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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Campaign for Free-Range Office Workers

Jenny sat down at her office workstation.

Harsh florescent light reflected from white painted walls and glared from shiny, melamine surfaces. Jenny adjusted her dark glasses to minimise the risk of snow blindness.

She glanced at the tightly packed rows of fellow workers. All were silent, lest trivial, non work-related banter might resonate through the huge, open-plan workspace and reach the ears of their efficiency-conscious superiors.

Jenny reminisced about the old office. It was true that it had been rather cramped, but there had been many nooks and crannies in which normal human interaction could occur. She recalled how Mavis and George had conducted their adulterous affair, undetected, for many months due to access to the boiler room. The former seclusion of the photocopier had made it a simple matter for Jones from Finance to generate ubiquitous images of his bum.

Now that all office areas were plainly visible, those staff not signed-off with stress could do little other than toil at employment-related activities.

The sole respite came from periodic requests for employees to move their cars. Most car parking had been dispensed with by the company, for economy. This had meant that latecomers were compelled to block-in earlier arrivals. Relocation of vehicles to allow egress had become a very frequent occurrence.

Initially, this had been experienced as a major annoyance to all, but had quickly become a joyous opportunity to leave the dispiriting environment of their workplace and chat with colleagues. Smoking had previously afforded such relief, but that palliation had been ended by new Health and Safety rules that forbade smokers to light-up within six miles of the new premises.

Employees exploited their automotive salvation by parking in complex configurations to entrap the maximum number of their fellows. This was assisted by an iPhone app which computed the most disruptive next parking location for a given arrangement of cars. Should anyone have a very urgent need to depart, then there was also an iPhone app which calculated the minimum number of car moves required to allow the liberation of a given vehicle.

Jenny had just taken another Valium when she noted her boss escorting two visitors along the lines of workstations. She had to think for a moment where she had seen them before, but quickly recognised Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver.

She overheard her boss proudly explaining how the new open-plan workstation arrangement had improved office efficiency by thirty-five percent. Hugh and Jamie had said nothing, but looked thoughtful and concerned.

That evening, Jenny was surprised to see the celebrity chefs on the news.

Hugh expressed outrage at the conditions in which office workers were kept, suffering overcrowding, no natural light and no opportunities to express their natural behaviours.

‘We wouldn’t keep chickens in conditions like this,’ Jamie had passionately agreed.

A tsunami of public protest had followed, which had forced employers to radically revise the storage conditions of their staff. Some companies turned this to their advantage by labelling their documents as having been produced by free-range office workers with access to sunlight, smoking facilities, secluded boiler-rooms and concealed photocopiers.

It is now for those who commission office services to support such innovation, rather than buy cheaper expertise from countries with uncertain standards of worker-husbandry.