With so many people blogging, napping and reading Polly Toynbee articles through their fingers, sorry, I mean working from home, traditional office life feels somewhat neglected of late.
There are various skills in negotiating life in the office environment. The most important being to ignore so-called colleagues constantly moaning it’s cold if the room heat dips below temperatures generally associated with New York heatwaves. This is best achieved by flinging open the windows upon your late arrival, turning down the air conditioning and suggesting they put on a jumper. After all, this is what I do at home, until I can see my breath and admit defeat by putting the central heating on.
I’ve been working from home for so long now that life has moved on elsewhere without me. Any encounter with rush hour commuting is like being deposited into a dystopian future of overpopulation and automatons programmed to pick up free newspapers for which the carriage is too cramped to read.
At a recent interview for an office job, I was asked what I might bring to the team. I presumed they didn’t mean a weekly Victoria sponge, although I suspect one of the interviewers might have instantly given me the job had I offered one. Instead, I froze. ‘Humour’, I ventured, instantly regretting it, aware the only immediate demonstration of comedy would involve a joke I had recently heard that belonged to after the watershed. I wanted to add ‘playlists’, ‘casual sexism’ and a healthy disregard for authority, but thankfully managed to stop myself. I’m good at organising the milk whip? They nodded non-commitedly, like you only ever see during interviews. What could I bring to an office that didn’t involve anecdotes about how much I used to enjoy working from home?
I remember office politics and the slow clocks. The day peaked at lunchtime, because there was food, with another highlight at 3:30 for afternoon tea, if there was milk, but repetition had little else going for it. Of course there was the opportunity to chat, and I miss that, but the postman is a good stand in, even if it’s clear he needs to escape. The screeching of van tyres as he finally leaves always reminds me to take less of his time in future, after all, I’m starving other local home-workers of his company.
In offices there are meeting rooms with whiteboards containing words such as Targets or Planning, with arrows pointing to some forgotten conclusion. To be fair there were probably people in that meeting who forgot where it was going 5-minutes after it was started. Being in a meeting is bad enough, but walking past one and looking in, well, it’s like seeing human beings robbed of their soul.
I have still found no answer as to what I might bring to a team environment, other than using the printer to churn out countless drafts of a novel to edit during lunch breaks, but I know what not working in an office brings, and I don’t just mean having somewhere designated to sit. It’s about doing your work without also having to socialise with people you otherwise would cross the room to avoid. And having milk and teabags without having to send a group email requesting funds.