Working nine till five (in your dressing gown)
One of the consequences of Coronavirus is that many of us have had to start working from home. As a stand-up comedian, this hasn’t been easy, you can’t just start doing an impromptu gig at the dinner table, treating your kids like drunken hecklers. You can’t do “your mum” style put-downs when you’re married to her.
If you ever wanted an insight into what it’s like to be married to a comedian, my wife Jemma once came to a gig with me. Afterwards, I overheard her talking to an audience member who said, “was that your husband on stage earlier?” “Yes,” Jemma said. They then said, “oh it must be great living with him, I bet you never stop laughing!” Jemma sighed wearily and replied, “oh yes, it’s hilarious…”
Over the last six months, social media has been flooded with pictures of people’s home office setups, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some people have a set up like the HQ of Google. Two monitors, a perfectly positioned desk, expertly lit so they can slay all those crucial Zoom meetings.
Others are perched on the toilet, naked from the waist down, with their laptops balanced on an Alibaba laundry basket, trying to stop the cat from flashing its bumhole on the webcam.
When I worked in an office I kept the fact that I did stand up comedy a bit of a secret. The two worlds don’t really mix, an office isn’t a comedy club: “Give is a cheer if you know how the photocopier works!”
“Right, are you ready for your next meeting? let’s start the applause…..build it up, stamp your feet, go wild and crazy and welcome to the Projector a very good friend of mine, Kevin and his monthly sales figures!”
The government have tried to encourage people back into the office, but it hasn’t been easy. They assumed that people would relish the chance to get back to normal, pick up where they left off all those months ago. But they forgot one small point. Most people really hate their jobs.
We’ve all had a taste of a different life and now we don’t want to go back.
In this month’s article, I take a look at some of the things many of us wouldn’t miss about working in an office.
There used to be the mindset that working from home meant that you were skiving. Rolling over in bed to hit send on an email before going back to sleep. This pandemic has shown that to be nonsense. Studies have shown that people are more productive when they are at home, because they feel like they’re on their own time. Forget promotions and pay rises, nothing is more motivating than your own inflatable hot tub, a box set and an ice-cold beer.
It was all about trust. There wasn’t any. The manager wanted you at a desk where they could see you, like a toddler in a tie. At their disposal, so they could drag you into pointless meetings that went on for hours, where the only outcome was “I think we need another meeting”
Nothing starts your day like a two-hour journey nestled nose deep into a strangers armpit. Or perhaps you’re pinned against the glass of a train window, as the person next to you unfolds their morning paper like they are trying to change a duvet. Only a psychopath could miss the morning commute. Even in your own car, it’s miserable. Sitting there in that little metal coffin, staring at the exhaust in front, listening to Heart FM and wondering what happened to your dreams.
The rush hour just seemed to get earlier every day, with Friday afternoon seemingly the exact point in the week where everyone would synchronize their car accidents, causing hours of tailbacks all across the country.
Why sit in your own garden eating home-cooked food you’ve lovingly prepared, when you can spend a tenner on a floppy cheese sandwich, which has been thrown together by someone in a factory who has just recently tested positive for COVID?
The amount of money we wasted on Coffee and lunches was staggering. Of course, there are the smug people with a fresh pasta salad they made the night before. But the rest of us have woken up fifteen minutes before we have to leave and we’ve had to brush our teeth in the car park.
You have to have a think about what lunch you bring in to the office. A tuna salad may seem like a fairly innocuous, but not when it’s in a poorly sealed Tupperware. Tuna juice is one of the most potent substances known to man and it’s got a longer half-life than Novichok. Even a small leak makes your rucksack smell like a fishing trawler. It gets into your skin, on your clothes, everywhere you go you’re followed by hundreds of stray cats.
Smelly food, in general, should be banned from an office. Anyone who brings in a curry to reheat in a communal microwave needs to get in the bin. That’s not lunch, that’s social terrorism.
I stopped taking a yoghurt to work. I had too many accidents. Is there anything more stressful than opening a yoghurt when you’re wearing a black suit? They are so highly pressurized, peeling back that film lid is like trying to defuse a bomb. No matter how gentle you are, it just fires itself at you, spitting the stuff everywhere like an angry cobra.
When you’re working from home and you get up to make a brew, it doesn’t condemn you to an hour at the kettle, working your way through more orders than a barista in Starbucks. There is always that one person in an office, who waits until someone gets up before asking for a drink, never offering to make one themselves. I feel for them when working from home, just staring at an empty cup, gasping for a drink but not having the skills to make it happen.
Some of the orders are ridiculous too, “Make sure you leave the T-Bag in for thirty seconds, stir three times, sweetener and no sugar. Make sure you use soya milk for Susan as normal milk will kill her!”
I’ve never been keen on the idea of hot desking. Why do I have to share custody of a mouse with Bryan? It’s not the school hamster? We’ve all seen him idly scratching his testicles near the water cooler. Is it called a hot desk because after he’s been on it I’d like to set fire to it?
“Office Banter” or as it’s now more commonly known “harassment” is another thing I think we’d all like to see the back of. There is nothing wrong with having a laugh with your colleagues, but the phrase, “Is just banter mate!” has been used as a defence by so many bellends over the years.
There is a place for humour in the workplace, but it has to be well-timed and well balanced. A witty remark or an inside joke always goes down well. Saying, “It’s nearly Friday!” at 9.30 am on a Monday morning, quite rightly makes the rest of the office want to strangle you with a printer cable.
An unwritten rule in any office is that when it’s your birthday, you bring in cakes. This is part of your contract. I was once working in an office when someone decided to buck this trend and bring in a fruit platter. People looked at her like she’d left a dog turd on the desk. There was genuine anger. I swear I saw people taking their money back out of her card.
Team building days
Team building events, for when eight hours a day five days a week just isn’t enough for some people. If you don’t like these people now, standing in a cagoule in a forest in the pouring rain, trying to make a den out of twigs certainly won’t improve matters.
The worst thing to have in an office is that painfully boring person, who sucks the life out of everyone. If you’re thinking that you haven’t got one in your organisation then it’s probably you.
As soon as they start talking, you’re just thinking of ways to get out of the conversation. You wonder if you could fake a heart attack? Or secretly text a family member to ring you with an emergency?
There was a guy I used to work called Alan Koch, it was a German name I think, ironic really because people called him that anyway.
He’d box you in in the corridor. He knew you wanted to leave, so he never stopped talking. I think he could probably play the didgeridoo because he was doing circular breathing. Getting away from him was like trying to pull out into traffic at a busy junction. You can be polite and wait for a gap, but at some point, you have to just got to put your head down and go for it, otherwise, you’ll be there all day.
Wherever he went people would dive into meeting rooms to avoid him, it was like watching a tornado sweeping across a plain.
My boss once got trapped by him near the door, he had nowhere to go and Alan had him in the tractor beam of one of his long anecdotes. With a look of despair on his face, my boss spotted me over Alan’s shoulder and, with tears almost welling in his eyes, mouthed the words, “help me.”
So that concludes the meeting for today folks. Please don’t forget to read the minutes when I send them through. It’ll be tomorrow though, I’m off back to bed now until the school run.