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Standard Office Setting

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Cubicles, bullpens, nice offices — common workplace for white collar workers

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
XFllo on Feb 11th 2018 at 10:41:39 AM
Last Edited By:
XFllo on Mar 20th 2018 at 11:33:41 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Grab coffee. Go to work. Arrive at office building. Say hi to security. Ride elevator up. Arrive at work. Say hi to receptionist. Walk to desk. Arrive at desk. Sit down at desk. Say hi to coworkers. Look around. See motivational poster. This is a Standard Office Setting.

Describe the Standard Office Setting on Line 5 of the TP-1090 form.

For starters, this is a white-collar workplace, with cubicles and fluorescent lighting that never turns off. Most of the members of upper-management have their own offices, which may or may not be luxuriously furnished. The main room will most likely have a bullpen style setup to make it easier for characters to interact with one another. Everyone is either busy or non-existent. There are piles of papers on every desk and though people should be working, this is a work of fiction. Obviously nobody is doing exactly what they should be doing.

This could be a law firm, publishing firm, newspaper agency, advertising agency, or architectural company. This could even be a politician's campaign office. In fact, the specific type of business doesn't always matter and may not even be known. It just needs to clearly be white-collar.

Most of the characters here are White Collar Workers, though somebody's secretary is either the Sexy Secretary or Sassy Secretary. There may be a Plucky Office Girl and a Bunny-Ears Lawyer or two.

When there's an Office Romance, it's usually a case of Will They or Won't They?. If anyone is in danger of being terminated, it's never our main cast. Firings are usually equivalent to dying or being Put on a Bus, and if a character isn't fired but needs to be put out of the way, they get Kicked Upstairs.

Especially if this is a Work Com, expect Swivel-Chair Antics to ensue at some point and someone to use the photocopier in ways they shouldn't. If there's The Red Stapler, most people around the office will probably use the same one, and you'll probably end up buying one in Real Life because you keep seeing it in the work.

There are also works of fiction that portray the office life in a more serious light (expect to find this portrayal of the setting in Law Procedural, Police Procedural and other Crime and Punishment Series). It might focus on carefully navigating the office politics and pulling the right strings among your colleagues, subordinates and superiors. Some characters might strive to be promoted, they might want to form a new department or lead their own team, or if they are wealthy, they might want to become a partner and share full responsibility for the company. If your character is stellar at what they do, they might be headhunted by another company.

The Industrial Revolution led to an increase in the number of workers that businesses needed to handle paperwork, making this Older Than Radio, but it was The 20th Century's mass production and assembly lines which caused an explosion of white-collar work and made this the dominant workplace setting. The concept cubicles were created in The '60s to increase productivity and save space.

Compare/contrast with Adminisphere, a setting workplace trope that portrays higher-ups and white-collars as having everything nice and fancy and so much better than ordinary workers of the same company. Soul-Crushing Desk Job is a common subtrope. A Desk Jockey is when someone works at a desk despite having an action related job like a police officer or soldier. Hospital Paradiso offers an even sleeker-looking workplace than is Standard Office Setting.

Indexes


Examples:

Comic Books Comic Book
  • Superman features the offices of The Daily Planet where Superman works in disguise as "mild-mannered" Clark Kent. Depictions have varied over the years, but they usually have the reporters, including Kent, in a bullpen, while chief editor Perry White has a private office.
  • In the Spider-Man comics, Peter "Spider-Man" Parker regularly visits the offices of The Daily Bugle to sell pictures to editor J. Jonah Jameson in his private office, which is usually (depictions vary) attached to the bullpen where the regular reporters sit.

Comic Strip

  • Dilbert primarily sets itself in the unnamed office that Dilbert works. The office itself is a caricature of real-life offices, with grossly incompetent managers, borderline insane HR employees and a marketing department that seems to be intentionally running the company into the ground. While there are fantasy elements (the HR manager is a cat, one of the employees is a robot), the work is generally grounded in reality.

