Episode 10 In times of uncertainty it can be good to have an expert to call on, a safe set of hands with a keen ear for a well-used metaphor.
Someone who can pull back the curtains, put their nose to the grindstone, and really circle the wagons of meaningless drivel in a way that galvanises a community... against them.
And here we are, in a MMOCC, or Massively Moronic Online Christmas Call.
There are so many people on the call that my screen looks like the creepy-inbred page of God's stamp album. I pointed out the stupidity of it before the call but apparently stuttery video and runaway reverb add a feeling of togetherness and camaraderie...
But wait, the man we've all come to hear has stepped up to his screen!!!
"Hi i... i... i... I... I... I... i... i... i... I... I... I... ieee... ieee... ieee... IEEE... IEEE... IEEE... "
I globally >MUTE< everyone's microphones – including our presenter.
"Who's that guy?" I ask the PFY. "He looks familiar."
"He's that hippy fruity nutbar from down the road who comes to the pub sometimes. Greg... no, Granv.. GRAYSON! Grayson someone."
"He's some sort of life-working visionary slash regenerative workplace consultant slash personal presence guru that one of the board members latched onto at after-work drinks a year or two ago. He works out of that huge co-working space on the first floor of a building down the street. The one with the ironic graffiti on the walls."
"Oh yes, I know the office you mean – in fact I can see it in his background right now. So what's he do?"
"He comes into companies, interviews everyone about how they're feeling and asks them about the five best and worst things about the company. Then he gets everyone together for a day-long workplace regeneration workshop where you can celebrate everyone's strengths, help them with their weaknesses and create a vision about where the company should be going. Apparently it's quite empowering."
"Not as empowering as 240 A/C I'd imagine – though you seem to know a lot about it," I say.
"Yeah, we did it last year when you were on holiday. Well, most of it anyway. Unfortunately, Grayson was struck by a van on his way to the day-long workshop."
"Yesss, I remember seeing the panel-beating invoice! So why's he here now?" I ask, noting that our presenter – along with a fair few of the other participants – are fruitlessly attempting to unmute their microphones.
"Did you not read the email?" the PFY asks.
"Was it sent to me?" I ask.
"Then of course I didn't read it. You know my purview is other people's email. If you want me to read something, send it to someone else with the subject line PRIVATE AND PERSONAL."
"OK, well, long story short, the Company wants to implement TBA – Together But Apart."
"Grayson's idea?" I ask.
"Probably. Anyway, the company is concerned about the impact of distance working and how we can be both safe and maintain a healthy group dynamic."
"...and not spend a month on the sofa watching endless YouTube videos and discovering new food combinations involving lard and crisps – while pretending to be working from home," I add. "Something like that."
"OK, so what's going on here?" I say, pointing at several of the participants' images.
"Grayson's idea. He thought it would be great fun to personalise our backgrounds. You really didn't read the email did you?"
"He encouraged us to share our dream workplace as our custom background image – as a conversation starter."
"Really? >tap< >tap< >tappity< >tap< >click< >tap< >clickety< >click< >tap< >tap< >TAP!<"
My ears are assaulted by 40 or so people saying things like "...this thing on?", "...ear me?", and "stupid bloody..."
Moments later, Grayson works out how to mute everyone but himself and begins to talk. He rambles on for a while about how great everyone is and how he's got a good feeling about something or the other and how we should be congratulated for our commitment to the future of this pointless exercise. He bangs on for a while until his focus shifts from himself to his screen.
"Ahhhhh... Simon... uhhhmmm your background image is... aaahhhmmmm."
I take a quick look to see what he's talking about. There does appear to be an awful lot of pink in my background image. And I mean awful. That said, it would be significantly more awful if my head wasn't covering part of the picture...
"It's probably not something that should be..."
"Oh, it's not mine," I say. "I've written a script to pick a random image from the browser cache of our user's desktops. You know, as a conversation starter."
While I'm talking the image changes to a box of Blackwing 602s which will have come from my cache. Grayson seems happier.
"Anyway," he continues, "as I was saying, we're planning a series of sessions to encourage people to support each until we're all back together. We're calling the first sessions the 'Christmas Cheer'. People have 15 minutes to tell us all a little bit about who they are, what they are, and where they see themselves in five years. By the time we're all back in the office full-time we'll know more about what makes our fellow work..."
Grayson stops once more as my background image changes to something I certainly hope is part of a medical procedure. "Sadly," I say, overriding Grayson's mute, "I think my assistant and myself won't be able to do this nor listen to these sessions as we're a bit snowed under with work at the moment. So much to do while the company is in its present state. I mean, just keeping this conferencing software running at these unprecedented levels is almost overwhelming."
"It's OK," Grayson says, as my background changes to the Riviera. "We've signed up to a multi-presence company that does everything for you – all you have to do is install the app."
I look over in the PFY's direction to note that he's not all that keen on remotely installing/supporting software on people's systems – particularly as half the people are working from their home desktops.
"We've signed up Grayson as well – he'll be spearheading the installation from his office," the Boss chips in, unmuted by Grayson in what I consider to be an act of aggression. "So you'll have plenty of time on your hands."
"Which brings me to our next great idea – we thought we'd start the sessions off with a whole-of-company Christmas carol. Studies have shown that people who sing together..."
My attention is momentarily diverted somewhat by the PFY stalking out of the room in disgust, but I get back to Grayson's monologue on how singing is good for the lungs and heart and is also known to reduce blood pressure. He goes on to explain how he will stream the music and words to us so we can sing along – and as an added bonus he'll record the whole thing and make it available on our website.
Joy of joys!
"Is that a Christmas-themed tie?" I gasp, full of joy, and definitely not because I have just seen a ladder appear outside the windows in Grayson's background.
"This?" he says happily, bringing the camera closer. "No, this is just a green micro-floral houndstooth. You'll note the seasonal red undertones, however it's not a Christmas tie per se, more of a..."
>KZERRTT!<" A second or so later the camera goes black and the microphone is muted – though the session doesn't disconnect.
A few more seconds pass...
"Well," I say to the assembled hordes, "it seems obvious to me. If I'm reading this correctly, the first carol would appear to be Silent Night!"