My office is my local
It was Friday the 13th when the Leesman leadership team took the decision to lock down our London office. We ordered in pizza for an impromptu company lunch and mucked around wondering when we’d be back. I did glance at the pile of laptop stands, remote keyboards and other remote equipment on the way out, but like hordes of other Londoners my age, trekked back to the seemingly safer, but almost certainly more comfortable parent’s homes, thinking I’d be away two, perhaps three weeks tops. Why would I need a laptop stand?
Back then, I certainly carried the smuggest expression about the idea of lockdown at home. Because as chance would have it, my mum owns a pub. I was jumping on a train to go and batten down the hatches at my local for the ultimate lock-in.
“If someone had told me a month ago that our morning marketing meetings would see me propping up the bar, amongst the lingering smell of stale beer, I would have laughed”.
If someone had told me a month ago that our morning marketing meetings would see me propping up the bar, amongst the lingering smell of stale beer, I would have laughed. And that was the problem, despite daily news reports spelling things out, we Brits ignored the warning signs right up to the last minute, then looked around in a state of disbelief to find the virus had been invisibly and quietly making its way around Old Blighty for weeks, meaning extraordinary measures had to be put in place.
And so suddenly I find myself in what feels like a new and never-ending black comedy. Cheers crossed with The Office; just with no cast, less laughs and no catchy theme tune. We are all facing new obstacles by working remotely, but I have to tell you, the novelty of trying to do a day’s work remotely ‘down your local’ is already wearing very thin.
My mum’s pub – my new ‘office’ – like all proper pubs, is a place of polar opposites. Loud when it’s open, near silent when it’s not. But now it’s only silent.
Proper pubs are sensory overloads. Full of weird noises and smells and no straight lines. They thrive on social proximity and tactile familiarity. They are quirky and manage to preserve ways of doing things the way they’ve always been done. But we’ve had to bolt the door on that. And just four weeks in, I’m genuinely desperate for even the rubbish stuff to come back.
I’m missing unloading the glass washer and cleaning the cellar. I’m missing politely (or not) telling a punter they’ve probably had enough already. I’m even missing the smell of disinfectant blocks in the urinals and clearing blockages in the ladies lav’s!
I looked for help among the fresh deluge of ‘remote working guides.’ A mistake. They all sound like they’ve been drafted by seasoned strategists, sat in their ergonomic chair at their desk in the study / library / garden office / second home in the country and are aimed at managers who frankly in this age should know how to manage remote teams. Where are the guides for recent grads in junior roles, who’s employers totally trusts their employees to work remotely, but perhaps incorrectly assumes that they left university having been taught how to contribute to a fast-moving corporate machine from a sofa in a pub?
So, I sounded out colleagues and peers who’ve remained in their shared houses in London. Not helpful – they just bemoaned staying up till midnight to grab a grocery delivery slot. They moan about being cooped up with others sharing a single folding kitchen table as a communal desk. My biggest problem is deciding which of the 20-odd empty tables at my disposal I should plant myself at.
“My biggest problem is deciding which of the 20-odd empty tables at my disposal I should plant myself at”.
Then there’s Wi-Fi. Even before the COVID madness, temperamental Wi-Fi had been the bane of countless remote workers’ lives. Initially this wasn’t an issue. But as more office workers were sent home and schools were closed, I’ve found my connection to be worsening.
Here though I’ve found going old school is better and my internet speed remains consistent if I ditch Wi-Fi for an ethernet cable. Small problem, the modem is at the bar. Perhaps to some of you the idea of being forced to prop up a bar full of free beer while cracking out a day’s work doesn’t sound so bad. However, video conferencing calls with clients isn’t a walk in the park when you’re having to decide which angle the 30+ bottles of liquor behind you look the least unprofessional at.
“Video conferencing calls with clients isn’t a walk in the park when you’re having to decide which angle the 30+ bottles of liquor behind you look the least unprofessional at”.
My other internet speed tip – don’t attempt a video conference between 09:00 and 09:30 when every primary school kid in the country is doing live PE with Joe Wicks.
We are all struggling to find the perfect work / home life equilibrium. But the skills we’re developing and the problems we’re working around in this temporarily enforced regime will teach us all an awful lot about ourselves, our colleagues and the organisations we work for.
In many ways, my temporary desks in my remote office are no different to my old desk – there’s just a Guinness glass now sitting where my favourite tea mug would be. But in all honesty, I do miss my desk. I long for the petty debate over the temperature of the air conditioning. I’m even missing being on Friday fridge duty!