Film Animated

  • The Incredibles: Bob Parr briefly winds up as a cubicle drone at the predatory insurance agency Insuricare. In stark contrast with Bob's prior career as a superhero, the office is as bland and drab as possible, and the tyrannical boss Mr. Huph gets mad when Bob actually helps the customers. For extra insult, Bob barely fits into his own cubicle, because he has to share it with a concrete support beam.

Film - Live-Action

  • The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit has a lot of focus on this setting, as shell-shocked veteran Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) tries to deal with the stress of a high-pressure job in an office in public relations.
  • Office Space is a comedic look at just how soul-crushing such an environment can be. Short cubicle walls make it easy for managers to lean over at any time to make unreasonable demands, and make it impossible to escape noise made by other workers.

Live-Action TV

  • Mad Men is set in a New York advertising company. Secretaries sit in a secretarial pool, men leading a department or dealing with clients have their own offices, sometimes shared among more people. Meetings are held in big rooms or people's offices. Sometimes we see characters trying to get a better office or being envious of each other.
  • Ally McBeal is set in a Boston law firm Cage and Fish. Most people have their own office and lots of the episodes happened in meeting rooms or in the courtroom. Quite legendary is their unisex bathroom. People who work for Cage and Fish frequent an idealized bar that is in the same building as their office.
  • Friends:
    • Chandler works as a data analyst in a cubicle. Later he's promoted and gets his office. One episode deals with his having to be a boss to his former pals, or dealing with his superior whom he doesn't particularly like, but who keeps inviting him to various activities.
    • Rachel works in an office in the fashion industry. She starts a girl-for-everything, but gets up the company ladder and works as an assistant buyer. Some episodes have her struggle with being the only non-smoker in their department, finding a secretary (actually a guy Tag she has a crush on) or being a new mother who must coordinate the care for a baby and work.
    • In one episode, Phoebe gets a temporary job, selling toner over the phone. She works in a cubicle. She calls only one guy who also has only a cubicle. His office has some motivational posters that don't seem to motivate him very much. He has a whiteboard next to his desk, with only one task for today: KILL SELF.
  • NewsRadio takes place in a New York news radio station. Manager Dave Nelson has his own office, while the others work in an open workroom with desks and a communal table for staff meetings. (One episode has anchorman Bill McNeill install a cubicle for himself, which doesn't last.) There's also a broadcast booth behind soundproof glass and a break room (which was a control room in the pilot).
  • In Twin Peaks The Return, Dougie Jones works in the high-end variety of this setting, in a glass-walled, leather-chaired, skyscraper office in which employees mostly seem to have serious meetings in plush conference rooms and hand each other manila envelopes. Most scenes in this setting involve Dougie having absurd difficulties in the elevator while getting coffee, or both.
  • The Office (UK) is a workplace comedy which set in a small regional branch office of a large corporation, which shows off the range of this setting: there's a receptionist desk at the front, open space with a bunch of desks in the middle, and private office with a door for the office manager.
  • The Office (US), like the British original, shows off the full range of the setting, from the open workspace filled with desks where the regular office workers sit to the private office with a door for the office manager.
  • Better Off Ted is set in the main offices for a huge, faceless, multinational corporation. Ted, a middle manager, has a large, well-appointed, lush private office, while Linda and other regular workers sit in small cubicles, and are frequently forced to interact even when they don't want to.
  • Spin City features the governmental version of this. Most of the cast sits in an open bullpen at City Hall, but the mayor and vice-mayor have fancy private offices.
  • In Psych, when Phony Psychic detective Sean and his partner Gus visit Gus's other job at a pharmaceutical company, it is shown to be mostly rows of white cubicles. Lampshaded when Sean mocks Gus for working somewhere so boring and ordinary.
  • The Mentalist:
    • The investigating team works for the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation). The headquarters are situated in a nice red brick building with modern interiors full of glass, bricked walls and black furniture. Teresa Lisbon leads the team and has her own office. Other members of the team have a desk at the open space. Consultant Patrick Jane, the mentalist, from the title doesn't have a desk, but a couch, and he's often seen lying and sleeping on it. A kitchenette is quite essential for him, as he makes and drinks tea all the time.
    • In season 6, some of the characters are shifted to work with the FBI. The architecture is even fancier. Jane makes sure he gets his old leather couch to the bullpen, even though it is against the FBI's policy. Teresa often compared the office and its meeting and interrogation rooms to an aquarium.
      Lisbon: This room makes me feel like I'm in an aquarium, and everyone's looking at me.
      Jane: Mm. Well, you could very easily feel like they're all in the aquarium and you're looking at them.
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • Barney works at an extremely well-paying, mysterious corporate job. He has a huge, luxuriously furnished office. It's decorated with eye-catching motivational posters, one of them is notably for "awesomeness".
    • Ted works as an architect in New York. Season 2 episodes sometimes show his workplace, which is a modern open space office, with bosses having their own offices.
  • The IT Crowd: The protagonists work in a cluttered basement underneath one of the tallest and most stately skyscrapers in London. They are the only company department with such ugly environment (though Jenny, the boss, decorates her office with girly stuff, and Roy and Moss fill their shared room with geeky decoration and collectables). The rest of the office takes this trope Up to 11, as it has to be one of the most glamorous workplace on television (open space bullpen setting, lots of light, lots of windows, green plants everywhere, expensive art in bosses' offices, fancy computers, extremely pretty young women who just seem to hang around, nice benefits for everyone etc.).
  • Parks and Recreation is a Work Com about small-town government centring on the employees of the Parks and Recreation Department. The protagonist Leslie Knope works as Deputy Director of the Parks Department. She and her boss have their own office, while the other employees share a bullpen. They work in the public sector so their offices and bullpens are considerably less glamorous.
  • Many scenes in The Mary Tyler Moore Show take place at the office of the The Six O'Clock News where Mary works. Mary has a desk in the bullpen, while Lou Grant and other higher-ups have their own offices with glass windows facing into the bullpen.

