I grab a can of diet coke out of the fridge and take my shoes off before sitting down at my computer cross-legged with a hot water bottle on my knee. I’m wearing jeans and a hoodie. The Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is playing on Spotify. On my desk, Lego and a small toy dog. I open up Facebook to write a new post, then pick up my phone to Instagram a photo I took yesterday.
You might assume I’m at home, but it’s just a normal day in the office.
When you tell people you have an office job, a lot of them wrinkle their noses and you can see them shut down a little bit. People who don’t work in an office tend to think it’s like being Chandler in Friends circa 1999. You have conversations by the water cooler and hide someone’s stapler for jokes and photocopy your ass at the Christmas party.1
Well, I don’t know if these places exist (and I’ve worked in a lot of offices), but I have a sneaking suspicion they do in more corporate environments. If they do, I wouldn’t be able to survive in those kinds of situations either.
Happily, most of my office jobs have been fun. The tech industry is generally pretty laid back: it’s shown itself to be recession-proof so people aren’t worried about job security, the work as a whole is interesting, and you get to be surrounded by people with similar interests all day. The people you work for generally feed and water you, and laugh at your jokes, and tell you they won’t buy you a mini fridge/husky/chair that looks like a shark (yes, I’ve asked).
Myth #1: “Office jobs are just spreadsheets and Word docs.”
Pretty much the only ‘typical’ thing I do (other than monthly reports, which I’m not bad at but don’t particularly like doing), is sit at a desk. Sometimes there are spreadsheets. Quite often there are Word docs.2 But that’s okay, because there’s also WordPress and Slack and Spotify and Facebook and everything else.
Some days I’ve had emails from dogs, and spent time swapping Arnie gifs and quotes on Twitter with complete strangers. Just a few weeks ago a customer sent me a video of him doing a happy dance on Facebook messenger. And I seem to recall a badger proposing to me once.
I’ve had a lot of creative license to do fun stuff. Sometimes I bake themed cakes, or design zombie contests, or create card games, or come up with new product ideas and features. A lot of my time is spent writing, which I absolutely love. A good portion of my time is also spent reading things I’m interested in as I schedule a lot of third party content for social media. Sometimes I’m at great tech conferences and meetups. It’s not always fun, especially when people message you asking about SSL certificates at 4am, but generally it’s fun.
Myth #2: “You have to wear a suit.”
I’ve always favoured relaxed working environments; the thought of wearing a pair of heels every day brings me out in a cold sweat. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly admire those people who wake up every day and take the time to put on a perfectly ironed shirt/blouse, add beautifully pressed trousers or skirts, shine their shoes, and head out to work, like every breakfast cereal commercial would have you believe is everyday life. It’s just not me.3
Most of my lunchtimes are spent wandering around woodlands (our office is set in them), so heels and a suit wouldn’t be the best shout. On a good day I meet the world’s most enthusiastic Labrador puppies, so a white shirt or blouse would get wrecked in seconds.
I wear a similar outfit every day, which consists of jeans, trainers or boots, t-shirt, and hoodie. Some people I’ve worked with prefer to wear more formal clothing, and that’s cool too. I’ve worked with people who’ve invented their own dress code, like suits on Fridays or more formal clothes Monday-Thursday. Whatever you’re comfortable in for 9 hours a day (sometimes more like 12+ at a startup).
Myth #3: “I’m an introvert, I’d hate working in an office.”
I’m an introvert too, even though I don’t often come across as one. It’s easy for me to get peopled out, and I’m a bit of a control freak too which makes things worse. Having some time to myself at the beginning and end of the day before I go to/get back from work really helps, as does spending my lunch breaks on my own. I often wander through the woods (my office is in the middle of nowhere), and it’s lovely and peaceful. In the office, it can get pretty loud sometimes, so noise-cancelling earphones are an option. It’s also no bad thing to tell people you’re in the middle of something if you don’t feel like a lengthy conversation. A lot of offices also have canteens, break rooms or similar to get away for a bit.
Who you work with plays a big part too – I’m not a fan of offices where people literally twitter (as in, have lengthy conversations about what to have for lunch or what their husband bought them for their anniversary – you know, those fluff conversations that are kind of pointless). Most of my career I’ve been surrounded by geeks, many of whom are introverts themselves, so they get it. Having group chat software like Slack is great too, because it means you’re not physically interrupting people constantly and they can drop in and out as they like.
Myth #4: “You have to spend 8 hours a day with people you don’t like.”
This is a tricky one. If you’re in a room with a person you don’t like for long periods of time, it can get depressing or irritating very quickly. I’ve spent many hours with people I don’t get on with, or who make me want to kill myself out of sheer boredom.4 On the flip side, I’ve also had jobs where I’ve got to spend every day with fantastic people who are some of the nicest, funniest, most intelligent, and the most interesting I’ve ever met. My golden rule is: always try to spend time with people who know more than you do.
I also have a theory about the ways people work, particularly in offices. I’m of the opinion that there are two main types: 1) people who like to just get their head down and get on with their work and 2) people who like to discuss everything at every stage. If you imagine this as a spectrum, you can see that the further apart people are in their style of working, the more likely they are to clash. You can also see that type 2 people who like to discuss everything are far more likely to annoy their type 1 counterparts than the other way round. Once you figure out people’s working styles (I’m a type 1, believe it or not), it’s generally easier to get on with them assuming no huge personality clashes. And if not, there’s always earphones. And if not, there’s always threatening to quit.
Myth #5: “You have to work 9-5.”
More and more offices are doing flexible working hours. Just like those companies that offer unlimited vacation days, this generally means you’ll be working every hour anyway but you might get to start earlier/later than the generic 9am. That’s a slight exaggeration. But anyway, a lot of places are more flexible with the hours you work and it tends to be slightly easier to fit life around your work. My working hours aren’t particularly flexible as I car-share to work, but they do mean I can pick my own hours more when working from home.
Myth #6: “You have to do endless tea and coffee rounds and have a tea fund.”
I don’t drink tea or coffee, and if anyone asks me to make them once they never ask me again. It’s not my strongest skill, and I don’t care enough to get it right. We have a coffee machine, or people have gone out to get coffee from their preferred establishment. I’ve never been in an office with a tea fund
What’s your job like? Do you work in an office?
- Who actually has their work Christmas party in their office??? Who? ↩
- Pro tip: it’s the fastest way to annoy anyone using Linux. ↩
- Yes, I could make more effort. But if you care more about what I’m wearing than how many people are now interested in your business because of my work, we wouldn’t be a good match anyway. ↩
- One particularly memorable conversation was a discussion about which kind of canned beans they bought and why. ↩