I’ve recently become the parrot in a battery farm. And it’s great!
A few weeks ago I hired a ‘hot desk’ in a corporate office in Sydney. For a monthly fee, I get access to a desk in a large pool of desks in what would otherwise be wasted office space for a big corporation. I have no idea what the corporation does, but they own seven offices with ‘hot desk’ spaces in my city alone. For a mere dollar a day I get to drink their coffee, stare out their windows at the tiny ant people marching around the streets below me, use their fridges and vending machines. The monster company is at a loss having me here, and they probably know it. I use more than a dollar a day’s worth of their toilet paper.
What are the benefits of hot desking if you’re a crime fiction author trying to churn out compelling murderousness by the page? There are plenty. There are some downsides, too, but I’ll weigh them for you in the most colourful way I can. Welcome to my office. Please, take a seat.
Working in a corporate office has infected me with the quivering productivity of corporate workers. Although I don’t have a meat-headed boss wandering scarily between the cubicles, glancing threateningly at my screen now and then and slapping reports he wants done ‘by Monday!’ on my desk seconds before I trundle off for the weekend – I do still feel the need to work. Gone are my lazy mornings on the couch swiping Imgur endlessly. I arrive at the office with all the other drones at 9am, and I take my first break at 1030. I eat among them in the local food courts, checking emails on my phone. I listen to their stories about Johnson in accounting and how he’s getting transferred out, the lucky bastard. I subscribe to their constant assessments of what day it is and what that means.
‘Monday,’ someone groans. I nod, lips tight at the corners with resignation.
I partake in Tim Tam Tuesday, and on Fridays I’m ten percent louder. I laugh harder and I sometimes whistle. I wave the receptionists off like they’re my work buddies from years back.
Writing is lonely, and I used to treat this by getting out of the house and hanging around libraries and cafes – but the office is doing things for me these havens for the disturbed and the retired could never do. I don’t have to pack up everything I own every time I want to use the rest room, as I do in a library, so that some weirdo doesn’t steal my laptop while I’m away. I’m trusted to eat and drink at my desk without somehow transforming into a toddler and hurling my spaghetti all over the place in a fit if infantile rage. No one is sitting near me giggling loudly at FailArmy compilations, and no one wants to tell me their latest conspiracy theory about September 11. I love libraries, don’t get me wrong, but a few months of these charming interactions is enough to turn anyone into a spree killer. While I miss the staff at my favourite cafes, I’m not stealing anyone’s table by being here, and I don’t have to order something every half an hour to avoid feeling like a creep.
The cons are few, but they are there, and I’m not sure this would be a fair representation of my time here if I didn’t present them. Cramming myself into the hive is probably exposing me to some seasonal nasties, demonstrated so perfectly by the worker bee lady I rode the elevator with yesterday who coughed wetly non-stop all the way to level 12. Because the building is so large and central, it’s harder to get into than fort knox. A gauntlet of security checks and sign in points interrupts any would be thief, disgruntled ex-employee or terrorist, which is nice, but it takes me five minutes to get back to my desk if I venture out into the city.
As a writer, I used to like taking inspiration from the people around me, and my library weirdos and café retirees sure were a lot more colourful than this pant-suited lot. It’s also not as quiet here as I expected – a television at the front of the room plays CNN Live all day long in muted tones, and every now and then someone hires a desk casually for the sole purpose of making loud phone calls. But I’ve gotten around this by tuning into Noisli and listening to the wind and rain.
While tuning out for a few minutes of Struggle Street on Youtube might be totally expected in a public library, here it gets a couple of weird looks, as workers glance away from their Spreadsheets at my screen. Now and then someone clues in that I’m writing fiction from the dialogue, but no one has commented. I’m the only person in the office today wearing a red Robot Panda t-shirt, and I’m the only person who pauses at ten to call their Mum. But I’ve becomes accustomed to being the ‘only one’ doing something over the years. It’s not as socially terrifying as it sounds.
All in all, I’d strongly recommend the hot desk system to the kind of writer who can work all day. The office hours and word count tables and drone of the air conditioning hasn’t dampened my creative spirit, so if you’re thinking about it, it might be a good move to boost your productivity. You can still sing, as a parrot, even if you’re the only one in attendance not expected to shoot out an egg every hour. And, you never know. Your colours might brighten things up around the farm.
Happy Friday, everyone.