Thrust, London’s tallest-looking skyscraper, is going dark. We join its last human occupants as they enjoy a final online celebration
Pippa, Thrust’s Vibe-master: Right, everyone, we’re almost out of time for our Zoom party. Just us hardcore left. We seem to have lost Jason after his brief turn as a slightly tipsy, but, I thought, rather alluring Santa. Perhaps he’ll dial back in.
While we’re waiting, as the last person in our beloved Thrust, I’m going to take you on a virtual tour around the empty building. Just panning round with the iPhone. You’ll all recognise the SkyShrubbery — oh god, was that a rat? Anyway, let’s use our last moments to reflect on what we’ve learnt in Thrust’s first and, as it turns out, final year. Alistair, you start.
Alistair, the 50-something team member: Well, as Jessica knows, I’ve never really been one for seeing my colleagues as family. I hate our bloody Luurrv app. I detest doing 360-degree feedback in emojis — although I have to say that assigning only three exploding heads instead of 10 the previous year shows I might have softened. I haven’t always gone for Jessica’s woowoo management style. It’s OK, Jessica, I know I sound like a typical Scorpio.
You all know that when we were sent home in March I was so overjoyed I punched the air and accidentally landed a blow to Jake’s jaw. On the plus side, he says he lost a stone on his subsequent soup diet. I was delighted that there’d be no more commute, raw chocolate snacks at meetings, or team chakra alignment exercises. But it was only when I spent so much time with my actual family, day-in, day-out, that I came to appreciate you. At least you show your appreciation in cash.
Jessica, I know I’ve been a stick-in-the mud and mocked some of your ideas. But I just want to say that you are, in your own way, an inspiration. Your perma-positivity used to get on my nerves. But in these dark days, you lightened my life. If it wasn’t for you I might never have changed out of my night pyjamas.
Jessica, the millennial manager: Aw, you big slushbucket. After all these years I think we have finally seen The Authentic Alistair. If only I hadn’t spent the departmental Compassion Kitty buying Debenhams vouchers for the people I had to let go I would recommend you for an Empath of the Month bonus. Oh well, I’ll see if I can arrange a virtual mocktail session in the next financial year.
What were this year’s learnings for me? That giant beanbags may be great in the Thrust breakout area, but they’re a killer when you’re trying to work at the kitchen table. That nobody processes refunds slower than an ayahuasca retreat. That “quiet, but I like him, despite his tuneless whistling” is OK as a recommendation for a co-tenant you never see, but not for an involuntary lockdown co-worker. I never thought I’d say this: I miss the office.
Pippa: Jessica? Oh — we lost the picture just as she reached for the tissues. Katherine? Over to you.
Katherine, the worried worker: Gosh, how do I top that? This year has been a challenging time for me. My baseline is existential dread and a clawing sense of panic. Quite early into the pandemic, my therapist called to offer to triple my twice-weekly sessions.
But it turned out that all my worrying was time well spent. When you wake every morning thinking you’re going to lose your job, your home, your family, you create a plan B, C, D and E for everything.
I am pleased to tell you that on the back of my incessant scenario-planning, I’ve been promoted! You’re now speaking to the COO! It’s a lot more responsibility obviously. Gosh, it’s only just hit me. It’s a lot more. I might just nip to the loo. Maybe that mince pie was dodgy? Feeling a bit nauseous.
Roger, the not-so-angry ex-commuter: Can I butt in here? Sorry — I’ve got a hard stop at 8.30 for a global mass clarinet-athon. This year’s easily summed up for me: revelatory! No more cattle-class there and back from Harpenden. I bonded with my neighbours over the ins and outs of rose cultivation. Well, I say “bonded”: I found out their second names. I learnt what “athleisure” meant and, more to the point, how bloody comfortable an elasticated waist can be. And to top it all, I ran the numbers the other day, cross-checked them with my old chums at the Faculty of Actuaries, and it turns out not losing my temper with Thameslink twice a week has added three weeks to my life expectancy! You can put London into Tier 7 for all I care — I’m never coming back!
Pippa: Um, thanks Roger. Selena’s popped a message in the chat to say she has some news. Selena?
Selena, the co-working impresario: A press release should be hitting the wires about now announcing that Thrust is granting me — or should I say WorkHouse — the contract to run its network of remote-co-work nodes, which will be rebranded RoughHouses. So I’ll be coming to a suburb near you, very soon. Well, I won’t be coming in person, obviously — wouldn’t be seen dead in Rickmansworth, wherever that is, and I’ve too much work to do on the property I bought when the oligarchs bailed out of Mayfair during the second lockdown. Still, you’ll all be offered a discounted three-day trial rate on RoughHouses’ membership, a branded disposable face mask, and first dibs on IPO shares once the SFO winds up its inquiry.
Pippa: Hello? Anyone still there? If anyone’s still tuned in, as you see, I’m now down on Underfloor Three. It’s a furniture graveyard down here and — well, a bit creepy. Is that another rat? Hello? Oh! Jason? Is that you?
Jason, the sponsor-me guy: Pippa! I was afraid you’d left already.
Pippa: But — I just saw you on the videocall?
Jason: I was Zooming in from my empty office all along. In fact, I’ve been sleeping there ever since Annabella kicked me out. I always said I wasn’t one for homeworking and there’s plenty of space to do my circuits since they moved the furniture out. But it’s felt . . . a little lonely up there.
Pippa: Oh, Jason. I’ve been so lonely, too.
Jason: Wait. May I . . . mute you?
Pippa: Oh yes, Jason, yes. Mute me. Mute me as if it were the last time.
This is the last in the Work Tribes series. You can read all the episodes at www.ft.com/work-tribes
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