minesweeper,” just wanted to note different people can get different results from searching Google).

        1. sam_i_am*

          It’s an automatic thing google does when searching for “minesweeper,” not a search result! You play it straight on the search page.

        2. LimeRoos*

          Oh no, for this I’m pretty sure it’s all of them – Google seems to have their own version that you can just play in browser so I think they have it as the top result for everyone. Though now I’m curious if anyone wants to test this out lol.

    2. NYC Taxi*

      My favorite game is Blendoku where you have to put the color squares in the correct order. It gets really hard and I find it resets my brain.

      1. TypityTypeType*

        I love Blendoku! It requires a good amount of focus after the early levels, so as you say, it’s a great short reset.

        Chromatic is another color game I like. I find it less challenging than Blendoku (pro tip: turn up your screen brightness) and it’s super pretty to look at. I am a sucker for bright, colorful things :)

      2. AcademiaNut*

        There’s a cell phone game called Simon Tatham’s Puzzles which I love for microbreaks due to it’s simplicity and complete lack of attempts to addict you. It’s free, has no ads, no paid content, and a very simple design (no sparkly colours or points or lives). Just a collection of a dozen or so logic/geometry/numerical puzzles including things like Sudoku and Minesweeper. You can switch between games without losing progress, restart a game with no penalty.

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      For a more tactile experience, I recommend micropuzzles. I use them as a brain break and to keep focused on calls where I don’t have to see what’s on the screen or participate much as it keeps me from getting distracted by other work or whatever.

    4. Another Librarian*

      For those of us who are employed by some governments (like Virginia) it is illegal to have games loaded on one’s work computer. Honest! That’s been a law for at least the last 20 years.

      1. SolitaireIsMyLife*

        Our ITD removed all games that came with Windows and blocks you from downloading any more, which kills me because I’d love to play Pretty Good Solitaire or Kyodai Mahjongg on my lunch break.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, this too. OP might not be able to have games on the computer, nor would it be a great look to be seen playing them in the office.

      3. De Minimis*

        Yeah, I’m a fed and it’s a serious violation of our IT policies to have any kind of game on our work computers.

        1. allathian*

          Yup. I’m the equivalent in Finland, and we can’t install anything on my laptop that IT hasn’t put in the Windows Software Center. Games are right out, and the version we’re using doesn’t have any preinstalled games. Some browser games might work, but I’ve never tried.

          When I’m at the office, I walk around for a change of perspective.

    5. Samwise*

      Take walks around the cube farm, other floors in the building if you’re allowed on the floor, go outside and take a jaunt down the street or around the block. Downtowns generally have sidewalks and there may be windows to look into, even if not cafes or restaurants.

      Can you schedule yourself for thinking/walking time as part of your day?

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, this would be a big part of my suggestion. Find any ways you can work walking into your schedule. Not sure what your office setup is, but can you walk around the building for a bit, or use a printer across the office from your desk, or visit a bathroom on another floor? Is it possible to walk for a few blocks right around the office, even if it’s not a great area for walking in general?

    6. Rose*

      The comments below acting like people are going to get addicted to video games or saying loudly and publicly playing games on their work computer is bad (wow really?) are wild. If you are in a very rare, very niche scenario where you can’t zone out on your phone for 10 minutes – dollar store sells crosswords, sudoku and coloring books for cheap. I had a job with endlesssssss in person meetings so I’d cut out the crosswords and tape them into a notebook. I looked like I was intently taking notes LOL.

    7. kicking-k*

      I paid to get New York Times games subscription when it was half price. Totally worth it for me. As well as Wordle and Sudoku (which are free) the archive has more crosswords than I could ever complete and the Monday and Tuesday ones only take a few minutes, and it’s a brain break.

    8. The Rural Juror*

      We have an office puzzle for this reason. It’s nice to get up for a moment, walk over to the puzzle table, look at something that’s not digital for a bit, and feel delighted when you find a piece that fits! We go through 1000-pc puzzles pretty quickly and have single-handedly bought most of the ones available at a nearby thrift store for $3 each.

      There have been one or two that proved to be too difficult, though… and that little dopamine hit was tougher to get because we would all get frustrated. But, misery loves company, and we enjoyed complaining about the tough ones haha!

    1. cw*

      Definitely get a plant. When I worked in an office away from the windows, I had a peace lily that almost constantly bloomed. A snake plant should also do fine.

      1. ProRata*

        Definitely get some plants….I’ve had good luck with Aloe under office lighting.

        My current one is about to take over the office, as it is getting morning sunlight from the window behind me. I give it a month or so before I have to bring in a machete to hack my way to my desk.

        Seriously, Aloe, Peace Lily, Air Plant are good choices.

        Also, a good lamp….for both you and the plants.

    2. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      ZZ plant is my favorite. It grows faster than a snake plant so you don’t have to start out so big to get some real greenery.
      Also philodendron grow very well with no natural light.

    3. ferrina*

      Anyone have recommendations on plants that thrive in low light? LW said they aren’t near the windows, and I’ve also got a few darker places in my WFH office where I’d love a plant.

      1. Random Dice*

        ZZ plant (don’t water it almost ever or it’ll die)


        Snake plant / mother in law’s tongue

        Peace lily (it’s super dramatic, will tell you when it needs watering by collapsing onto its fainting couch, back of hand to forehead)

        1. never not reading*

          That must be what they had in an office I once worked in. The first time I saw it do that, I thought it had died, and someone said calmly, oh no, it just needs to be watered. I called it the melodrama plant after that.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          My fittonia does the same drama collapse tantrum, but as soon as I water it it’s standing right back up within an hour. I said elsethread, a money tree did great for eight years in a cube farm with just fluorescent overhead lights.

        3. Avril Ludgateaux*

          ZZ plant (don’t water it almost ever or it’ll die)

          A plant I can keep alive?! BRB heading to the nursery.

      2. Mostly Managing*

        I saw an article recently saying that artificial plants provide almost the same mental health benefits as real ones.

        Obviously a plastic plant doesn’t clean the air/provide oxygen (until some enterprising soul designs a hepa filter disguised as a shrub!), but for a bit of green and a mental boost they are actually not bad. We have several in our home, in dark corners or in the basement, and they help.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I had a faux spider plant in my prior office that looked so real, a coworker offered to water it for me. (Fortunately he didn’t.)

          OP, sprucing up my cube always made it more tolerable. Yes to a good lamp and plants (faux or real). Also, hit TJ Maxx/Marshalls/Temple of Bezos etc. for inexpensive but quality desk organizers and small bits of decor. I like the fabric covered ones; they look clean and upscale, and instantly elevate the cube. A desk or wall clock – analog is “timeless.” I’ve even hung small artwork on my cube walls. Scour your home for things as well – declutter your home and uplift the cube decor in one easy step.

          I also occasionally rearrange my workspace, just to change things up.

          You won’t need much – just a few well-chosen pieces can turn a cube into a very pleasant environment.

      3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        A ponytail palm is a good one for low or indirect light; they don’t thrive in low light, but they tolerate it well. A dracaena is another good indoor plant. I like these plants because they need almost no attention and look silly — like something out of Dr. Seuss — and that makes me happy.

      4. DrSalty*

        ZZ plant, snake plant, and pothos all looooove low light. Pothos grow quickly and vine so watching that can also be very fun and rewarding

      5. Keyboard Jockey*

        I would also like to suggest a small portable grow light, which can double as your “natural light spectrum” lamp!

      6. TinySoprano*

        After an office move I recently acquired a sansevieria cylindrica from another department. It has spent the last 10+ years in a dimly-lit, poorly ventilated office, and is watered so rarely that one of the newer employees thought it was fake. I took it home because it’s monstrous. Like, easily a metre across. It clearly thrived in a low light, low care situation.

    4. Avril Ludgateaux*

      When I was in the office, the fire marshal came around and made us remove all the plants as a “fire hazard” :( At least I had windows, though, at least until I got a private office. Then I had a door, but no daylight anymore, which felt like a downgrade and had a very negative effect on my mood…

    5. plants*

      Spider plant (classic foliage look with fun offshoots and babies!)

      Pothos – viny plant, will grow forever

      Spiderwort (Tradescantia/ inch plant) – beautiful purple, also grows forever. It’s also known by an outdated/ offensive name that you might see


      Various succulents

      You can also try growing various food plants from leftover seeds. I’ve done this with avocado and tamarind. But they tend to be more of an experiment because they really do prefer lots of light; they’ll never bear fruit in an indoor environment.

      1. plants*

        If you ask on your local Buy Nothing or houseplant group, you could probably get these plants for free!

      2. Jelizabug*

        Spiderwort! Thank you! I had one of those in an office and it was gorgeous and grew so well… until I went out of town and a “helpful” co-worker overwatered it. :( Now I know what to look for, since as you say, the former name is no longer in use.

        1. CatWoman*

          Be sure to look for Tradescantia Zebrina, if you want the pretty purple foliage one. Just Spiderwort can bring up many different types.

      3. Morgan Proctor*

        Succulents really don’t like low light. They will etiolate. People who don’t know any better will think they’re doing great because they’re growing taller, but what they’re actually doing is growing upward to find sunlight.

    6. TheAG*

      I have a black thumb (apparently plants need water?) and I have an aerogarden in my office growing cherry tomatoes and jalapenos. It’s low maintenance and the sound it makes with the water trickling is very relaxing. People love it.
      Of course that’s going to depend on how close you are to other people who might not like it.

  4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I would mention to your manager(s) that you are coming in to be on Zoom, and that you would be interested in a looser policy around WFH because the supposed benefits of cube life aren’t happening for you. Position it as being about the work and productivity rather than your needs.

    1. Up and Away*

      I was thinking the same thing…it doesn’t sound like there’s a legitimate business need for you to be in the office.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I would just be aware that as a new employee this might not be the fight to pick. The all time high for remote American workers not in lockdown has been around 1 in 4, I believe? And the push is in the opposite direction right now, with less worker power due to a lot of big sector layoffs.

        Not picking a side in the argument, I know there are a lot of factors at play, I just also know this site tends to be extremely pro-WFH and that might not be realistic advice for a lot of writers.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I get the impression from the letter that this is not really neogiatiable or flexible.

      in a cubicle in the office five days a week (we get 26 carefully rationed WFH days a year.)

      So we don’t have more details, but it could hurt the LW’s credibility to ask if this was explained before they were hired. The LW didn’t even hint this was a bait and switch or unexpected.

      I have experienced an organization made up entirely of virtual teams pulling employees back into the office because one high level leader wanted it. The leader didn’t stay long, but the impact of their policy lasted longer than did even though it was ultimately reversed helped along by COVID. I’m saying this to point out that in some companies this is not something one person can change even if it’s just as efficient to work from home.

      1. OP Cube Life*

        OP here- it sort of was a bait-and-switch- job was listed remote but what they actually meant was work in person from any of our many locations. I was under a time crunch for finding a new position and given the substantive fit with this role for my specialty I needed to take the position without really considering losing all the WFH benefits. I now know those are WAY more important to me than I realized.

        1. No more cube life*

          Could you say that – because you are on Zoom calls all day, it’s actually disruptive to everyone else in cube land? That used to happen to me; if more than one person in cube land was on a call at the same time (but different calls), it’s really hard to pay attention to your own call. And my role at the time was to be on calls with people at different sites pretty much all day, so I felt like I was always bothering everyone else in cubes that weren’t on calls as often as me.

        2. Person from the Resume*

          That sucks that they misled you. Take it as learning something about yourself about the soft things you need. I still suspect that the formal / clear direction on only 26 WFH days a years means they aren’t going to be flexible so this might not be a long term job for you.

          Personally I am very glad to be work from home for the lack of commute, lack of need to dress for work and look presentable for work. I, by no means, work wearing PJs, but my hair can crazy. By not going into the office cuts out an hour and half or more of time that office work would require from me. My reasons are different than yours.

  5. Justin*

    Lots of time on AAM?

    (I also tend to work in bursts. My current job doesn’t make me come in often and when I do there’s no one there and I kind of like that.)

    At my last job I walked around the building a lot when I was bored or needed a break. Wasn’t ideal but I made a game out of it. And though your downtown might be emptied out, is there not a one coffee shop or something? Something of that nature, even if a bit farther than it should be.

    1. kicking-k*

      I’m in a similar position in which most of my team work elsewhere four days out of five. I do the walking around the (often almost empty) building. It’s tough because although working in a mostly empty building is isolating, it’s actually distracting on the days when it’s fuller because I have become de-habituated. Apparently there’s no pleasing some people? :)

      I have natural light and a private office and my work really does need to be in-person most days so it could be a lot worse. But I’m watching the tips with interest as I do find it demotivating trying to work on the empty-building days. I have no coffee shops or parks nearby either.

  6. Elle*

    You described my office and the city we’re located in. When we were in the office 5 days a week many staff would gather in the break room for lunch at 12:30. It was an unplanned thing that organically happened over the years. It was a lovely way to break up the day and talk about non work stuff.

    1. Kate*

      I usually roll my eyes at the various efforts by our office social committee, but they did come up with one good idea: every Tuesday and Thursday, there is an informal meetup of people at lunch to walk around the building for some fresh air and exercise.

