The Biggest Office Power Moves You Can Make
Let's assume you're a little office weakling (you are). Let's change that about you, one loud Skype call at a time.
Screenshot: 'Office Space' / Fox
You keep your head down at work, don't you? You're in at 9 and out at two minutes past 5 (leaving at exactly 5PM seems too keen, doesn't it, so you always linger, just a minute or two more, before turning off your monitor or folding down your screen). That's the way to do it. Clock in, clock out, only 30 percent of the people you work with really know your name, and you can grind this out for… what, 30? Forty more years? Fifty? Could you do this for fifty years? Fuck! It could happen! It could happen to you! Keep that head down, buddy! Nobody knows if you're alive or dead!
No, no. What you need is power. Power can be grabbed in a variety of ways: general competence at your job (out.); networking and being liked by those who sit on the greasy ladder above you (out.); working longer and harder than everyone else (out.) to make yourself stand out clear above those around you (out, out, out).
These are all unworkable solutions; what you need are shortcuts and cheats. What you need to do is pull some office power moves. Below is every office power move you can and should pull. Fuck some workmates over, start a couple of rumours about your colleagues on the sly, skim-read the Wikipedia page for "Machiavelli" and start dressing smarter than your boss. Put all that together and you'll be running the place within a year. Let's go!
MAKING A POWERFULLY, POWERFULLY LOUD PHONE CALL (IDEALLY STANDING UP, DOUBLE-IDEALLY WALKING AROUND)
Is this entire article a 4,000-word subtweet aimed at that guy in our office nobody knows the name of but who seems to make three to four phone calls a day, none of them actually at his desk, the guy always, inexplicably, getting up from his own desk – where it's fine to walk around, talking loudly, because that's his space and his area – and instead stalking behind our desk, the editorial desk, the man (unknown) striding around, yelling, literally yelling, into his hands-free system?
No. I made that man up, and that entire scenario. I am just a very vivid writer.
Unrelated Google search terms, assorted mediums, 2018:
ASSEMBLING A DESK FORTRESS
Office hierarchies are delicate things governed by unwritten, spiderweb-like rules, at once fragile and steel-strong, and one of those rules seems to be: there is a direct relationship between the ominous presence of the pile of shit on your desk, and your self-perceived importance to the company. Like: all you really need on your desk is a computer, a keyboard, maybe a tub of chewing gum for the 4PM lull. That's about it. But it starts with a wrist-rest and just moves from there: suddenly you have a plastic in-tray despite working in a paperless office, and you have a special succulent plant that needs to be diligently watered during your week off in August, and you have various gewgaws and trinkets on your desk – a string of bunting left over from the World Cup, a framed photo-booth strip of you half-drunk and wrapped in a feather boa from the office Christmas party, three Amazon parcels you've never actually bothered to take home, &c. &c. &c..
Then you upgrade fully to intricate tea-and-coffee guy: you've got two boxes of herbal tea and one special thing of teabags nobody is allowed to steal; you've got your own mug that you keep, clean and immaculate, locked in the top drawer of your desk, so it doesn't get mixed in with the general wash; you've got a whole thing of agave syrup; you have a big Tupperware tub with three types of biscuit. If you have anything more than your computer on your desk, you are fundamentally taking your job too seriously – you should be able, ideally, to walk away from your job at lunchtime and never go back, and lose absolutely nothing in the collateral damage – and for that reason, having a desk pile is an absolute flex of power. It tells the colleagues around you: I made this desk more comfortable for myself because I spend so much time here. It tells your bosses: I will die at this desk if I have to, for I have snacks and biscuits. Under-promote me at your peril.
BEING REALLY, REALLY CHUMMY WITH THE SECURITY GUARD ON FRONT DESK
Every place I've ever worked has this weird (sexual?) dynamic of a security guard duo on the front desk, and that is: one extremely matey guy who is just happy to be doing a job that mostly involves eight hours of wearing a hat and leaning on a desk, and one extremely pissed off dude who is always annoyed, and always for some reason has a really massive mobile phone, in an equally large phone case, of a make and model you have never even heard of, let alone seen. I don't know why the surly guard has a phone the size of a Bible that says "NAPEAIO" on it, but he does, that's the rule.
