Office Space

On Friday I went to see the movie Office Space. Either it didn't come out in the UK or I missed it but here in the US it seems as if every office worker has seen either it or the Milton animated shorts on which it is based, a zillion times.

The film follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. He has a frustrating commute, normally tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he's pretty sure is cheating on him. The bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, his neighbor, and the waitress at the local café.

This is yet another in the genre of Up in the Air, State of Play, and Outsourced all of which I've seen in the last year and all of which look at the idiocies and difficulties of organizational life. I guess that a film showing people enjoying their work, with good bosses, in pleasant environments wouldn't be a crowd drawer. But the fact that these films and related TV programs (Back to the Floor, Undercover Boss) and Dilbert (and Alex in the UK) cartoons are so popular is that office or work life really is as depicted for many people. Who hasn't been involved in a conversation like this one at some point?

Dom Portwood: Hi, Peter. What's happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.
Peter Gibbons: Yeah. The coversheet. I know, I know. Uh, Bill talked to me about it.
Dom Portwood: Yeah. Did you get that memo?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah. I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I've already taken care of it so it's not even really a problem anymore.
Dom Portwood: Ah! Yeah. It's just we're putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that'd be great. All right!
And who doesn't understand, if not speak, business language of the type Lucy Kellaway talks about:

For nearly a decade I wrote a fictional column in the Financial Times about a senior manager who spoke almost entirely in business cliches. Martin Lukes talked the talk. Or rather, he added value by reaching out and sharing his blue sky thinking. At the end of the day he stepped up to the plate and delivered world class jargon that really pushed the envelope. After eight years of being him I came to accept the nouns pretending to be verbs. To task and to impact. Even the new verb to architect I almost took in my stride. I didn't even really mind the impenetrable sentences full of leveraging value and paradigm shifts. But what still rankled after so long were the little things: that he said myself instead of me and that he would never talk about a problem, when he could dialogue around an issue instead.

But these characterizations are rooted in caricature and stereotype. Many people actually do enjoy their work, in a social atmosphere where they feel they are contributing, and they also recognize many aspects of the send-ups of office life that they see in films, cartoons, and articles. This is one of the values of the send-ups – people can laugh and also be aware that a culture based in fear, duplicity, lack of control, and powerlessness is not fun. By humorously highlighting the negatives it makes it more possible to design in the positives.