This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
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 5 PM seems too keen, 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 40 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 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 co-workers over, start a couple of rumors about your colleagues on the sly, skim-read the Wikipedia page for "Machiavelli" and start dressing better than your boss. Put all that together and you'll be running the place within a year. Let's go!
Making a powerfully loud phone call
Is this entire article a 4,000-word subtweet aimed at that guy in our office that nobody knows the name of who seems to make three to four phone calls a day, but none of them are actually at his desk? This guy always, inexplicably, gets up from his own desk—where it's fine to walk around, talking loudly because that's his space and his area—and instead of walking behind our desk, the editorial desk, the man (unknown) strides 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. 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, and maybe a tub of chewing gum for the 4 PM 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 trinkets on your desk—a plastic banner 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, and three Amazon packages you've never actually bothered to take home.
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 cookie. 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. Under-promote me at your peril.
Become really good friends with the front desk security guard
Every place I've ever worked at has this weird (sexual?) dynamic of a security guard duo at the front desk, and that is: One extremely friendly 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 huge cell 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 letter—a letter that is clearly marked and you can see it behind the desk; I can just grab the letter; I can see it right there—but they tell you your letter hasn't even arrived yet. That sort of thing.
For some reason, though, the office always has one middle-to-upper manager who is just phenomenally friendly with them both—finger points, breezing through the security gate without showing a pass, has almost definitely fucked 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.
The office-all email chain
If your office has any level of intelligence, it will have safeguards in place to make sure no one can just send an email to the entire office; 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 4 PM.
That said: Have you really lived until you've seen an accidental email 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 email incrementally drive themselves crazy, 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 bathroom: Have you really, ever, had a job at all?
Taking up an entire meeting room for 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 sneakers, and they are always sitting, 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. 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 extra 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 toward 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 upstairs, 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 around 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 grandma 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 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 football. 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 atomized 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). The international incident that happened in the immediate aftermath of the fish being microwaved, 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 at the desk nearest to 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 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 shout "Hey" across the room to get someone to come over to you.
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 are 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 in any way, 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 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 small talk with your deskmate 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 bathroom 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: hush. 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
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 internalize 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 letters, 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 email gets sent that you cheerfully ignore.
Sitting in someone else's chair and adjusting it
Enormous, enormous, enormous behavior. The worst thing in the world probably is coming back from a meeting and seeing someone sitting in your chair, carefree and chatting with your deskmate, 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 perse, 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 in college who did this: He used to turn to me in lectures and say "THAT GIRL IS HOT" 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: The 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.
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 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 around the office on a Skype call
Again, not about anyone in particular, but just imagine a scenario where there is a guy 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 with dreary song 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 an apartment? Fast Car on a three-hour loop. Absolutely no consideration for anyone else in the office trying to get any work done? Shit-faced rave playlist at 11 AM in the morning. Watch the people weep.
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