Almost everything in life has the potential for acute social embarrasment, but nothing quite like the modern-day office.
A façade of controlled calm hiding a minefield of misjudged interaction and quiet shame, anyone who’s worked in one should immediately recognise these terrifying scenarios.
1 | The Awkward Lift With the CEO
It’s a challenge every man must face. The moment your walk to the lift coincides precisely with your company boss. Do you sieze the chance to ingratiate yourself to the top brass with a confident hello and a pertinent one-liner about the current trading climate? Or stand in silence for three excruciating seconds before interjecting with a desperate: “Good thing you’ve brought an umbrella!”. Probably a good time to look for a new job.
2 | The CV Print-Off
You’re at work, you need a copy of your CV, the printer’s just over there, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, that’s what. From toner problems forcing you to sit by the printer for hours until the repairman comes, right up to getting distracted prior to pick-up, meaing you wake at 4am the next morning bolt upright with a vague memory that your boss was working late on a presentation. Taxi…
3 | The Fire Alarm Stand Around
The collective groan when the fire alarm sounds. The mass exodus down the stairs. The guy from the post room suddenly donning a yellow tabard and a clipboard. All part and parcel of office life. It can soon take an awkward turn during the mill around outside, however, when you can’t spot anyone you recognise. Do you do a mildly desperate walk around scanning for friendly faces? Or just stand alone and self-consciously pretend to check your phone?
4 | The Morning Flashback
Some office moments hit you in the stomach. Like the time you walk in after a work night out and your last clear memory is lecturing your boss, possibly shouting (it was loud in that bar), possibly just inches from their face, about why this place has gone to the dogs and what he / she has to do about it. That bad stomach feeling? Lasts until the moment your boss shows you any human kindness. Possibly months later.
5 | The Baby Visit
The moment real and office life collide. First you hear the coos. Then the mother appears. You’re still doing your emails but you feel the pull of expectation to stand in a circle for the pass around. There’s tension. Are you the guy that puts himself forward for a ‘go’ in a slightly showy, 'aren't I comfortable around kids and an all-round hero' kind of way? Or the one who doesn’t step up at all, forever risking being seen as a bit weird? Can’t win this one.
6 | The Bathroom Handover
You’re a man. You’re at work for over 40 hours a week. You need to use the bathroom in a variety of ways, just like everyone else. Of course, the time you use the unisex loos for anything extra, the law of office life determines that someone will be waiting outside to enter the aftermath, as you sheepishly hold the door open for them. “Thanks” they’ll say. But they won’t be thanking you in a moment. Probably a girl. Probably attractive. You’ll never be able to look her in the eye again.
7 | The Meeting Silence
There’s a moment that can happen in a large, important meeting, about 15 minutes in, when you realise you haven’t spoken a word yet to anyone. Sure, you’ve nodded, even murmured agreement about something, but you’ve never had the floor and all the eye contact and thoughtful note-taking can’t change that. What follows is a series of desperate internal judgement calls about how to interject seamlessly with anything vaguely relevant. “Now!”
8 | The Early Slink-Away
You need to leave work earlier than usual. And, crucially, earlier than everyone else. Do you make a thing of it and do a loud goodbye? Or alternatively do the stealthy gather up of things and wordless walk-out, holding your coat over your arm rather than put it on in a feeble attempt to aid your invisibility. You imagine everyone’s watching. Trouble is, they actually are. And they’ll remember.
9 | The Kitchen Water Queue
The kitchen area of any modern office is a cauldron of suppressed rage, interspersed with token whispers of ‘sorry’ as people dance around each other in the name of tea-making and basic hydration. Most problematic is the water queue, thanks to a killer combination of three litre plastic bottles, glacially slow water cooler outputs and people who feel that waiting one minute will jeopardise their productivity. A time bomb that never goes off.