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Strange days, here we come - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Strange days, here we come
The open-plan office where I work is in a state of ongoing Cold War. On one side of the office, the web team, four plus one of us; then in the seeing-red corner, the rest of the department. The crux of the problem is that the web team talks, and the rest of the department does not. We probably crack our boiled eggs at different ends, too; but it's the talking that gets their collective goat. It doesn't matter if we're talking about work or not: it's noise.

The web team is four-plus-one rather than five strong because our original team of four gained an extra person, but he doesn't speak to us. (He doesn't sit with us, either, but that's probably more an accident of office layout than a deliberate snub.) As soon as anybody on our team utters a word above a whisper he goes into paroxysms of retaliatory noise: tapping his fingers loudly on the desk, clicking his executive-toy magnets together and apart, sighing and huffing and puffing fit to blow the building down, pushing his chair back and forth, standing up, sitting down, and generally fidgeting as noisily and as petulantly as possible. The last resort, if talking continues despite his best efforts, is to storm into the kitchen and slam the door.

On the other side of the office, in the rest of the department, the war is more icy. Over there there's just a gallery of curled lips, cold looks and colder shoulders. (There's also a persistent peal of phone-tones which would make even the crazy frog hopping mad; but that's not noise, that's normal. Noise is what those strange people in the web team make when they flap their webby mouths at each other. The freaks.) Those in the cold zone have no need to communicate with us to do their jobs, and they pointedly ignore every attempt at civilised small-talk over the cafetière. Which is fine. By the time I get to the kitchen, I'm more interested in caffeine than conversation.

The silence from the other side of the room is chilling, though. They erected bookcases between Us and Them, so we can't see what they're doing; do they communicate in sign-language? Do they carry objects around with them and point at them? COMPUTER. ROCK. Perhaps they carry flash-cards. There's barely even the sound of typing; sometimes I have to fight to resist the urge to walk round there and see if they are still there. I don't know what I'd expect to find; strange human-sized cocoons, perhaps? Or just the head office of the Marie Celeste Temping Agency? When they emerge from the Other Side, it's to go to the kitchen. They talk in the kitchen, we think. But they stop when we come in.


Today I saw one of their number, a thin and weaselly little man, crouching at the base of the door to the kitchen. It soon became apparent that he was trying to wedge a piece of tissue into the door-frame so as to muffle the noise of the door closing. "It's too loud," he said. "And it's louder when all the windows are open. I don't know why that should be."

I hazarded a hand-waving guess about air-pressure.

"Yes, that must be it. It's too loud. And especially in the morning, until about 10am. Sometimes," and his ratty face quivered with suppressed annoyance, "people are going in and out -- once every minute!"
"Probably just, ha ha, needing that first cup of coffee, you know, to start the day off," I said, vaguely, cheerily, making my own first cup of coffee. Black tar. I gave up sugar, there's no use for sweetening there.
"Once every minute," he repeated. It seemed to be an unforgiveable offence.
"Perhaps we should stop people using the kitchen between certain times?" I suggested, expecting a laugh. I got none. He swept at the floor below the door, deadpan and brush.
"It's just that first thing in the morning," he said, "when they're in and out," he said, like a terrier with a bone.
"We could limit the number of times each person uses the kitchen," I said. "Or do you think it's different people?"
"Different people," he said, all the while struggling with his piece of tissue paper and failing to silence the door. "I could stop the noise with this," he said, jiggling the key, "but it wouldn't do much good."
I couldn't see why. "You could just lock the door," I said. "And make people use the other door."
"Hmmmm," he said, inexplicably unconvinced. He closed the door on the tissue. It crashed shut like a coffin-lid.
"You could lock it at least just until 10am, or when it is that they stop coming in and out," I said.
"Once every minute," he muttered, defeated.

I took my coffee back to my desk. A storm of finger-drumming erupted from the corner behind the screen, accompanied with a forest-flattening sigh. I took great pleasure in slamming the coffee-cup down on my desk, almost hard enough for the wave of coffee to crest the cup's rim. That would have only added to the annoyance. But this time I got away with it. That was one up to me, not a bad start to the day.


Then there's the weather, though. We've been having lately. You wouldn't believe. Today we sweated in our greenhouse of an office, airless conditions, until suddenly crashing banging and quite probably walloping out of nowhere came a storm that made the wave in my coffee cup look like -- well, yes. Sheets of rain peeling themselves off the rooftops and billowing down onto the grass until the lawn became a lake and the paths became pools and you couldn't have had the one from the other without parting the waters like Moses, or God, or whichever it was, if it makes a difference. Leaning out of the window on tiptoes, laughing out loud at the tantrum the sky was throwing, I got my ears boxed by a thunderclap that made me yelp, which made it all the funnier, and so much for trying to muffle the noise of a door when the sky slams its coffee-cup down.

