Ah, the joys of office politics. They may not make it onto the front pages of newspapers but they often have a much bigger impact on our lives than actual politics. In the immediate sense, obviously. Anyone who’s worked in an office has tales to tell about awkward (romantic) moments with colleagues, stolen staplers and bosses from hell.
If, however, you have had a less than smooth career path and therefore had to do a lot of temping of an administrative nature, then you will understand that certain aspects of office life are replicated wherever you work. This kind of theme is played upon in art and media all the time, from the divisive comedy of Ricky Gervais’s The Office to the outstanding Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. And the success of the office genre just goes to show how recognisable the stereotypical workplace situation is.
The routines, photocopiers, and even the types of people are part reassuring, part mind-numbing in their predictability. Having said that, every office has its own quirks and perks. Often bathrooms are in bizarre locations, and it’s best to suss this out early on, for obvious reasons. Another thing to establish is the whereabouts of the kitchen facilities and also what the rules are when it comes to food and crockery. If there is a plate of chocolate biscuits, it’s a good idea to refrain from helping yourself before finding out that they’re definitely not for the client meeting in room 402. But equally important is to work out the ownership of mugs. What may look like a nondescript white mug to you may well be the prized possession of Barry from accounting.
Possessive natures are commonplace in the office, something especially noticeable if you’re temping – or a frequent relocator, as I like to call it. And as the flipside to that coin, other people’s stuff is always so deliciously tempting. It’s the same as that inherent curiosity to see the inside of other people’s fridges and bathroom cabinets, the consequences of which can range from the inspirational to the downright alarming. The office desk is often a place which says much about the owner, whether it’s photographs of facepainted children and heart-shaped post-its (cringe) or an impressive amount of stationery organised with military-like precision, each pencil sharpened to within an inch of its life.
When you are a visitor at someone else’s desk, it’s a bit like house sitting. You have to keep everything turning over, not break the computer etc. If you’re truly hot desking, then you won’t be at someone else’s desk but at an untouched work station in the corner which is shared between the part-timers and visitors. It’s quite a misleading term actually. You’d think that hot desking was an office-wide policy of only hiring attractive people. Or maybe some Scandinavian initiative, encouraging employers to transform their offices into megasaunas. And even more weirdly, surely if a desk isn’t being used all the time, it should be called a cold desk because having someone sitting there day-in, day-out, would warm it up? A better name would probably be the more accurate “spare desk”.
Anyway, back to el punto – when you are a visitor at someone else’s desk, you get to use all their stuff, which is fun. Unless of course they are particularly suspicious and lock everything away in one of those clunky under-the-desk sets of drawers and remove the key. Very unsportsmanlike behaviour. If this is the case, then your first port of call simply has to be the stationery cupboard, where you should take one of EVERYTHING (who knows when you might need blue highlighters/500 sheets of graph paper/200 of those green string tag things). In fact, I would personally recommend doing this on a daily basis anyway, but remember to bring a large bag with you so you can take it out of the building without arousing the receptionists’ suspicion. And you would be surprised at how well a birthday present of 250 miniature bulldog clips goes down. Especially if you can get them in different colours. Variety is the spice of life.
One final point about office politics: it’s also good being a temp because you don’t have to join in all the lame office stuff if you don’t want to, but you get to reap the benefits of the fun office stuff. For example, having to donate money to the whip round for someone’s charity abseiling – it’s OK, because you’re just the temp, you didn’t know, and oh whoops you don’t have any cash with you. Does Brenda take Visa? No? Oh dear…so sorry…hope it goes well etc. But on the other hand – oooh cake Friday! Homemade flapjack? Wow! So sorry, I’m just the temp, I didn’t know…are you sure? Well I’ll just take these five then, and a lemon slice…thank you! Of course, this isn’t the best plan if you’re hoping that one day your temp job will become more permanent, but if it definitely isn’t a career definer…
“The office desk is often a place which says much about the owner, whether it’s photographs of facepainted children and heart-shaped post-its (cringe) or an impressive amount of stationery organised with military-like precision, each pencil sharpened to within an inch of its life.”