Escaping Your Cubicle

Sitting in a cube for eight hours a day may not be how you’d like to spend your career, but these days, not every job has a desk. No matter your age or career, there are opportunities in many fields that can keep you on your feet.

“There are a lot of jobs that get things done where you’re not sitting at a desk,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for “People have opened their minds up to different environments. This idea of a deskless job has become less taboo and more normal.”

People have more career options today, and a traditional desk job can be too conventional and stifling — deskless jobs offer more variety and career compatibility. “Getting out of the cubicle can foster greater hands-on experiences and opportunities for teamwork and client- and consumer-facing interactions,” says Jukka Laitamaki, clinical professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.

A willingness to try different things is important as you progress in your career, especially when it comes to figuring out how you like to work. “Don’t be afraid of something that’s more hands on and not as structured since the company may be a fun place to work — discover what you like to do and experiment a little,” says Vicki Holt, president and CEO of Proto Labs.

As you explore different career options, experts provide tips for those thinking of a deskless job.

Who should consider these positions?

If you want to move around for reasons other than to get lunch, then a job without a cubicle could be a good fit.

“Some people should consider jobs where they’re on their feet or there’s a lot of mobility,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “This can work for an introvert or an extrovert.”

The jobs vary significantly depending on the industry. You can work independently on a project, while some are very team-based, suggests Holt. “If you like working in environments that aren’t the same every day and that require problem-solving and teamwork skills, there are many jobs that aren’t in a cubicle that might fit.”

When you’re not working at a desk all day, you may be more energized. “You interact with more people, create friendships and have challenges which can be more exciting than working alone in a cubicle,” says Holt.

Where are these jobs?

Whether you’re a scientist who studies rivers or mountains, a technician on an assembly line or an engineer who fixes sidewalks and bridges, sometimes finding the right opportunity takes a little creativity and legwork. “The key is understanding what type of job you’re applying for, how it works for the company you’re applying to and how it evolves throughout your career,” says Dobroski.

Many jobs today require a different skillset since more companies employ software throughout their operations, says Holt. “A lot of people may have thought that some jobs are repetitive and dirty, but they’re not that way. Every day looks a little different, and you get a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day.” Certain industries, like manufacturing, have become very technology intensive with collaborative environments that require solving problems on a daily basis.

Experts suggest looking for jobs across industries rather than specific companies. “We do see in the job listings with a lot of movement on a daily business in retail or food services industry much more so than technology for instance,” says Dobroski. “Science, consulting and healthcare is a mixed bag — even agriculture. You can work in the field and have a farm or work at an agriculture manufacturing company and sit in an office all day.”

What’s the career path?

As your career progresses, you may be on your feet early on and become more of a manager as you progress — the sky’s the limit. “Conversely there can be times when you’re tied to a desk and when you get older, you take over a global program and you’re traveling around,” says Dobroski.

Every company has leadership roles within different departments, and you may need to change functions a few times to get there. “People love to move employees to different functions since this allows you to develop your existing people,” says Holt.

Since some deskless jobs require working independently and away from your team, staying relevant is key and will help you as new opportunities arise. “You don’t want to be a shameless self-promoter, but you do want to be mindful of taking on different projects,” says Haefner.

“You want to make sure you’re still thought about versus out of sight out of mind.” She suggests sharing your wins or mistakes and participating in meetings remotely, as well as networking with coworkers when you can.

Before you pursue any position, research where the experience will take your career and how your career can change — any added benefits could outweigh the tradeoffs.

What are the qualifications?

The typical day for these positions is usually outlined in the job description, which may state the percent of time you’re expected to travel, physical strength requirements like being able to lift up to 20 pounds, or the ability to sit or stand for a specified period of time. Education requirements differ from job to job, too.

A job description with ‘in good physical standing’ means that you can walk on a sidewalk, drive a car, you can walk upstairs and in many cases, someone may have to lift light to heavy materials on the job, explains Dobroski.

Reading between the lines can give you clues as to whether you’ll be on your feet. “You can probably tell by the title or in the job description, what it will entail,” says Holt.

Job descriptions with words like fast-paced, collaborative, team-based or problem-solving will most likely require that person to be on their feet, experts say.

“During the interview, it’s perfectly okay to ask for these specifics, and a smart employer will welcome these questions because they want someone to stick around,” says Dobroski. “Travel, standing on your feet and lifting things isn’t for everyone, and an employer wants to hire the right fit.”