Anyway, this Good Cop–Bad Cop dynamic is fine for day-to-day life, but bad for when you want to get literally anything done, like sign a guest in without them having to go through a complex form-filling process, or you need to enter the office even one second after office hours ("Why? Who are you?"), or when you need to get a parcel – a parcel that is clearly marked and you can see it behind the desk; I can just get the parcel, mate, I can see it right there – but they tell you your parcel hasn't arrived yet. That sort of thing.
For some reason, though, the office always has one middle-to-upper manager who is just phenomenally matey with them both – finger points, breezing through the security gate without showing a pass, has almost definitely shagged someone after-hours in one of the meeting rooms – and in that relationship, there is power. I don’t know how to make the friendship myself – I'm still trying to get that yoga mat I ordered from Amazon out from behind the desk of the security guy from three jobs ago – but if you can figure it out, make it work for you.
If your office has any level of intelligence, it will have safeguards in place to make sure no one can just send an office-all unbidden; that they have to be signed off by a minimum of two key-holders and sent from a special computer, ever since that guy from sales got fired for lying about his targets and sent the word "CUNTS" in really big font Comic Sans to everyone, including the CEO, and you all got to go home at 4PM.
That said: have you really lived until you've seen an accidental office-all turn into an 80-reply thread of people drily asking to be un-CC'd? Have you really worked in an office until you've witnessed three urgent emails sent to everyone in the building about one stolen lunchbox? Unless you have watched the sole person with access to the office-all incrementally drive themselves mad, one message at a time, endlessly shouting into the void with no response, desperately asking if anyone has found a wedding ring someone lost in the toilet: have you really, ever, had a job at all?
TAKING UP A WHOLE MEETING ROOM TO YOURSELF
There’s a precise breed of man who works in every office in the UK, and they only wear blue Oxford-collar shirts and insane dead-stock Reebok trainers, and they are always sat, alone, on the phone, in every meeting room you have ever had booked, and everyone in your meeting has to just wait outside the room – full windows, completely see-through – just looking at him for a bit, and then, wordlessly, eventually he'll stand up and barge past you, still on the phone. Think about it: do you ever, ever see that man outside of this scenario? Do you know where he sits or what he does? Is he a ghost? Does he even exist?
DYING AT WORK
Underrated power move, imo. It's drastic, but it pulls power. They retire your desk and put a little plaque up. Everyone gets a half-day to go to your funeral. Work pays for you all to go for a sombre Chinese together. Everyone bonds over memories of you: that time you got locked in a cubicle, the typo in that presentation, the same little lunch you always used to have every day ("Didn't he eat a lot of tuna!").
Listen: it's not Plan A exactly, but if you want to grab some power at work and nothing else seems to be working, try stopping your heart in your chest, letting out a sudden "urk!" and tipping face-first into your keyboard, dead.
TAKING ON NON-PROFIT RESPONSIBILITY FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON AT ALL
Never do you feel more like a piece of shit than when a fire alarm goes off at work and you dutifully file out towards the exit, then one of your colleagues – suddenly fluorescent in a vivid orange vest – leaps out and starts yelling at you, "NO COATS NO PHONES JUST GO GO GO," helping people on crutches up stairs, holding doors open, counting out loud in twos down a line-up of all your co-workers, all of them standing outside saying the only fire alarm joke anyone ever says ("Wish there was a fire") and smoking, everyone smoking, and you're just standing there, arms round your torso, shivering slightly, smoking, thinking: maybe if I did a half-day first aid course, then I'd be important. Go back to your desk and start wondering: maybe I could be a secretary or something in the union. Go on, take some extra work and responsibility on for no extra pay. Get a little hi-vis vest to have on the back of your chair. Flex.
BECOME THE ONLY PERSON WHO KNOWS HOW TO FIX THE COFFEE MACHINE
Office coffee machines are special, complicated, large machines that are broken six days out of ten and, when they do work, spit out not-quite-a-mug of mediocre coffee. They are the only thing keeping you sane here and you need them to live. But there's always some tray that needs emptying, or some side-jug of water that needs filling up, or it needs three buttons pressing on a central panel to confirm that yes, coffee is in the machine, and nobody else in the office seems capable of working it, like your nan with a DVD player. It is easy to rise up the office ranks, making yourself completely indispensable as a result, by just googling the coffee machine manual and learning how to turn it off and on. You will literally survive rounds of redundancies by doing this.