      We’re not located in a particularly attractive area, so the conversation and company help make an otherwise bleh walk something to look forward to.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        My previous office of 10 did that during Covid. It was in the “some employers want you in the office but you still really, really need to mask” times, so it was the one time a day we could all chat with each other without masks on. I genuinely miss those walks about the industrial complex parking lots.

  7. Angrytreespirit*

    I have the same question. I am back to my unsafe, uncomfortable, toxic cube farm and I am suffering. Happy lights and mind games ain’t gonna do it.

    1. ferrina*

      There’s definitely a difference between a toxic cube farm and a generic cube farm. Toxicity is worse the more that you’re in it, and when you’re physically immersed for 8+ hours, that does real damage (both mentally and physcially- see all the studies on the effects of stress on the body). Essentially when you’re unsafe your brain is tapped into your fight or flight response, and your brain/body wasn’t designed to be in survival mode long-term.

      In your case, I’d recommend an exit plan and mentally detatching. Good luck!

    2. LilPinkSock*

      Without giving more information than you are comfortable with, what’s unsafe about your cube farm? Is there something you and your cube neighbors can do about it, or is it in fact those neighbors who are the problem?

      In any case, I’m sorry :-( Cubicle life just isn’t the greatest, no matter what

      1. Angrytreespirit*

        Hi. My agency removed its mask mandate while putting everyone back into the office. Esp. on Wednesdays – everyone has to be in the office, whether there is space for you or not. So I am often crammed into my cube with unmasked coworkers.
        Thanks for your thoughts.

      1. Angrytreespirit*

        I have been for 2 months or so. Haven’t found anything that wouldn’t require me to move that pays what I get paid now. Very niche field unfortunately.

  8. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    Environment is just as much a factor in job satisfaction as tasks and responsibilities. Ask yourself: if nothing changes, are you really willing to be back in a cube for the next five years? What about three? If the answer is no, and your company isn’t willing to budge, this job might not be the best-fit culturally for you. Try not to keep anything off of the table, because you never know just what the right job will be.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I have to agree with this. While the new city may be to your liking, the new job may not be, especially if your employer will not be flexible about WFH options. (And notice that I say “will not” and not “can not”. You’re coming in to an office just to be on Zoom? WTH is wrong with these managers?)

      Yep, keep nothing off the table.

      1. OP Cube Life*

        OP here- I agree. I was under time pressure and am very specialized so needed to take this position, but will definitely look more now that I am in the location I wanted. This position is in my exact specialty with tons of room for growth and interesting work, wonderful colleagues (who are subject to the same bad WFH rules, but since they are not at headquarters like I am they have more flexibility to WFH “illicitly.”)

        1. Plebeian Aristocracy*

          That’s an even harder place to be in. You can’t really call them out, because then they’ll think of you as the “spoil sport who ruined WFH for everyone,” when really you were just looking for parity in the other direction. I’m sorry that this aspect of it sucks so much, and I wish you the best of luck.

  9. Ugh..No*

    I feel your pain. I am in a sort of similar situation. I changed jobs in November. While I left a very toxic job, I was incredibly close with my team. We had a very collaborative environment and often chatted alot during the day, we walk to lunch together and to go get coffee. I also had a steady workload to keep me busy.

    Now I am in a very large, nice cube but its very secluded. I rarely talk to my team, and have a very light workload. Thankfully I am hybrid and can work from home 2x a week. But I am getting a little stir crazy. Some things that have helped me:

    1. Walk the stairs 3-5x a day (Depending how bored I am actually am). This helps get me moving and wakes me up a little. If you can’t physically do this, get up from your desk and leave the cube for 5-10min.
    2. Leaving for lunch
    3. Making time outside of work for exercise. On nice days I try and walk my dog, but with it being winter i usually make a trip to the gym or do a youtube work out.
    4. Reading AAM (lol). I fill alot of my day with looking at old posts
    5. Breaking up the day with some video trainings.
    6. Planning things outside of work that bring you joy. Like Taking a class (art, workout, music, theatre), meeting up with friends or volunteering.
    7. Cooking a good meal with you get home
    8. Spending time with a pet if you have one.

    1. a thought*

      +1 leaving for lunch. You mention that the part of the city you are in is not conducive — so maybe this isn’t feasible. But would it be possible to drive or take public transit a short distance? Or actually go into a lunch place?

      I used to work next to a grocery store and some days I would get a soda and a sandwich from the deli counter and getting out, having a fun lunch really changed my day — even though I’d usually bring the sandwich back to my desk because there was no where else to eat. (Depending on options and budget this might or might not be feasible)

    2. OP Cube Life*

      These are great! I do leave for lunch religiously and have found one good outdoor spot for lunch. I am also planning on joining a gym and working out during my lunch break (the timing of that is not monitored, so I can take a longer one for gym time.)

      1. AMC*

        I was going to ask if there were any gyms or boutique fitness options available. This saved me at my last job. Best of luck to you!

  10. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    If the office is pretty empty, it would be reasonable to ask if you can get a space closer to the window.

    Also, you could try asking if you can “finish a day from home” where you go in and leave early to “beat traffic” and then log in to finish the day. Same for starting the day at home.

    1. Angry socialist*

      I came here to say this! Ask if you can be moved to a cubicle with a view. Do you have to be at your cubicle or do you have to be generally in the office? Can you take a laptop and work from a lounge, lunchroom, or empty cubicle just for an hour here and there? You’re still in the office but at least it’s a change of pace from staring at your own fabric-covered half-walls.

  11. Pinacolada*

    This may be a very odd recommendation, but think about giving Betabrand’s DressPantYogaPants a try! (Or other similar brands). I am obsessed with the Crop Lite because they are a thinner fabric than the standard ones, but they are all great.

    These were a lifesaver for me when I had to go into an office everyday. They are basically exactly what they sound like, yoga pants that have been styled to look like dress pants!

    If there is an empty room you can use, consider doing a yoga break instead of a walk break! I also used to do stair-climbing, and I found a gym near my office that offered a 20 minute quickie workout, so I could do that without having to change. It was great to bop over there on my lunch break and do a light routine.

    Even if you have a casual dress code (say, jeans are okay) for a lot of us we’d still be self-conscious wearing normal stretch pants in the office, so these are a great way to disguise them.

    Again, there are other brands, so I’m not trying to just shill for this product. I also recommend bringing in plants and getting an SAD light device. It may help with the lack of natural light!

    1. SansaStark*

      Wearing my Betabrand pants in my office right now and I cannot recommend them highly enough. They’re as close as I’m going to get to my pj pants, but they look like regular office pants (not too tight where leggings are tight, etc.). If I have to come into the office, I’m going to at least need to be comfortable.

      1. Pinacolada*

        Agree, I love them so much! I am WFH now and I still wear them all the time. For me they are also great for WFH because wearing something slightly professional during the day helps me focus and demarcates the work-life/home-life balance. So these provide that as well as being comfortable enough to sit cross legged on the couch with my laptop on my lap!

    2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      LW didn’t mention anything about disliking wearing pants or other clothing. That said, I admit I’ve found that not all of my jeans fit as well as they used to a few years ago…

      1. Pinacolada*

        Yeah true! But in addition to making everyday sitting more comfy, for me they also facilitated the ability to do a quick yoga break in an empty office, some stair climbing, or a lunchtime visit to a nearby gym. Which are all definitely relevant to the matter as the OP referenced missing the opportunity for exercise during the day.

    3. OP Cube Life*

      OP here- I have to check these out! We are a business FORMAL dress code. It’s bonkers y’all.

      1. Anne Wentworth*

        Wow, that’s rough. And it makes any kind of stretching or stair climbing breaks that much more difficult. Sorry your new workplace is so backwards! :(

        1. OP Cube Life*

          Right? I’ve been avoiding too much exercising-while-at-work because the changes of clothes for going to the gym or walking to work and then work time is such a pain, but at this point I think I need to push through the annoyances of packing essentially a work suitcase every day and get those sweet sweet benefits of exercise :)

          1. Ginger Baker*

            Oh! I have some suggestions on this. Can you pack one large weekly amount and only bring back and forth once each per week? OR, ALSO, if you can find a laundromat or laundry service near your office, could you keep a week or two of workout clothes in the office and wash and return while at the office? (If you’re super worried about smell, you could use a diaper pail to store clothes to be washed, though there are likely other good options.)

      2. Thegreatprevaricator*

        Business formal plus cube lyfe to do zoom meetings for a knowledge worker? It sounds to me as this is some company culture stuff that you can’t fix. Tbh I would start gently looking elsewhere. That kind of stuff is coming from the top and I (making huge assumptions here) don’t think it says anything encouraging about leadership.

      3. Morgan Proctor*

        What on earth? What industry are you in? Is this normal for it, or is your employer just super out of touch?

      4. Roscoe da Cat*

        Betabrand – even their dresses are really comfortable. There is something about having pants that look great, wash in a machine and you can set crisscross applesauce in them

      5. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Business formal for a knowledge worker plus full time in office plus a windowless cube farm? The only thing worse would be an open plan!

        Seriously, your management is so far out of touch it’s like they are back in the 1960s. It does not say good things for the future of the company.

      1. Pinacolada*

        I’ve heard of menswear versions, that’s what got me on the search for mine! I think the men’s versions are essentially dress-pant-sweat-pants lol

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I have J.Jill instead of Betabrand but they look like dress pants and feel like pajamas. I’m slowly trying to replace all of my business pants to these.

      1. Emily (she/hers)*

        Yes, I have pants like this from Ministry of Supply and they’re AMAZING.

        But seriously, windowless cube farm five days a week + business formal? Eesh. I feel for you, OP.

  12. Emily*

    If you can identify a walking friend in the office, that could provide a nice break; you don’t have to walk to a specific place such as a coffee shop, but just ping them on chat or whatnot once a day and ask if they want to take a 10- or 15-minute jaunt around the block.

    1. Another Michael*

      This is a great suggestion – a former coworker and I used to “take a lap” when we needed a break or to debrief some office shenanigans. Usually a loop of a few city blocks, sometimes a jaunt to a coffee shop or local bookstore if we had more time, but always a nice excuse to get some fresh air and get moving.

    2. E*

      Yes came here to say something similar! Even though your team is remote, can you make a office buddies? A few would be helpful so you can take multiple breaks and have more of a reason for coming in

  13. chs.29*

    This is such a good question. Like the LW, I found that I really enjoyed WFH, and I actually was more productive and far more efficient. Then I got a new job about 6 months ago, and while I really enjoy it and I love my coworkers, I also have a lot of trouble being cooped up at a desk for my whole workweek. I know this isn’t the case with everyone, but I’ve found that I get more distracted at work (maybe from just being in a formal environment) than I do at home, and I constantly find myself restless.
    I know this isn’t the question LW is asking, but I have to be honest: I reflected a lot when I started this position, and I’m working towards starting my own business, with the goal of being able to work from my home. My current job is a dream, but I can’t see myself doing working at desk forever. It’s difficult, and I’m not rushing, because I get to work on very visible, important, purposeful work, but ultimately I know I want to work from home. And at some point, that desire is going to outweigh how much I like my position.
    All this to say: LW, if you give this job a chance and still find yourself unhappy working in a cube, I think it’s completely valid to value WFH enough to look for a WFH job.

  14. Person from the Resume*

    Get up and walk around the office/cube farm near the windows if possible every hour or two. If there’s a a break room, water cooler, gathering area in the office, hang out there to take a break and try to make work acquaintances and friendships. Maybe bring in a lamp that you put a more natural daylight white light bulb in. (I am in the slow process of replacing most bulbs in my house with these myself.) I’m bummed for you that you feel a lunchtime walk or sit in a park is not an option. That’s unfortunate.

    I don’t know that this statement is helpful to you now, but it sure seems like this office with their butt in seat mentality and the office cubical setup not matching what makes for a pleasant office for you is a mismatch. I can see how you missed it; even if you could not necessarily know what the office looks like beforehand.

    Does it help you to try to make it better with these suggestions, but also give yourself permission to try it for a year (for example) before deciding to look for something better if you can’t adjust. Give yourself a deadline where if it’s not working, you have permission to stop trying to make it work and look for something better.

    1. ferrina*

      Walk to someone’s desk when you have a question for them, rather than email. Stretches the legs, gives you a nice change of scenery. I’d usually take the long way that involved as many windows as possible.

      Also seconding Person from the Resume’s suggestion to check in with yourself in a year (or even 6 months). Give it a try, but if it’s not working, that’s okay! Now you know.

    2. Hudson*

      Seconding the walk every hour. My coworker takes office laps once an hour, partly correlated with her Apple watch sending her a stand cue. She’ll come over and chat with me, do a lap of our big office to see who’s here, walk to the windows to see the weather, things like that. I sometimes time walks with her and we do an indoor lap together, and now even when she’s not here, I try to get up once an hour, even if it’s just to refill my water bottle.

    3. OP Cube Life*

      Yeah, I do still go for walks but this downtown is a little sketchy, so it’s less relaxing than it was in old city. I’ll definitely see how I feel after a little more time here and make a switch if needed!

      1. lemon*

        Does your city have a bike or scooter share program? I find that I tend to feel safer in sketchy areas when I’m on a bike or other apparatus that lets me get away quickly if needed. Might be nice to go for a mid-day bike ride or scoot around the neighborhood.

  15. Ann Onymous*

    Can you find yourself a walking route within your building, preferably one that takes you near windows?

  16. KP*

    To me, it doesn’t just sound like you’re missing the perks from WFH. Your letter feels to me like you’re feeling a bit like a fish out of water in your new environment?

    I think a few simple things might make you feel better until you get used the office again:

    1) Can you make your cube feel more like yours and less sterile? Little things like a mug warmer or fidget toys. Add some color to help with brain processing :) The more the cube feels like yours, the less at odds you’ll feel in your environment.

    2) Make new routines and rituals. Since you can’t do the things you’re used to, you’re going to have to make new habits. Is there a gym nearby or onsite? A coffee shop? Can you walk inside?

    3) There’s likely more going on downtown or in the nearby neighborhoods than you know. It’s just hard to see since you’re new to the city. If your employer has a new employee resource group, join it. Maybe check out neighborhood/city groups on social media and see if there’s anything there in walking distance. Or even something to do on the weekends. The more the city feels like your home, the more comfortable you’re going to be and the more hidden treasures you’re going to find.

    Good luck. I know it’s a hard adjustment.

      1. KP*

        Color can help with learning retention, attention to detail and creativity. There are real studies on it….but you also have to be careful with how much stock you put in it. There’s a lot of pseudoscience parading as “psychology” if you do a google search, but it’s really just an opinion on what colors make the author of the article happy.

        But, if you’re ever on PubMed, I would search for things like “color and memory” and “color and learning” :) There’s a ton of information there.

  17. a raging ball of distinction*

    I totally relate. One of my colleagues discovered that the floor 2 stories up is fully set up but deserted. That’s the sanctuary now. It’s a word of mouth thing, sometimes I’ll run into a couple of other people up there. It’s just so nice to be alone, quiet, and feel like you’re not being watched. If you have any options to work from a different floor or building, mix it up!

    1. OP Cube Life*

      This is awesome! We have some empty space too but I am visible to company leadership so working somewhere else within same building probably not something I can do frequently. Bleh!

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        “Hey boss, my brain needs a change of scenery. I’m going to go to the back 40 to spread out and work on the TPS reports. IM me if you need something.”

        1. Amtelope*

          You could do that at my workplace, but you could do pretty much anything at my workplace, including work from home. In my experience, employers that care a lot about having butts in seats even when it doesn’t make any sense can be really attached to you being visible at your desk at all times.

      2. a raging ball of distinction*

        I think it works because our culture is very meetings-heavy (and that’s why we’re in the office, right? for Collaboration!!!?) so it’s not unusual for folks to be away from their desks for long periods. You mentioned having lots of zooms – could you “take your meetings” in the empty space “so that you don’t disturb other people”? Noise pollution is definitely an issue in our cube farm!

  18. Ormond Sackler*

    I typically work remote, but I’ve been coming in to the office this week (and likely only this week). I do have to say that in some ways I feel more energized driving 20 minutes and seeing other people in person, and interpersonal interactions are more pleasant with face-to-face contact, little jokes, etc.

    I wonder if OP gets to know their new city better they will find some nice places to walk around? Or even a coffee shop or something to walk to if they need a break?

    For myself, we will see if we have to go to the office more in the future, but their seems to be little eagerness by leadership to come back, so typically the office is pretty empty and no one seems to care if we come in.

  19. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I am from a high cost of living area, so everyone I know is saying the opposite with regards to lunch time walks because the office is in an area that is nicer than where most of us, even the execs, live!

    Other than that, I’d look for the positives of being out of the house. You mentioned some conveniences, but life isn’t only about being convenient in the moment. No 80 year old looks back on their youth and is glad they got to do laundry during the day. Life is about experience. If you’re home all day, it is absolutely guaranteed that you have no new experiences. If you go out of the house and out in the world, something is at least bound to happen. You find a new unexpected lunch buddy in the office, or simply enjoy people watching when you go out to lunch.

    I spent a year in a small city that didn’t have any street life and excitement but at times it was still more interesting to go the office or walk around the building at lunch, than be in my same house, day in and day out

    1. Notaname*

      Sorry, as a 70 year old I am extremely happy to look back on the times when I was able to work at home and do laundry at the same time! And had no problem finding plenty of new experiences when not working.

      1. Pinacolada*

        I think their point is to make the best of it. After all, a lot of us do get into a rut when WFH! Since we don’t technically “have to” leave the house. Of course, it can go the opposite way too! But if they make it a point to try a new restaurant 1x per week on the way home from work, or look into a new way to connect with colleagues, that may help them appreciate their situation more.

    2. OP Cube Life*

      This is true! I actually recently started walking to work since it’s pretty close for me, and it’s been fun to notice and see daily life things happening out in the world. That makes for a much better start to the day.

      1. LyraB*

        Hey, that was going to be my suggestion! The literature very much supports that commute enjoyment is a significant component of life enjoyment over the long term, and that those who walk and cycle to work enjoy their commute the most

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      One of my conveniences while WFH was that I could take an hour and play a game of scrabble with my son before he went to work, and then just work an hour later to make it up. Life is made up of time and time is what conveniences save.

    4. Avril Ludgateaux*

      No 80 year old looks back on their youth and is glad they got to do laundry during the day.

      Nor does any 80-year-old look fondly back on the hours they spend commuting to and from work, and the evenings and weekends they spent catching up on chores. Nor does any 80-year-old feel grateful for the lack of energy they had to actually go out and experience the world because so much was devoted to not just work but the time around work. I used to work high up in the Empire State Building; trust me, I would not trade WFH to go back there for the ~street life and excitement~ that I never got to enjoy because I spent two hours each way commuting on public transport to get there, and was wiped out and asleep, in my work attire, on the couch, by 7:00 PM each day.

      This is not the helpful platitude that you think it is.

      1. Lurker*

        I actually found it to be a helpful way to reframe some of my negative thinking today and I’m glad Prospect mentioned it. So I suppose your comment wasn’t helpful as you thought it was either.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          Super happy for you. Doesn’t change the fact that a condescending comment that implies people who WFH literally never get out of their houses or have meaningful experiences is needlessly denigrating to a large swath of people. You shouldn’t need to tear down other people’s lifestyles to make yourself feel better about a circumstance you’re objectively unhappy with; that’s not perspective nor positivity, it’s bitterness reframed as control over one’s circumstances.

          “If you’re home all day, it is absolutely guaranteed that you have no new experiences.” Give me a flipping break. There are better ways to get the same message across. A simple “try to focus on the unique and novel experiences you will have in your day-to-day instead of the ones you won’t” is just as effective without being patronizing and insulting.

    5. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      I like the fact that I don’t have to leave my house! Now it’s my choice when to go out, and where. If I don’t like the “scenery” at my house, I can change it!

      I don’t need the dopamine hit of “new experiences” all the time, and would rather have them at my convenience, rather than things like “Oooh, new experience, my car got totalled while I was commuting!” (Yes, I had this happen. Not a good “new experience” at all.)

      1. Courageous cat*

        Why are y’all being so weirdly snarky about this? Since when is “look for the positives, here are some” in an post for *requested advice about how to get used to cube life* considered insulting? No one’s making you guys go out and get an in-person job.

      2. No longer lurking*

        In the last 2 weeks since my forced return to the office, I’ve almost been hit twice while driving through the traffic circle on my way to work when the other drivers decided they had the right of way even though I was already in the traffic circle. One guy even stopped in front of me and got out of his cat to yell at me after I honked at him. No road rage or near misses on my commute from my bedroom to my office when I work at home.

    6. City Mouse*

      I know what you mean, but at the start of the pandemic I went from working in a city centre (with a substantial commute) to working ten minutes from my suburban home, in an area which is almost entirely housing. There are no coffee shops and one (boring) place to buy snacks. It’s a contrast. I love being back home so quickly but I actually miss my commute! Just to see new faces and other people’s fashion choices, and eat food I didn’t tote from home, and have a sense of a bigger life.

      Almost everything that’s actually part of the newer job are better, but it has not been without its downside.

  20. Chris*

    This may not be what you want to hear, but maybe you should find another new job. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to start a job only to find out that some element of it really sucks for you, whether that element is part of the work, a colleague, the commute, your manager, or having to work from a cube farm.

    Since you worked remotely before (and arguably could do so from the current job) there are probably opportunities for WFH positions in your industry. Resume-wise if you do end up moving on, it’s probably better for this to be a short stint that you can leave off your resume, rather than staying a year.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Even if you’re there a year, I still think it would be okay to leave it on and say that you only took it so that you could move to this city. Sometimes you take a job in order to make a big life change possible, and you know those two things aren’t always going to be compatible.

    2. All Het Up About It*

      Agree. I was coming back to say this. If you waiting to job hunt because you just need a break from it, totally understand, but if you are waiting because you think you need to stay at this job a certain amount of time…. don’t.
      “I wanted to move to X City and was excited to find a remote position here, but unfortunately New Job Company and I define remote differently. After coming back to an office in confirms that I am a more engaged and productive employee when I WHF (full-time, at least 3 days a week, etc.), so while I enjoy my new city and the work I do for New Job Company, I’m looking for a position where remote means (insert required definition here).”

    3. Relentlessly Socratic*

      Also, at least in this discrete point in time, one or even two short-term stints doesn’t raise eyebrows the way it did in the beforetimes. That will likely not be true forevermore, but right now it’s less of a big deal.

  21. Susan Calvin*

    If the WFH policy is actually being enforced, I’m guessing there are people from other parts of your org with you in the office? In that case, make the best of that – get to know your local colleagues, maybe even float some some low-key bonding activities (monthly potluck lunch, birthday cards, competetive Wordle league) or see if those are already happening and you can get in on them! It’ll make the coming in to be on Zoom feel much less pointless, you can pick their brains for hidden gems of the neighborhood, and it’s actually great for internal networking, and getting a better big picture view on the inner workings of your employer, which I find can be really challenging to get a grasp of when you’re new.

  22. Anonymous Engineer*

    This week I started a new role within my company. Officially the whole company allows a hybrid schedule (in the office 3 days a week) if your work is conducive to it. I work at a production site so much of our workforce is out in the field, in control rooms, etc and has to be physically present. But I’m an office worker and only need to visit the field occasionally. My previous team had all worked the hybrid schedule, and I assumed when I applied for this new role, it would be the same.

    I was shocked when my new supervisor told me on Tuesday that my new team comes in everyday. I decided to be honest about my shock! I told her straight up that I would not have applied for the role (which I am otherwise very excited for) had I known that. She had assumed my previous team was not working the hybrid schedule – it turned out we both had made incorrect assumptions based on how our own teams function (but I did say “[CEO name] said we could!” with a laugh to demonstrate that her team is the abnormal one in the context of our company). She appreciated my honesty and by the end of the conversation told me she wasn’t going to make me change what had been working for me.

    Just sharing this to demonstrate that 1. there may be some hope to change your situation, and 2. managers NEED to hear that this type of thing is a dealbreaker for people. They need to know who they would be missing out on if they’re unwilling to be flexible.

    1. Grith*

      Agree. A lot of people are saying “get another job”, but there’s a few steps of testing the water on more remote work before that point, up to and including the kind of pseudo-ultimatum you describe.

  23. Meep*

    A simple solution is adding a plant and one of those lamps that simulate natural light to your cube to make it cheery.

    Also do what I do, drink plenty of water so you have frequent bathroom breaks and take a minute to do Sun Salutations to the Sun on these breaks.

  24. Didi*

    Give yourself something you can look forward to every day – maybe a walk with a friend, a special food item, a little lunchtime or after-work shopping, happy hour etc.

    1. Sunshine*

      Ditto this, especially exciting snacks or beverages. I am highly, highly motivated by treats like making myself a matcha latte or finding fun sparkling waters to keep in the office fridge. It’s just a small thing but it really does help, as does making sure my lunch is something I’m excited to eat and not just a sad desk salad!

  25. Hen in a Windstorm*

    2 things I see in your comment are mindset problems. I think you might be second-guessing your decision to move because of all the changes.

    First, you label yourself a whiner because “other people have it worse”. There will always be someone who has it worse. That does not mean your life is perfect or that you have no right to complain about problems. So I suggest getting used to validating your feelings and acknowledging things that are bothering you without labeling, judging, or comparing. You can only solve problems you acknowledge to be real.

    Second, I see that you have some options, but are quick to eliminate them without even trying them. “Super limited options” are not zero options. Walk through the downtown core. Learn the neighborhood you work in. Find a better park. If nothing else, you’re getting that sunlight you value so much and some exercise. One thing I’ve learned is that when something is new, it can seem worse than it really is. A little trash on the sidewalk can makes a place seem seedy, when it may just be a windy area. Try picking up some of that trash and help make it look nicer. Walk through it for a few weeks, and I bet it won’t seem as sketchy as now.

