“That’s the area I’ve been told I’m getting and I’m very happy with it”. In another time and another place this would be an innocuous statement, but it wasn’t. It was a meeting to talk about our upcoming office reconfiguration and this, of course, was a declaration of war.
You can’t walk into an office-move discussion and tell people you are sorted. You just can’t. You need to go through the pretence that you don’t mind where you sit and that the entire subject is far too trivial for a Captain Of Industry like you to fret over. This, of course, is all bollocks and anyone who has spent any time working in an office knows it. You’ve got to do the dance. You need to go through the charade. It’s all part of the game, and everyone knows it.
The impact of my colleague’s assumptive statement, and the suggestion that the planning process was over before it even started, was only going to have one outcome. Civil war. It may not have made Sky News, or even 7 Days, but believe me, it was a bitter and bloody affair, in which there were no winners.
Three into Two won’t go
The crux of the issue came down to window seats. Pathetic really, but in these days of commune workplaces, with no walls, just flat open plan savannah-like plains of desks stretching as far as the eye can see, there is only one position that infers any kind of ascendancy in the pecking order. A window seat. They are few in number and consequently highly prized assets and a telling indictment of what corporate life has reduced us to. A window seat. Whose simple elegance bestows upon the owner a modicum of privacy and the opportunity to wistfully gaze, imagining what might have been if you’d never joined the company in the first place.
Our issue was that there was only two window seats, for three individuals. A desperate situation and one that required some strategic thinking.
Dodgy deals and dodgy arguments
First move was to make an alliance with one of my competing colleagues. Tough call, with him being a Man Utd supporter and all, but I figured that difficult situations require difficult choices. Second was to come up with some spurious business reasons why it was so important for us to get the window seats. Third was to discredit the opposition. Weeks watching House of Cards has proved invaluable, and Frank Underwood would be very proud of me.
Our boss had wisely delegated sorting the mess out to his second in command (2IC), who knew he was screwed as he has neither the authority nor the stupidity to try and impose a solution. Instead, all he could do was attempt to broker a deal and try to keep a straight face as the arguments got more heated and the rationale got more preposterous.
At our second meeting I opened with a discourse on the symbiotic benefit of product teams sitting together and that a linear seating arrangement was less conducive to effective communication than a tight cluster. This may have been both pompous and weak, but it was certainly more robust than the pitch from our colleague, who needed the area as “I have a lot of boxes and my plant needs the sunlight”.
The “my plant needs the sunlight” line was met with my withering sarcasm and my partner’s disclosure that he has a vitamin D deficiency and a window seat was “doctor’s orders”. Brilliant. The introduction of a medical condition and an independent expert witness was a masterstroke and made our position look impregnable.
2IC offered a solution to break the deadlock. Using the acumen and insight that made him top of his MBA class he cut right to the heart of the issue. “Let’s draw straws.” I felt cornered by the naked logic, the random simplicity of the solution, and agreed. However, my Man Utd colleague again excelled himself, refusing to participate in a draw, which he stated was gambling and therefore Haram. First medical opinion, now religious grounds. Genius. (The fact that I know he’s prone to have a flutter on the football results at the weekend was, of course, not mentioned.)
After thirty minutes of circular discussion we adjourned, arguments made, agreement unlikely.
I went to the car park that evening anxious, expecting a blow to the head or my tyres slashed. Or both.
Have faith – and friends in high places
Perhaps eliciting ‘Higher Powers’ had helped, as arriving next morning I was told a win-win-win solution had magically been brokered to everyone’s satisfaction. Out of desperation, 2IC had managed to get the Facilities department (who are of course, Higher Powers) to rejig the entire floor-plan to create a third window seat. Hurray! Ceasefire agreed and normal relations returned. Why this wasn’t done in the first place is a mystery, but hey, large corporations do work in mysterious ways.
What did I learn from Window-Gate? The power of alliances? That will-power can bend reality to your desired outcome? That religion, medical opinion and business bullshit can co-exist in the same sentence? Yes, all of that, but above all else I learned to never, never, never be an office move co-ordinator.