The office was quiet. Everyone had finally left for the day. The clock-watchers rising punctually at five, computers shut down, the inevitable paperwork, even though they were supposedly a paperless office, put away. Coats shrugged on, goodbyes called. They left singly or in groups of two or three, discussing their plans for the evening. The ambitious, the disorganised and the bootlickers stayed on longer, working on that extra proposal, struggling to meet the deadline or polishing up the slides for the boss’ presentation tomorrow.
The manager came out of her office, took note of the few remaining, accurately cataloguing their reasons for staying on. After she had gone the stragglers started leaving too. The ambitious and the bootlickers waging a silent battle to see who could prove themselves the most dedicated. They sent pointless emails just to prove that they were still in the office, working. Eventually though they all had to concede to the calls of family, train timetables and sleep. The disorganised fumbled into their coats, putting important documents into the safe place they’d forget about before the morning. The ambitious and the bootlickers collected briefcases filled with extra work that they would do at home. They left mumbling goodbye to the cleaners who were coming into take their place.
The cleaners called cheerful good-nights to the stragglers as they dragged in their vacuums, battering them against the door and chairs. They chatted amicably as they emptied the bins and poked the vacuum head under desks. Dirty coffee mugs were examined and placed in the sink in the kitchenette. Cleaning mugs wasn’t part of the contract.
Finally even the cleaners left, switching off the lights and letting the silence in. The half-light of the evening and the street lights outside were the only illumination now. The office left waiting for the noise and bustle of tomorrow. Phones would ring again. Important and urgent emails would be read, replied to, deleted and forgotten. Gossip would be exchanged; did you enjoy your day off? Where did you go? Have you heard that someone in sales is being disciplined? There’s a collection for yet another wedding present. One of the directors is having an affair with someone in purchasing.
The light had faded still more when there was a small movement down behind the stationery cupboard. Cautiously he eased out of cover. Listening intently making sure they had really gone. When he was satisfied he signalled and the office was alive again, this time with the night shift.
It was time for play though, not work. Paper clips were joined together to make ropes. The ends were anchored to phones and the other end slung over the side of the desk. They dared each other to swing faster, higher, for longer.
Working together they pushed chairs away from tables. Then they took turns sitting in the seat, while others spun them. The bravest let go and waved their arms in the air, demanding to be spun faster and faster. The not quite so brave hung on tightly, shrieking in joyful fear.
The more artistically inclined dragged pencils, pens and highlighters out of desk tidies and stole pages from notepads. Brightly coloured post it notes were dragged into hidey holes and used as decoration. Crazy neon patterns that dazzled the eyes, or would have if any human had seen them.
In the kitchenette the packets of biscuits that the director’s PA had bought for the meeting tomorrow were discovered. In the morning marketing would be blamed for their disappearance despite protesting their innocent. Everyone knew that marketing could never be trusted with biscuits, cakes or any kind of food, look at what had happened at the staff party.
One more mechanically minded than the rest had found a hidey hole where he could watch the photocopier every day. Eventually he had worked out how to use it and now teams pressed buttons then raced the light as it scanned. Blank copies hiccupped out of the machine and piled up in the tray. Then they were pushed over the edge and watched as they drifted down to the floor, building up into a paper drift at the foot of the copier.
In the morning the office administrator would grumble about having to fill the paper tray again because no one else was apparently capable. The ink cartridge would need replacing too; leading to the finance director complaining about how much money was being spent on reprographics. That in turn would lead to the purchasing department being asked to look for alternatives and a stiff email being sent to all staff reminding them that they should be aiming to eliminate paper, not generate more copies.
Down in IT the server had been left running to process some urgent reports needed to the meeting in the morning. Intrigued by the glow of the screen and the letters streaming across the screen they clustered on the keyboard staring at the racing cursor. A loud beep caused a stir and several ran for cover knocking the mouse as they went. The braver started but didn’t run. Instead they were intrigued by the mouse pointer’s movement. The startled creeping back knocked the mouse again, moving the pointer again. That started a new game, running the mouse over the desk. Trying to match the mouse pointer to the cursor as it skipped across the screen. As it was shoved, the mouse buttons clicked.
In the morning IT would curse and scratch their heads trying to work out how reports that had run successfully hundreds of times before would this time abort for no apparent reason. As usual a reboot fixed the problem but the reports were not ready for the meeting and they never discovered what caused the failure in the first place.
The games continued into the night. The street lights outside providing all the light necessary, the occasional car headlight flashing across the ceiling. As the sky lightened and the street lights faded they started drifting away in ones and twos, heading back to their secure hidey holes. Artists replaced pens and pencils, although the highlighters were on the verge of drying out now and the post it pads were noticeably thinner.
The mechanically minded stuffed the copier paper drift into the recycling bin, leaving it jammed full and needing to be emptied again, even though it had been emptied only yesterday. The active crammed paper clips put back into their boxes, still in their chains, ready to annoy the receptionist who just wanted one paper clip, not an entire chain. Of course one or two paper clips had come lose in overly enthusiastic swinging, they were left abandoned under desks, phones and computers.
Eventually though even the most energetic trailed back to their hidey hole and the office was left silent and waiting for the day shift to arrive.