    Also, you moved to this area for some reason – what was it? Did you research the city? Is there something you could walk to in 15 minutes that is nicer than right around your office? I used to live in Philadelphia and a 15 minute walk will take you to a totally different neighborhood, no matter where you start. Walking there and walking back would only take 30 minutes, leaving you time for lunch in a different setting.

    Good luck!

  26. Anon (and on and on)*

    First off, let yourself feel your feelings. I struggle with this, too, where you judge yourself for having reactions to a situation that are perfectly reasonable just because they’re unexpected or inconvenient. If you don’t believe me on that, trust my therapist.

    Second, exercise helped me a lot when I was in every-day office mode. This included walking at the office by doing laps around my floor or back and forth in the basement, and in the mall across the street. I was the youngest mall-walker by decades but it really helped to improve my mood! I had to get over my self-consciousness at doing this and prioritize what was best for me and my body. I think being home for so long would help if I had to go back to an office situation. Putting myself and my needs first just feels easier and more natural now. I encourage you to lean into those habits and find creative ways to do them at work!

  27. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    re: the no safe parks, etc. — I’ve worked in places where being outside was basically impossible 6 months of the year. So I explored the public spaces of the building I worked in and any neighboring buildings with open lobbies. You never know if you’re going to find a little indoor garden, koi pond, etc. somewhere.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Ooh, this is a great idea! I remember I once found a little (outdoor) garden area with a fountain and benches inside a square of buildings that was easy to walk by and miss if you weren’t looking right at it. Open to anyone, but kind of hidden.

      And actually, some public-facing corporate buildings have art installations in their lobbies too (think Comcast, Verizon, city utilities).

    2. OP Cube Life*

      This is a great idea! I have done a little inside-exploring around but should start doing more. there are some awesome hidden couches and lobbies around cities.

      1. teapot enby*

        Is there something like a museum nearby that you could get a membership to?

        I find museum cafes often really welcome any business on weekdays and are happy to let you get out with your laptop for an hour when you just can’t office, and the galleries are an interesting place to walk.

        Some may also have talks or tours during the day, and hey that’s a reason to get excited about coming in because you couldn’t have experienced that from home.

    3. Applesauced*

      The terms you can search are “POPS” or “Privately Owned Public Spaces” “Use of public space” “Privately Owned Common Space”

  28. ECS*

    I initially read this as “how can I get used to CLUB life again?” and thought…this is interesting…dance or golf?

  29. Polar Vortex*

    Coming from exactly your shoes in open concept hell:

    – Plants and happy lights (and UV lights for your plants)
    – Something fun to look at when you need a smile (star wars empire logo because you’re stuck working for the empire, a “this is fine” dog pop funko, whatever these are not specific examples at all)
    – Eat your lunch elsewhere, even if it’s just another open cubicle nobody is using
    – Take a 15 min break twice a day and walk around your office or up and down the stairwell or something if you can’t wander around outside. Just walking is still an endorphin help.
    – Music can be a game changer and a huge mood influencer (plus wearing headphones means nobody bothers you)
    – Reading on your breaks can also be a huge mood booster

    Biggest recommendation:
    – If you can, once or twice a week when you have a block of a few hours, book a meeting room for yourself. It let’s you have that alone time you’re missing being in the office. It lets you occasionally pause to look at your phone/check AAM/play solitaire without feeling like someone is going to look over your shoulder. It also allows for head down work to get done without being bothered by all that office chit chat/noise/distraction hell. It lets you hear yourself think.

  30. Combinatorialist*

    Do they actually enforced the WFH days? As a new employee, the strategy of just not coming in 5 days a week is probably not a great one, but are there people in your office (even if they aren’t on your team)? Or are they working from home more than they “should”?

    If people are actually there, I would try to get to know the people around you and see if you can make a work friend. If the people aren’t actually there, would anyone notice or care if you also weren’t?

    1. Khatul Madame*

      This. Corporations make “personal connections” a carrot for returning to office. Since your work-related interactions cannot be in person, try to interact with people who are physically around you. You may benefit from learning about other departments, or at least find out practical information about your new city, especially and the area around the office.

    2. MicroManagered*

      The letter says “my new job has me in a cubicle in the office five days a week (we get 26 carefully rationed WFH days a year.)”

      1. Combinatorialist*

        Sure, but my job also has me in office five days a week and … nobody does that. Based on the recent threads, there is substantial difference between rules and practice right now so asking where the company is on that spectrum doesn’t seem unreasonable.

        Also, if they are required to be in to sit on zoom calls and nobody is in around them, I don’t think its actually possible to be happy long-term in that resentment-inducing environment.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          OP mentioned just starting this job and enjoying it. Being a new hire, I doubt they have the political juice to just ignore the company directive regarding being in the office.

          1. TomatoSoup*

            Agreed, but it is well worth keeping an eye on what the actual practices are in the office. This is a good idea in general. I’ve worked in government agencies that has some incredibly strict rules. Some of which were followed to the t and enforced carefully, while others were more of a “get your work done and maybe don’t let the higher ups catch you the two days a year they ever bother to come to our office.” This was not always the rules one would assume to go in either category.

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            Okay, but doing 30 seconds of informal research wouldn’t hurt and may help. No one is saying that the OP should just stop showing up, just that a little pressure test may reveal that they are worrying about something they don’t have to.

            Example script: “It’s definitely an adjustment being back in the office 5 days a week! I’m curious how everyone else here takes their WFH time – do you have a regularly scheduled WFH day or do you save them for emergencies?” Cue the person saying “They are super strict so I save them only for when I really need it” or “5 days a week?? No one does that, you should talk to Boss about setting up a different schedule”. They might even get some ideas for how to cope from others who are also struggling with being in the office full time.

            As long as OP asks in a way that doesn’t sound like they are trying to get out of it, asking can’t hurt. Understanding your office culture is a good thing.

            1. cleo*

              Agreed! When I was hired a few months ago, HR made it VERY CLEAR that there was a 3 day in / 2 day WFH hybrid schedule and that THERE WERE NO EXCEPTIONS.

              But my first week, when I went into the office, it was very obvious that no one in my specific area actually came into the office 3 days a week. I asked a few people about it and figured out that the head of our dept cares about everyone doing their work and making deadlines and frankly has more important things to do than take attendance. She wasn’t going to use up capital fighting the policy but she wasn’t going to enforce it either.

        2. DJ*

          At my workplace we are meant to be in 1-2 days pw but with various reasons coming up for say not being in that day it ends up being once a fortnight if that.

    3. Beth*

      Testing the work-from-home policy is a possible option to explore for an established employee, but I feel like it’s not a great idea for a new hire. Even if OP’s office mates are pushing the policy, they should probably stick to it until they’ve built a reputation for good work–and in the meantime, they still need tips to make it bearable!

  31. Fluffy Fish*

    Quite a few of people are suggesting OP just more or less petition to WFH. Based on the letter, this doesn’t really sound like something that would help OP. It seems clear their new company has very much decided that people are in office and have a set amount of WFH days.

    Unfortunately there’s been a shift for a lot of people and remote just isn’t possible.

    I think the focus should be on helping OP with their new reality.

    To that point OP, I echo what someone said about a daylight lamp.

    I understand walking outside isn’t so much an option now, but regularly getting up and away from your desk even just to take a lap around the building or go up and down the stairs can help. See if you can get outside into natural light even for 5 minutes here and there.

    Is there a lunch room? If so, def go there to do lunch over sitting at your desk.

    26 WFH days is 2 a month – can you regularly schedule them so you have a bit of a break to look forward to? Even if it’s just scheduling 1 day a month and saving the other for “emergencies”. And consider taking it on say Wednesday vs M/F – a midweek break can be nice.

    Identify little ways you can get a break from your desk through out the day. Chat with a coworker? Print something? Make a cup of coffee?

    How about scheduling something AFTER work regularly that you enjoy. Exercise class? Coffee shop and a book? Pit stop at the local thrift store? A podcast you only listen on your way home from work?

    Ultimately if you try some things and you just really don’t like being in office, then the best option would be to look for a different position. “I have found I work better in a remote environment” is a perfectly valid reason for leaving a job.

    1. CheesePlease*

      this is all great advice! and a lot of what I would say myself.

      OP did not ask “how can I get more WFH”. But rather “how can I make this work?” – which to me reads they want to make it work!

      I do think prescheduling WFH days may help! Can you at least set up a monthly WFH date (second Wednesday of the month?) and then have the remaining 14 days to use as needed (feeling a bit sick, doctors appointment, HVAC repair person etc).

      1. Fluffy Fish*


        I’ll add because OP did comment below but things get lost when lots of people comment – they verified that yes, WFH is not an option for this company.

        Even if they weren’t sure, people have to understand that asking for something that is way out of step with the norm (WFH at a company that does allow it generally), requires capital and you being a known in demand high skilled worker. That’s just not in the cards for a brand spanking new employee.

        1. Lily Potter*

          Yeah, a person can’t go in with three whole weeks of experience at a workplace and start renegotiating their work situation. Even if working in the office seems supremely dumb, the OP is stuck with that situation for a while since they took the job knowing it required mostly butt-in-cubicle time.

      2. cncx*

        I’m a huge fan of home office on Wednesday, it really chops the week up and I love making a big breakfast Wednesday mornings and a huge pot of coffee and taking my time.

    2. wordswords*

      This is all such good advice!

      (And tailored to the OP’s current situation and what they’re actually asking about, to boot — yes, “advocate for yourself to get WFH or get a different job that allows WFH” may end up being the long-term solution, but it does nothing for short-term mitigation and nothing for giving the in-office situation a fair shake to see if you can adjust to it.)

    3. Bad Wolf*

      All of this!

      I am on the third floor of a 5-story building. When I am in the office and the weather isn’t great to go outside, I make a point a couple times a day to take the stairs up two floors, cross that floor, and then take the stairs down to the ground floor, cross back to the other stairwell, and back up to my office. Something about actually traversing the stairs helps me clear my head a bit in the way that a lap around the floor wouldn’t. I have the benefit of a nice office with a decent view, and I keep a teakettle in my office. So I will take one of my Expotitions up and down the stairs while my kettle is heating up.

      And I am a huge believer in finding a space elsewhere in the building to eat lunch. A kitchen, maybe a nook on another floor with couches, etc.

      I second/third/infinity the comments that say “walk to see someone instead of sending an email.” I do a lot of Management By Walking Around. I jot down a few things I need to resolve on a sticky note, grab my sticky note and my tea, and go off to the offices of the People Who Know The Things. I get to move, get a human interaction (I am an extrovert, pandemic was brutal for me), get the info I need, cue in on nonverbals, and all in roughly the time it takes to send a bunch of emails and get responses.

  32. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Packing 1.5 really good meals and some fun snacks. Your favorite sparkly drink always on hand. Headphones with netflix or your favorite type of entertainment/distraction. If you have to have your back to the door of your cube, get a mirror to place beside you facing door so you’re not startled by visitors. Remove the spare chair in your cube so people don’t pony up next to you when they ask for help finding something in the share drive. Get fierce about your personal space and interruptions. Make no apologies about needing to do your own thing.

    1. OP Cube Life*

      Oh, 100% on awesome snacks. I have repopulated my very own tech-company-esque snack drawer with all the good stuff, and brought in all my pre-pandemic in-office comforts like real dishes to eat lunch, etc.

  33. ILoveLlamas*

    I think there are some great suggestions here. Another suggestion for you: is there a professional organization you could join or even a local Toastmasters chapter that you could attend at lunch? I think something that gets you up out of your desk regularly will help. I also would suggest a lunchtime gym/yoga option — perhaps the office building has a free one. Even 20 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical will be refreshing. Also, take hourly breaks to walk around, clear your head. It’s a new routine, new environment. Give yourself a little grace to get acclimated. Now excuse me as I go goggle “Happy Light”. I gotta get one!

    1. teapot enby*

      I would add to Toastmasters that you could go on and see what’s available. There might be folks who meet for lunch or breakfast coffee or a run, or there might be a meetup for folks in your general area of work happening during or after work.

      If those things aren’t happening and you have lots of slack time at your job, you could certainly become an organizer of local things, or things for your coworkers.

  34. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    You’ve already been hit with the lamp + change your scenery and move around as much as you are able several times, so I thought I’d throw out some ideas for where you might find places to go on your lunch hour when you’re in a new city. It may seem very dead/limited (and it may actually be!) but it’s worth examining if your perception is warped by your anxiety over the change and you’re having a “mountains out of molehills” unhelpful thought pattern.

    Anyway, some places that might give you ideas of places to go on lunch or things to get involved in after work that will bring you a new kind of joy: your downtown business partnership, the nearest branch of your local library, your city’s parks & recreation department, a local independent bookstore, a local coffee shop, a local bar (I love an after work trivia thing, personally), or even

    I have made big solo moves a few times in my life and I also have pretty severe social anxiety, and something that has helped me is to gamify interacting with new people and challenge myself to learn 1 thing about them in a very brief interaction, learn 3 things from casual chit chat, or learn 6 things from a full on conversation. Sometimes I write them down in my bullet journal to help me remember (hello ADHD) but people reasonably get weird if they find out you have a Harriet the Spy style dossier on them. Anyway, this distracts me from anxieties and helps me connect with people and sometimes results in invitations to join social groups if we discover a common interest.

