I had a brief, inglorious period in charge of the Australian division of the company I work for, prior to a big acquisition which increased the size of the business from 10 employees to 200 and required a full-time manager to be stationed there. While I was in charge I found it something of a struggle to get anything done, not being Australian, and being female and relatively young compared to staff who had been in the industry for 25 years and had no compunction about actively, passively and/or aggressively resisting any ideas I came up with, usually on the logic that this is the way we’ve always done things.
The nadir of the entire business, but the jewel in the crown to its denizens, was the office in Castlereagh Street in Sydney. It was about twice the size of the office in Hong Kong, but inhabited by a third of the staff, each person located (in splendid isolation and king of all they surveyed) behind a mega-desk which seemed to be consist of its own idiosyncratic add-ons, extensions, shelves and cubbyholes salvaged triumphantly from office renovations over the years; the walls were painted a revolting shade of green reminiscent of municipal sewage works or pre-glasnost Polish supermarkets; the anterooms were stuffed with receipts and invoices all clearly labelled with dates ranging from 1978 to 1992, long beyond their useful life; and piled up in mounds, everywhere, the stock in trade of our business, now long obsolete: ancient tape recorders, spare parts and audio equipment from manufacturers whose factories closed their doors in 1964. At the back, a grubby kitchen with a damaged kettle and lopsided tables which always seemed to be hosting half-eaten pipes of stale Pringles and the remains of someone’s birthday cake. The only thing the office needed to complete the look was a large sign saying ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.
I hope I am not maligning them too much by suggesting that the eyes of the staff stationed there were habitually dull; they certainly gleamed with native cunning when I made suggestions: “Let’s paint the walls white!” was met with the retort “But we chose this colour”. Unbelievably, despite the gargantuan desks, their chief complaint was lack of space.
I got an email this morning from N, who now looks after the business in Sydney, saying that the office is closing and staff are being relocated elsewhere. In my own small way I am feeling extremely happy about this; but presumably a whole new set of problems will present themselves as they try to find a removal agency willing to transport 14 garganto-desks with associated accessories to their new location.