Purba Ray
Guest Article

Is this the end of the era of office coffee machines, the favoured mingling spot of the plebs?

I will not use the term ‘the new normal’. It has unintended consequences, like eyes popping out, hair falling off, self-combustion.

If you're lucky enough to still have your job, you can forget about going back to a workplace you left behind in March. Of course, you know it. But a part of you thinks it's a figment of your overreaction, mixed with a dollop of unhealthy pessimism. Lack of sunlight, working from bed and Zoom call fatigue may have helped further these conditions. If you're hearing ‘am I audible’, ‘why can’t I see anyone on the screen’ even in your dreams, congratulations! You're one of the blessed ones who's able to sleep.

I will not use the term ‘the new normal'. It has unintended consequences, like eyes popping out with anger, hair falling off in desperation, self-combustion, because nothing is normal about this year that feels like a prison sentence.

I'm sure the first few weeks of working from home were ecstatic. Not having to get out of your as soft as your mum’s touch pyjamas with half a dozen holes. Bidding adieu to the soul crushing commute. Feeling like a squashed tomato in between a sandwich of sweaty human bodies, their hot putrid breath caressing your terrified neck. Reaching the office with your foot as trampled as your dignity.

One not so fine day your ecstasy tires of your hourly commutes to the refrigerator. The intense conversations with your wall are no longer edifying. Things get so bad, you even start missing the nasty lot of your colleagues, longing to feel alive and prickling with indignation with their incessant snarkiness.

Now you can’t wait go back to your workplace, reunite with your desk that you haven’t cleared in years, run your fingers lovingly in the drawers crammed with plastic forks and spoons from ordered-in meals, green tea sachets covered with mould, a bar of half melted chocolate. Hover near the coffee vending machine waiting for your crush to turn up so that you could pretend to ignore him yet again.

Umm... not happening! Should’ve confessed your feelings in 2019 itself.

While nature was healing, your bright, cheerful, bubbly dying to mingle office space turned into an introvert that shuns social contact like Arnab shuns responsible journalism. You will be returning to closed cubicles, colleagues who have moved back to their hometowns because they couldn’t afford city living anymore, and a missing coffee vending machine. Maybe the cafe will be gone too now that your workplace has downsized to size XXS.

Imagine having no excuse to take hourly breaks sipping your fifth cup since morning, making small talk with your colleagues. With the coffee machine gone, how will you find out about Vikas’s herpes? And why Shaina’s been walking with a limp these days. The horror of having instant coffee must already be giving you acidity!

The coffee dispenser is not just a machine that spouts mostly mediocre coffee with the push of a few buttons. This is where your cold-hearted, dead fish eyed workmates turn into humans with feelings. As you wait for your coffee to brew with half a dozen caffeine craving colleagues, this vending machine becomes a metaphor for discourse beyond the huddle of conference rooms and cubicles.

Away from the watchful eyes of your manager, conditions become ripe for unburdening of stress and sharing of bubbling ideas. You get piping hot tips on how to hone your gladiatorial skills, develop zen-like patience for your boss’s monologues that s/he loves to call a ‘meeting’. You find an unlikely ally in a workmate you’d long dismissed as stand-offish as you both inhale the heady aroma of the Americano and smile.

And it is interactions like these that transforms your dull as a cardboard workplace into a lively space that nurtures, energises. You curse Mondays, your nine to forever that feels like a sentence, yet you turn up bleary eyed but raring to go.

If your work from home arrangement is making you feel isolated, listless, drained of energy of late, it’s because no technology can replace the feel good factor you get from your support circle, who motivate you to push your lazy ass harder. The most creative ideas don’t come from sitting in front of your monitor. They come from hallway and cafeteria discussions.

With social distancing becoming the norm and workspaces on a restructuring and downsizing spree, your favourite coffee vending machine may become a relic of a happy past. But what will never alter is that we're social animals, unless you are an introvert. No man or woman is an island. You may now have to wait for your crush at the UV sterilisation station. The counselling sessions that calmed you, will become masked affairs. You may have to find a new influence circle, and you will in a matter of time.

So, cheer up. Brace yourself for office wapsi and a walk through a sanitisation tunnel, thermal scanners to prove your purity to your organisation. Don’t forget to sigh with gratitude that this is the 21st century. Otherwise, you would have been expected to walk through fire.

(Nearly funny. Almost liberal. Rarely serious. Purba Ray, columnist for Arré and The Quint, likes to keep a safe distance from perfection as she opines on every damn thing. She tweets from the handle Ray Stings.)