    Best of luck! And hopefully your company lightens up on the WFH thing eventually, but others are right that you probably don’t have the standing and don’t want to create bad early impressions by raising a stink about it at this point.

  35. DrSalty*

    I’m assuming looking for a remote position (or more flexible position) isn’t an option? Seems like the most obvious fix for like a pretty fundamental quality of your position.

    1. OP Cube Life*

      I’m very specialized and this role took me 8+ months to find since new city doesn’t have a big selection for my industry. I can keep looking, but it’s likely looking for the next thing will take me a while.

  36. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

    I am surprised nobody has suggested discussing your work environment with your manager. While some of the nuance depends on how long you’ve been there, it is totally reasonable to say to your manager in a 1:1 that the work environment has been very sterile/lonely/hard to settle in. This is feedback a manager needs to help a new employee. Hiring is so hard, they don’t want to lose you so soon! There may be solutions in-office that you aren’t aware of (including moving other people to cluster on floors, re-starting an old social committee, lunch vouchers to local businesses…. who knows).
    That said, it may be you just don’t like working on site, which is not that unusual and ok to job seek whenever you have come to terms with that!

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Actually, I just realized that if OP is the only one in the office, why can’t they have a cube near the window? That’s a relatively small ask that might help.

      1. Saberise*

        It doesn’t sound like she’s the only one in the office, just the only one from her team that works out of that office. So likely there are no cubes near a window.

  37. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    How long has it been? If I were you I would just give it more time, at least a month.

    How sketchy is the downtown? I used to work in a downtown and I would just explore the city. Maybe I didn’t get my heart rate up much because of all the streetlights, and the air wasn’t as fresh as it could be, but I did find interesting little stores and architecture to look at, and got away from my desk for a while.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Oh, yeah, when I first moved to Philly I took a tour led by the architecture board – mostly you looked *up* at the arches and carvings and tiles over the doorways of large buildings. There’s a lot there if you remember to look above street level.

  38. ferrina*

    Tea (or similar beverage of choice). It’s a great excuse to walk to the break room, hang out and chat with people while your tea boils and steeps, then you carefully prepare it however you like (sugar? slice of lemon? a little milk?). It’s 5-15 minutes where your brain gets to reset, you have a clear reason for being up and about, and even socializing. Repeat a couple times a day.

  39. OP Cube Life*

    OP here! THANK YOU to Alison and all of you for so many amazing suggestions! A few more relevant details- WFH is controlled directly by the CEO at my company and managers do not have discretion that is sanctioned from on high (some branches are in other locations and not physically visible to CEO, so have been more flexible, but it’s a huge internal battle and sore point right now for CEO, and I unfortunately sit in a location where CEO can see me on the same floor. It’s possible I will move seats. My department head is in my same office, but my manager is not.

    1. OP Cube Life*

      And by mentioning department head I mean, someone in my department is here sometimes and might see if I am not here.

      1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

        I mean, this makes it sound like a real micromanagery “butts in seats”/taking roll thing, and that you might be afraid to even take breaks away from your desk. Not good.

        1. Mf*

          Agree. This doesn’t sound like a healthy culture or good management. If I were OP, would definitely be thinking about a long-term exit plan, even if finding a new job isn’t something he/she can do immediately.

      2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Wow, how… petty. It seems like you could be penalized by the CEO for just taking lunch, getting up to go to the bathroom, or whatever. That’s not a healthy environment for a professional adult.

        Also, remember in looking for a new gig that is 100% remote that you are not limited to just your new city, but your old city and everywhere else. People with niche skills benefit a lot from the wider variety of positions available on a national level instead of just local stuff.

        Your new workplace with the cube farm in a sketchy area, business formal dress code, and micromanagery CEO sounds kind of toxic, TBH. I’d would not close out your job search, just update your address on your resume.

    2. Ahdez*

      Is it possible to ask to move to a nicer spot in the office or near a window? I was in a really unfortunate part of my office at one point and ended up asking for repainting and reorganizing the space, and it made a big difference for me.

      1. OP Cube Life*

        I will try for sure- even very senior people at this company are in the cube farm and window cubes are a hot commodity, so it’s going to look presumptuous within this context if I ask for one of the good cubes when people who have been here so long are in many of them. I don’t disagree it’s very silly, but that’s the culture at this company.

        1. lemon*

          You gotta make friends with the window-cube people and then go visit them frequently. At old job, I was super lucky to be one of the only non-director level employees with an office with a window with a really nice view. It made me super popular because everyone was always stopping by to enjoy a window break. (But also, be respectful of people’s time. I didn’t mind people stopping by 1-2x a day for 5-10 minutes, but there were some folks who would stop by multiple times a day, or stick around for 30+ minutes and weren’t good at picking up on hints I wanted to get back to work.)

        2. DD*

          Direct window cubes and offices are a hot commodity but I found sitting across from one where I could at least see sunlight and outdoors through their window was helpful.

    3. Alice*

      That is ROUGH for a job that was originally described as being remote (I think I saw you say that in a comment?). Good luck.

  40. Little My*

    I think you should focus on finding joy wherever you can! Are there coffee shops around? Can you schedule lunch with a new friend who works close by? (This is one of the big perks of working from the office for me.) If there is truly no one around, can you take a break to do desk yoga or bring a novel to the office for a 5-minute reading break? I know you mention your downtown hasn’t revived, which sucks–for me some of the best workday break activities include walking to get donuts or pick up prescriptions, stopping at the farmer’s market or grocery store, and meeting up briefly with friends or coworkers.

  41. bean*

    I don’t want to discount the OP’s read of the area around their office but I would definitely give outdoor walks several tries before giving up on them! Personally, an area would have to be Very unsafe for me to not feel comfortable taking a 20-30 minute walk at lunch — if it’s just a matter of walking past some trash or empty storefronts, I think that will stop feeling strange/unsafe once you’re used to it and have some familiarity.

    Other Fun Work Things include: good snacks/drinks that only live at your desk and not at home, someone you can have a 5-10 minute chat with in the morning or at lunch, a special podcast or playlist to listen to on your way in. Personally, leaving the house to go to work makes me feel like a real person, and I often find my mood is better on in office days, even if I’m tired. 99% of the time I have a fun story when my girlfriend asks how my day was, instead of just like, a tweet I saw. That stuff is small but it helps!

    1. OP Cube Life*

      I definitely still go for walks, but mine is a downtown with a significant homelessness and drug use problem- not trying to make a political statement or judgement call on folks, but sometimes that makes for unsafe situations even during the day.

      1. teapot enby*

        Yeah unfortunately if the streets are fairly empty it increases the likelihood of having a 1:1 conflict, especially if folks are struggling real hard in the area and stressed. It’s not a political judgement, it’s just how humans encounter one another.

        In a crowded downtown area, just the presence of witnesses can defuse a situation, and then often people walking by will intervene.

        Speaking as someone who has lived in a downtown for 10 years here.

        OP, you might feel more confident about walking around if you look a little into bystander intervention and self-defense. A good training in this area is actually focused on situational awareness and ways to de-escalate situations and calm people down, or if that’s not working ways to dissuade people with voice or body language, without ever getting to what is called full-force self defense. Videos to watch at your desk while you’re bored at work. Even if you primarily use that to walk to and from work and things don’t feel good to go out at lunch, having a toolkit of responses is a good thing, and will also help with the impact any encounters may be having on you.

      2. Downtown worker*

        As someone who works in a similar area, I just wanted to chime in and affirm that this sucks. Even when you don’t feel actively unsafe, it’s still hard to bear witness to this level of suffering five days a week. It can make an outdoor lunch break as emotionally depressing as it is physically refreshing.

        So I feel you!

        Some things that help for me:
        – Gym membership 2 blocks away, going on my lunch break (you mentioned this idea for yourself already elsewhere!). Plus, running errands at lunch.
        – At lunch, go to the nearest transit stop and hop on whichever bus or train comes first, and then ride for ten minutes and get off to explore a new neighborhood: it’s nice to get a reminder that my city is more than just the seedy downtown. Bonus points if you can touch some grass.
        – Break-taking software on my computer. I originally installed this to forestall wrist issues, but it’s also nice to have an external reminder to get up and walk around.
        – I second the suggestion to load up on special drinks and snacks. I have my flavored seltzer of choice stocked in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet (used to keep it in the communal fridge, labeled, but other people would take it, don’t get me started).
        – Biweekly lunches or dinners with a friend who works in a nearby neighborhood, which inspires me to try new eating spots and gives me something to look forward to (if you just moved, a ritual like this may also be a way to cement new friendships).
        – Decorating my desk area in my shared windowless office with colorful things. In addition to framed photos, I have postcard reproductions of artwork in a specific color family arrayed on the wall, and mug/office supplies/etc. in complementary colors. Other commenters’ lights-and-plants suggestions are great too.

        Main themes are: making your cube cozier, having things to look forward to each morning as you drag yourself into your commute, and also finding ways to pack chores/activities into the day (so you actually have more time in the evenings and weekends in your nice neighborhood or with people you want to spend time with).

  42. I should really pick a name*

    Are there any amenities near the office that aren’t near your home? Maybe get some nice takeout once a week. Is there something close to the office you can do right after work?
    Basically, trying to think of things that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were at home.

  43. higheredadmin*

    I’ve been amusing myself in the office with everything one can cook *at work* in an electric lunchbox. There are also not a lot of lunch options in my current location, and that was a shock after being in a downtown with a lot of choices. Cooking a hot chicken curry with rice at my desk and having a fresh hot lunch really cheers me up, and looking up recipes etc. has become a fun hobby. Also, you might feel less hesitant about being in the office once you start meeting your new co-workers and can hopefully enjoy the social aspects of being back in an office.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      I had never heard of an electric lunchbox. It’s basically a rice cooker shaped like a box. Cool! Reminds me of the awesome Japanese ripcord self-heating bento they sell in train stations there, but reusable.

      1. higheredadmin*

        It’s great! There are multiple trays/tiers (depending on what you buy) so you can cook fresh rice and then one or two other items. It’s a whole fun world!

    2. My Cabbages!*

      I have a one-serving Crockpot in my office, so I pop some leftovers or a Costco Tikka Masala in it when I get there, and have tasty hot food for lunch.

  44. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I am one who prefers in office, but holds tight to my 1 WFH day for the laundry. And I schedule most of my zoom on that day.

    – take walks anyway, unless it is really unsafe, even if it isn’t as pretty the endorphins and sunshine still help. Find a walking buddy if you can.
    – take a drive if you can’t take a walk
    -give it a little time. I think there is an adjustment period for any kind of change and it can be uncomfortable.

  45. Betty Flintstone*

    My advice is to make friends at work! When I was in a similar situation, I got to be chatty with a coworker and we would take “walking breaks” where we would walk around the main level of the building where the cafeteria was and just chit chat. I would also meet up with coworkers to grab a coffee or have lunch. The engagement with other humans really helped give my brain the break from work it needs.

    Also, is there a gym nearby? Go to a class over lunch or just walk for 20 minutes on a treadmill. I would sometimes do a yoga class. All help to manage stress and keep the blood flowing in my brain.

  46. Goldie*

    I hope this doesn’t sound funky but finding a few friends in the office might make it more bearable. Someone who likes housewives shows or sports or cooking. I enjoy working in person because my house is so distracting. I have mini friendships with everyone from the payroll tech to the custodian and that makes my day more enjoyable.

  47. Phone a friend*

    It’s a bit frustrating to see everyone mentioning WFH. It’s just not possible for everyone and there are circumstances beyond our control. Those of you who WFH are speaking from a place of privilege that the majority of people still don’t have. Now the suggestions…

    My favorite thing to do when I’m going stir crazy in the office is walk (as many have said). I found a circuitous route inside my building to take. Basically going around in circles but it helps and gives me time to decompress with a podcast or music. I’m sure people in the office think I’m odd but who cares.

    Also, phone a friend on your break. Sometimes you just need a person to talk to for a few minutes and take your mind off of your work.

    1. Sunshine*

      Yeah, this was kind of funny to me. It’s true that if you don’t ask you’ll never know if it’s an option, but… I feel like it’s pretty clear that the remote pendulum has swung in the other direction and it’s really NOT an option for a lot of workplaces, especially as a new employee. It’s great that so many people have this flexibility, but I’m sure OP would have tried this already if the company allowed it! Some workplaces are just not remote-friendly, no matter how fair or unfair it might seem.

  48. goducks*

    Can you try reframing some of it in your head? You’re a new person in a new city, so you probably don’t know very many people. Can you think of your in office time as time to meet new people and forge new connections/friendships? Making friends (and even friendly acquaintances) is often easier face to face, perhaps you might find new friends in the elevator or by the coffee pot-people you don’t interact with in the course of your job duties. If you already have a strong social network in the new city, maybe this isn’t something you need, but when I’ve moved to a new place where I didn’t know anybody those work relationships/interactions were really helpful at first and made me feel a lot less lonely and isolated.

