In fairness, the office affair was already on the way out before coronavirus struck. First it was weakened by all sorts of officious HR meddling and then, once Me Too started ending careers, the risk simply became too high. But now it looks as though social distancing will kill the thing for good.
I say this as someone who has never actually had an office affair, but the logistics just seem impossible at the moment. Already in the clutches of an affair? Tough luck. You can’t sneak off for a dirty weekend at a conference because every conference for the foreseeable future will consist of nothing but mind-numbing eight-hour Zoom webinars. You can’t swap whispered nothings to each other at work because now you will have to shout through a facemask, a PPE visor and a Perspex barrier just to be heard, which is bound to kill the intimacy. And staggered working hours mean that your shifts might not even align anyway. It’s going to be ruinous.
And new affairs? Forget it. This whole outbreak feels as though it has been precision designed to put the kibosh on any form of flirtation whatsoever. There are fewer opportunities for chance encounters in corridors, especially of the Hollywood rom-com meet-cute variety. In the old days you could bump into someone, knock their papers flying, lock eyes as you bent to help to pick them up and instantly fall in love. Imagine doing that in this climate. You would both have to run away to disinfect yourself and the moment would be lost.
You can’t swap whispered nothings to each other at work because now you will have to shout through a facemask, a PPE visor and a Perspex barrier.
The hardest hit, though, will be those who relied on the office Christmas party for sexy shenanigans. Because, unless a miracle occurs in the coming months, there won’t be any Christmas parties this year. No opportunities to get drunk. No chance to act on the flirtations that have been bubbling away for months and years. No way to lower your inhibitions enough to tell a colleague how you have always felt about them. The closest you will be able to get to that is to get hammered on Co-op wine and text them in the middle of the night, which is less “I’ve always fancied you” and more “I’m watching you through the bushes”.
But, listen, please don’t get downhearted. I haven’t worked in an office for years, and I’m here to tell you that you still have plenty of options. You could engage in witty, flirty banter with a colleague on a messaging service. Or you could … no, actually that’s your only option. Sorry, everyone.
Are You Ready to Go Back to Work?
With office life to be transformed by social-distancing rules, workers will soon be returning to a new environment. How they adapt to the new normal will reveal an awful lot about them. Take this quiz to discover how you will fare.
1. A friend calls you at work and asks if you’re free for a coffee. Do you …
A) Immediately agree because you’ve missed them so much.
B) Tentatively agree, but only because you think they will respectfully observe the new social-distancing measures.
c) Feign a foreign accent, slam the phone down and hide in a toilet until 6pm.
2. Your line manager asks you to hot-desk tomorrow. Do you …
A) Enthusiastically agree because you could do with a change of scenery.
B) Go home and pack a bag with latex gloves and disinfectant wipes.
C) Chain yourself to your existing desk and inform your manager that they’ll never take you alive.
3. You’re called into a divisional meeting. Do you …
A) Arrive first and greet everyone with handshakes and back-slaps.
B) Arrive late, sit by the door and loudly tut whenever the meeting strays off course.
C) Turn up just as the meeting is ending, dressed in an explosive ordnance disposal suit and holding a chair at arm’s length like a lion tamer.
4. How do you plan to flirt with your colleagues again?
A) Same as always: by leaning on their desk and touching their lower back whenever possible.
B) Emojis, I guess.
C) By writing, “I appreciate you as a person, but I’m afraid the risk of infection is too great at the moment,” in dry marker on your PPE visor.
5. You’re waiting for a lift. It arrives and you see it already has two people in it. Do you …
A) Hop in anyway.
B) Take the stairs.
C) Break the nearest window and shin down a drainpipe.
6. Pick a new topic of office conversation.
A) “Did you have a good weekend?”
B) “Are you managing to stay safe?”
C) “KEEP AWAY FROM ME, YOU MURDERER”!
7. It’s Sarah from HR’s birthday. How do you celebrate it?
A) By making everyone sign the card you bought her, using the special birthday pen you regularly like to chew on.
B) There’s a Colin the Caterpillar cake in the kitchen, but nobody is touching it for some reason.
C) Birthdays are a remnant of the decadent old times and must therefore be forsworn.
8. How do you plan to spread juicy gossip about your boss?
A) With physical whispering, same as always.
B) Over an encrypted messaging service.
C) Unless the gossip is their temperature and estimated droplet output, it isn’t essential enough to share.
9. Pick a new team bonding activity.
A) That thing where loads of people squeeze on to the same pair of skis and try to walk together.
B) Something we can do at a safe distance, like clay pigeon shooting.
C) Staying at home and bleaching all our food.
10. How will you eat your work lunch now?
A) Go to a café and sit with people I like.
b) Eat a packed lunch at my desk.
C) Enter a sterile cubicle of my own design and inject myself with homemade vitamin paste.
How Did You Answer?
Mostly As — Wow, you are ready to get back to work. Maybe too ready, in fact. You aren’t paying any attention to the new normal and will probably be single-handedly responsible for any second wave that occurs in the coming weeks.
Mostly Bs — You are taking a sensible, cautious approach to your return. You realise that the country has to get moving again, but you understand that certain precautions are now inevitable. Congratulations, you are a model citizen.
Mostly Cs — You know what? You’re doing just fine at home. Maybe just stay where you are for now. We’ll call you back in once a vaccine has been found.