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Alistair, the 50-something team member 

Dear Jessica,

I was more than a little perplexed this morning by the notification on my phone from our team-building Luurrv app. It revealed a film clip — a gif, my 15-year-old son tells me — of a bad-tempered toddler slumping with exhaustion on to the sofa. Whatever could this mean, I thought? Judgment on my need to have a firm cushion to support my back in the interminable Zoom meetings? Feedback on my children interrupting me in our kitchen-study? (I did tell them to take down the TikTok compilation of me shouting while on mute. You don’t need to remind me that it was a breach of privacy, nor that the soundtrack — “King Midas in Reverse” — was libellous). 

It was only when the toddler gif pinged me again later that day that I saw the attached message reminding me I still have 20 days’ holiday to take before the year ends.

While I am very flattered that you care for my wellbeing, whatever that is, I just don’t know how to take the time off.

Please assist.


Dear Jessica,

I think you misunderstand me. 

I am delighted to take time off from work. I really don’t need suggestions on how to spend it. It was very kind — though not necessary — of you to tell me how you have spent your holiday this year. All those cauliflower and beetroot brownies must have delighted the NHS frontline workers and it makes me tired just thinking about you running 100km in a week. I did wonder at the last Zoom meeting if you’d repainted your flat. 

It might surprise you that even though we are in lockdown I have no problem switching off my laptop and watching television for a full fortnight. This isn’t my famous British irony speaking — it is the God’s honest truth.

No, what I meant was I literally can’t book my holiday on this blasted Luurrv app. Is it the sunglasses emoji I need to press or the sleepy face one?

Yours, Alistair

James, the vice-president

Steve, Angus — thanks for coming in. You can take your masks off here: this is a safe space, in every sense.

Listen, I feel we’ve bonded through our experience on the CrisisOps team during lockdown. When it was just us in Pret, plotting how to lead Shafters through this chaos over a chicken, avo and basil sandwich, it had a real Band of Brothers feel. Brothers, but with me in charge, obviously: primus inter vice-presidentes.

So this is why I’ve gathered you together on a need-to-know basis. I’m getting signals that the game’s up with Thrust. We’ll be moving out in the new year and I’m damned if I’m going to go down with this particular ship.

So I have a two-phase plan.

First, for the sake of a mission-critical group — us — we need to get ahead of the whole vaccine rush. I’m not excited about the offerings so far. Ninety-five per cent efficacy! Screw that! I expect 110 per cent from my team, so why would I settle for less than that from a vaccine? Anyway, a contact of mine in Minsk has got his hands on advance stocks of Barbarossa XXI, the new Belarusian wonder-jab. I’ve got a dozen vials chilling in the minibar for later.

Second, we’ve already managed to corona-size the organisation, so now is the time to move to a hub-spoke-node model. The hubs — that’s us again — are the profit centres, properly incentivised of course. As for the nodes, the beauty of this remote-working stuff is they can be anywhere. I’m tempted by suburban Pyongyang: all the charts show they’ve come through this thing well, Shafters needs to expand its Asia footprint, and labour’s dirt-cheap. Steve: check what broadband speeds they’re getting in rural North Korea and we should be good to go.

OK — that’s it — see you all on the other side. I’d break out the single malt but, funny thing, in the past couple of days I seem to have lost my sense of taste.

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