  49. anonarama*

    Take a lunch walk anyway. If you hear about crime in the downtown area, read up about it. Is it high crime after midnight? Is crime random or between groups of teens? I live in what many consider a high crime area but all the crime happens late at night between people who know each other in their teens and early 20s. Its simply not relevant to my afternoon walks.

    Bring something to do with your hands during zooms if you can be off camera. I knit or crochet through a lot of meetings because otherwise I just can’t pay attention. Phone games are good for this too.

    Take real lunch breaks. Maybe its walking to a deli or bringing a real lunch in. Take your time.

    Are there work organizations like affinity groups or clubs that have meetings or even members? Try some out.

    Is there a community coffee pot? It is truly remarkable how my building started feeling like it came back to life again after the company put a fancy coffee machine in the breakroom

  50. Ahdez*

    I know many AAM readers aren’t into office socialization, but if you are at all, take advantage of it! I missed my work friends a lot during work from home and the ability to talk to a diverse set of people each day (meaning, beyond my spouse and kid!). When I was in the office, I would get up for a glass of water or to refill my coffee and chat with people; eat lunch together with people (not necessarily from my team); occasionally and budget permitting organize lunches out to try a new café or sandwich joint; celebrate birthdays and sometimes holidays together. We liked doing “breakfast buffets” where each person brought in a breakfast item and we all shared.

    The part I really hated was my commute, and getting into audiobooks and podcasts helped a LOT with that. Memoirs read by the author, and especially comedians, are a great way to get into audiobooks. Even if your commute isn’t that bad, having listened to a fun audiobook or podcast can really set you up for a good mood at the beginning of the day.

    Before kids and the drudgery of childcare pickup, I also planned to go to the gym or exercise classes that were near-ish to my office after work, and it made the day seem more productive and fun.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I recently read Kal Penn’s and Trevor Noah’s memoirs, and I think both of them (TN’s in particular) would have been even better as audiobooks. Both are read by the respective authors.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, even if you’re the only one on your team who works at your office, try socializing with people who work with other things. The people I spend most of my work socializing time at the office aren’t my closest coworkers. And unless you’re at the extreme introvert end of the spectrum, talking to a friendly person will probably give you a boost.

  51. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    When I moved from an incredible corner office with two walls made entirely of glass overlooking a forest (seriously, it was amazing to be there while it rained or the sun rose, and I almost never had to turn the overhead lights on), to a tiny office in the basement where I had to go down two hallways to even see a window, I felt terrible.

    A few things helped me: I got a couple giant tapestries to hang on my walls. They are really inexpensive, like $20 for a 8×10 foot one, and very light – like handkerchief material – so they hung with thumbtacks. Search “nature wall tapestry” on Amazon. The image quality is surprisingly good. They come in various sizes and fold easily so you can easily fit them on the walls of your cube.

    I was really surprised at how dramatic of an impact it made on my mood. I was expecting it to help but didn’t realize just how much it would help.

    1. Sunshine*

      I did this in a mini-cube with wrapping paper! It totally changed the vibe. Mine had the kind of walls you could staple things to so it was super easy, too.

  52. The Mole*

    I worked in a cubicle farm in the basement of a gigantic concrete building for a year, and I survived! I did move on afterwards, the tasks were the biggest reason I wanted to leave and not the environment.

    I second getting a light, plants and getting up to move as often as possible (and also talking with your manager to see if an alternative is possible – that would be the best solution). Here are other things that personally helped me deal though:

    -Really nice nature pictures to use as computer backgrounds. I changed them regularly and according to the seasons to feel like I was still connected to that big world outside. I also had a nice calendar for that same purpose.

    -Decorate that cube – anything that brings you a little jolt of pleasure while still being reasonably appropriate for work is good. Me, it was a collection of Pokemon postcards I got at the local comic-con.

    -Everyday at roughly the same time of the afternoon I would get up and go make myself a really nice cup of tea. Loose-leaf high quality stuff with milk and sugar. It was time away from my desk and just in general a pleasurable homey thing to do. If you have access to a kitchenette at all, I highly recommend coming up with some kind of ritual around your drink of choice.

    -Someone recommended exploring the building and neighboring ones (for walks and lunchtime) and that’s a great idea! My old workplace was absolutely gigantic and I don’t think I ever saw everything in there. I did eventually find a couple haunts I liked and went to often.

    -If you’re artistically inclined at all keep a notebook at your desk to doodle/write in. Not only does it look like you’re working, but it’s a really nice break that doesn’t involve a screen. I drew absolutely hilarious little comics in there that I would send to my friends at the end of the day.

    Perhaps my most important suggestion is going to be this one however:

    -Let it suck. No, I’m serious: I had a really rough time adapting to the “underground cubicle farm” aspect of that job – I had a panic attack during the winter once because I had not seen the sun in 48h (I was getting in shortly before sunrise, spending the day in the basement and leaving after dusk). At first I tried really really hard to make the best of it and not let it get to me, but it WAS getting to me.

    It only got better after I gave up on trying to be cheerful and positive about it and felt the full scope of how depressing it was. I thought if I let the feelings take over, I would stay depressed and nothing would change, but that’s not what happened: I was down for a while, then I kind of just got used to the environment and started coming up with ways that would make it better. So: try letting yourself feel however you feel about this.

    1. Scooby Doo*

      Not OP but kinda similar situation–These are great suggestions, I’m going to try changing my computer background more often.
      I’m going to try your suggestion of “let it suck”, and try to separate my grumpiness about the decision from my feelings about being outside and near my coworkers.
      I’m also going to buy some new makeup and put effort into my appearance to try and treat office days like a treat.

  53. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    My Twitter feed is full of farmers and other people who live on the land. I am not above sitting in my cube and letting a video of sheep being sheep just loop on my phone so that I can pretend I’m in the country.

    My computer wallpapers have similar inclinations and change frequently to keep my happy up.

  54. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Things that help me feel less like a cog in the machine at work:

    Asking for the overhead lights (flourescent) to be switched off over my desk.
    Funny coding jokes printed and stuck to the wall.
    Some geek toys.
    Anything that can help my brain unwind: we can’t install anything on the computers here so minesweeper et al is out but I keep a copy of bejewelled on my personal phone and I bring in sewing to do at lunchtime. Something creative on downtime can make a difference.

    1. Spanish Prof*

      When we went to remote instruction, and I was teaching from home, my migraines instantly reduced by like 85%. Obviously that could be correlative with other conditions in WFH, but I continued teaching remote from my office even after the return to campus (accomodations), with the fluorescent overhead lights off … and the migraines stayed away. I didn’t realize one could ask for individual sets of lights to be turned off! Might not be feasible in a shared classroom, but certainly (hopefully) on an office floor with stable desk assignments! Great suggestion.

  55. Peaceandlove*

    Look into a happy light lamp for your cube desk! I used to have one when I was in a cube and would turn it on first thing when I got into the office and kept it on while I would have my coffee. It’s supposed to help with SAD. I just liked it because I, too, liked (rather, needed) natural light and I felt like it did help at least a little bit.

  56. Delta Delta*

    What about finding some desk stretches or chair yoga? Those can often be done in 5-10 minutes and could give a little bit of a jolt!

  57. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

    Is there anything you can do to make your work space *better* than your home office space?
    For example, at work I have an office with two monitors, which is an absolute gamechanger for my video calls. At home, I have just my laptop, so I can still do my work, but its not as good a setup.

    I think it fits in well with the suggestions of having nice snacks / tea/ a plant as well. The more welcoming your space feels, the less resentful you may feel to be there.

    I’d also like to triple/quad/whatever the suggestion for a bright light (generally marked as SAD lamps). We have a lot of very good quality evidence that bright light exposure causes actual biological changes in the brain, which improve mood and energy.

  58. Checkert*

    WFH during COVID allowed me to figure out one of my migraine triggers: the overhead lighting! I found glasses meant to blunt that when I had to return to the office and it’s a game changer on those days where my head is threatening me. They look silly because they’re a dark rose color but really helped me at least not have to adjust to an uptick in migraines along with the random social chatter/noises/diseases/other adventures in working on site for no reason.

    1. Spanish Prof*

      OMG I just commented the same idea (wfh = diagnosis of fluorescent lights as migraine trigger) on Keymaster of Gozer’s post – I hadn’t seen this yet or I might’ve simply seconded. She says you may be able to ask for just the lights above your workspace to be turned off ! And thank you for the glasses tip :)

    2. Spanish Prof*

      I had the exact same realization about my migraines! Keymaster of Gozer above suggests that you may be able to ask to have just the lights above your workspace turned off :)

  59. Rachel*

    I’m lucky to work remotely now, but I had a terrible cube experience early in my career. Recommendations:

    – Going to a nearby public library during your lunch break. Some libraries will provide lending privileges to people who work in the city, even if you live in another town. Walking around and looking at ‘not work things’ helps reset the brain.
    – Building connections with people. It can be great to have a work bestie, but that can take a while and may not be feasible in every job situation. Even a little bit of small talk can help. I got to know/chat with a lot of people beyond my not-so-friendly immediate team by going to the same coffee shop at the same time a few days a week.
    – Try different things during the day. I think we all do better with novelty and sitting in a cube all day feels very same-same. The area around my old job was really miserable, but it had a great taco place that I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t been willing to walk a different way at lunch and buy lunch.
    – Stream classical music radio. It is less distracting than a podcast and better than working in silence or distracting building sounds.

  60. Anne Wentworth*

    Find a 7-10 minute stretch/Tai Chi/Qi Gong/etc. routine that you can do at your cube whenever you need to give your mind a break. (I use a 7-min Qi Gong routine on YouTube.)

  61. Vanilla latte breve*

    OP, here’s something to keep in mind for future interviews. Im currently interviewing and one of the first things I ask during the interview process is if the role is full-time, permanently remote. If the recruiter and hiring manager indicate that the role is not this, I remove myself from the interview process. I have been fully remote for almost a decade and it is something that is important to me. I really don’t want to waste anyones time going through the process for a role that isn’t what i am looking for.

    That being said, I am happy to come into the office occasionally (like once a month for special face to face meetings) and always get clarity on the frequency of face to face meetings and the hiring manager’s personal preference when it comes to in-office work. I had an experience recently where the recruiter was adamant that the role was 100% remote, but the Hiring Manager expected everyone to be in the office at least twice a week (if not more).

    1. Tuesday*

      It sounds like OP had been job searching for 8 months by the time she got this job. Not everyone has the freedom to turn down job offers and interviews like that, especially when coordinating a move to a new state.

    2. amoeba*

      Also, just because you actually like working in the office (I do) does not mean you’d enjoy sitting on zoom calls in a cube farm without natural lighting and without actual face to face contact with your team. The quality of the in person environment is important as well!
      (Also, there’s loads of space between “fully remote forever” and “only 26 days a year”. In my field, I guess the majority of roles if hybrid/flexible now with about half the time in the office.)

  62. Sunshine*

    No advice, just maybe a hopeful anecdote: I worked remote for the whole pandemic but ended up taking a job in a new state that was 100% in-office. I felt really resentful at first because I have the kind of job that many people do on a fully remote basis, but a year in I actually prefer coming into the office! I have friends here, I like having an excuse to get out of the house, my desk setup is better than my home computer, and I do actually get more done when I’m here if I’m honest with myself. It makes me feel professional to have a place to go every day.

    The double whammy of new job + new state was overwhelming at first and it was hard to imagine I’d ever get used to it, but I did and it got a lot better. Maybe you’ll end up liking your situation more in a few months. I hope you do!

  63. Robin Ellacott*

    I’m not sure if this works for OP, but I climb the stairs from the bottom of the parkade to the top floor of the building (it’s not a tall building so 8 floors total) a few times while listening to some upbeat music at lunch, any day I can’t go for a walk due to weather or whatever. I never look forward to it, but I always come back to my desk more alert and refreshed.

    Also if there is a window you have access to, just making a point of walking to it and looking out for a few minutes every hour or half hour might help.

  64. PhilG*

    Can you get a riser for your desk? I find standing ~ 30 minutes out of each hour very helpful. I can even walk in place or do some gentle side to side exercises if I’m not on camera. My current boss actually added one to her desk after she saw me using mine. A previous job the boss was hostile to the idea.

    1. OP Cube Life*

      Only with a doctor’s note- our furniture and set-up is very dated. No gym in building either. I will definitely be getting a doctor’s note for a standing desk but just haven’t had time yet.

  65. WillowSunstar*

    When possible, if you can, go out for a walk on your 15-minute or lunch breaks, even if it’s only around the parking lot a few times. I do when the weather permits and it relieves so much stress.

  66. Former Retail Lifer*

    There are too many comments about pushing for working from home. It many jobs, it’s just not going to happen. My husband’s former company lost several people every time they demanded one more in-office day, and yet they still kept adding them until the few people that didn’t quit were back 4-5 days per week. And this is despite the fact that they had proven metrics to show productivity increased when people worked from home. And also despite the fact that some departments were always short-staffed, even pre-pandemic, due to high turnover or not enough qualified applicants. I have many friends who experienced similar situations at their jobs. This is absolutely a hill some employers will die on.

