DIARY OF A DEMENTED HOME WORKER: Let’s get down to business and talk about going to ‘The Office’ . . . maybe!

April 25th, 2021 6:25 PM

By Emma Connolly

Open plan offices make it hard to avoid the boss, and do your online shopping. Lots of them even have real life characters like David Brent from the UK sitcom The Office, and most, get this, don’t allow you bring your dog in, no matter how cute. It’s a lot to take in all at once I know.

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It’s Week 58 and whisperings have started that ‘going back to the office’ may soon be on the cards for some of us. For those who need reminding, or who were hired during the pandemic and have always worked remotely, here’s a little insight into what we can expect ....

• WHO remembers The Office? Not the sitcom, but the actual office? Yeah, I’m the same. It’s been so long since I’ve been in one that I’m not sure it ever existed. Are my memories real? Or am I just imagining it from what I’ve read in history books? Hard to say, but with murmurings of us all going back to The Office at some point in the not too distant future I took it upon myself this week to do some research. Brace yourself though, it’s not quite the Xanadu you’ve been dreaming of after all these months of WFH …

• It appears most offices are vast, open plan spaces. So after months on Zoom, this means it’s going to be very difficult to avoid eye contact with your boss and ignore them. It also means you’ll be privy to your co-worker’s every last thought on life (no dodgy internet connection to blame when you pull the plug), and if they indulged in a curry the night before. But on the flip side it means you have someone who has no choice but to listen to whatever ails you each morning (eg traffic, how wrecked you are, how your kid was up vomiting all night, what you put in the slow cooker, how you left the clothes on the line and hope it won’t rain etc). It will make a change from burdening your dog I suppose.

• From what we can make out, it also appears all sorts of mannerisms are well tolerated in The Office (something to do with a HR department –  I need to read up more on that). This includes hummers, whistlers, snifflers, compulsive throat clearers, heavy breathers, those who are a little fragrant etc. But strangely there are lots of boundaries you can’t cross which includes telling people what you really think of them, or for example, telling a hummer to shut the f*** up. Neither can you lose it if someone slurps their soup right beside you. Unless of course you fancy being sent back to the home office for a week.

• A major bonus is that offices apparently always have fast internet. This is not an urban legend, we promise. Some places even have a special IT department (not your husband), who doesn’t just say ‘turn it off and on again.’ You also have a proper desk and a chair designed just for you. Now that’s more like it.

• Office politics apparently are a big thing. Experts advise that it’s not always best to act like your real self, unless that person is someone who always agrees with the boss, and takes the party line. Best to leave your opinions in the car park. Supposedly there is also lots of ‘playing the game’ which sounds complicated. But unless you want to get left behind it’s advised you read up on the rules (even if they’re mainly unwritten).

• Now here’s something important, time keeping is taken very seriously in The Office. So while WFH generally means you can go from your bed to your desk in 60 seconds flat (you can grab a shower and clothes during your morning break), there’s a bit more involved in ‘going in.’ You have to factor in getting dressed, saying goodbye to your dog, the commute (traffic!), breakfast (some offices allow dining al-desko, others not so much). I know, you’d be exhausted before you’d ever start!

• But there are perks – there’s free stuff. Sometimes. Like pastries if there’s an important client on the premises, and if there’s a really long and difficult meeting and you don’t get a lunch break, they’ll send in free platters of sandwiches. Still not convinced? There’s more …

• We’ve heard that casual wear is permitted on a Friday in something called Dress Down Friday. You might read this as the go ahead to wear the cosy gear you’ve lived in while WFH. Nope. It means the complete opposite and generally involves buying a completely new outfit designed to look casual but which you’ve put weeks of thought into. So absolutely no Uggs, are we clear on that?

• There also appears to be a bit of pressure to do something interesting every weekend and share it with The Office. But the thing is being in The Office is exhausting, and time consuming. Because you’re out of the house all week, you’ll mainly be spending your Saturday and Sunday batch cooking and catching up on the laundry, so you’ll have to lie wildly. Something along the lines of: ‘Oh you know, just the usual, I did a triathlon on Saturday morning, personal best, and then in the evening we had friends over for dinner and tried out that Gordon Ramsay beef recipe, amazing, and on Sunday we took the kids for a 10k hike in the morning, after we did a couple’s kayak at dawn and had our parents over for brunch. Yourself?’

• You also need to completely revise your attitudes to work and alcohol. So you know how you might treat yourself when burning the midnight oil from home with a glass of wine (anything after 5pm)? Yeah, that will never happen in The Office. Alcohol and work in general is frowned upon for some reason. We accept the tendency to make mistakes does increase on the third glass but, it just makes you feel so ... creative. If you have to work late you’ll be lucky to get a free pizza. And if it’s a really big deal you might be allowed one of those gin and tonics in a can, but definitely don’t be the first one to suggest it or you can kiss goodbye to that promotion.

• There are also nights out associated with The Office. These come with lots of risks (and sometimes involve changing jobs, or your entire identity). I don’t feel comfortable to talk about this yet with any authority.

• To conclude, while I haven’t actually met anyone who is already back in The Office, which makes all this very speculative, I feel it’s an idea we need to start getting used to. So this week why not start by shaking out the cereal from your keyboard, pushing your lunch break out from 11.30am to 1pm, weaning  yourself off the crisp sandwiches (you’ll be judged), cutting the afternoon nap and stop referring to yourself in the third person when you’re giving yourself those pep talks (my own favourite: You’ve got this Emma! Followed by a fist pump). No one said it was going to be easy. Or as Coldplay said: ‘No one ever said it would be this hard!’

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