Libraries gave us power. Then work came and made us free. But some bright spark then suggested that we should all work cheek-by-jowl in the same place, a bland space identically appointed in Truro, Thurso and Thirsk. And then, in the name of progress, society did away with the anachronistic boundaries of walls, doors and rooms, and the Open-plan Era unfurled before us. But amidst the whirlwind of spluttering coughs, blathering chatter, perversely-paced tippy-tapping, and enforced communal ‘banter’, it’s often a real struggle to reach the end of the working day compos mentis et corporis. So here’s a quick fifteen rules to help those hours in the workhouse jolly well fly by.

  1. There’s no prize for being the first to arrive at work, nor being the last to leave, so stop this childish posturing. Instead, there should be a chore: the first in harness must create a ‘Luxury Breakfast Spread’ for the (conventionally-punctual) team; the last, by contrast, must create a 15-minute animated video-diary of their ‘innermost hopes and dreams’, to be screened over the next morning’s LBS.
  2. Many eager beavers bring their lunch to work in something called ‘tupperware’, before treating it to a merciless microwave blitzkrieging. A collegiate approach to odour is crucial here: your meal must not recreate the scent of Rick Stein falling into a vat of crustaceans, remaining trapped there for a fortnight in mid-Summer, before eventually stumbling naked, wild-eyed and dehydrated into your communal workspace.
  3. Be well aware of the difference between going for a post-work ‘drink’ (precisely one beverage, before a swift exit) and ‘drinks’ (where more than one means many, and you’ll end up wandering home a-steaming at 8.30p.m., forced to convince yourself that three packs of dry-roasted peanuts and two pilfered chips count as a viable evening meal).
  4. Men, ‘Casual Friday’ never, ever means shorts or sandals. It means nothing more than brown shoes.
  5. If called for an interview, start that often awkward exchange very much on the front foot. Replace the hackneyed opening handshake with a confident, unblinking nose-rub. When offered a chair, smile graciously, say ‘thanks, I’ll pick it up on the way out’. Proceed to sit, cross-legged and attentive for all that is to follow.
  6. Never ask to be paid more: it’s very poor form. Instead, ask to be paid 45% less, but biannually.
  7. If you enjoy the strange thrill of arriving at work as a sweaty mess of lycra and flesh, consider that this pleasure may not be shared in equal measure by your fellow eyebrow-raising colleagues. Make sure that you arrive and leave the office in the two approved ‘Lycra Windows’: these typically fall two hours before and two hours after the general working day.
  8. Be sure to observe the art of understatement in work emails. Use ‘a little surprised’ for ‘bloody shocked’; use ‘slight concern’ for ‘immobilised by white-hot rage’, and use ‘thanks for this’ for ‘the only positive thing I can find to say is that you successfully sent the message’.
  9. If you’re taking up someone’s kind offer to do the coffee-shop run, ensure that your full order can be conveyed in no more than four words. Don’t act like the pampered and preening Sultan of Baristan.
  10. Another one for interviews. When asked a difficult question, instantly ask in return, ‘Is that a question?’ When your interrogator inevitably answers, ‘Yes’, cock your head knowingly and mouth, ‘I know your game…’ Repeat this exchange until the interview comes to its natural end.
  11. If your co-workers ask whether you’ve had a good weekend, remember that they have no actual interest in your answer. Give a curt nod while blurting ‘Yes, very good. You?’ In no circumstances should you regale your captive company with tales of artisanal sausages sampled at the farmers’ market, your grievances with the National Trust’s discriminatory parking policy, or the traffic that held you up on your way to see your wife’s cousin-twice-removed, Sue, who’s had her hip done again.
  12. Never audibly tut.
  13. To make a point in a meeting, either catch the eye of a diligent chair (remember those?) or start speaking a healthy half-second before the preceding person has finished. If they persist speaking, do not stop talking.
  14. If asked by your boss why you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, ask if you should instead be spending your time being asked why you’re not doing what you should be doing. If not, tell them to walk on and leave you to browse the day’s papers in peace.
  15. ‘Thanks’ is not a legitimate substitute for a written sign-off, but should be reserved only for those instances where you are genuinely thankful. To retain the precious value of the thank, and guard against chaotic ‘thankflation’, use no more than one ‘many thanks’ per calendar month. N.B. ‘thanks in advance’ is not a concept.