Every morning, like sun-seekers stampeding to get their towels on the sunbeds at a cheap Spanish hotel, it’s a race to the patio for my neighbours and me. Each of us in the line of terraced houses on the village green must try to be the first to get into their garden, because the first one out there reserves the air space. If it’s the neighbour who works in telecoms then we’re in for merger talks all day. Her firm is in the middle of a big deal, the negotiations for which she’s carrying out on her patio via laptop conference calling.
Working from home. Oh dear. This is going to be trouble. Our homes are no longer our homes. Every home in the country, since lockdown, has become the outer office of some company or other. And unlike the actual company premises, the homes in which people are working are not set up for corporate grandstanding.
Let’s face it, as temperatures soar, Britons are not working from home so much as working from garden. It’s so unmellow. It’s ruining the start of summer. I can’t sit in my garden and enjoy the birdsong. I have to listen to ‘We need to go in hard!… Come on guys, get it together! I want those slides by close of play!’
Splash splash, go I, feebly, in my giant paddling pool. And the tuts float over the fence at the impertinence of my making normal domestic noise while earth-shattering deals are being done.
So far, I have learned about the merger taking place between two telecoms firms, as well as the research and development plans of a pharmaceutical company. I can’t unlisten. I erected bamboo screening but it’s no good when someone is yelling: ‘Come on guys! We need to crush the competition beneath our feet!’ It’s absolutely exhausting. Most evenings I’m shattered and feel like I’ve done the whole nine yards with ‘the guys’ in the management team myself.
I know so much about this merger I feel like ringing the press office and asking them for comment. Imagine the conversation: ‘But we haven’t announced a merger.’ ‘Yes you have. You’re announcing it every day on the patio of a cottage outside Guildford.’
Whether the CEOs know their employees are doing this is a question I simply cannot answer. As someone who has worked from home for the past ten years without making a sound, I’m amazed anyone wants to give away details of their product for nothing. I have sat in my kitchen writing all this time and it never occurred to me to podcast from my patio, or to record an audio version of my column to the backdrop of my neighbour’s cat squealing as my dogs hurl themselves at the fence. Maybe I should.
It might be fun putting on a dramatic hotshot voice. I’m sure I could have a go at rattling off acronym-spattered word salad without drawing breath. I reckon I could pass an MBA with all I’ve learned. I know all about IRRs, or internal rates of return. Yes, I look up the acronyms that drift over the fence, so shoot me. You think I, a hack of 30 years, am going to sit here like a lemon listening to stuff I can only partly understand?
What amazes me is how impressed they are by the sound of their own voices. This corporate malarkey is a piece of you-know-what, I think, as I lie on my sun lounger listening to them machine-gun each other with over-complicated terminology. The main thing is to speak very loudly and patronisingly and to tell people that you’re not going to apologise for making big claims. Always use the name of the person you are talking to, repeatedly. ‘Yes, Martin, there are risks, but there are risks with any deal… Martin, Martin, I make no apologies for being bold with my projections.’ You see how good I’m getting at this? I could be making millions.
If you can’t beat them join them because they’re not stopping any time soon. They’ve got a taste for it. A recent survey revealed two out of five office workers have asked their bosses to make home-working permanent. I can see the advantages. Thanks to conference calling software such as Zoom and Teams, you can put up a fake backdrop of yourself in a suit sitting at your desk while you’re slumped in a bikini sparking up fags and, come six o’clock, popping the cork on the Pinot Grigio. And because it slashes costs, not having to rent office space, bosses are more than happy to keep their employees at home in their pants. Mark Zuckerberg has announced to Facebook staff that more than half of them will be ‘remote’ within ten years, and on less pay.
But if people are really happy to become house-bound, the thing will need licensing and regulating, especially in summer, because the reality is, we can’t all do it at once. If I can get outside first, I put country music on my radio, which stops the telecoms neighbour launching merger talks. One time, the woman a few doors down decided to hit back by sitting on her patio conducting a conference call. A tense standoff developed as telecoms did battle with pharmaceuticals. The din was worse than a strimmer and a lawnmower, as 30 million black holes in cable leasing revenue clashed with the planned clinical trials of something called FMT, or faecal microbiota transplantation, the treatment of the future for C. difficile infections. They went at it for hours, but eventually big pharma had to yield. I heard her patio door slam, then fling back open and Magic FM going on. Now you’re getting the idea, I thought.
It was all most entertaining, but what was lost was any notion that these buildings we call our homes are meant to be our private sanctuaries, our nests, our sacred places of rest and relaxation. It is why most local councils, if you asked, would not give permission to base a multinational corporation in a small back garden. So if this goes on, we will need to licence working from patios. Sorry for spoiling the fun, guys.