Chris Read: Follow the arrows to ‘new normal’ in the office

Chris Read takes a satirical look at the 'new normal' for office life when Covid-19 restrictions ease further in his latest 'lockdown thought of the week'.

The Island of Despair is not the new normal name for the UK but was the shipwrecked home for Robinson Crusoe where he spent 28 years in isolation.

Authored by Daniel Defoe in 1719 he is no stranger to the plight of life today.

Also writing the ‘Journal in a Plague Year’, an eyewitness account of the bubonic plague that ripped through 17th century London, the connections with Defoe of 300 years ago and today’s ‘pandemic’ era are clear.

Writing as an author and a political hack at the time of the Glorious Revolution, Defoe also wrote on Hampton Court and its notorious maze.

With dead ends, complicated networks of paths and passages, the maze is a pretty good analogy of the ‘back to the office’ work preparations we are doing at Dunstan Thomas, along with most other companies with offices and staff.

Finding a way

One thing is for certain, there will be changes in spatial interactions in the office. This will probably take the form of shift patterns: 10 days on, five days off; one-way routing through the office, staggered arrival/lunch/departure arrangements etc.

Our canteen will be partitioned so that more socially distanced desking can be put in place. Looking on the bright side, the kitchen area could convert into a coffee bar. We should do our bit for the fresh crop of university graduates and offer jobs as in-house baristas, after all they won’t find work elsewhere. Taking orders for an Ethiopian blend, perhaps a salad bar and a fishy Friday.

As we will not be able to congregate in the kitchen for our morning brew and afternoon tea, our refreshment will be delivered by a tea lady/man with a trolly.

The trolly man, decked up in a uniform will be a must: face masks, gloves, full PPE, nice. Talking about biscuits, we must convince HR on the safety of individually-wrapped brands. Should I worry about creating more plastic waste?

Clean down procedures and daily fumigations will punctuate the working day.

A new job role called the sweeper will be employed (another great opportunity for a graduate), to sweep up and wipe down where colleagues have been. One meeting finished, all out, the sweepers are in, spray up sponge down – leaving everything squeaky clean.

Doors will be punched through partitions to create separate entrances and exits to rooms. Hand gel and sprays on every desk. We are sourcing ours from a company in Lymington that before Covid-19 made natural hair colours. Now making sanitisers and gels, organic and natural, using alcohol-sourced from the single malt distilleries of Speyside. It’s going to be fun.

Office politics

Our office becomes a space for collaboration and coming together. A place of stimulation and fun, and a decent coffee. Having said that, I suspect person to person interaction in the office will continue to be via email, messaging, and video calls.

It was only earlier this year, before the lockdown, I noticed on a stroll around the office that many staff were taking calls, headsets on, nattering and nodding away. Either there were a lot of support calls coming in or orders were flooding in perhaps? A colleague noted that they were actually in virtual meetings with each other!

The future world of work may already be here – it’s just been given a giant kick up the backside by coronavirus!

Robinson Crusoe would feel very at home in the new post-lockdown office, social distancing enforced, job done. Our mission now is to turn our attention to those graduates. It is our duty to provide stepping stones for them to get into the jobs market – a market which may feel more bereft than ever right now.

Just as Crusoe befriended his prisoner companion Friday, we must think to the future and bring through the new cohort of technologists to make the ‘new normal’ theirs.

Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas