Alice Jones: Who wants a work space to look like home?

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The Independent Online

This column is brought to you from my desk. It's pine-effect MDF and not very big and is occasionally plunged into gloom when the motion-sensor light on the ceiling not quite directly above it deems that I am not jiggling extravagantly enough in my chair. Around me are teetering towers of sample CDs by “the new Bob Dylan” and “the new Adele”, review DVDs of “the next Wire” and “the next Killing” and architecture monthlies which I intend to read one day very soon. There are two postcards of Daniel Craig and one copy of Katherine Jenkins’ autobiography (Time to Say Hello).

Welcome to i’s arts desk. It’s not very pretty, and it’s not very tidy, but we like it well enough. We all have a computer to write on, a telephone which calls the number you want it to around 70% of the time and a chair to sit on, which is almost always still there when you get in in the morning. We also get free notebooks.

Just a short hop across the lobby we have a canteen which serves a variety of hot and cold beverages, sometimes with only a 12-minute wait attached! They do food, too - salad, sandwiches, the odd gourmet treat like Roast Beef Stir Fry Pork. It’s fine. We very rarely go hungry. And, as you can see from the newspaper you’re holding, we get the job done, every day.

What we don’t have is a Lala Library, or a secret garden on the roof (not even a blatant garden on the ground, I don’t think), or a ‘Snuglushness’ chill-out zone, or a personal allotment, or a Bikedry area. To have those, you have to work at Google, who have just released pictures of their new five-storey, 160,000sq ft headquarters in London. A mindboggling orgy of every design idea that anyone has ever had – boardrooms like padded cells! Meeting areas with ironic ‘Granny’ chairs! Big patriotic murals! - it’s like the Big Brother house mixed with the backdrop to an Alan Bennett monologue.

It’s not clear when “cool” offices became a thing. Certainly, the denizens of Silicon Valley, who decreed that the geeks would inherit the earth but only if they were allowed to play crazy golf and Xbox at break-time, have a lot to answer for. Isn’t there something a little infantile about making the place where you go to work into somewhere where you also go to play? That’s what homes, gardens, parks, pubs – everywhere but the office, really – are for.

It’s not the employees’ fault. It’s unlikely that anyone asked them whether they wanted a meeting room with essence of pub snug in which to thrash out their bottom lines. And while making offices more pleasant is a nice idea, work-life balance does not come from slogging around the clock in a place that looks a bit like home but with added ping pong. Google HQ even has a “Home Working Area” which appears to be a room that looks like a home office, possibly to befuddle employees into thinking that they need never to leave the building again. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous because they probably all have lights above their desks that work too.


* Shakespeare never had to deal with this. A delicious row has broken out between the cast of New Tricks and its writers. In an interview in the Radio Times, Amanda Redman branded the scripts bland, while her co-star Alun Armstrong claimed that they would often have to rewrite them. "Basically, we all want to move to Copenhagen to get to do some really extraordinary television," added Dennis Waterman, helpfully.

Writer Julian Simpson hit back instantly. "I was going to be writing today, instead I'm just going to hand the actors a pad and pen," he sniped, denying that any cast member had contributed even a comma. Armstrong retorted by quitting the show. Perhaps he realised that one makes an enemy of a writer at one's peril. A fatal fall off a ladder is just a tap of the laptop away after all. The 2007 writers' strike in Hollywood which shut down production of Desperate Housewives, along with 60 other major shows, was a disastrous measure of their clout. A good performance can make the difference between a hit show and a flop, but without a script, there is no show at all. Television is a collaboration.

They should all learn to share the limelight peacefully - but then that's hardly showbusiness, is it?