Day after day, I pine for the normality of office life. Losing my keycard and having to balance a pot of porridge and an orange juice in my hands while I desperately plead to front desk that yes, I work here, why would I lie about that? Queuing up in silence for a slow-moving coffee machine to spit out two people’s mediocre flat whites and, when it comes to my turn, realising there are no clean mugs left and so I have to go desk to desk asking people if they are done with their mugs and then take a mug and clean a mug and queue up all over again. Getting a Slack message from my boss that just says: “What are you doing?”. Receiving an urgently marked all-office email telling us not to use wet wipes in the toilet.
Receiving that second urgently marked all-office of the day saying the wet-wipe toilet has now flooded and, if you want to use the toilet, go to the one on the third floor. Getting back to your desk after lunch to find someone has taken your mug. Having an office-wide argument about whether the temperature in here is too hot or not. Tapping politely on the glass window of a meeting room and doing a “sorry” face. Only taking a 15-minute lunch break and spending 12 of those minutes somehow handing over £8 at Pret. Receiving an email from management telling you this year’s Christmas party will be held in January instead. Watching as the the government quietly raises the pension age again. Just 40 more years of this. Just 55 more years of this. Just 60 more years, and then you can die.
Office life is under the microscope again because the government and various other characters are on a big messaging push to get us back in to work. This has been communicated in two distinctly different ways, each calamitous enough in their own right: the first, a method known as “weaponised LBC”, which involves various millionaires calling us all lazy, work-shy bastards on call-in shows. (“The virus has turned millions into selfish, cowardly liars who don’t give a damn about their fellow citizens so long as they can hide away at home while continuing to get paid” – Pimlico Plumbers’ founder Charlie Mullins says via a Twitter post announcing his appearance on BBC Radio, freshly home from his holiday villa in Spain).
At the other end there’s the Jeremy Hunt look, sliding his tie out and leaning back in his chair – “listen guys, these performance reviews are really informal, yeah?” – trying to remind you how much you love office life, how all your friends are there, how you can only really get things done on a juddering Windows XP desktop with a internet blocker on it that won’t let you look at eBay in your lunch hour. “There’s only so long you can carry on working completely remotely, or you start losing the fizz and excitement that you get in a really good work place,” the former health secretary told Sky News. Fizz. Excitement. This man has never worked in an office in his life.
It’s hard not to look at the government trying to send us all back to work and assume that they are covertly up to something – is this just to get people using trains again so they can yank up the fares come the new year? But my dark suspicion is that they have no idea why they want children back in schools and workers back in offices beyond “well, it’s normal”. The Conservatives exist to maintain a powerful bedrock of middle-class normality – the kids go to school! The parents commute on the train! Once every two years everyone leases a new Audi! – which has been sent askew by coronavirus, so it stands to reason that getting everyone back, whether it’s medically advisable or not, makes things nice and stable and governable again.
Thing is, most people I know have been working just as hard, if not harder, at home, balancing their existing job with the new challenge of having to be on a Zoom call for four hours out of every day, not having an actual desk and, in many cases, the constant demands of childcare. Nobody has had a summer off, though millions of us have learned just how much we can get done working from home, despite what dismissive layers of middle management have been telling us about it for years.
This back-to-the-office shtick is designed to make us forget just how little we need the grey tower blocks, the wilting midday sandwiches, the occasional Friday slice of pizza or go on a ping-pong table. They want us to go back to normal life without acknowledging that six months of distance from normal life has made us realise that normal life was stacked against us to begin with.
If you want to feel like you’re in an office again just wad a packet of wet wipes down your toilet and, at 4pm every Friday, throw away all the milk that’s left in your fridge. That’s all you’re really missing.
• Joel Golby is the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant
Source: The Guardian