Isaac’s face said it all, and his wife heard the message loud and clear, he was visibly worried. At around the usual time he came into the kitchen area to grab breakfast before returning to his home office. His wife was awake and was dealing with their daughter’s needs. He stumbled into the kitchen with a hazy head, his mind elsewhere, preoccupied.
Two hours ago he had started his daily routine. First by had checking in with the Asia side of the company. Then he ran a series of tests on the systems based in Milan. All standard stuff. He had trawled through the daily correspondence., unremarkable for the most part. It had taken just one particular email that completely upset his day, before the day had really started, before he had even had his coffee.
“What’s wrong ?” his wife asked, concerned. She had never seen him like this. Not since the time she had asked him to marry her, or when she had told her about her pregnancy. Maybe he had been fired, she thought, best not to jump to conclusions. she told herself. If this was the problem then she should prepare words of comfort. They had savings. As a double income family unit, they would survive.
Isaac’s haze popped and he was back in the moment. He saw the concern on her face. “How’s pumpkin?” He asked
“Ah, she’s fine.” She looked over at their girl. She was busy watching her computer screen and eating breakfast.
He reached over for the kettle and poured boiling water into a cup. He stirred in the coffee granules, sugar and milk before turning to lean against the kitchen side and lifting the cup to his lips.
“I can always tell when something is bothering you,” she said as she picked up a dirty plate to put in to the sink, “What’s up? You been fired?”
He looked at his wife and despite her cheery faced facade he could tell she was concerned.
“No, nothing like that” he said “ but I might have to quit” He took a sip from the coffee cup. ’Quit before I get fired”
She put another plate into the sink and wiped the worktop where she had been preparing breakfast.
“I had an email this morning. “he said. “We, the team, have been invited to travel into the city for a, what they call, meet up.” He sighed.
“That doesn’t sound so bad” she said
“A new idea dreamt up by some knob in senior management”, he said
“Language” she whispered “not in front of pumpkin.”
“Sorry. I guess there is always someone trying to impress someone else higher up with some new idea”
He sipped his coffee.
”This idea is everyone travels into a specific place for five days of the week. Spends several hours there, before you are allowed to leave and go home”
“Really?” She asked”That is not a new idea at all. I heard about something like that from my grandfather. Hold on” Her eyes glazed over as she accessed the cerebral net.
A few seconds later, she was back.
“They called it the commute, travelling to a place of work called an office”, she said before pausing to read more. “Yes, it sounds very similar to that new idea. A commute for some could be made up of a journey of several kilometres and take up many hours of the day. “ She looked at him no longer reading. “Can you imagine just spending a great chunk of your day travelling. Not just one day but practically every day of the week?”.How could, he thought, she make reading the web sound like it was something she just instinctively knew. She had such a way of conveying information.
“You mentioned, an office.” He asked,” anything like our home office?”
“Hold on”, she said, “Let me check.”
Isaac looked over at his daughter. She had finished eating and was now totally engrossed in a music video.
His wife continued, ” Look like offices were big multi storey buildings. People would sit in rows at a desk. Open plan, they called them, large rooms segmented into cubicles. ” She paused for a moment. “There were some cubicles which were bigger than the others. It looks like as you became more senior in the company, the bigger the cubicle you were given to work in.”
“So you are saying people would travel several hours a day to sit in a large rooms alongside other people” He asked.
“Everybody did this” She said “Thousands upon thousands of people would do this and usually at the same time of the day”
“I beg your pardon” ,he said nearly spilling his coffee.
“People would wake up early to catch a train. They would usually be stuffed into a train carriage, many unable to sit for the entire journey. There were other people who would take a car to and from the office” She said
“Are you making this up? He asked.
She continued, “If you had a well paid job with lots of money you could afford to live in an area close to the work place or with a fast train service. The commuter zone they called it”
“Why,” he exasperated,” would they do this.?”
“Historically, this was they way they did things. It stemmed from a bygone era related to factories. People had to come together at a particular time dictated by machinery that took a time to start up and would run for hours.” She said. “ Do you know that they actually had working weekdays and daily working hours.?”
“What do you mean ?” he asked
“Well most people had to be in the office at a certain time. They would start work and it would end at a particular time.
They also only worked from a Monday to a Friday, the work week they called it. They would have Saturday and Sunday as a weekend where it would be their time.” She replied
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” he said “Maybe having free time where you can be offline is good, I would like that”
“Maybe so but they had to dress a certain way. Business attire they called it. “ She said.
She leant against the kitchen side next to her husband. They both looked at their daughter.
Isaac was thinking about how the people must have suffered in the old days. He was thinking about the rat run they had.
“So tell me about this meeting?” She asked
He sighed. “Well I just hope it is a fad. They say the social scientists believe it is good for attitude and mental health.”
“It won’t be so bad.” She reassured him.” For all the bad there were a few good points. I do remember my granddaddy reminiscing about that time. I had the impression that when people began working remotely they loved it, at first. However they started to miss their colleagues, the people they worked with. Office friendships died, I guess because they missed the subtle messages that come from personal interaction. There was none of the quick kitchen breaks for people to chat. So many intangibles.”
She looked at him and rubbed his arm.”It won’t be so bad. You may love it” She smiled
His eyes dropped. “Perhaps I may have done but” he paused. “I have been using a filter ever since I first met the company”.
Now she did begin to worry. “So”, she asked, “instead of Isaac, the three chinned fat, unshaven, post box red scruffy haired man, what do they see ? she asked.
He pleaded, “I am sure lots of people use a filter. Cleaning their complexion. Removing a double chin, or three chins in some cases. “
“What do they see ?”She asked, now with a slight tinge of annoyance in her voice.
He paused before a forlorn voice admitted “Let me just say, they know me as a lady called Susan Calvin.”
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