This Side of the Pond – June 1

By Sarah Pridgeon

I read a study last week that named the happiest workers in Britain as those who work for Expedia, a travel tech firm that originates on American shores. The office is allegedly a wonderland but, according to the study, it isn’t the marvel of individually decorated meeting rooms and an open cocktail bar that keeps employees grinning from ear to ear.

Apparently, the Expedia office in London features everything from table tennis and football to gaming consoles, a library and driving simulators. I’m not sure how much work gets done with all those distractions, but the employees who took part in the study were presumably being careful not to draw attention to their laziness when they scored these items lower on the satisfaction survey than “culture” and “career opportunities”.

Nor did they make mention of the travel allowances each employee receives of up to $14,000 per year, or the hundreds of vacation snaps adorning the walls of the reception area. Or the beer hours designed for aficionados of obscure global ale recipes. Or the iPads at lunch tables and the relaxing rooftop terrace.

No, they pointed instead to their great leaders, emphasis on communication and flexible environment. The kind of things that most of us are looking for, whether or not there’s a snack trolley traveling past our desks on an hourly basis.

It eased my mind to know appearances aren’t everything as I sat reading the study while shivering at my desk. Last week, as you may have noticed if you happened to be driving by the office, we were not exactly working in palatial surrounds.

Just before Christmas, as temperatures were reaching rock bottom, we heard an ominous crack from the front of the building. It wasn’t the kind of noise you want to ignore, so we all shuffled through the front door to investigate further.

Sure enough, it was something that warranted attention. Our once pristine front window had developed a worrying crack – right through the middle of the “Times” sign, as if someone had scribbled out the name because they were planning to come up with something more snazzy.

Judicious use of an entire roll of masking tape kept the window from instantly collapsing in on itself, but the crack continued to grow. Every so often, a telltale creak kept us updated on its progress.

I’m told that “standing knee-deep in snow and ice while shivering” is not the best position from which to repair a window, so it was going to have to wait. This did not please Stan, whose office is located directly in the path of a falling window pane.

For the next couple of months, it’s safe to say that poor Stan was constantly on edge. Every so often, I would watch him disappear outside with his trusty roll of tape to cover the latest branch of the crack – which had now spread across to the other side of the window and headed off in exciting new directions.

I decided to give our bid for new glass a name: the “Save Our Stan Campaign”. Though he’d moved his desk as far as he possibly could towards the other end of the office, I had a suspicion it wasn’t going to be far enough if the hammer decided to fall.

Imagine his relief, therefore, at the advent of spring. Sadly, Mother Nature hadn’t finished toying with him and threw a few snowy curveballs on the precise days that our window fixers were scheduled to visit.

At long last, the big day arrived last Monday. It wasn’t the warmest of days and came complete with several surprise downpours, including one that began the second the window had been removed, but the snow at least cooperated and stayed away.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t been aware of the appointment, so it was a shock to arrive at work only to find the entire front of our building missing. My first thought: “Oh dear, perhaps I should have worn a sweater”.

And so, there I sat, shivering in my thin shirt, until I remembered the shawl I have stashed away for emergencies. Things improved after that point, particularly when the sun came out to play, but I could have done with a woolly pair of mittens.

The adventure complete, here we are this week with new windows adorning our façade – a step up from the visual nightmare of tape traveling in every which direction from corner to corner of the building. We’re already working on figuring out exactly which point of the sidewalk to step off in order to cross the road while experiencing the most flattering reflection in the mirrored windows – we’re even thinking of painting a cross on the ground with a laminated “crossing zone” sign, purely as a public service.

It’s not a ball pit or a hammock, I can’t get free snacks from it whenever I feel like a bite to eat, but it sure does look fancy out front. I don’t know if anyone mentioned “personal safety” as a priority in that work satisfaction survey, but, if the Times staff is ever asked to partake of a similar study, I’m pretty sure I can predict the results. What I’ll say I want from my workplace is variety, meaningful projects and a comfortable chair, but Stan will say he’s just happy to know he’ll survive till the end of the day.