PUT YOUR FEET ON YOUR DESK AND LEAN BACK IN YOUR CHAIR AND PLAY WITH A MICRO-SIZED RUGBY OR FOOTBALL
No gesture on Earth says "I'm thinking – in a very powerful way! – but also I don't care, in an equal or even exceedingly powerful way" than putting your feet up on the desk in front of you and playing with, like, a child-sized American football that you brought back from a trip to New York. Nothing. That is fruity, powerful, CEO-level shit.
If you have never been in an office where someone has microwaved some fish: O sweet summer child, how little you know and how much you have to learn, the road is long and sometimes dark, O sweet baby, O my sweet summer baby child—
If you have been in an office where someone has microwaved some fish: you will remember very vividly not only the smell (something curious happens to fish when you microwave it, where previously delicious-smelling fish suddenly, in the atomised heat prison of a shared microwave, turns into the worst smell in the world; it smells like rotting fruit and rotting blood and rotting fish all at once, and also this smell will last all afternoon, at a minimum) but the international incident that happened in the immediate aftermath of the fish being microwaved, which goes like this:
> Someone wiggles their nose slightly, looks behind them and says, "Hold on, is someone… microwaving fish?"
> Someone else will say: "Something smells."
> The original fish smell-identifier will say, "It's fish!"
> [Brief attempt by everyone on the desk nearest the kitchen to identify who exactly in this office is consuming reheated fish]
> Two people who have not yet been on their lunch will abruptly leave for lunch to escape the smell of fish.
> Someone who was previously on lunch will walk in gently and then suddenly stop and say: "What's that smell?"
> 20 people at once say "FISH!"
> Five minutes pass and you overhear a snippet of a conversation, just distantly but it leaks over the sound of your headphones, and it is clearly about the microwaved fish, because the person talking – they are sort of anger-whispering, which as you will remember is basically just normal talking but actually louder – and they are saying, "Who has fish?" and, "Have you never microwaved fish?" and, "Who has leftovers of fish?"
> Someone will spray a thing of floral room spray they found in the ladies' bathroom, which somehow makes it all worse.
> Someone will suggest the smell could actually be microwaved broccoli, as if that makes it better in any way.
> Office-all, printed out sheet of A4 on the microwave ("NO FISH!"), afternoons widely ruined around the entire office.
> You, alight with power now, cackling and full of cod.
This is the most powerful of powerful vibes. There is this idea that the shoes you work in are a sort of stiff prison – look, for example, at City bankers rushing around Bank tube station, caught in the infinite interchange, rushing around in a grey wool suit and neon blue New Balance Fresh Foam runners, keeping their tender toes cosy on the commute before changing into shiny brogues when they get to their desk – and the person who has special shoes or slippers for the office knows this most of all.
When you wear actual work shoes, you say to The Man: yes, I acknowledge your rules, and abide always by them. When you walk in 15 minutes late, rush to your desk and change out of your shoes into special slippers or work sliders, you say to The Man: fuck you and fuck your rules. My feet are comfortable. I am the captain now. That's the difference. If you want power, start with your feet. Even if you don't ever use them, put a pair of monster feet under your desk next time you're in. They'll just sit there, heavy, like a cosy little threat.
JUST SHOUTING 'HEY' ACROSS A ROOM TO GET SOMEONE TO COME OVER TO YOU??? AND IT WORKING???
Offices have so many thousands of intricate little ways of communicating with each other – email, Gchat, Slack, internal memos, internal phone calls, external phone calls, Post-It notes stuck to computer screens – and yet the worst of them all is the person slightly-too-far-away-from-you who wants to talk, so instead of coming over and talking, just waits to catch your eye when you look up from reading VICE all day and just booms "HEY!" across the office to make you get up and move, in a way you're not sure means you're in trouble or not, and very rarely means you are but still leaves you thinking about it, three hours later, on the bus home, shaking slightly, tracking back in your mind through everything you've ever done wrong since you've been employed there.
