Whatever you've been doing during lockdown, you better stop it right now

You never did learn to play guitar, did you? Too late now...


Something for the Weekend, Sir? Smile! We're all going back to the office!

Not if you work for Twitter, mind. Or, of course, if you have a real job such as construction, transport, shit-shovelling or – oh, I dunno – server maintenance. In which case… smile! You're already back at the office! Because you never left it!

A number of countries have targeted June as a month for tentatively reigniting their economies, much to the chagrin of billionaire offshore tax-dodgers who have kept their businesses ticking over thanks to taxpayer-funded grants and furlough payments. Part of this reignition process involves asking employees to trickle back through the commuting sausage-mill and present themselves at their old cubicles and work stations.

There will be some changes, such as distancing measures, sanitary hand wash dispensers at every pod and free disposable masks for all, but this won't last for long. If you thought the risk of a third wave would put an end to the misery of hotdesking, prepare to be disappointed. The sudden availability of vast areas of office space at plummeting short-term rents promises an unlikely new boom in the co-working sector as hibernating economies re-emerge, blinking and staggering into the sunlight.

"Co-working" is just your employer's post-pandemic rebrand of hotdesking. It sounds eco-friendly and ethical, doesn't it? What's wrong with you – don't you want to save the planet?

To coincide with the looming return to the world of carpet tiles and RFID entry cards, desperate marketing departments have been churning out survey results about workers' attitudes to this return to physical spaces for communal labour. While they all focus on most people's natural distaste for rush-hour commuting, some of them have uncovered a few brilliant examples of interpersonal intolerance in the workplace.

My favourite is this survey from Cartridge People (I know, I know) which says it found that nearly a quarter of all Welsh office workers are dreading having to talk to each other on their return. In Northern Ireland, only 3 per cent said they were bothered by this.

Make of that what you will.

The survey also reckons that 8 per cent of British office workers are not looking forward to the odour of their old workplaces, or indeed that of their colleagues. Now this flies in the face of what I'd been hearing during second lockdown, during which office-scented candles were all the rage, apparently.

Leading, er, light in this disruptive sector is Eau d'Office (translation: Bureau Water), which has tried to capture a variety of office stinks in wax. These include "Breakfast Leftovers in Edit Suite 1" and "Room 12F.1 After A Six-Hour Workshop", although thankfully not "Third-Floor Gents The Morning After Helpdesk Curry Night".

A surprise Eau d'Office hit is "Warm 96-Page Deck Left On the Printer". It's surprising since the Cartridge People survey found that 7 per cent of office workers feel apprehensive about having to use an office printer again.

You can't blame them given that they've enjoyed the last six months being able to print any document they like, successfully, first time every time, to a cheap inkjet across home Wi-Fi. Now they're going to have to return to tiptoeing their way through 42 cascading levels of office laser printer drivers, undergoing NSA-standard security screening and a full psychological profiling test before every print job, and then having to yomp down a maze of corridors and emergency staircases to collect the one-sheet printout from the other end of the building only to find they have printed 700 pages bearing just the line %%[Error: limitcheck; OffendingCommand: image ]%% printed at the top of each in monospaced Courier.

Come on, we've all done it: you finally complete all the network printer requirements and click the "Print" button, sit back and smile smugly at your colleagues – whereupon there is a faint rumble in the distance, a rattling of the windows and a puff of dust sprinkling down from the ceiling tiles above your head. As everyone looks up and stares at each other worriedly in the seconds of silence that follow, another colleague wearing burnt and torn clothing stumbles through the door and announces, wild-eyed and breathlessly: "The core… it's gone…!"

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I like to imagine something similar occurred when the anonymous Fastly customer made that fateful change to their config and clicked "OK". Fastly insists the customer was utterly blameless; but then, not that it makes any difference to his or her colleagues' reactions over the next few months, aren't we all?

Fastly has apparently corrected the bug. Unfortunately, I don't have their resources for such immediate corrective action. The best I would be able do in the same circumstances would be to prompt users to think twice about what they click on by altering the interface scripts so that the "OK" become relabelled "Danger, Robinson! Danger!" and all "Cancel" buttons are relabelled "Put the mouse down and back away slowly".

Obviously the person at fault was whichever Fastly team was responsible for introducing the sleeper bug in the first place. Me, I blame nobody. All that likely happened was that one of the team members got bored working from home and decided to go off and be clever without the full benefit of standard testing and team oversight. Bless 'em, the sooner they get back to the office, the better.

Going off on one is par for the course when WFH is the norm. The evidence is all around us: just look at all the ridiculous app launches and disruptive lunacy born out of lonely desperation. IP Royal thinks we should be earning extra cash by letting strangers use our broadband. Great idea. What could possibly go wrong with that?

I noticed another bored coder spent their lockdown setting up a website for tracking blasphemy, profanity and sexuality ratings for family movies. You may laugh – I did – but any parent of young kids knows he has a point. What I find so compelling about his site, 3wise, is the full breakdown and even specific timecodes for each instance of rudeness and naughtiness. Who'd have thought an innocent film such as Happy Feet cowers under a demerit for "potential blasphemy"? Apparently a character utters the word "holy…" without being in a church or reading a Bible.

Thankfully, it has also restored my faith in the forthcoming and much-delayed James Bond film. It won't be dumbed down for the kids if recent form is anything to go by. According to 3wise, 007's previous outing, Spectre, features one blasphemous "Jesus!", a "Christ!" and a "God!"… plus three "shit"s, two "cock"s, an "arse" and a "pussy". Full house!

Talking of such profanity, another idea arising from wandering lockdown minds is willy-shaped gateaux (Danger, Robinson! Danger! This link is NSFWEIYSWFH*). And I don't mean a euphemistically over-enhanced caterpillar cake war between supermarkets. I mean Penis Cakes.

What more evidence do you need? Humans go nutso when left on their own.

So, hooray! We're all going back to the office! Are you smiling yet?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He feels out of step with office-bound colleagues in that he actually enjoys commuting, as he prefers walking to taking public transport. Cheaper too. He has little problem with walking two hours to a workplace just to avoid taking a car, bus or train. Yes, it’s odd but that’s all good podcast-listening time. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

*Not Safe For Work Even If You Still Work From Home

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