    1. Sunshine*

      Yes, this. And many people can’t be very picky when they’ve been job searching for a while. “Only look for remote jobs next time” is really not helpful or practical advice.

      1. idwtpaun*

        Same here, OP. It’s so frustrating to be stuck in a situation where I’m required to pay time and money (in the form of a commute) only to be less comfortable doing the exact same thing I’d be doing at home, often also having the same online meetings.

        I will say this for your specific question: we don’t have cubicles and I actually find that to me hot-desking in a light-filled open office is worse than having a cubicle. Now, I still prefer hot-desking and working mostly from home, but since you already have the cubicle, maybe taking advantage of that semi-private, personal space by lightly decorating to your taste would help?

        1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

          I recommend taking up fancy gift wrap paper onto the (presumably) putty gray sterile cube walls. Check out Paper Source. They will mail in a roll, so no creases, and you can tack up with pins on your walls.
          Also post museum post cards, and rotate your favorites per season, whim, color, whatever makes you happy.

  67. Kanye West*

    “What can I do to get used to cube life again and, frankly, make it bearable?”

    The question assumes that it can be done. Cubicles do not exist in the countries I come from and live in for good reason. I am pretty sure, not having access to natural light in most working places is illegal here.

    Without knowing specifics, you seemed to be able to move to another place for better quality of life so you are not starved for opportunities. Choosing an employer that forces you to work in a cubicle was an outright mistake. I’d move on but I also insisted on being able to work remotely from abroad when looking for a job the last three times.

    1. Tuesday*

      Cubes and open offices are very, very normal in the US. It’s truly not the inhumane solution many people make it out to be. It’s reality for lots of us! Obviously it’s more comfortable to be working from home where you control the environment, but “simply refuse to work any job that requires you to work in a cubicle” is totally out-of-touch advice.

      1. Meep*

        Considering their screen name is Kanye West, I would just throw anything they have to say out the window.

        1. Kanye West*

          The screen name is a joke. I just think that the juxtaposition of Kanye’s ego and … mental capacity in a discussion on the finer details of workspace norms and relationships is hilarious.

      2. Kanye West*

        “Cubes and open offices are very, very normal in the US. It’s truly not the inhumane solution many people make it out to be.”

        I believe this is a case of

        only it applies to a whole country

        “but “simply refuse to work any job that requires you to work in a cubicle” is totally out-of-touch advice”

        OP could have easily avoided cubicles by not switching jobs. Whether my advice is out of touch depends on the circumstances you (and I) do not know about. That is why I preempted what I wrote with “you don’t seem starved for opportunities”.

    2. Former Retail Lifer*

      The job market here (for non-specialized jobs that have a decent wage) does not support demanding to work from home and most jobs are now mandating that you come back to the office at least a few days per week. In many cases, it’s accept the cube life or don’t have a job. If you have very in-demand skills, make all the demands you want and you may get them. For the average office job, if you don’t take it, the employer can easily find someone else who will.

      1. Kanye West*

        My comment was specific to OP’s situation who (and I might be wrong here) apparently can afford to just quit their job for a change of scenery and has a degree of freedom to choose where to work. It was not meant to be applicable to everyone.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Could you elaborate on what the good reason is?

      Cubicles vs what? Offices? Open concept? I’m curious what the other options are.

      1. Kanye West*

        Yes, offices, open concept if it must be and home office.

        The good reason is that cubicles combine the worst aspects of every other type of workspace. It both isolates you and doesn’t protect you from noise. It gives you as little room as possible. It contributes to eye strain because not being able to see farther than 6 meters every couple of minutes is damaging to the eyes.

        Some people pay more to have eggs from free range chickens instead of ones that are trapped in cages. I don’t understand how giving human beings more space than the absolute minimum to keep them happier seems like a strange notion.

    4. allathian*

      I’m in Finland, and cubicles do exist here. But windowless office spaces are illegal, except for a very small number of jobs that require the sort of ultra-high security where private cellphones aren’t allowed in the workspace. Even archivists must be allowed to take their breaks in a space with windows. If you aren’t assigned a desk by a window you can’t look out the window much, but getting up and walking around a bit, which is definitely recommended for a healthy microbreak, you should be able to see a window when you get up from your seat. Floor to ceiling cubicle walls are pretty unusual here, precisely for that reason.

      That said, hotdesking and open offices are getting more common, and if the office’s hybrid, I can definitely see the sense in that.

  68. Meow*

    This would come across strangely or may not be possible in all offices, but I worked in two places previously where walking laps inside the building was acceptable and it made a huge difference for me. I would do a few laps once or twice a day which took about 10-15 minutes each time. Yeah you’re still in the office and may not see much sunlight still but at least you’re up and moving around, looking at different things, maybe saying hi to a couple people. I used to have coworkers who I’d walk with sometimes too and we’d specifically only talk about non-work stuff. It really helped to break up the day. I started it originally because around 2 or 3 in the afternoon I’d be exhausted and really struggling to focus, and it helped me significantly with that.

    1. Meep*

      My mom and her coworkers used to do this in the parking lot. It became a whole thing. Even just around the building (if the temp is fine) works.

      1. Meow*

        Yes!! We did that in the parking lot at one of the places I mentioned also, in the spring and summer. I live in a very snowy/cold part of NY so only a few months of the year where it was possible but it was definitely nice to get some fresh air.

  69. All Het Up About It*

    Okay – I thought I had one or two suggestions and then things just came pouring out.
    TLDR Possible Suggestions
    -Look for smokers balconies, rooftops, etc. for quick access outdoor mini break spaces.
    -Look for different spaces in your office and ways to utilize them through out your day/week.
    -Consider 5-10 minute guided mediations or breathing exercises.
    -When you find yourself frustrated/down, focus on the good things about your new city/what motivated you to take this job.

    Is there a designated smoking area on a balcony or something? This sounds like such a weird suggestion, but one of the places I worked had designated smoking balconies and even though I’m not a smoker, I would sometimes take a short break out there. I’ve found because 1) it was outside and 2) there are fewer smokers these days that I’d rarely encounter that stale cigarette smell. I’d actually rarely encounter smokers. And because it was much closer to my office than going down and out of the building it was great for short breaks.

    Other tips I’ve seen or heard for knowledge workers is can you through on some earphones and walk the halls for ten minutes listening to a podcast? Can you take a call or Zoom call while walking? Even if it’s not outside, but in the building somewhere. If you need to speak in person with a co-worker can you have a walking meeting or discussion? Is there a different floor where you can move more freely and take visits there? Heck, if you need to move more, take your bathroom breaks on a different floor or different part of the building. Is there small conference rooms you could reserve some days for a change of scenery and maybe a different think space? I’ve done that when I need to organize a new project and want more room to spread out and just a different spot to think?

    Also, if you find a spot for mini-breaks, look for short guided mediations or breathing exercise you could listen to. I’ve not found them as mind clearing as an outside walk, but they can really help with focus and mind clearing. Lots of apps, including free ones for these.

    Also – if you’re a person who can sometimes utilize the “silver lining” thought process keep a list of reasons you took this job or something related to them and when you find yourself dwelling on WFH past, remember or recite some of them. It might even feel more motivating if they were tangential. For instance, if say you wanted to live in a different part of the country because you wanted access to new outdoor activities, you could have a list of those and then when you find yourself thinking about “If I was working from home I could walk in my neighborhood” … add a caveat like …. “But this non-WFH job is what let me move to Sunnydale and this weekend I’m going to go to for a hike past one of the creepy abandoned mansions and then to the Bronze and Magic Shop, which I could not do at my old home/city.”

  70. melbelle*

    I’m also recently back in the office after 2+ years of WFH, and I’m shocked at how much better the office/cube life is without harsh overhead lighting. My office mate and I use a floor lamp, and the soft light is absolutely better than the florescent overheads.

    Also, I know the rest of your team is in other states — any chance you could build in breaks throughout your day where you physically leave the building? Even if it’s just a walk around the block, forcing yourself to get away from your desk during the day is huge.

    Can you work from a different location within the office? A conference room, a lounge, etc. The change of scenery makes a difference for me, when I can swing it.

    Also, make your desk set-up a little more home-ey. Plants, soft blankets, favorite trinkets, photos of favorite memories can all go a long way in making the cube life bearable. Hot tea with honey is a must for my work day, and one of the best things about working from home is free tea in the office kitchen.

    Also, you’re new, so don’t do this yet, but… any chance of stretching that carefully allocated WFH time? Or, leaving earlier/arriving later to offset the more time spent continuously working?

    1. Anne Wentworth*

      But never bring in to work more personal “homey” stuff than you can carry out in a single box.
      If you’re suddenly laid off and escorted out of the building, the last thing you want is to be struggling to remove a carload of personal items, or worse try to get back in later to collect it.

      And definitely never bring in trinkets you’d be sad to lose.
      (There was an AAM letter a while back about a boss stealing things from the LW’s cube.)

  71. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I found cube life more tolerable working second shift. Everyone went home an hour or two into it, and I could relax and be myself.

    I’m not saying it’s a solution for most, but it worked for me in my last on-site role.

  72. Keyboard Jockey*

    > I want to give this new job a chance and feel like a whiner complaining about these things while so many people are less fortunate than me.

    Sort of a tangent, but I would encourage you to allow yourself to be annoyed, disappointed, or whatever other feeling you’re feeling, even if you think you aren’t wholly “entitled” to it. Other people will always have it worse, but that doesn’t in any way make your feelings less legitimate. In my own experience, this kind of framing just makes me feel guilty for feeling bad, rather than allowing me to pursue helpful mitigations. Good luck!

  73. Looper*

    Definitely up the cozy factor in your cube: plants (I’d also add those little clip-on grow lights if you’re not near windows), art, nice desk accessories and pens/stationery, foot rest, everything to make yourself as comfortable as possible. If there’s no park nearby, is there a gym in the building or close by? Look for something with the basics and pop in throughout the day to use the treadmill or do some chest presses. If you’re in a downtown area, look for chamber of commerce or business district events that often occur on week days. Find out about food truck schedules to add some food variety. If you’re in a hi-rise, keep an eye out for building events hosted by the property management. Even if your own office is a ghost town, you may have opportunities to socialize with people working for other tenant businesses. Look for walking tour maps of the area around your office to add points of interest to explore. Be a tourist on your breaks and seek novelty, whether trying different coffee shops or browsing stores.

  74. Samwise*

    OP can look for parks. Or other spaces with sitting places and some greenery. Office buildings may have a little plaza, for instance.

    Depending on where OP’s city is, the weather may be a factor right now –it looks empty because it’s cold or wet or windy out. Come spring, more people are likely to be out and about.

    I’d also say to OP: what is making the nearby park/s sketchy to you? Sometimes if you’re new to a city (or new to big cities), it may feel sketchy to you, but actually it’s not. I’m not aiming to discount OP’s feelings here –just, check how you’re measuring sketchiness.

    I grew up in a suburb. So when I went to college in a large city, it seemed sketchy and grubby for awhile. Eventually, it started to feel familiar, and I got better at figuring out what was unsafe, and what was just different from where I grew up. Wlaking around will help it feel more familiar.

  75. Lifeandlimb*

    I’m sorry about your situation, OP. Is it possible to strike up conversations with people in the area so you develop a sort of social circle? They can be colleagues not on your team, people from other companies in your building, people at the local coffee shop, restaurant, or gym. I find that having a chat now and then breaks up the monotony of the day.

  76. working5daysaweek*

    One of the weirdest things for me coming back to the cubicle is that people would walk past my desk all the time on their way to the printer/bathroom. I only have a 3-wall cubicle, so people are literally just steps away from me as I work at my desk. And I was startled – seriously, I would jump – whenever someone walked by. This happened for about the first three weeks after I came back to work. (I worked at home for a little over a year.)

    I will say that it does get better. I have gotten used to the noise and interruptions and LED lighting. And there are benefits to working in the office full-time — a nicer desk, faster computer and social time. I’m an extreme introvert, but I realized right away that I feel better when I interact with people in the hallway, coffee station, etc.

    (A funny observation, a few of my colleagues and I noticed that we were losing our voices by the end of the day, because we weren’t used to talking to so many people after WFH for so many months.)

    I also cleaned up my cubicle to make it less cluttered and more “home-y.” Nice lamps, nice pens, cute coffee mugs/stickers, lots of colors because my office is very gray. And noise-cancelling headphones are a must.

    I admit, I was upset when I learned that I had to come back to the office 5 days a week, no hybrid option. I’m still not happy about it, but I try to remind myself of the social/equipment benefits.

    1. working5daysaweek*

      I should also note, leaving my job isn’t an option. I’m in a dying career field (print publications), have more 20+ years seniority and a very rare pension waiting for me when I retire. I’m also the primary breadwinner in my family. Not all of us have the option to “just quit” our jobs. And that’s OK.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I just wanted to drop by and say I love printed materials! When I get a new cookbook (and, oooh, Alexa just told me one has arrived!), I love to open it up, smell the ink, look at the pictures, feel the paper….

        Probably 100% not what your area is, but I will be sad when physical print is dead.

