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The office can be hard work

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

“Hearing an alarm. Putting on a tie. Carrying a handbag. Receptionists. Caffeine-filled air. Taking a lift. Seeing your second family. Watercooler conversations. Proper bants. The boss’s jokes. Plastic plants. Office gossip. Those weird carpets. Face-to-face meetings. Not having to make lunch. CCing. BCCing. Accidentally replying-all. Hearing buzzwords. Leaving early for a cheeky afternoon in the sun.”
The above paragraph recently appeared on an advert - for disinfectant, naturally - on the London Underground. Underneath was a line about sanitising surfaces – “the little things we do to protect the little things we love”.
Presumably intended to extol the virtues of the office environment, it is undeniably evocative (so much so, I almost broke out in a rash reading it!). The reaction was laced with anything but love. In fact, it was probably the perfect advertisement for working from home, and it made me very glad to be sitting in my slippers at my kitchen table with tea and cake on tap, the radio on and no tiresome ‘proper bants’ to contend with.
Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate office environment will recognise the scene, and the instinctive reaction it provokes isn’t usually one of affection. Work is work, and few people are lucky enough to wholeheartedly adore their work environment, but dear lord, what in this description could possibly inspire any joy? It’s telling that they had to include ‘leaving early’ to fill the space.
Putting on a tie is not something I have to contend with, but I do occasionally don high heels in a futile effort to appear professional and let me tell you, after five months of living in the aforementioned slippers, the re-adjustment to such unnecessary trials has not been enjoyable, for me or my feet. Not having to make lunch frequently translates as spending four times what it would cost to make lunch on a wilted sandwich, in the guise of convenience. CCing, BCCing and replying all are each fraught with their own dangers, but have you ever sent an email about someone to that person?

Society’s scourge
Office gossip is one of society’s greatest scourges and can cause untold hurt and damage. Buzzwords are not just the work of the devil but are also highly misleading – reaching out, cascading, escalating, touching base, circling back and deep diving paint a much more lively and energetic picture of the office environment than its miserable, sedentary reality. I can’t diss the boss’s jokes because she’s probably reading this. And I don’t think I need to dignify plastic plants with a statement.
While – one hopes – this was written with tongue firmly lodged in cheek, it came in the same week as another statement in Ireland that might have gone somewhat under the radar. There have been a few sinister suggestions throughout the course of this pandemic -  such as the suggestion to give gardaí the power to invade private homes to break up gatherings - but nothing to date has made my blood run cold quite as much as listening to Professor Philip Nolan in all seriousness suggest on last Tuesday’s Morning Ireland that “if we’re going to be able to go to school and go to work … we’re really going to have to reserve our contacts for those settings”.
While returning to the office is, admittedly, probably a relief to many who had been forced into less-than-ideal working-from-home situations, and indeed, to many who might be safer in their workplaces, to suggest that the people we work with should be the only people we see is incomprehensible, grossly unfair and should be rejected out of turn.
Since March, our interactions have been severely curtailed; our physical contact with other humans, our socialising opportunities, our visits from family and friends. Things essential to our mental wellbeing, that are still restricted and laced with apprehension. To suggest that these should be further sacrificed in favour of sustaining the capitalist economy is a bridge too far. Work colleagues are usually fine and lovely but are rarely ‘second family’ worthy.
If anything should be sacrificed at this point, I’d happily lose the watercooler conversations in favour of a good long chat and some actual ‘proper bants’ with the girls. In my slippers, of course.