Music

  • The Music Video for 25, 21 by Jaurim, a song about a wistful memory of youth takes place in a bleak, washed out office setting with identical cubicles and includes close-ups of photocopy machines and an uninspiring take-out dinner.

Theatre

  • How To Succeed In Business W Ithout Really Trying takes place entirely in the headquarters of the World Wide Widget company. Being set in the 60's, the office lacks cubicles but is full of secretaries, Office Romance, and elevators. The company operates an entire skyscraper which includes both giant rooms filled with desks and opulent executive rooms.

Video Games

  • The office recreation in Job Simulator looks like an office from the 1980s or 1990s. Motivational posters are everywhere and everyone works in cubicles with box monitor computers.
  • The Stanley Parable is set in what seems like a standard office building, with Stanley (the player character) being a normal office worker spending his workdays in a cubicle in room 427 - all meant to emphasize the monotony of his life. However, this setting can very easily go into Wonderland territories in some of the game's endings.

Web Animation

  • Homestar Runner sometimes features an office filled with cubicles, where characters fulfil generic white collar responsibilities but spend most of their time avoiding work by playing video games, checking email, breaking the computers, etc.

Feedback: 42 replies

Feb 11th 2018 at 10:36:12 PM

^ Heh, funny, but no. This is definitely a valid setting trope. However all the examples still need context.

(This is coming out of a repair shop job; it's fully endorsed by TRS folks.)

Feb 11th 2018 at 10:45:13 PM

^^ Office Workers Sit on Swivel Chairs

Feb 12th 2018 at 1:59:52 AM

Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Feb 12th 2018 at 7:07:25 AM

News Radio takes place in a New York news radio station. Manager Dave Nelson has his own office, while the others work in an open work room with desks and a communal table for staff meetings. (One episode has anchorman Bill McNeill install a cubicle for himself, which doesn't last.) There's also a broadcast booth behind soundproof glass and a break room (which was a control room in the pilot).

Mar 4th 2018 at 7:18:00 AM

Xtifr, thanks for that comment. This draft indeed originated in the Trope Repair Shop, and lots of people suggested this could be a valid setting trope, though to be fair, some also said that they didn't think it was trope-worthy or needed. I'd just like to point out that there is a difference between Truth In Television and People Sit In Chairs.

Arivne, thanks for marking ZCE — I thought it was sufficient to leave a note at the top of the list. This TLP is just a draft, after all, but it never hurts to emphasize that ZCE are not ok on the main page.