WAITING BY SOMEONE WHEN THEY'RE ON THE PHONE
Pretty sure everyone between the age of zero and 35 has a sort of ongoing background-hum anxiety about answering or talking on the phone anyway, and no more is that so in an office, where, every time a phone rings, it feels a little like a small bomb has gone off and everyone is too anxious to call the police about it. Worst of all, though, is when you're on the phone – keeping your cool as best you can, trying not to sweat too much, hold it together hold it together, try not to say "I love you" instead of "goodbye" when you hang up – and someone who apparently needs your attention in the next two-to-three decides to just stand there, looming, a shadow hanging over you, their arms stiff by their sides, maybe they will get their phone out or maybe they will look at you, maybe they will start loud smalltalk with your desk mate then point and whisper "I'M WAITING FOR THEM," but either way you can’t focus on your phone call and you can't focus on the ensuing conversation you have with them after you hang up, and after both of those traumas are over you have to go and sit in the disabled toilet for a bit and just sweat. Who has the power there? The loomer, that's who. They've absolutely played a blinder.
That said, there is a way to claim that power back from them, and that is: when they approach you on the phone, just hold a single finger up – or, if you like, the palm of your hand – as if to say: shh. Then finish your phone call as slowly as possible, put the hand down, turn to them, saccharine smile. This also works when someone approaches your desk while you're in the middle of a sentence on an email or something – single finger, keep typing, no eye contact – or if someone tries to interrupt you mid-meeting. The single raised finger is possibly the most powerful flex you can enact in the office. Use it rarely and wisely.
STEALING OTHER PEOPLE'S DESK ITEMS – CHAIRS, KEYBOARDS, WRIST RESTS, LUNCH &c. – THAT PROMPT AN OFFICE-ALL
A lot of inter-office power truly is drawn from the fact that English people are so fundamentally afraid of confrontation if they think it will become socially awkward in any way, meaning you can basically go up and steal an apple out of their hand while they're eating it, and most of us will be like, "Well I— uh, sorry could I— no actually, wow, it's OK," and just internalise all that carnage until it kills them eventually with an early-onset stress heart attack. So best exploit of this is just taking things from people in the office – their keyboard, their parcels, their job – and then just flagrantly sitting there, using it, tossing whatever you stole in the air, because everyone is too afraid to say anything until eventually a polite office-all gets sent that you cheerfully ignore.
SITTING IN SOMEONE ELSE'S CHAIR, ADJUSTING IT
Enormous, enormous, enormous behaviour. Worst thing in the world probably is coming back from a meeting and someone is sat in your chair, carefree and chatting with your desk mate, and you just have to stand there, sort of near them – "Yeah," you keep saying, while they have an actual conversation, a fun conversation, "ha ha", but they don't let you in, do they, to them you are nothing – and then when you sit finally back in your chair – "Oh, do you—? Want this back—?" – it's all warm with their body heat, and in the brief time you were away they adjusted the height and the back support, somehow, and now you spend half the afternoon making incremental changes back to the set-up, trying to get it right, sitting back in your chair, wiggling, distracted, but you never quite get it right, do you. You keep confusing the handle that brings the back forward with the handle that dips the chair pneumatically to the floor, you squat like a dwarf with your head barely peeking above the table, while they just walk around, the person who did this to you, completely unaware of the pain they have plunged you into. Enormous stuff. Huge. Bigger than the sun is.
TALKING LOUDLY, ESPECIALLY NEAR VISIBLY BUSY PEOPLE
I have a theory that there is a genetic mutation – well, not a mutation per se, but definitely a quirk – that affects around one in eight people and completely robs them of the ability to whisper. I used to have a friend at uni who did this: he used to turn to me in lectures and say "THAT GIRL IS FIT" or something similar at the approximate volume of a car alarm while yelling into his hand, everyone turning around and looking at me, a man capable of whispering, judging me somehow for knowing him.
Anyway: point is, these same people, non-whisperers, also seem to have the defect in office environments, where people work, either at their desk or little hubs away from their desk where people frantically and silently focus, and these non-whispering people always wander over there, yelling, like, "HIYA" – talking about what festivals they've been to lately, did you hear about Amanda from accounts, yeah a whole baby, why what day's payday? I thought payday was Thursday – completely shattering any concentration in a 50-yard perimeter around them. And guess what? That's power, amigos. Das ist macht.
NOT GETTING FIRED FOR SOMETHING EMINENTLY FIREABLE
Escaping a firing is quite difficult for you, for me – if your job performance is anywhere below spectacular and you fuck up in any sort of disciplinary way, you're going to get dragged in front of a three-member HR panel, then quietly asked to clear your desk; I can tell you this from deep experience – but if you walk into a "we need to have a chat" meeting with a serious-faced boss and walk out with your job intact and, ideally, a pay rise, then that's power right there. Power enough to melt the faces of the scum who sit and work around you.
