“Meetings suck” & other reflections on returning to the office

June 14, 2018


Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while will know that, after five years of freelancing and raising children, I started a ‘normal job’ this January.


Just three months later I sat in a room with my manager and our agency/client liaison. After weeks of watching the project I was working on scaled down, I knew what was coming. Luckily, I was okay with it.


Nevertheless, being made redundant within 13 weeks of starting my role wasn’t exactly what I’d expected when I took it on just after New Year. I’d reorganised my whole life, taking the leap from 100% flexibility to being part of an office-based team again. Now everything was up in the air for the second time in a few short months.


Our family circumstances dictate that it’s actually rather handy for me to be around at home right now. Therefore I’ve returned to freelancing, and the (tiny) fatalist in me is satisfied that things have probably turned out for the best.


However my brief return to the coalface also gave me the opportunity to reflect on some of the frustrations, big and small, nearly always associated with office life.


Cards on the table? For now, at least, I’m glad to see the back of them…


Office hours are bullshit


If you have to travel more than a couple of miles to work – and especially if you need to use public transport – getting kids dropped off to nursery / school and getting to the office by nine is essentially a Herculean challenge. Of course this won’t be news to most people – bears shit in the woods, etc. – but it is nevertheless important to any family with two parents in ‘proper’ employment.


I was lucky that my manager was happy for me to work a 9.30 – 4 day. I earned less than I would have done for the standard 9-5.30, but on the flip side I clung on to a few extra shreds of sanity.


Without that pattern in place, and without affordable, convenient pre- and after-care at my son’s school, it would have been simply impossible for me to do my job.


Even with that pattern in place, on days when I was responsible for the school run I had to get up at 5.30 just to make sure everyone was suited, booted, fed and out of the door on time.


Flexible working must be the way forward if women – and men – are going to hold down jobs as well as raise families in the twenty-first century. Until it’s more readily offered, people will continue to freelance / side-hustle / set up on their own, for better or for worse – but frequently because it is the path of least resistance.


Visit the admirable Mother Pukka’s website to find out about the Flex Appeal campaign. 


Meetings suck


Almost everybody hates meetings. Why? Because, often, they are an utter waste of time.


You can call a meeting a workshop, a drop-in session, a forum or a round table. But if it sounds like a meeting, looks like a meeting and smells like a meeting (sweaty armpits / dodgy catered sandwiches anyone?), then it’s a meeting.


Yes colleagues need to share expertise, discuss projects and come together to make decisions – but in my experience meetings rarely achieve such objectives. What they’re great at is boring people, kicking important tasks into the long grass and complicating jobs that are really very simple.


What have I learned from attending THOUSANDS of meetings? That, however you label one, you should invite only people who can genuinely help to achieve a specified objective. Attendees should know what that objective is well before the meeting, and be told what they can prepare in advance to help get the job done.


Workplace culture should dictate that it’s bad form to call frequent / unjustifiable meetings. It should be even worse form to turn up to one unprepared.


Chairing a meeting is really no different from facing down a bunch of moody school kids who can’t be arsed with yet another lesson on Shakespeare (and for the record, I have done this).


If you can’t convince your audience that what they’re doing is relevant, and that they have something genuinely useful to offer, they’re going to day dream / play with their phone / silently plot your murder instead of participating.


Big, annoying barriers


One of the best bosses I ever had used to talk about her JFDI list.


JFDI stood for “just fucking do it”.


While many of the things our department needed to achieve were dependent on multiple, prolonged sign off processes, this list consisted of stuff we could – if we really pushed it – probably get done independently.


Formulating a JFDI list when you’re working agency side – as I was in my most recent role – is tough. There’s genuinely very little you can ‘JF do’ unless your client is super engaged.


Generally, though, I think writing and regularly ticking things off a JFDI list is a great way of making sure you feel effective in your job – and, indeed, your life.


Big, annoying bullies


No matter who you are or how important your job role is, you have no business being a dick to people. I’m always astonished when I comes across individuals whose position in a company hierarchy has somehow disabused them of this truth.


Of course nobody is perfect. Sometimes colleagues rub one another up the wrong way, and tempers occasionally flare even in otherwise chilled folk. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s probable we all put noses out of joint from time to time. But a simple “I’m sorry” after such incidents is sufficient to keep you on the right side of the dickhead / non dickhead dividing line.


Let’s be clear: in a professional environment there is never any need to be rude, to belittle people or to deliberately cause them discomfort or embarrassment. This is 2018, not 1918 – and such behaviour is, quite simply, unacceptable.


Bullying is so much easier to avoid when your main office space is in your house. I consider myself lucky. But nobody should need to be outside the office in order to escape such idiocy.


Struggling with a colleague’s behaviour? Don’t suffer in silence. Speak to a workmate you trust, involve a union rep and your HR team and consult gov.uk for information on your rights and the law.

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