I swear to God, my co-worker is wearing a wedding dress today!”
OK, wait. Before you get any notions about the dress code in our newsroom, let me clarify. Those are not my words. (Wedding dresses are not tolerated here. We firmly draw the line at Batik print wraparounds for women, and harem pants for men.)
But in fact that line is from a website called Office Secrets (www.office-secrets.com). It allows users to post short messages about people they work with, things that annoy them at work, and other office gossip. The website publishes these “office secrets” anonymously. (If you are 24 years old or younger, and no longer browse websites, then Office Secrets tweets these secrets out too.)
On glum days at work, Office Secrets can provide brief moments of respite. For instance, I challenge you not be amused after reading this secret:
“I think the girl next to me smells like cabbage and I have to just sit here all day being nice to her. I feel sorry for her and hate her all at once.”
Ha! I am already feeling joy course through my veins.
But the point to ponder is this: most offices are supremely prone to secrets, mysteries and conspiracy theories. I don’t mean this just in terms of clothes or the smell of leafy vegetables.
Sometimes, offices can give people the sense that mysterious things are afoot. That things of tremendous gravity are transpiring around them, yet they have no clue what is going on.
One day you walk into work and suddenly notice a large group of people in the CEO’s cabin.
A secret meeting? Are they giving away new BlackBerrys?
You drop your bag, switch on your computer, activate the spreadsheet screensaver, and then walk back and forth outside the CEO’s cabin. To look busy you grab some paper from the tray next to the copier. You hope someone will notice, invite you in and include you in the secret cabal.
No such luck. Minutes later the group disperses. The CEO notices you loitering around and calls you in. Relief! He wants to meet personally. Now everything will be explained.
Alas. The CEO merely makes polite conversation. He asks you why you have eleven copies of the staff canteen menu in your hands. You think on your feet, and tell him you were confirming the photocopy machine’s Six Sigma status.
As you walk back to your seat, your curiosity is on fire. What evil plan were you left out of?
Unfortunately, no one tells you that this group is a new task force, set up by the CEO. It will be the job of this team to improve communications within the office, and achieve scalable knowledge-sharing. However, Task Force Transparency has been asked to convene in utmost secrecy.
Poor you. Now for months you will loiter, walk into conference rooms by mistake, pick up the wrong printouts and use the wrong laptop, all in an attempt to unearth the truth.
The paranoia is complete.
This is not to say that offices must not have secrets. Things like remuneration and appraisal forms are best kept confidential. Certain aspects of pricing and tendering deserve to have restricted access. And there is no question of letting the staff mingle with the fellow in accounts entrusted with insider trading.
So what does a cubicle dweller like you do? Well, first of all you need to realize that there is no point in worrying. It doesn’t matter if the other assistant manager is having a meeting with total strangers in the conference room. Creating hypothetical scenarions in your head will only make your life miserable.
On the other hand, you could actually use this to your advantage.
In my experience, exuding an aura of mystery is a powerful tool in the cubicle dweller’s behavioural toolbox. A little inscrutability is a good thing. This prevents people from taking you for granted and ensures that when parties are being planned, you are rarely invited and your house is never a potential venue. Magical.
The trick is to do things that unsettle. A superb idea is to get foreigners to meet you at work. Other people will go nuts. Find tourists or friends willing to drop in once every month or so.
Secondly, you could refer to projects no one else has heard of. Do this casually on the phone and in emails: “Sorry guys. Can’t make it. Swamped with the Hadron Collider contract.”
You can also suddenly wear a full suit to work. When people ask you why, say “I just felt like”. Half of them will think you are interviewing. The other half will think you are attending secret board meetings.
Giving people the idea you earn much more than you do is a neutron bomb for their brain. You can order takeaway from the Taj or Oberoi once. And then periodically reuse the packaging. Casually, ask people if they have “any extra wasabi lying around”.
I hope you will enjoy the ensuing high profile, and mysterious office aura. Just make sure you don’t make cameo appearances on Office Secrets. Or maybe that is a good thing.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previousarticles, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama