Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 9 News List

The last one to leave the office

More and more people are bringing their lives to work -- or work into their lives. But is it really worth it?

By Catherine Quinn  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

8am. Time to shower, brush your teeth and walk downstairs to the office. But this isn't a homeworking scenario. It's simply the daily norm for increasing numbers of staff who bring their personal routines to work with them.

Perhaps it starts with breakfast at the office. Then the natural step is to throw a toothbrush in your work bag. Before you know it, your entire morning routine has been moved into office hours. So what is it like to shift your home life into the office?

I decided to give it a go. After all, I might find I get more work done and become the productive employee I'd always hoped to be. Morning routines, domestic chores and evening activities would all be moved into the office for a day. This included all meals and scheduled tasks. I drew the line at sleeping under my desk -- although employees of some workplaces have been known to camp out in the office overnight during busy periods.

At 6am, it's time to pack my bag for the day. In fact, I need two bags. One to hold a towel and toiletries, and a second to house food, clothes and other supplies. Packing goes smoothly. On arrival, though, I encounter my first problem. My office doesn't have showers, so I'm faced with the unenviable task of washing my hair in the sink. Despite my anxieties that a colleague would barge in and assume that I'd forgotten to take my medication, this was actually easier than I thought.

Drying my hair using the hand-dryers drew a markedly less attractive result than I'd hoped, but life is about compromise, and I was making do after all. I don't usually wear makeup to work, but in the name of investigative journalism I slapped on a bit of mascara, just to feel like I was doing the job properly, and headed out to make breakfast. In my case this is a bowl of cereal, so I had nothing less taxing to do than pour the milk. But for some people, the problem of cooking the morning meal is more of an issue. PR company Fuel, for example, has recently placed a ban on the cooking of "breakfast meals" after staff took to heating up porridge and kippers in the office microwave.

Washing and eating taken care of, I got to my desk at the earliest time ever -- 8:05am. Shockingly, there were quite a few other people already in, many of whom seemed to be working hard.

The middle of the day was mostly uneventful, although I drew some strange looks for my crazy hairstyle. In all fairness, I did get a lot more work done in the undisturbed hour at the beginning of the day. But by late afternoon I found myself almost falling asleep at my desk. This is not surprising, according to Britain's Trades Union Congress, who have proved statistically over and over again that long hours do not equal hard work.

"The TUC doesn't encourage long hours because they result in low productivity," spokesperson Hannah Reed explains. "It's very damaging to promote a long-hours culture where staff have no time for a home life, and it's been shown that staff are less productive in these circumstances."

By 6pm, though, I've perked up a bit, and although I don't really feel like doing any work, at least I'm not half-comatose from exhaustion. Oddly, my staying longer does seem to have an effect on the people around me. They shuffle about guiltily, asking what time I'm leaving, and seem reluctant to head home without a group consensus. This is interesting stuff. It seems all too easy to make people feel anxious about how hard they're working just by staying later than usual.

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