Feb 12th 2018 at 8:34:32 AM

Don't forget to add this to the index called Settings.

Feb 12th 2018 at 8:44:30 AM

Adding context:

  • Dilbert primarily sets itself in the unnamed office that Dilbert works. The office itself is a caricature of real life offices, with grossly incompetent managers, borderline insane HR employees and a marketing department that seems to be intentionally running the company into the ground. While there are fantasy elements (the HR manager is a cat, one of the employees is a robot), the work is generally grounded in reality.

Feb 12th 2018 at 8:46:30 AM

Added, thanks!

The description is kind of clunky and not very smooth... Some of it was taken from the Office page (now cut), but it was not a very quality description. Any idea what to cut, what to add?

Feb 12th 2018 at 9:29:25 AM

Description suggestion:

Grab coffee. Go to work. Arrive at office building. Say hi to security. Ride elevator up. Arrive at work. Say hi to the receptionist. Walk to desk. Arrive at desk. Sit down at desk. Say hi to your coworker. Look around. This is a Standard Office Setting.

Describe the Standard Office Setting on Line 5 of the TP-1090 form.

For starters, this is a white-collar workplace, with cubicles and fluorescent lighting that never turns off. Most of the members of upper-management have their own offices, which may or may not be luxuriously furnished. The main room will most likely have a bullpen style setup to make it easier for characters to interact with one another. Everyone is either busy or non-existnt. There are piles of papers on every desk and though people should be working, this is a work of fiction. Obviously nobody is doing exactly what they should be doing.

This could be a law firm, publishing firm, newspaper agency, advertising agency, or architectural company. This could even be a politician's campaign office. In fact, the specific type of business doesn't always matter and may not even be known. It just needs to clearly be white-collar.

Most of the characters here are White Collar Workers, though somebody's secretary is either the Sexy Secretary or Sassy Secretary. There may be a Plucky Office Girl and a Bunny Ears Lawyer or two.

When there's an Office Romance, it's usually a case of Will They Or Wont They. If anyone is in danger of being terminated, it's never our main cast. Firings are usually equivalent to dying or being Put On A Bus, and if a character isn't fired but needs to be put out of the way, they get Kicked Upstairs.

Contrast Adminisphere for a non-white-collar setting that's also an office. A Desk Jockey works in a totally different industry than this.

Feb 12th 2018 at 12:06:48 PM

Ordinary People Sit On Chairs, but in the office, where there are swivel chairs, expect antics.

Feb 12th 2018 at 4:21:55 PM

Thanks, Water Blap, I like that draft a lot! :-)

Feb 12th 2018 at 4:23:16 PM

^ Glad to help!

RE: "It's PSOC.": It's clearly not People Sit On Chairs. Can anyone who disagrees please provide an argument as to why they think it's chairs? Do you believe that all setting tropes are People Sit On Chairs?

Feb 13th 2018 at 6:35:01 AM

^You should probably re-read that post. He's making a swivel chair joke.

Feb 13th 2018 at 7:21:48 AM

Was unsure whether it was a continuation of the above comments that it's PSOC. But yeah there's clearly Swivel Chair Antics potholed in there.

Feb 15th 2018 at 5:34:51 AM

We need a mention of Work Com, and examples could likely be mined from there as well.

Feb 16th 2018 at 8:11:22 AM

Other stuff you'll find in an office:

  • Swivel chairs, where you'll expect some antics.
  • Photocopying machinces, where you'll be tempted to put your hams on it.
  • Staplers; the thing that puts your paperwork together. If red, all of your coworkers will want it .

Feb 16th 2018 at 10:19:43 AM

Here's my suggestion for adding all that (at the end of the paragraph that begins with "When there's an Office Romance..."):

Especially if this is a Work Com, expect Swivel Chair Antics to ensue at some point and someone to use the photocopier in ways they shouldn't. If there's The Red Stapler, most people around the office will probably use the same one, and you'll probably end up buying one in Real Life because you keep seeing it in the work.

