After two entire years of working remote, many tech companies are preparing to open up their doors again in April. It’s really happening. And this got me thinking. True nostalgia, actually. What about those old open offices we used to work in? What will it be like now? What will change?
I began reminiscing on the fond, hilarious, and sometimes bizarre memories about those spaces. While every workplace is unique, there are a few universal truths we all experienced: spontaneous conversations in a conference room, shared laughs over a meal, and the sometimes awkward moments borne out of sharing a space with dozens of other people every day.
While sharing these thoughts with my all-remote colleagues we naturally zoned in on the hilarious aspects, and came up with a list of the quirky office characters we remembered from those days. For fun, we present you the list:
The Collector - the employee who turned their desk into a museum display of their favorite toy collection. But it’s gone a bit overboard, and you aren’t sure if you should approach.
The Mad Printer — Person standing by an enormous printer and mumbling to themselves angrily while waiting for a single piece of paper to emerge.
The Office Screamer — When someone unwittingly approaches an open office employee prone to jumpiness from behind, causing them to jump 10 feet out of their chair and scream bloody murder.
The Architect — The person who created makeshift walls out of anything they can find, mobile whiteboards, cardboard boxes, to protect their overly exposed open office desk.
The Houdini — The person who spent their entire day in a phone booth, just so they could do phone calls and video meetings. A dark foam enclosure that is no bigger than three feet across. Their entire day in a box.
The Chewer — The person who chews their food loudly at their desk, and it can be heard across the floor.
The Traffic Cop — The smart employee who would use a Red Light / Green Light on their monitor to signify if you could approach their desk, or if they were busy.
The “I’m Late for a Meeting”— That ever-flustered employee running from conference room to conference room to attend meetings.
The “Missing in Action” — The person who was never at their desk. Where are they?
The Walking Pneumonia — The employee who came to work, citing they just got over pneumonia (or some other serious illness), but still sounds very ill. (Note: It wasn’t encouraged then, and definitely not after COVID
The Group Chat — The group of employees sitting across from each other, wearing headphones, and talking to each other via Slack.
The Lunch Crew — The group of employees who would always eat together, and consistently prioritized lunch time and checking out the newest neighborhood eateries.
The Bathroom Strategist — The employee who found a secret bathroom, on a secret floor. It was their most prized and guarded intelligence about the workplace.
The Athlete — The coworker who either sat on an exercise ball or stood at a standing desk, and was always in workout gear for their mid-day sweat session at Equinox.
In addition to entertaining employees, some office spaces were also physically quite glamorous. Others were simply…not. (Those were more like an interesting combo of bad air, worse lighting, and awkward desk arrangements offering no personal space.) And while people often talk about the elements of an office they don’t miss, there are some highly valued things that we do miss––like the ease of community building, a walk around the block to vent with a trusted coworker, and serendipitous happy hours, among others.
And while we may never again see the pre-pandemic office as we knew it, companies now have the unique opportunity to start from scratch, and rethink what an office can be. I, for one, am optimistic about what the office will become in the Modern Work era. I believe we have a rare opportunity to redesign our workspaces—whether hybrid, remote, or in-person—to balance community-building time with focused solo work time.
So, while some of us may be saying goodbye forever to some of these particular office quirks and characters, we’re also saying hello to a new tomorrow of the office.