Working from home by New Forest Mark and Hugh

Working from home

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New Forest Mark and Hugh consider the changes to our working day that have resulted from Covid.

Commentators say that our working week has changed forever but do you think they’re right? Almost without exception commuting is a trial but at work, there is that indefinable something, that atmosphere, that camaraderie that we shall miss a great deal if we choose to leave the car on the drive and send emails in our underpants. 

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Yet another TLA, that’s a three-word acronym

Yes, we have another one. In addition to SMS (Short Message Service) and BRB (Be Right Back) we now have a new Covid generated addition, WFH or Working From Home. Some, not all, can do a perfectly good day’s work without even opening the front door. This being the case could this mean the death of the office? Will the demand for commercial property plummet? Companies could potentially save a small fortune by not having to pay rent and rates or for cleaners, desks, chairs, photocopiers, canteens, water coolers, plumbers, electricians, window cleaners; I could go on (what do you mean, ‘yes we know!').

Looking at the employee we find a similar story. The commute is invariably the worst part of any job with driving, in particular, generating the greatest amount of stress and anxiety. Our roads are crowded, make no mistake. Repairs are often slow in coming, resulting in a poor surface that shakes the living daylights out of the poor commuter. Presently I am commuting by bus and the noise generated by potholes can be ear-shattering. As our roads become ever more crowded and the average speed through towns creeps ever closer to that of an 18th Century horse and cart, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to commute?

Let the train take the strain

Once or twice I commuted to London by train. I remember well one fellow who joined at Winchester; he sat down opposite me and, without exaggeration, was asleep inside a minute. He woke as we clattered through Clapham Junction; isn’t the brain an incredible thing? The return journey was an altogether different matter. Your scribe likes a drink or two (make that a dozen. Ed) and on an evening return to Southampton, I found myself drawn to the buffet car. Beer in hand I propped up the bar and watched. I soon realised that I was in the company of the most delightful seasoned drinkers. The blokes had a little trick, with a pen slipped through their jacket collar they cleverly notched it into a ledge which was at eye height. It was simply part of the carriage and never intended to be a novel coat hook but the sly commuters had spotted an opportunity; necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I was invited to join a party of four at a table that was roughly the size of a playing card. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a train journey as much. These wonderful (and wonderfully drunk) people were the antithesis to the narcoleptics. Double gins were ordered with alarming rapidity and I reflected that this group was in this life for a good time, not a long time. Health professionals across the country would view their antics with both concern, and envy. Somehow I can’t see this particular group embracing the work from home ethos.

Oh Mark, I wish you wouldn’t

As we have mentioned before, laughter is a huge part of English life; we like a giggle. I had a friend called Munro who, despite having a first class sense of humour, was rather reserved in the work arena. I often walked past his office and, if he was absent, I would sneak in and have some fun with his constantly cluttered whiteboard. Once there was a graph with a rising trace showing the incidence of brittle fracture against ambient temperature, or something equally tedious. The graph stayed but the axis description changed, in this case, Alcoholic Consumption for the X-Axis and Office Dalliances for the Y-Axis. I always used the same colour pen and tried as much as possible to emulate his physician-like scrawl. I knew I’d been found out when he would throw a stern glance in my general direction. I didn’t stop, right up until the day I retired. Still, kept him on his toes. In the office, it is possible to have fun. Trying to play a joke on yourself in your own home isn’t exactly the same; in fact, you run the risk of getting yourself sectioned.

You see I rather like my own company

This is surely one of the biggest lies ever told. Can you really believe someone when they come out with such hogwash? Are they really expecting you to go along with this fiction that they don’t crave human interaction? In prison, solitary confinement isn’t exactly something considered a perk. I’ve read that in certain US high-security prisons, high-risk prisoners are kept in continual isolation. A member of staff described their existence as ‘worse than death’. I wonder, do you think that you’d prefer to work alone? Yes, you would get more done. Yes, you would suffer fewer coughs and colds. But really? Do you think you would enjoy it? I have a friend who is three times divorced and now lives alone with his dog. He tells me that he is happy and doesn’t yearn for a partner. He is telling fibs, I know this because when I visit I can never get away. We are social beings and solitude rarely suits.

There will always be the odd bore at work, every company has one but in my working life, I’ve found that those who smile greatly outnumber those who grimace. For me, the office has always been a good place to be.

Something for the weekend Sir?

When I lived in Woolston there was a barber. He worked alone and his companion was Radio 4. I shall never forget the story of a fella who was an architect. He had an office at the bottom of the garden. There was heat, light, tea and coffee; a huge drawing table for his creations and nothing in the way of interruptions. Nirvana you might say. No commute, no car, no parking, no obnoxious colleagues. You might imagine that a forty yard walk down the garden might be the ideal commute. But, here’s the thing. Like the barber, Radio 4 had become his life, his world, his friend. He commented tellingly on the loneliness. To repeat, we are social beings. Working from home will not suit the vast majority. The office will live on in all its tawdry glory. The stained coffee cups, carpet tiles with the raised corners, the photocopier that is out of paper and the rancid milk in the fridge. The slightly risqué emails, the furtive glances and the secretive, illicit, heart fluttering lunchtime pint with another; these familiar facets of workplace life will continue.

The latter day hermit

I admit that there might be one or two that suit the solitude but for me, a social type, long live social working. Once this blasted virus is gone we can once again begin to enjoy life and one another.

 Acknowledgement to 17th Century artist Jan Vermeer and thanks to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Jan Vermeer painting with backing track cartoon 

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!


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