I started a new job two weeks ago, and my new workplace is TINY. Four people work here. Including me. I do not have my own email address. My office (I do have an office! with a window!) does not have a computer, and as far as I know, there are no plans to change this. I do not seem to need a computer or an email address.
I’m coming from a company made up of thousands of people, and the editorial staff alone of my small children’s book imprint was eight people. I’m now at a nonprofit organization that helps people understand themselves and their natural abilities, to provide assistance and guidance as they make decisions about school and work. We have a national presence but small offices.
As I’ve been intensely learning the ropes, I’ve been struck by how professional and methodical my new coworkers are, as well as how completely they know the routines and follow them while remaining pleasant. There are questions you ask the clients to make small talk; there are sound bites to deliver about the different tests; there are processes for scheduling appointments, accepting payments, setting someone up for a session, scoring the tests. “Et cetera” counts as two words rather than one. I feel like a slob kind of flopping around and asking questions, pretending like I fit in and understand how to do things.
“It’ll become second-nature,” they say. I half-believe them. They’re perfectly friendly and willing to help, but it’s a totally different kind of playing field than I’m used to in terms of business attire, business conduct, etc. (Et cetera.) The four of us are pretty clearly divided by age: there are two people in their fifties who’ve been with the company forever, and then there are two of us in our twenties.
It was my twenty-eight-year-old coworker’s birthday last week, and we’ve been trying to have a celebration ever since. After the surprise element failed, now we’ve just been focusing on actually finding a time to do it. Wednesday is the day, decides our boss, still valiantly trying for a surprise. He’ll tell the birthday boy that his new business cards are ready and in the spare office, where my other coworker and I will be waiting.
So I get ushered into the room to wait. I sit there in the dark, in front of the cake and ice cream and prosecco, feeling like I’m doing something wrong, listening intently and wondering when I’ll be joined. I stare at the sad spider plant that was orphaned by whomever used to occupy that office. I sit there. And sit there.
Eventually I hear “I’ll just go water the plants,” and in comes the second coworker, all flustered. “He’s sitting right in his office!” she mouths, which is next door. She isn’t holding anything with which to water the plants. She shakes her head and lights the candles, and she sits down in a chair, and it creaks. Like, really loudly and obviously.
“Oh f—,” she whispers.
My mind explodes a little bit.
Do I laugh? Do I nod in agreement? Do I say something? Do I say nothing? Before I can move beyond sitting frozen and unbelieving, we hear our boss coming down the hallway with the business card ruse, and the birthday boy saying, “Oh, really? Why’d you put them in there?”
We say “Surprise!” We sing “Happy birthday.” He tells us he could hear us all whispering. We pour the champagne and cut the cake and scoop the ice cream, and this is my first introduction to my coworkers as people rather than as coworkers.
And they curse a bit, yes. They tell jokes that aren’t breaking-the-ice, meeting-someone-new kinds of jokes. They try so hard to surprise someone, and fail so miserably at it. We talk about birthdays and memories and things that aren’t at all work-related. And then at the end, we end up pulling out a dictionary to look up the actual definition of a pun (there is some contention), so my world centers itself again a bit.
What will work be like tomorrow? Will the vibe be different? I think I will feel a little easier being there, and I think the settling-in process will shorten itself a bit. I’m slow to adjust my expectations when things don’t turn out the way I’ve imagined, but I think (hope) this little shock to my system will help the whole adjustment process along.
If nothing else, I adopted the orphaned plant. My office (and my window) now are starting to feel a little more like me.