  77. Susan banana cake*

    Remember in the early days of the pandemic when we all had to work from home for the first time, and struggled to adjust? This is that, but the other way around. They both have their merits and demerits, the difficult bit is adjusting to the change.

    Give yourself time to recalibrate. Remember the things you did like about working in person and lost in the pandemic and embrace those – seeing colleagues, collaborating in person, social events, the mental separation of home and office space, that nice coffee shop nearby. Get your hair done and wear your best clothes. Try and see it as an opportunity.

    1. working5daysaweek*

      Yes, dress codes have really loosened up, so buy yourself clothes that are comfortable!

  78. Pam Adams*

    I always like walking around my building if weather or whatever keeps me from going outside. My fitbit nags me to get up and move every hour, so I walk corridors, etc. You might even, in your wanderings, find a cozy spot for lunch/getting away from it all breaks.

  79. Ready for Sunshine*

    I’ve worked in some terrible cubicles, one was in a converted manufacturing plant and the closest window was a football field away. And since it was a former manufacturing plant, there was no decent areas to walk or sit outside. What did help me was turn my cubicle into something that didn’t feel or look like a cubicle? All of this depends on your budget, cubicle space, work policies, etc. But what worked for me was pinning up fun fabric (the actual cubicle walls were fabric, otherwise I would have used tape), neutral wrapping paper would have also worked if the walls were smooth. I added a small mirror and an art print using those over the cubicle hooks for coats. I swapped out the visitor chair for something more like a reading chair and added a very small side table. I got better accessories, pens/pen holder/stapler/etc., a plant, etc. I got a table lamp. It felt more like my home office. I got compliments all the time and people loved to come and sit in my reading chair and chat in the afternoon (which was a good and bad thing :). Good luck!

  80. TomatoSoup*

    It is certainly not the same, but I’ve found watching a few minutes of a nature video with headphones to be helpful. There are a lot on YouTube and around the internet. It can be fun to explore new places. Some of them are even filmed from the perspective of a person walking through the nature.

    When I’m feeling anxious, I like watching a video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that is just jellyfish floating around with soft ambient music playing in the background.

  81. A Pound of Obscure*

    I feel like this LW’s question has very little to do with working from home or the covid situation that necessitated it for many of us. It’s about being able to work effectively in your environment, whether that’s at home, or in a city that requires a commute, or in a cube farm, or in a private office that is cold all the time, or next to a coworker who pops their gum all day, or whatever. That would be true regardless of whether we’d come out of a recent pandemic. If they like the company and want to find a way to be happy (and it sounds like they might), then follow others’ suggestions on ways to adapt. If your work can be done remotely but the company doesn’t allow it, AND you think WFH is the only way you can truly be happy doing that work, then look for a company that allows it.

  82. WFH*

    I mostly work from home now but when I was in cube land I found it helpful to take breaks that activated my senses. Maybe keeping aromatherapy viles at your desk and taking small mindfulness breaks to smell your favorite scent. Something tactile like a desk zen garden or silly putty are also helpful. Good luck!

    1. kicking-k*

      I do this! It’s really helpful for regaining focus. I have a little container of “sensory items” on my desk – solid perfumes (they stay in jars and I sniff them – I wouldn’t have perfumes that spray as it’s too hard for others to avoid), tingly Carmex lip balm, my headphones, a fidget toy or two. The container matches my pen pot so I doubt anyone even notices it’s there.

  83. GreenShoes*

    OP, you mentioned the lunch places not being ideal. Have you ever done one of those walking/eating tour things? It might be a chance to learn a few new restaurants they are often downtown focused and get out in the evening.

    In your shoes I’d also make an effort to meet as many people as you can who are in the office. IMO, that social interaction is what makes offices worth while.

    Otherwise, I think you have a good outlook on this.

  84. Ms VanSquigglebottoms*

    Make connections! Having a work friend or making a habit of taking your break to meet up with folks you admire (for coffee, informational interviews, etc.) can make all the difference.

  85. OP Cube Life*

    Only with a doctor’s note- our furniture and set-up is very dated. No gym in building either. I will definitely be getting a doctor’s note for a standing desk but just haven’t had time yet.

  86. Grumpy_old_it_guy*

    I have multiple monitors and one of them is always has a browser opened to the windowswap website.

  87. EJ*

    I have a desk drawer full of fidget toys and puzzles that only live at work. My partner gives me new ones for birthdays and holidays and it helps give me a break a day also helps me focus on zoom calls.

    Good luck!

  88. Bookworm*

    I am not in this situation (yet?) but I wanted to thank you for writing it because I might be. I’m afraid I don’t have any answers for you since I don’t have experience with it but I do hope it works out for you!

  89. Janeric*

    Before the pandemic, my supervisor and I took a lot of 1:1 meetings as a walk (through the parking lots) outside — if you can get clearance from your supervisor to walk around for in-team meetings where you chew through a problem, that might help.

  90. CG*

    I wonder if you could identify some really specific things you miss about working from home, and the then really get those specific things dialed in for working from the cube. You mentioned laundry, for example. Does this new position pay well enough that you could drop your laundry off in the morning and pick it up, clean and folded, on your way home? Being really specific about what it is exactly that I’m wanting/missing has helped me adjust to changes in the past.

    Sorry that you are in this situation, and sorry, too, that so much of the advice here is just “don’t work in a cubicle.” I’m pretty positive you already thought of that one, and I’m not sure why people think its helpful/a realistic option for everyone! But congrats on the new job, and I hope that you are able to find some ways to make it feel better for you!

  91. raida*

    I’ve seen a mate’s office where they astroturfed a now-underutilised conference room, put in real and fake plants, had a no-shoes policy in there, comfortable benches and single chairs.

    It has soft nature sounds playing and ‘natural’ lights.

    It’s not as good as a real park but it’s one minute away from every desk

  92. Quickbeam*

    Cube farm ….. I am an introvert that ended up in a sunless cube farm for my last 10 years. We were required to face in so people could walk up behind you. I startle easily so I put up a large mirror so I could see who was behind me. I wasn’t allowed to have plants (managers only!) so I brought in a Lego plant. I brought in my own full spectrum lights and a foot warmer.

    Mostly though, I made it my business to be at my desk not one minute early and stay not one minute late. I learned to enjoy my commute as alone time. I said no thanks to optional social events at work. I was at the end of my career so I wasn’t looking to network upwards. I just tried to make my peace with the fact that I needed a job, this one paid well and got me to retirement. There are always trade offs.

    1. Lead Balloon*

      Managers only for plants? Because if non-managers get plants it will give them ideas above their station or something?

      I wanted to suggest Lego plants too though. They’ve got quite a few of different sizes, there’s a cute set of succulents which came out last year and some smaller sets including ones that are just two roses or two sunflowers etc. If OP finds the building process relaxing, they could keep the Lego taken apart in their desk drawer in ziplock bags, and build and rotate different ones in and out depending on their mood.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I read the first sentence as meaning that only plants had managers, so misread the second as ‘if non-plants get managers it will give them ideas above their station’!

  93. Marie*

    Joining a gym near work and getting a brisk walk in or lifting weights (not sweating too much) really helped break up my cube life in the before times.

  94. Courageous cat*

    You honestly get used to it. I thought I could never deal with the lack of sunlight and the cube situation, but after about six months realized I am sooooo much happier getting to know my coworkers and being in society and talking to human beings that I know every day that I could care less about most of that stuff now. It won’t feel this way forever.

  95. HannahS*

    Bringing a home comfort really helps. For me, that’s a little tea set-up. It’s not fancy, but I can easily make any one of several kinds of my favourite teas, and everything is in cute little jam jars. It cheers me up! Maybe favourite slippers, or a fan/heater? The office supplies that seem silly to spend money on but that you really would enjoy using?

  96. Jonquil*

    So I have recently reconciled myself to cube life (albeit hybrid 60/40) and it was because of the social aspects/peer pressure. I find when I go into the office people stop to chat and I get a whole lot more information and context that helps me in my job. I am also on-site with my grand-boss (while the rest of my team are in different cities) and this means I get a lot of face time with the grand boss (e.g. sitting with her in her office while we zoom with my boss). It is definitely a transition, and you do get used to it. And as you go on you learn to do things to make your life easier. I recently switched from driving to catching the bus, and it improved my energy levels and stress no end. You figure out the snacks and lunches you like, and you sort out which corner of the lunchroom you want to hide in.

  97. Luck*

    As long as the area is safe, go out for a walk anyway! It may not be as pretty as a park, but getting outside and changing scenery and getting into motion all help counter the drudgery of cube life.
    Get some plants for your desk – a nice little succulent that needs minimal care and just makes the desk more pleasant.
    Good luck!

  98. Jane*

    Some advice for staying:

    – A sunlight-replicating light
    – Real plants on your desk (they even sell little sunlight-replicating lights for plants now!)
    – Anything fun and cozy in your work space
    – Decorate your cube walls with cool fabrics you pin in place (like wallpaper for your cube)
    – Fun rituals to get you up and moving – bring in a special coffee creamer you love, for example, and make coffee with it twice a day
    – Eating lunch outside, even if it’s just outside of your building on a bench or in your car
    – Listen to nature sounds on your headphones
    – Make friends with other departments so you have people to chat with or get lunch with

  99. Rosemary*

    I am also a person who craves nature, and honestly a small cheap desk-fountain really helped me. The movement and sound really helped it feel more dynamic in a way a few plants would not have.

    The downside is that a couple months later I was asked to remove it since I think work was worried about it spilling water on nearby electronics, but if it makes a huge difference it might be worth trying to find a compromise with your workplace. (Perhaps a conference room with sunlight access could be repurposed into a “quiet room” with plants, fountain, and comfortable seating for people needing a break or wanting to work away from their desk for a bit.)

  100. Jujyfruits*

    Thanks for posting this question. I’m in a similar situation where I’m in an open office – not even cube walls to have faux privacy. I will read through this thread for ideas! (But honestly, I have realized I am more productive working from home and will avoid hybrid jobs in the future.)

  101. LondonLady*

    I’d say any of all of the following might help:
    – a SAD lamp (mimics natural light)
    – headphones with whatever variant on white noise works for you (rainstorms for me!)
    – programme walking into your day eg go to a further away loo / coffee point etc to get a bit more exercise
    – factor a bit more walking into your commute (including changing where you park if you drive)
    – plants in your cubicle
    – have something you really like that lives in the cubicle and welcomes you to work eg favourite shoes, cardigan, mug, snack
    – make the most of your lunch break, if you can’t go out, eat the nicest food you can manage and enjoy a favourite book or podcast to switch off work
    – don’t beat yourself up if household tasks take longer to get done, it’s natural if you are out more. Have a few simple either-end-of-day routines and leave the rest to the weekend.

  102. anonagain*

    Do you get a choice about your 26 WFH days? If so, how can you use them to give you the most psychological benefit?

    I would want to be out of the office right when everyone was returning from holiday travel with all their viral souvenirs, for example. I know people who would most like to work from home in bad weather or on a day where work was extra annoying.

    Also can you use this as an opportunity to have really clear boundaries between home and work? Maybe that’s a perk of an otherwise difficult situation.

  103. CashAsh*

    I second the happy light! Also, I know you said the city hasn’t recovered quite yet, but grab a mask and go for a walk. Or tbh, keep working there while you look for another remote role because this just doesn’t sound like a good fit.

  104. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    Things I did to survive the grey waste of Cubicle Land. I prioritized walking on my breaktimes. If the weather was horrible a few of us would literally just go up and down a hallway on a quieter floor. If the weather was nice I’d do a lap of so many blocks. I brought nature into my desk. Florescent lights are great for plants. So I had a bunch of Aldi plants stuck on my desk under the lights. I picked up things like pinecones, feathers, interesting leaves or rocks on my walks and would stick them on my desk like a little nature shrine. My wall calendar tended to the scenic view types. I also picked up a few thrift shop pics of things like ocean or forest views and sprinkled them around my cubicle. I was parked next to a very grey blank wall and I got someone with access to banner printing to print up a gorgeous sunlight thru the trees forest scene and hung it up. It brightened up our whole row as a fake window. I had a bunch of fidget type stuff on my desk. (mostly $1Tree) to play around with. Things like those little solar dancing bobble heads, fidget spinner, pop its, mini zen garden. I also tried to get up at least once every hour or so just to move around. Bathroom break, delivering a paper to someones desk, getting a drink. Just a stretch your legs and change of scenery type thing. I also tended to wear noise canceling head phones and would listen to music or pod casts regularly. On really bad days I’d stick in Zen type music and just try to chill while staring at the huge banner pick for a few minutes. I have a cousin who swears by the Happy Light.

  105. Eukomos*

    Make friends with your coworkers. Walking over to your buddy’s cube for a chat is one of the best ways to reboot your brain!

  106. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

    My advice is that you wage a gentle-but-persistent charm campaign on the security and maintenance staff of the building. Ask for tips on nearby places to get lunch, or even offer to grab them a coffee if you’re out getting one for yourself, the very worst that will happen is that they will think you’re flirting, so make sure you bring your most platonic energy to the interaction, and before you know it, you will have a plethora of folks to say hi to on all these walks around the building everyone is suggesting.

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