WALKING ROUND THE OFFICE ON A SKYPE CALL
Again, not about anyone in particular, but just imagine a scenario where there is a lad who walks around the office holding a laptop with one hand and shouting into his iPhone headphones while he Skypes someone in America. Like, imagine that. I made it up obviously, but like: imagine.
DOMINATING THE OFFICE STEREO W/ DREARY SONGS EVERY TIME YOU GET DUMPED
Whoever controls the office playlist controls the entire office, this is a fact. Control the music and you control the mood. You can pick the mood up and bring it back down again. You are a maestro, carefully conducting the happiness of anywhere between 15 to 300 people. And it is hard to ascend to this level: having access to the office Spotify account is normally a complete faff anyway, and jumping over that hurdle puts most people off from doing it, because you have to interact with someone in IT, and they need to give you weird access to a remote computer, and blah, blah, blah. But once you're in there? Power. Unimaginable power. Dumped by your boyfriend? Ballads. Midlife crisis? 80s classics. Offer fell through on a flat? Fast Car on a three-hour loop. Absolutely no consideration for anyone else in the office trying to get any work done? Pinged-off-your-face rave playlist at 11AM in the morning. Watch the people weep.
STANDING UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OFFICE, TOP OFF FOR SOME REASON, AND AT FIRST YOU'RE JUST TALKING A PITCH OR TWO HIGHER IN VOLUME THAN YOUR NORMAL SPEAKING VOICE – YOUR VOICE BREAKING AND TREMBLING A LITTLE WITH IT – BUT SOON YOU ARE SHOUTING, LIKE FULL YELLING, AND SLOWLY PEOPLE TAKE OFF THEIR HEADPHONES AND END THEIR PHONE CONVERSATIONS TO TURN AND SILENTLY LOOK AT YOU, AND YOU ARE LIKE, "WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!" AND "WE GRIND AND WE GRIND AND WE GRIND, AND FOR WHAT? AND FOR WHAT?" AND YOU ARE UNAWARE EVERYONE GOT A PAY RISE THIS YEAR APART FROM YOU – BECAUSE YOU DON'T REALLY TRY THAT HARD, DO YOU, IF YOU ARE HONEST WITH YOURSELF – AND SO BECAUSE OF THAT YOU ARE DOING THIS WHOLE EMBARRASSING BIT ABOUT CAPITALISM, AND THE VALUE OF YOUR LABOUR, AND YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO STIR THE PEOPLE INTO DOWNING TOOLS AND UPRISING WITH YOU, BUT ACTUALLY NOW YOU ARE VISIBLY SWEATING QUITE A LOT, AREN'T YOU, THIS WENT A LOT BETTER IN YOUR HEAD, AND ANYWAY LONG STORY SHORT THAT SECURITY GUARD WITH A PHONE THE SIZE OF A LAPTOP IS JOG-RUNNING TOWARDS YOU AND YOU KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO GET RUGBY TACKLED TO THE GROUND IN WHAT IS ACTUALLY A VERY HUMILIATING WAY, PROPER TACKLED-SO-YOUR-ARSE-FALLS-OUT-OF-YOUR-TROUSERS TYPE DEAL, AND THEY WON'T LET YOU CLEAR YOUR DESK, THEY JUST BUNDLE YOU OUT OF THE BUILDING, AND YOU TRY TO TURN AROUND AND SEND A VIBRANT OFFICE-ALL FROM YOUR PHONE, BUT YOUR EMAIL ACCOUNT HAS ALREADY BEEN LOCKED, AND NOW ACTUALLY HERE IN THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY YOU REALISE YOU HAVE NOTHING, NO PROSPECTS AND NO CONTACTS, AND THAT MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE MADE ALL THAT FUSS AND FLAPPED YOUR ARSE JUST BECAUSE THEY IGNORED YOUR EMAIL ABOUT PROVIDING OAT MILK IN THE STAFF KITCHEN, YOU'RE NOT EVEN ALLERGIC YOU JUST PREFER IT
Yeah, not actually that powerful. Don't do that.