Alice was in a bad mood. Perched angrily on her ergonomic stool at her work station in the basement, she seemed to stay with these moods more often, increasingly impatient with the way we work now. Defiantly, she remembered a time when people worked together in teams, throwing questions to each other, making progress with thorny dilemmas in cheerful company.
In the days of plenty, there had also been colleagues to help make the tea, to tidy the desks and do the filing. There had been older gents and genial ladies only too willing to share their hard-won knowledge of the way the world worked; to point out pitfalls and advise on a solution that they were delighted to have discovered by accident: “Why, just phone him up and ask, dear. He is a nice bloke, really. I daresay a lot of people feel intimidated by him, but there is nothing he likes more than someone seeking his advice on something abstruse.”
She had preferred it, when people had had the time to use words like abstruse. Now it was all pixels, hard-drive, software, configurations and apps. Now it was all supposed to be so easy, you could simply do everything yourself, see? You don’t need a secretary these days, or a typist, you can just do that typing on your own dedicated PC. You don’t even need to print letters, or spend time on the phone, you can just email round, with attachments, or use your drop-box or intranet, and set it all up remotely. So quick, so easy. So much fun.
Not. The group emails from all the staff, advising on badly parked cars, on new timetables or rosters for the staff cover, or reprimanding the junior staff for rowdy conduct in the staffroom…the endless directives from management about productivity, filing and time management….the isolation of being responsible for drafting and sending correspondence with only a computerised task manager for company….
Alice, being the wrong side of fifty, was a telephone person, but rarely got the opportunity to speak now. Surprisingly few people telephoned, preferring texting…. without the delicate nuances of voice exchanges, alarming misunderstandings blew up out of nowhere, scattering sand all over her nicely soothed relationships. When the management abolished the tea trolley and the tea break, relationships that had been finessed with office chat became strained and unreliable. That ended up costing a lot, in wasted time, in extra meetings, disciplinary hearings and time off with stress.
Alice watched. She noticed what good working relationships were about: intangibles like loyalty, fair play, communication, give-and-take. Since none of these could be measured, computed or assessed for efficiency, the boys on the other side of the glass ceiling ignored them. Soon, all that thrusting aggression would implode.
For the moment, she waited, aware that her retirement was fast approaching, a release which would take her out into the sunshine. Summer beckoned, and she would leave this darkness behind.