Feb 19th 2018 at 10:14:01 AM

Seems we reached th magical number of hats. Launch soon? :-)

Feb 19th 2018 at 12:05:47 PM

I think the hats mostly came because of questions about whether this was a trope. It's an unfortunate fact that people use hats to signify "yes this is a trope", rather than "yes this is ready to launch". (Which in turn happens because people use bombs to say "no this isn't a trope"—which is actually somewhat reasonable.) The next version of TLP should have some better options. In the mean time, no, I don't think this is anywhere near ready to launch. It's a very common trope, and should really launch with a bunch of examples. I'll try to scrounge some up in the next day or two.

Feb 19th 2018 at 12:38:58 PM

Well, people can always add examples when it's out on the main page. I think it is launchable because it has a decent description and several examples. Good enough for me, though I am not as active on this wiki as I used to be, so perhaps I am mistaken as to what good standards for a page are. :-)

Feb 19th 2018 at 1:43:52 PM

It doesn't have nearly enough examples with context to be ready for launch yet, imo.

Feb 19th 2018 at 2:34:10 PM

Perhaps we should get those zero context examples done before launching

Feb 19th 2018 at 6:58:31 PM

Film - Animated

  • The Incredibles: Bob Parr briefly winds up as a cubicle drone at the predatory insurance agency Insuricare. In stark contrast with Bob's prior career as a superhero, the office is as bland and drab as possible, and the tyrannical boss Mr. Huph gets mad when Bob actually helps the customers. For extra insult, Bob barely fits into his own cubicle, because he has to share it with a concrete support beam.

Feb 19th 2018 at 7:12:44 PM

Given that both the trope description itself and more than a few of the examples place emphasis on how soul-crushingly boring office work is supposed to be (or just soul-crushing in general), perhaps this trope should be renamed to reflect that? Or possibly have that be the basis of the trope (white-collar office -> monotonous work life)?

Feb 19th 2018 at 8:09:30 PM

Web Animation

  • Homestar Runner sometimes features an office filled with cubicles, where characters fulfill generic white collar responsibilities but spend most of their time avoiding work by playing video games, checking email, breaking the computers, etc.

Feb 19th 2018 at 11:34:30 PM

At the very least, mention that the "Soul-Crushing Desk Job" is a very common subtrope of this setting, and mention the sister trope Soul Sucking Retail Job?

Feb 20th 2018 at 6:35:01 AM

This is distinctly a setting, not a particular kind of plot related to how such monotonous work can be soul-sucking. The Mad Men and Ally Mc Beal examples illustrate the distinction. A Soul-Crushing Desk Job trope could be a separate draft.

Feb 20th 2018 at 11:05:42 AM

Might be nice to have a brief comment on the history of the trope. Something like:

The Industrial Revolution led to an increase in the number of workers that businesses needed to handle paperwork, making this Older Than Radio, but it was The Twentieth Century's mass production and assembly lines which caused an explosion of white-collar work, and made this the dominant workplace setting.

Feb 21st 2018 at 10:53:13 AM

And mention that the concept cubicles were created in The Sixties to increase productivity.

Speaking of cubicles, Vox has a video about it, and about open offices.

Feb 26th 2018 at 1:40:52 PM

The first paragraph in the descriptions definitely smells of Strictly Formula, though probably not in the work itself.

Feb 27th 2018 at 2:32:13 PM

  • The office recreation in Job Simulator looks like a 1980s or 1990s office. Motivational posters are everywhere and everyone works in cubicles with box monitor computers.

Feb 27th 2018 at 7:18:46 PM

Theater:

  • How To Succeed In Business W Ithout Really Trying takes place entirely in one of these, the headquarters of the World Wide Widget company. Being set in the 60's, the office lacks cubicles, but is full of secretaries, Office Romance, and elevators. The company operates an entire skyscraper which includes both giant rooms filled with desks and opulent executive rooms.

TV

  • In Twin Peaks The Return, Dougie Jones works in the high-end variety of this setting, in a glass-walled, leather-chaired, skyscraper office in which employees mostly seem to have serious meetings in plush conference rooms and hand each other manilla envelopes. Most scenes in this setting involve Dougie having absurd difficulties in the elevator, while getting coffee, or both.

