When I left office culture in December 2011, I was venturing into the unknown. On the one hand, I would leave behind the exacting bosses, the politics, the demanding working environment. On the other, I’d be on my own. No newspaper colleagues with whom to grab a pint after work. No mentoring. No sense of community, or communal endeavour.
The obvious joke to make here is that I’d never figured on the meanest boss of all, myself. But I think I’m a pretty good boss. My leadership strategy is deeply rooted in a self-preservation instinct serving the interests of myself and the people I love, so we tend to get along.
The clichés about working from home are true. You can stay in your underpants all day. You can slope off for the morning and play golf (my Dad works from home and does just this). You can camp outside your enemies’ houses and monitor their movements, but trust me, the novelty wears off. You don’t actually end up in the pub for the afternoon because everyone you know is in an office.
Believe it or not, your little automated anxiety clock dictates that you sit at a computer from nine until six, doing what you did before, and life settles into the same equilibrium of positive and negative, but without the nagging feeling that you’re a rat in a cage, serving someone else’s interests. This is a fact of life, sure. We all provide a service. But if it is all of our lives, every day, why are we not making it easier for ourselves?
I would love to believe Marissa Mayer’s edict that office working encourages collaboration but in most of the offices I’ve worked in people have been too busy to speak on the phone, let alone to each other. I suspect it’s more about control, and accounting for productivity.
As a journalist, I’ve always hankered after quiet in my professional life, and it’s always been sorely lacking. With every sensational idea barked over an internal partition, there is the panic, the reversals, the decisions which would be better made if the manager thought about it before picking up the phone or sending an email.
If you’re looking for inspiration inside an office block, forget it. Seek it elsewhere. There’s a rich, teeming library of creativity and collaboration hollering for attention outside. It’s called “the entire world”.