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Struggling through the Crystal Maze in our hunt for a spare CAT5

There are many cubicles – this one's mine

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “For heaven’s sake, they’ve moved everything.” Sharp observation. Of course they moved everything, it’s an office move. If they hadn’t moved everything, some of your kit wouldn’t be there at all. It would still be 10 metres away where you used to sit.

We are Glass – Gary Numan

As office moves go, at one of my client’s premises, this latest one has been one of the shortest in distance: we have been moved across the room a bit.

The team had initially been relocated three flights downstairs from our old office a fortnight ago, and this week we have been shunted sideways a little. We are knights on a chessboard. We move in mysterious ways.

“My PC’s not working.” Well, evidently it is, because the large rectangular thing facing you on top of your desk is showing a Windows desktop.

“But it’s not connecting.” Ah yes, that’ll be because I unplugged your Ethernet cable from the floor so that I could plug mine in.

Our new home is a pod of five desks, eight computers, 11 screens and a telephone, all supposedly run from two power sockets and a solitary working Ethernet port. Whoever arrives at the office first (that’ll be me) gets to use the network; for everyone else, it’s another day of glue and scissors.

My first-ever employer used to inflict office moves on his staff twice a year, forcing everyone to pack up, swap floors and generally reshuffle within the same building. I enjoyed them because he paid me overtime to help shift crates over the weekend but it still seemed rather pointless.

I suspect it was a means of revenge on his staff’s profligacy with the contents of the stationery cupboard, since every move produced a veritable cornucopia of lost biros and paperclips from under the desks. If you ever saw the managing director stomping across the accounts floor clutching a sheaf of Viking invoices, you knew an office move was on the cards.

Of course, in those days, it was simpler to relocate computers around an office because only a handful of them were equipped with modems. All you needed was an ex-BT engineer to follow you around for an afternoon, flourishing his sonic screwdriver wherever you pointed at the skirting board.

In modern times, the morning after an office move inevitably sees forehead-rubbing employees forming into little groups as they wonder how the 100-strong sales department is going to function from the two Ethernet ports they have been allocated.

Sure, if this was a small business, you’d just rack them up yourself, but this is frowned upon in the corporate world. I discovered this at another client’s office when I got bored waiting and nipped out to PC World on the corner, bought a plastic 8-port router and had a bunch of us up and running within 15 minutes.

I was subsequently told off for taking the law into my own hands, which I took as a compliment. I was the Charles Bronson of contract workers.

What makes this week’s office move different is that the floor to which the team has been moved is nominally open-plan but cluttered up with lots of glass meeting rooms. There is so much glass that it’s like wandering through a hall of mirrors. The temptation to go Bruce Lee on the lot is almost overwhelming.

Bruce Lee 'Enter The Dragon' - Destroy The Image

This has forced lots of staff into a series of mini-moves as they arrive in the morning to discover their desk areas have been encased within yet another aquarium erected by goblins overnight. A pair of beautifully sewn leather shoes sit on the desk and an email informs them that they must now be shunted out onto what remains of the main floor and make do with the last handful of network ports out there in the wild.

Already, fights have begun to break out as people wrestle over CAT5 – I suppose you’d call them CAT fights, eheheh – while lost employees huddle forlornly around makeshift log fires near the lifts and opportunist scavengers roam the building selling RJ45s and offcuts of carpet tile.

Back in my old Hoxton Tech City office, I considered building a glass-walled meeting room but only because I didn’t want opaque walls to block the natural light that streamed through the tall windows from gleaming across the sexy hipster polished wooden flooring. I’m nothing if not practical.

Otherwise, what are glass meeting rooms for? They offer no privacy for meetings at all. Everyone can see you and who you’re with, and in most cases they can hear what you’re saying and observe what’s displayed on the plasma presentation screen.

Walking along the corridor at this workplace is uncannily like wandering through a shopping mall. I frequently stop to take a closer look at the goods on display. If I stand there long enough, the people inside begin to notice me, stop talking to each other, fall silent and stare back. Sometimes, other people in the corridor stop to see what I am looking at, until there is a small crowd on both sides of the glass.

I am reminded of the Shaun of the Dead posters.

As any of the Th13teen Ghosts can attest, it’s just as odd when you’re inside one of these glass boxes. I spent an hour in one for a meeting the other day and I discovered it produces an effect that makes you think you’re in an Jurassic Park observation deck looking out as the velociraptors prance by. It is most distracting.

I was supposed to be watching a demonstration on the plasma screen but couldn’t help notice a man walking past down the corridor carrying a large basket of fruit. Then another one. Then three all at once, each burdened by apples, bananas and grapes in cartoonish wicker baskets. Had they come to work directly from their allotments? It was like watching a procession of the bastard children of Red Riding Hood and the Easter Bunny.

Shortly afterwards, two young woman stroll by in deep conversation. One of them looks at me for an instant as they pass. Two minutes later, they walk slowly back, and this time she is staring at me. No sooner have they passed by than they make one more return journey. She is still staring at me but is laughing. She says something to her friend, who turns to look at me. Now they are both laughing.

Just as I am about to get annoyed by this atrocious primitive behaviour on the dinosaur trail, a man grabs my attention by walking past in the opposite direction, pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with packets of crisps. “You damn raptors!” I cry out, jumping up – much to the surprise of everyone else in the meeting. It’s a good job they can’t open doors.

Velociraptors know how to open doors

After the meeting, I return to my desk and waste ten minutes trying to persuade my PC to log in to the network, only to discover that some sneaky bugger opposite has hijacked my Ethernet cable. Well, he’s not in at the moment, so I jam his cable back into the back of my own PC. For good measure, I open lots of windows on his screen, grab a screenshot and make it his desktop background image. This is BoFH circa 1998: the old ways are the best.

Just as I am doing this, a group of laughing young staffers walks up to my desk. The two young women are among them and they are not laughing any more. One is asking what I am doing at her desk. The other reaches for her pepper spray. Someone else threatens to call security.

I apologise and vanish before anyone can discover what I was doing. With the help of some passersby and the GPS on my phone, I eventually find my way through the Crystal Maze to my own desk in its identical looking pod. I have received an email:

Sorry folks. Office move again tomorrow! ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. Since he is not actually employed at any of his clients’ addresses, he wouldn’t mind if they moved him from one desk to the next on a daily basis – just as long as they pay the daily rate. He wishes he could keep hold of the nice office chairs, though.

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