Music

  • The Music Video for 25, 21 by Jaurim, a song about wistful memory of youth takes place in a bleak, washed out office setting with identical cubicles and includes closeups of photocopy machines and an uninspiring take-out dinner.

Feb 28th 2018 at 8:10:31 AM

  • The Stanley Parable is set in what seems like a standard office building, with Stanley (the player character) being a normal office worker spending his workdays in a cubicle in room 427 - all meant to emphasize the monotony of his life. However, this setting can very easily go into Wonderland territories in some of the game's endings.

Mar 1st 2018 at 12:26:56 PM

Film:

  • Office Space is a comedic look at just how soul-crushing such an environment can be. Short cubicle walls make it easy for managers to lean over at any time to make unreasonable demands, and make it impossible to escape noise made by other workers.

Live-Action TV

  • The Office UK is a workplace comedy which set in a small regional branch office of a large corporation, which shows off the range of this setting: there's a receptionist desk at the front, open space with a bunch of desks in the middle, and private office with a door for the office manager.
  • The Office US, like the British original, shows off the full range of the setting, from the open workspace filled with desks where the regular office workers sit to the private office with a door for the office manager.
  • Better Off Ted is set in the main offices for a huge, faceless, multinational corporation. Ted, a middle manager, has a large, well-appointed, lush private office, while Linda and other regular workers sit in small cubicles, and are frequently forced to interact even when they don't want to.

(It was tricky to provide descriptions for both versions of The Office without violating the rules against having examples depend on each other and without simply repeating myself. I think I pulled it off.) :)

Mar 4th 2018 at 4:02:20 AM

^ You did pull it off. Good job and thank you for that. :-)

Mar 3rd 2018 at 12:06:21 PM

  • Spin City features the governmental version of this. Most of the cast sits in an open bullpen at City Hall, but the mayor and vice-mayor have fancy private offices.
  • In Psych, when Phony Psychic detective Sean and his partner Gus visit Gus's other job at a pharmaceutical company, it is shown to be mostly rows of white cubicles. Lampshaded when Sean mocks Gus for working somewhere so boring and ordinary.

Mar 4th 2018 at 11:04:50 AM

Comic Book

  • Superman features the offices of The Daily Planet where Superman works in disguise as "mild mannered" Clark Kent. Depictions have varied over the years, but the they usually have the reporters, including Kent, in a bullpen, while chief editor Perry White has a private office.
  • In the Spider Man comics, Peter "Spider-Man" Parker regularly visits the offices of The Daily Bugle to sell pictures to editor J. Jonah Jameson in his private office, which is usually (depictions vary) attached to the bullpen where the regular reporters sit.

Mar 5th 2018 at 5:33:21 AM

The first paragraph in the descriptions definitely smells of Strictly Formula, though probably not in the work itself.
The reason the first paragraph is like that is because real office jobs tend to be repetitive, though something about this not being Strictly Formula could possibly help the description. Maybe...
Despite how real white-collar jobs tend to be incredibly repetitive with various routines ensuring work gets done, a work set in this setting is not necessarily Strictly Formula.

I feel like the following paragraph should be removed for being irrelevant. This isn't a Useful Note or Wikipedia and the tone of this paragraph is totally different from the rest of the draft.

The Industrial Revolution led to an increase in the number of workers that businesses needed to handle paperwork, making this Older Than Radio, but it was The 20th Century's mass production and assembly lines which caused an explosion of white-collar work and made this the dominant workplace setting. The concept cubicles were created in The '60s to increase productivity and save space.

Mar 5th 2018 at 1:19:51 PM

@Water Blap: Personally I don't mind the paragraph with real-life info.

And I like the first paragraph. Good stylistic choice IMO. :-)

Mar 10th 2018 at 3:36:20 PM

There a few minor typos in some of the examples, but otherwise looks good to go.

Live Action TV:

  • Many scenes in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, take place at the office of the The Six O'Clock News where Mary works. Mary has a desk in the bullpen, while Lou Grant and other higher-ups have their own offices with glass windows facing into the bullpen.

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