The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Sun, 12 Dec 2010

Fast times

I recently discovered that I'm a desk-faster. (If you've been overdosing on the FT, by which I mean reading it at all, you may need to delete some cookies before you can read the article. If that doesn't work, try the “Chinese” version---it's in English.)

Lucy Kellaway can't conceive of why anyone would eat breakfast at work. In my case, the explanation is simple: I eat my second breakfast at work, because my first one forces me out of the house. Details, details... in any case, she isn't the first to observe that the boundary between work and non-work has been blurred. Twenty-five years ago, the fictional (but still wonderful) Earl Culver made the same observation far more memorably.

Hopefully, dear reader, Earl has awed you sufficiently that you no longer have any time for Ms Kellaway. But if you'll permit me, I have to drag attention back to her momentarily. (I wouldn't if I didn't have to, honest---even her name seems designed to antagonise me.) I admit I'm hardly her target audience---clearly, only those who not only own dishwashers, but couldn't conceive otherwise, are in her target demographic. But anyway, there are several reasons why the office is a better place than home for doing a great many things.

Most obviously, while I can't speak about her office, at mine (okay, so it's called “the Lab”) there is a dishwasher, although I wouldn't use it to wash up my breakfast bowl. Even when I do join the ranks of the dishwasher-equipped-at-home, I doubt I'll use it on my breakfast bowl. But disregarding the dishwasher, the Lab kitchen is well-equipped: it has teatowels, washing-up liquid and a reliable supply of cloths and sponges. You don't need to rely on housemates refraining from trashing the place, because for some reason, at-work shared facilities engender a higher standard of cleanliness. That may have something to do with having cleaners to look after them.

My luxury home environment affords me the joys of creaking plumbing which takes minutes to reach lukewarm flow from a “hot” tap. Meanwhile, our Lab kitchens have a stainless steel mixer which willingly blurts out scaldingly hot water at the smallest of twists in the red direction. Even the shower at the Lab is far superior to at home. It is built to a decent standard, and also stays hot---rather than suddenly and turning into a freezing cold dribble without warning at random intervals. (HMO regulators should be required to examine any landlord with a set of questions, including “is a single reservoirless combination boiler suitable for a house shared between six people?”.)

In our offices, there is a cleaner too. He is a friendly and efficient man named Les. He's been known occasionally to lend the discerning office-dweller items from his Steven Poliakoff VHS collection. The last time I had a cleaner at home, it was a College-contracted company who sent a friendly pair named Alan and Jo to “clean” every so often. Although cheerful, they made no bones about just how much they hated their job, and reaffirmed as much in their attention to their work. With regard to their allotted duty of keeping the house stocked with toilet roll (out of their industrial toilet roll reserves), their efforts can only be described as too little, too late.

In the office, there are facilities which can easily be justified when shared between hundreds, but which would be unaffordable or extravagant between one or a handful: an espresso machine, a pool table, table football, and, er, lots and lots of toilets. Perhaps our homes are our castles, but simple economies of scale mean that work can usually offer a better-equipped castle, if a less homely one. Communal living is not so popular in our culture (although on this subject as with many, we could do worse than listen to Bertrand), but communal working is an unstoppable institution... so why not exploit those economies?

More generally, I'd contend that tolerance of blurred distinctions between home and work is the sign of a more egalitarian society. In the old world, the class-based division between the worker and his overlords was a power structure which needed to be maintained culturally and psychologically by the overlords. What better way than to deny workers reasonable use of facilities, or any other concession to convenience---never mind understanding of the fact that they may indeed have children and other trappings of “personal life”. Today, fortunately for us, most workers are indeed treated like people. Perhaps all this sharing and lax attitudes to power structures is too much like anarcho-communism for FT types like Miss Kellaway. To me, it's an unexpected reminder of the irrepressible creeping of progress, even in these transiently yet depressingly Conservative times.

[/all] permanent link


Powered by blosxom

validate this page