Freya Hill


Office High: Class of 2013

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High times at the office. Image credit:

High times at the office. Image credit:

It was the puppy that pushed me over the edge. I could handle the baby talk, phone calls to her husband and the step-by-step breakdown of how to bake a potato. I personally would have been too ashamed to say it out aloud, for fear that my co-workers would think me foolish for marrying someone who didn’t have the intelligence to work out how to make a baked potato on their own.  I would have hissed ‘Turn on the oven’ under a covered hand while looking around for judging glances. But clearly, she did not care.

Day after day my former co-worker made the ritual 4pm call to her husband at home, discussing dinner plans and then, when they bought a puppy, the poor canine would be summoned to the phone for a brief conversation with its mistress.  Never mind being a waste of company time, it was just embarrassing to listen to.   I don’t know what happened to the couple or the puppy, as I left that office soon after. One can only wonder what the office would have been subjected to listening to, should the woman ever have had children…

Modern offices have always struck me as strange places and perhaps not the best environments to get productivity from the workers. I should state that none of the following is any comment on any places I have worked, nor really the co-workers. But more the observation that mashing strangers together in a room, in close proximity, and forcing them to spend more waking hours with one another than their families, takes a bit of getting used to.  When I first started in a real-adult office after university, I felt a bit like I’d returned to high school. At university I’d been free to roam about my days, turning up to overcrowded lecture theatres and under-populated tutorials as I pleased, reasonably unaware of others around me unless I chose to engage with them. But adulthood signed a return to that familiar jungle of desks (and assigned seating!), lunchtimes and packed lunches, cliques and gossip, and uniforms.  Offices are essentially high school for the less hormonal and dermatologically challenged. There’s even sometimes a regular ‘mufti’ day each Friday, although luckily the high school requirement to give a donation to charity for the reward of wearing your own clothes is absent.

As for the uniforms: sure you can get a little bit more choice than the classic high school uniform of polos and shorts (or in my case, blouses and the world’s most unflattering skirt ) but there’s only so far you can go. A former co-worker once asked me, in reference to a group of  young women co-workers who dressed a little revealingly; what my thoughts on clothes in the workplace were. I replied that I thought clothes in the workplace were a very good idea, and it was always a good start to my working day when I’d managed to tick ‘be clothed’ off the list.

As far as the physical conditions of my offices, I have had largely positive experiences. Sure, I often seem to get put near the printer, or by the CEO’s office or once near a ‘break out room’ where co-workers would hold meetings that involved a lot of arm waving and table slapping. But this provides added entertainment to the day. My computer screen almost always points out to a public area, or even better, a well used door, so that I should never fear that anyone suspects I’m doing anything untoward (that guinea pig breeding business I’d like to run on TradeMe…) as my screen is always so wonderfully public.

I’ve been lucky to always have an office tea room, although when your office eating area doubles as the waiting room for  model casting and has its own barista, ‘tea room’ doesn’t quite seem to fit. As lovely as I’m sure models are, that day it was rather off putting having the world’s most toned and taut around me, as I was trying to eat my quiche. Perhaps if I’d packed a salad we could have compared notes. Offices and food is an area which needs to be treated carefully. Remember, smells linger. Unfortunately I have an irrational intolerance to other people’s eating noises, so I am always at my most joyful when people keep their eating to the assigned areas, and I am at my most head-phone-wearing-joyless when surrounded by noisy slurpers. Especially those who talk and eat. Why?!

I’ve read a little about the rise of shared office spaces, in which those who work from home or are running small (two or three employee) businesses choose to share a communal space, with co-kitchening and bookable meeting rooms. I can see a place for these. As much as working from home would have its joys, there’s nothing like having others working around you to motivate you to do the same. Remember high school exams, and the mixture of fear and motivation that being surrounded by hundreds of others who were feverishly writing answers provided?

I hope that those who choose to come back to an office space after deciding to leave the office to start a small business, are not too shocked at what they find on their return. The school yard can be a scary place for the uninitiated or out of practice, and hell hath no fury like a co-worker whose had to pack someone else’s dishes away one too many times. As for me, I survived my first day back for 2013 and even made it outside for some sun at lunchtime.

freya • January 7, 2013

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