Poetry in the workplace

Think back, if you can, to your earliest days at primary school. Do you, like me, recall interminably long afternoons that seemed to drag on for ever, inevitably in a swelteringly hot classroom?

Corr Blimey, teacher, what did Harry Potter do next???

Corr Blimey, teacher, what did Harry Potter do next???

Pic: BBC- Primary History

(Is it a common phenomenon to recall only the hot afternoons? For some reason I don’t have any memories of being cold at primary school, even though logically, I should have experienced a lot more cold afternoons at school than warm ones, particularly when at least 6 weeks or so each Summer are spent away from school enjoying the holidays so cleverly named Summer holidays.)

Well, now try to imagine as an adult, working in a company where an all staff meeting that seems to be designed to recreate that sense of primary school ennui is held every single week on a Tuesday afternoon.

While you are picturing that, I’ll just interrupt your train of thought to note that I began the draft of this post at my previous work place. That means, in case you are a step behind, that I’m not referring to my current place of work. This makes it a lot easier to finish off and post now, since I have the benefit of distance.

Happily for me, the long, drawn out, mostly pointless, Tuesday afternoon meeting is now a thing of the past. I look back on the memory much as I do on the memory of myself in the Prep-Grade 1 room at primary school – basically I feel a sympathetic affection for the bored, listless figure of myself sitting in the classroom/meeting room, probably staring out the window and daydreaming and not benefitting from anything useful that might accidentally be said in the lesson/meeting.

Now, it wasn’t always hot all year round at my previous workplace, which, let’s face it, was not in Saudi Arabia, but in fact was only a 25 minute drive from where I currently work, in an inner suburb of Melbourne. In Melbourne, we like our weather to range from 40 degrees and sweltering in the morning, to 16 degrees and hailing the moment you need to leave for work, and then sunny and warm again in time for (afternoon) tea.

Yet when I think back on those unbearably long Tuesday afternoon meetings, I always picture us on a hot afternoon, crammed in around the table in the old office where the airconditioning never really quite managed to make any difference to the temperature, all sweating in the heat.

About 10 staff would attend those meetings. The agenda began with a section that you could reasonably expect to take no more than 2 minutes, where everyone around the table stated their days in/out of the office for the next week. (This tradition began under a previous director who ran such a loose ship that it got to the point where the majority of staff , including management, would email, or text someone, at about 11am (presumably when they got up) to announce they were “working at home,” taking “Time  In Lieu,” or coming in late. This culture led to at least one scenario where I only discovered through a casual comment that there would be literally no-one in a building that is ostensibly open to the public the following afternoon unless I took it upon myself to change my own hours around.)

It should take only 2 minutes for 10 people to say if they are in/out of the office over the next 5 working days, but even this section of the meeting sometimes took 20 minutes, as some people felt the need to elaborate on the reasons why they’d be out of the office and then go off on tangents related to that.

After that section came updates from the General Manager, and then each staff member updated the team on what they were currently working on. The entire meeting would not infrequently take 2 hours. 2 hours, people!!! 

 

How riveting, another staff meet...zzzzzz

Oh excellent, another staff meet…zzzzzz

Pic: Global English

Due to the regularly overblown meeting length, myself and a few other thoughtful/busy human beings would keep our updates to approx 3.5 minutes, and would avoid asking questions or commenting on anything that was not a matter of life or death (ie, nothing) during other staff updates, for fear of increasing the length of the meeting any further.

As you can probably gather, these meetings were not well adjudicated. Some staff tried to use them to try to raise issues that they wanted to hash out with certain other staff right then, and some just wanted to make sure the team, and the GM, were aware how much they were doing.

The usefulness of those meetings was questionable. I wouldn’t say that the entire 2 hours was a waste – but in most cases, about 1 hr 45 minutes of it did nothing to provide me with any new information that would inform my work. As the minute-taker, I would often find myself just sitting there and not typing, waiting until the meeting got back on track and wasn’t just a 2 person conversation about when to organise flyer delivery, for example.

On other occasions, the topic under discussion would remind someone of an amusing story, which they did not hesitate to share, clearly having no doubt that we would all like to extend the staff meeting for a further 10 minutes, to hear them tell it.

Somewhere along the line, I realised that there was one thing I could get from these meetings, and that was an amusing list of totally random topics, since there were so many discussed at every meeting. As I was the minute taker, I began to sneakily note down topics discussed during meetings that were either entirely unrelated to work, or so vague and useless that time should not have been spent pondering these things out loud while holding up a room full of people who were being paid by the hour to sit there.

The list looks like a stream-of-consciousness by someone with, well, not very much on their mind.  I like to call it Workplace Poetry. Following are just a few items that were discussed for at least a minute or two, over two or three staff meetings:

  • Swing dancing
  • Star signs
  • (lengthy discussion re. how many people around the table are Virgos)
  • Everyone is wearing polka dots today
  • Academy Awards(TM) use the same  software as we do
  • (lengthy description of an artist’s studio)
  • 3 poodles were seen sitting side by side at the cafe
  • We purchased some chairs from someone who apparently was friends with an ex-staff member, but no-one can remember who – perhaps she was the friend of a friend? (- time spent on discussing who it might have been)
  • A potential client is going to Paris, and has already arranged to meet with our GM when he gets back, to talk about Paris
  • A tradesman who’s name sounds like “Precious”. (- A few minutes spent debating whether it’s likely that he changed his name.)
  • Mineral foundation
  • Wild Orchid
  • 80s trash
  • X’s parents – she may use a water gun on them.
  • Barbeque – need to sacrifice a person on it first time you use it.
  • Make a list of people and burn the list on the barbeque
  • MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania) is very well organised
  • There was sun, people lying on the grass, very nice
  • Leatherwood honey drops are an acquired taste
  • They put a man on the moon in 1969, X. watched it on tv at primary school
  • 40 years later we can make tea and coffee in the office
  • Staff fun day idea: staff ride around on the lighting rack
  • OHS issues with above idea.
  • Cupcakes from the city are the best.

That’s the end of my list, but I kind of regret now that I didn’t keep this list more diligently.

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear to me now that the hidden stream-of-consciousness poetry within these meetings was the best thing about them. It was just hard to filter out the half-arsed attempts to address work issues, to see that at the time.

*Update, April 2015:

Clearing out some old emails tonight, I found an email to a colleague at that job, containing more random topics from the previous day’s meeting:

  • The Oscars
  • Sperm piercing ova
  • George Clooney is gay
  • Shame – 4 ¾ stars
  • X talks about being a creative professional and dealing with nutbags.
  • Spiderwebs in the signage
  • People have unrealistic expectations. X tries to manage them but they run away from her like a runaway train.
  • Tips for applying for jobs – if you ring up, try and make a good impression.
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2 Comments

  1. Definitely sounds like you needed someone up front with a gavel 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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