It does make you wonder, though, when you read about the tidal waves and the twirling water and twisting winds, and the temperature now is what it would have been somewhere else at another time except that that wasn't there then, and everybody says ha ha but we'd love it, really, wouldn't we. Ha ha, but hell will be great, because it'll be full of our friends. Sometimes though it seems as if we're all clinging to the ragged rafts of wood from a ship that's gone down long since. But that's all right, because we can go somewhere else, on our little raft; we can sail to Byzantium, to the shores of Bohemia, we can paddle up the river and beat the Swallows and be home in time for tea. Living on an island gives us a symbol for leaving, even when there's nowhere else to go.
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pjc50 From: pjc50 Date: July 13th, 2005 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
How bizarre. What is the point of an open-plan office if people aren't talking to one another? Does everyone just communicate by email?
k425 From: k425 Date: July 14th, 2005 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Nonono, an open-plan office is so that you can see that people aren't talking to each other. If people are in lots of little offices you just can't be sure.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: July 14th, 2005 08:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Their purpose is to cram the most people into the smallest amount of space.

I think the ideal numbers of people in an office are either one or about three or four if you've got stuff worth talking about. I've never seen anything else work.
emperor From: emperor Date: July 13th, 2005 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
maybe you should get IRC for the web-team ;-)
taimatsu From: taimatsu Date: July 14th, 2005 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for giving me something interesting and alive to read. Needed that.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: July 14th, 2005 12:15 am (UTC) (Link)
That office... Play tape recordings when you're out: annoying humming and denture clicking sounds, random grunting, scratching, toenail clipping, gastrointestinal eructation, your co-worker's whinnying laughter, memorable sneezes coughs and gargles.
the_elyan From: the_elyan Date: July 14th, 2005 06:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I suggest a "Patrician Vetinari" style clock, which ticks loudly, but very slightly out of synch, so you never know when the next tick is going to be.

Or I could send you a tape of the ambient noise in my office when the boss is crashing aound upstairs...

Actually, there is one other solution, but it is a bit extreme. WOULD YOU RELEASE THE MOSQUITOES, PLEASE!
k425 From: k425 Date: July 14th, 2005 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)
You write increidbly eloquently, you know.
k425 From: k425 Date: July 14th, 2005 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Whereas I appear to be channelling August.
brrm From: brrm Date: July 14th, 2005 07:42 am (UTC) (Link)

And I thought I had it bad when someone complained about my clicky keyboard. :-)
caramel_betty From: caramel_betty Date: July 14th, 2005 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
A friend (calamarain) got a specifically clacky keyboard to type on at work, modelled on old typewriters. (He's a PhD wossname.) He also got asked to stop, but I think he was possibly expecting that.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: July 14th, 2005 07:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Don't underestimate...

I had a work colleague who made a formal complaint to two line managers about how loudly I clicked the keys on my keyboard. OK, I learned to type on a manual keyboard. I'm loud. But his formal complaint went on the record, nonetheless.

He was the one who was the Elvis-impersonating, Diana-Princess-of-Wales-obsessed, Formula 1 race-attending freak who sat as far away as possible from everyone else when the space got reorganised - but they listened to him.
nomme From: nomme Date: July 14th, 2005 08:50 am (UTC) (Link)


Excellent stuff - I enjoyed reading that. Your description of your office sounds scarily like one downstairs here. So much so I had check where you live just in case it was the same office!

But that's all right, because we can to somewhere else, on our little raft; we can sail to Byzantium, to the shores of Bohemia, we can paddle up the river and beat the Swallows and be home in time for tea.

If this thing had .sigs I'd .sig that.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: July 14th, 2005 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Their quest for silence is one manifestation of humankind's historic struggle to overcome our revolting bodies - denying sex and salt-sweat and shit. A doomed struggle, we should have learnt by now.

But instead they spend their time muffling doors with tissue, walking barefoot, refusing change in coins, pinning butterflies' wings. How will they silence the blood rushing in their ears and the sound of their heartbeat?
imc From: imc Date: July 14th, 2005 10:16 am (UTC) (Link)
They'd hate it here, then — where m'colleague, not content with putting radio 2 or one of his CDs on in his cubby-hole and wedging the door wide open, occasionally breaks out into song or whistling. If he's late for lunch, the office door slamming shut after him is enough to make the wall wobble.

Then there's the Access Grid room next door, where people shout into microphones and turn the speakers up so they won't miss any pins happening to drop in the remote venue. I don't know if they bothered to soundproof the room after they turfed m'other colleague out and decreed without consulting the rest of us that that's where they would host the AG, but it wouldn't be so bad if they always kept the door closed.
From: scat0324 Date: July 14th, 2005 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like the perfect venue for a Mind Molester. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2005 10:16 am (UTC) (Link)

web team vs the great divide

I enjoyed enormously your artful description of the office arrangements. Nothing is so entertaining as the small wars fought to no particular end than maintaining one's community. How fragile the achievement of atmosphere, how easily it is lost to those loud-mouthed web team people. What awful people they are; interloping aliens full of arty attitudes and loose moral values!
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