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It feels like hot-desking is setting people up for a lifetime of back pain

·5 min read
 (Illustration by Tom Ford)
(Illustration by Tom Ford)

Hot-desking, the curse of our age, has come to my office. If my colleagues and I thought we had triumphed when we persuaded our boss Bella to let us continue to WFH for two days a week, we were wrong. Seeing the empty desks in the office, Bella also saw an opportunity to cut costs in this financially squeaky time. She’s rented out the room that I used to share with my colleagues George and Sarah to a team of pilates instructors.

The pilates gang introduced themselves towards the end of last week’s team meeting, turning my birthday cake to ashes in our mouths with their stretchy pilated perfection. Their names are Zsolt, Katerina and Thunderbird (I may have misheard that last one). George developed an instant crush on Zsolt, who is from Hungary, and suddenly found he needed to be in the office every day again.

This month, according to the viciously contested office timetable, George is meant to be WFH on a Wednesday. Thanks to Zsolt, George insisted he had to come in to send out some press samples, which meant that hot-desking last Wednesday was like playing musical chairs. Not least because since Bella sublet half the floor, there are literally not enough seats for all our bums if everyone on the Bella Vista Team comes in at once.

George and I were the last two people to arrive on Wednesday morning. We’d met in the queue at Caffe Nero and had a lovely gossipy catch-up on the last part of our commute. When we got to the office, George, playing the gent for Zsolt’s benefit (the pilates god was locking up his bicycle when we arrived) opened the door so that I could go through first. When George realised the chair situation, however, all chivalry was gone.

“Technically, I was here first,” I said, putting my handbag on the last empty seat.

“Only because I opened the door for you. If I hadn’t been nice, that space would be mine.”

I sat down upon the chair and folded my arms. Sensing a nasty stand-off ahead, Bella came over all Solomon and pronounced that we would have to share it. Fortunately, before George could say anything unflattering about the size of my arse, she clarified that she meant I would have the chair until lunchtime and George could have it for the afternoon.

“And while I’ve got nowhere to sit?” George asked.

Bella said that she’d always found the stairs down to our basement office to be a very comfortable place to perch if you needed peace and quiet.

For the rest of the morning, George reminded me of his mistake. “That’ll teach me to be kind to old people.”

Training for the hot-desking culture begins early now. My goddaughter, Tory Caroline, tells me she has never had a desk of her own, or even a locker. She has to work out what she needs to take to school each morning and lug it around with her all day.

I’m not sure whether not having a desk would have made my school experience better or worse. On the one hand, I never had to worry about forgetting a textbook. On the other hand, in the Eighties school desks were the equivalent of a modern teenager’s social media feed. Caroline has told me about the horror of online bullying. Bullying at my school was an altogether more tangible affair, with the desk standing in for the Facebook wall (I know, nobody under the age of 35 would be seen dead on Facebook these days, but bear with me). Not being able to lock our desks meant that there was always a danger of someone getting into it and defacing the pictures you’d torn from Just Seventeen, or worse, your exercise books. On one particularly memorable occasion, my friend Jane opened her desk to discover that someone with whom she had an ongoing vendetta had sandwiched a dead squirrel between her French and physics books.

Jane got into serious trouble for rendering both books unusable. I’ve never quite understood the logic behind the punishment falling on her shoulders, rather than there being a hunt for the perpetrator. I mean, who squashes a maggot-ridden squirrel between their own books? Jane did, however, get some kudos for taking the detention and not revealing the name of her tormentor. She led a short-lived campaign for lockers after that.

Anyway, the modern way – not having a desk and having to carry all your textbooks all day long – is either great exercise or setting people up for a lifetime of back problems.

Back problems are my new office mates’ stock in trade. They’ve replaced my old desk and George’s with a “Cadillac”, which is a sort of leather bench supported by scaffolding. It looks like you could charge people to be tortured upon it, which is basically what pilates is all about.

During my afternoon at the bottom of the stairs, I watched the pilates clients come and go, all lycra and honey-blonde hair. They were mostly women of a certain age but at three o’clock, a man arrived, forcing me to squish up next to the wall as he thundered down to the basement. The noise from the room during his session was tremendous. It didn’t sound like exercise but it did sound as though he was enjoying himself.

On his way out, the man pushed by me again. As he passed, he flicked back his hair and a drop of sweat landed on my laptop’s keyboard. Ewwww.

“That’s it,” I told Bella. “I’m WFH for the rest of the week.”

Back at home, I found the post had arrived. There was a postcard from Devon. On the hill. There was a caravan site. Glenn had circled one of the vans.

“This could be yours.”

I’d never previously found the thought of a caravan site tempting, but after my encounter on the stairs, I texted: “Got your card. When’s a good time for me to visit?”

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