New ‘Office’, New Office Personas
With COVID-19 lockdown underway, Leith Senior Copywriter Cécile Robertshaw dons her anthropologist hat.
Chances are you’re reading this from your sofa. Or dining room table. Or bed. Or ergonomically sound chair that you had the foresight to nab from work, leaving us neophytes in the dust of our lumpy pillows and looks-nice-but-how-are-people-meant-to-sit-on-this holdover from our minimalist decor phase. We laughed then, but oh how the makeshift desks have turned.
Because now we are pros at working from home. Yes, actual professionals actually getting work done—not (just) building forts out of stockpiled toilet roll. And along with a whole new level of productivity, we’re rediscovering ourselves as employees. Here are some archetypes that have emerged.
Business on Top, Party on the Bottom
Seemingly every advice listicle on working from home starts with ‘get dressed’, as if society is already so far gone that we have to be reminded to clothe ourselves. These guys are halfway there. They’re making the most of the fact that for the foreseeable future only the upper half of their body need be presentable, letting their lower half run wild. Pyjamas, yoga pants, psychedelic harem trousers, fuzzy socks, undies, nothing at all—if someone on a video call looks suspiciously overdressed, chances are it’s only from the waist up. But you’ll never know for sure.
These people are the glue that hold us together during these trying times, for they keep one of modern-day humanity’s most sacred traditions alive: conference call protocol. Garbled key points, unflattering camera angles, infinite ‘Can you hear me? Yes, can you?’ loops, mystery beeps, dialling in from what sounds like the bottom of a well, demanding everyone mute their mic, audio lags—a remote meeting cannot take place without at least three of these. Accept that this is how the universe works, be grateful someone’s keeping one aspect of your life constant and turn the workweek into a bingo game.
One of the great things about our agency is that we genuinely like the people we work with. But then one day, mid-video chat, someone’s pet or child makes a cameo. Maybe their dog drinks their tea. Or their kid screams something embarrassing at the top of their lungs. Or their cat walks across the keyboard. From that moment on, that’s all any of us care about. Every interaction will now consist of requests to see the furry companion/offspring. The new workplace darling becomes an honourary employee, and our once beloved colleague a mere conduit whose name we barely remember. Which will make things a bit awkward when we finally return to the office and it’s just them again.
Born Again Hobbyists
Our commutes now take roughly 30 seconds, and there are no school drop-offs to make. Which means we’ve suddenly got… time? Many will utilise it to have a mini lie-in or to watch Netflix in its entirety—both admirable pursuits by today’s standards—but not these people. No, they’ve decided they’re going to do something with this time. But they don’t have a clue what. So they’re going to try things. And this is where the entertainment for us/torture for those living with them begins. It’ll start with something fairly innocuous, or at least quiet, like tai chi. Then they’ll decide to give playing the harmonica a go. Next they will want to make something, like their own soap or cheese. It will likely culminate in attempting to learn a foreign language. Whatever it is that sticks, they’ll come out the other side of this with a skill that they won’t quite know what to do with once regular life resumes.
I’ve Been Preparing for this My Entire Life—Now What?
Aside from the whole pandemic thing, this situation is an introvert’s dream come true. Government-enforced personal space, unbridled me time, a coffee supply that doesn’t necessitate small talk. They are so ready! In theory. In practice, they realise it’s one thing to enjoy being alone by choice, but quite another to have it mandated. So they do something heretofore unprecedented: they start to reach out. To propose ways of keeping office culture alive despite social distancing. To participate in virtual organised fun, when they made an art of dodging it IRL. To truly look forward to seeing their somewhat bewildered colleagues again (in controlled doses of course).
Once this blows over, it will be interesting to see how workplaces evolve to incorporate our learnings and the ways in which employees have adapted. Bottomless Tuesdays? Cat-friendly offices? A homemade cheese exchange? Hard to predict. But one thing’s for certain: first we’ll all, at long last, stand within 2 metres of each other—and go down to the pub.