Same office, different river? – Slugger O’Toole


In the early 2000s, viewers were invited to see the fun side of the fatigue and monotony of the white-collar workplace.

The Office, starring Ricky Gervais as David Brent, a deluded manager of a regional subsidiary of paper merchant Wernham Hogg, cashed in on the then-new reality reality trend, presenting itself as a funny and joyful “fake”. in the episodes of social hardship, gaffe, flirtation, ego clashes and professional rivalries that permeate workplaces around the world.

If The Office were to be redone in 2021 (assuming Wernham Hogg managed to get over the economic meltdown caused by the pandemic) it would be an entirely different sight.

For starters, there would be far fewer staff around due to the explosion of work-from-home culture.

The largely pointless and unproductive team meetings and training sessions would now be conducted virtually via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

David Brent’s awful jokes and embarrassing dance moves would not have the same effect when heard or viewed via a virtual video conferencing platform. For his beleaguered staff it might not be such a bad thing though …

In September of this year, I went back to my weekly pre-lockout routine of three days at the office and two days of work from home, after spending the previous 18 months working continuously from home.

I went back to a rather transformed place. To quote WB Yeats (albeit in a very different context) things had “changed, completely changed” – although I would not go so far as to describe the office as “a terrible beauty”.

The place now looks semi-deserted at best with half the workforce working from home every day. Friday is like Marie Celeste. Meetings previously held in physical spaces with all attendees present in the same room are now virtually unknown. (No pun intended).

The office bar where I got my morning caffeine fix and the occasional potato or pumpkin risotto at lunchtime for a reasonable price is now gone. It has been replaced by a vending machine that on the rare occasions it works dispenses poor quality hot drinks in paper cups and unhealthy pastry products processed at high cost.

As a result, the old status of the cafe as a place for lunchtime gossip and socializing with colleagues from other departments is no longer present.

The Friday night tradition of escaping to the local pub for a few drinks after work is gone now that everyone seems to be working from home on Fridays. This particular drunkard located a stone’s throw from the office was once a hive of activity around 4:30 pm on a Friday. It now invariably looks just over half full.

John Seabrook writes in new Yorker succinctly captures the changed atmosphere of this new, almost post-apocalyptic environment:

“As far as I could tell, I was the only soul in our Gensler-designed office. March post-it reminders curled at the edges. The silence was overwhelming.

Following the new one-way directional signs, I eventually arrived at my desk. I started my virtual desktop, thinking I could take advantage of the rare peace of mind and privacy to actually do some work in the office. But I couldn’t concentrate. I missed my colleagues. Whether it’s closed, open, or cloud-based, an office is about the people who work there. Without people, the office is an empty shell. “

To be fair, however, this transformation of the office culture into the so-called “hybrid” environment has been in the works for some time. The pandemic and blockades simply accelerated a process that was already well underway.

While some of us may miss Friday night pub sessions or office gossip, few of us will miss the commuter hell of traveling on overcrowded public transport or being stuck in endless traffic jams five days a week.

But the change is obviously constant. Like the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (c 535 BC – c 475 BC) would have said “You cannot enter the same river twice, because other waters flow continuously”.

These recent transformations in the workplace may have happened more suddenly than expected, but history has shown that we are a resilient enough species that can adapt to changes when needed, no matter how radical. The modern era is no exception.


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