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Different office environments

I’ve been working professionally in media for about seven years now, and over the years I’ve worked in different roles and experienced a range of working environments. As in most jobs, there have been positives as well as negatives. Sometimes the positives are so positive that the negatives don’t matter, and sometimes the negatives are negative enough that they can lead to the end of a role.

For most people, walking into a new job means walking into a new office environment filled with unfamiliar faces. Since we don’t get to choose our colleagues, and we all have different personalities, the chances of us automatically ‘clicking’ with everyone in the office is relatively low. But, since no CV documenting an inconsistent work history with fleeting jobs and little to no commitment is going to look good to a new potential employer, it is important, for job survival, that we learn how to turn the negative aspects in our workplaces to positive. And if that doesn’t work, maybe we need to consider that it could be a bigger issue, outside of our particular role and our colleagues, that is actually the problem, and perhaps that will even mean having to make big career changes.

But, when it comes to office environments, the different experiences I have had have helped me to understand more about myself and what work situations I thrive in, and it has helped me to prepare for future change, which always inevitably takes place. Most of my experiences involve working for start-ups or very small or family-run companies, which means, before my current job, the number of colleagues I have had ranged from one to five.

My first job was for a search engine optimisation start-up based in South Africa. For some part of the year that I worked there, there were often occasions when it was just my boss and me. For the beginning half of the year, we worked out of his home, and in the second half he rented office space in the city, as well as hired another employee. This meant that for a large part of the job, I was often alone with him in his personal space. I doubt that this kind of working environment would suit everybody, and there’s a chance it could go very wrong. But fortunately, my boss, not too far in age from me (and coincidentally friends with friends of my brothers – not an uncommon thing to happen in South Africa), was a great guy and we got along just fine. We didn’t chat too much if it wasn’t work-related and we weren’t friends outside of work, but the arrangement worked well for both of us. It is fair to say, however, that when we moved to the city, I did enjoy the change of scenery and the city vibe. My job here came to an end for two reasons: 1 – I wanted to move to the UK, and 2 – for financial reasons. The risk you take when working for a start-up or small company is that you never know how successful the company will be and whether your role is secure, or for how long. Also, since the rewards can often take a long time to come to fruition, sometimes cuts have to be made just to ensure company survival.

So off I went to London and a couple of months later I found work in a company in digital and print media. This company was also new and very small, the employees being mainly family and friends. After my last experience, and now being more aware of the signs, I knew that I needed to prepare for the possibility that my role wouldn’t last very long. When I first started the job, the company was renting office space in the city. Thus, I was able to enjoy a busier office environment and be around more people, although they weren’t in the same company as me which limited our chances of getting to know each other somewhat. However, I’m not naturally a very outgoing person, so had it been someone else in my position, their chances of establishing better relationships with others in the office could well have been higher. Either way, my boss, who was again the owner of the company, was another likeable person. I’ve definitely come to realise what a difference it makes when you get along well with your boss. Other advantages I’ve experienced working for small companies include being able to do a variety of tasks and learn and practise different skills. Not everyone likes that sort of thing, but I definitely appreciate it. For example, having done some graphic design in university and then nothing after that, I offered to try my hand at designing our magazine, which was at that point being designed by someone outside of the country. My boss agreed and, after purchasing the Adobe Creative Suite for me (that expensive beauty which I still have, love and often use today!), I began to design our magazines. It was a wonderful experience and my favourite responsibility. But unfortunately the signs of financial instability became apparent and we had to start working from our own homes to cut costs.

I’ve heard mixed feelings about working from home, but personally, I love it. That could have something to do with the fact that I live in London, paired with the fact that I have a habit for getting too busy for my own good. So working from home meant I had an extra couple of hours because I no longer needed to commute to work and back. Also, going to the office simply meant rolling out of bed and doing the slipper shuffle to a comfy couch. It also meant wandering into my kitchen when I felt peckish and being able to take my lunch hour when it suited me, as long as it didn’t interfere with work. Since I ended up eating whenever I wanted to, as opposed to taking a lunch break specifically for the purpose of eating lunch, I could use that time for the gym or grocery shopping, which meant I had even more time for social activities or rest or whatever took my fancy in the evening. And, since I am quite an introvert and often enjoy spending time on my own, I didn’t have a problem not being around colleagues or other people.

That particular role came to an end after a year, again due to financial reasons, and I needed to move on. My next job, while a big change in terms of the industry I was working in as well as in the role itself, was again similar in that I had very few colleagues. I was one of four in the office, including my boss, with a further employee based outside the UK. I’m grateful for the job for a number of reasons. I can thank my boss, who was successful, hard working, knew exactly what he wanted and what was needed for his business to continue to grow, for showing me where I lacked in ambition, dedication and commitment. Working in that position helped greatly in pushing me harder both professionally and personally, and I’m thankful for that. However, unfortunately, since the relationship I had with my boss and colleagues were not very good, the fact that we all worked very closely to one another didn’t help matters. Added to this, I clearly wasn’t suited to the role itself, and had made a bad decision in terms of pursuing my career in media.

So just before the end of a year and a half, I moved on again. It took a few months to find a new job but it was worth the wait. My current job is strictly media, and I love it. It’s also the biggest company I’ve ever worked for. Rather than a start-up or family-run business, I am now working in an eight floor building in the city, surrounded by colleagues whose names I don’t know and many of whom I will never be in contact with. Although the number of my colleagues, looking at the entire company, has increased hundreds-fold, since I work mostly in my team (team!), and my team and boss are lovely, I still enjoy getting to know the people I work with on a more personal level.

Lastly, although my following comment is more relevant to my particular career than to office environments in general, I cannot conclude without admitting one of my absolute greatest joys of working in media – one which is a big positive for me in terms of a comfortable office environment. And this is the fact that I could go to work in jeans and a hoodie and probably get away with it. My colleague has literally worn slippers to the office. If my slippers weren’t shaped like ducks, I’d do the same.

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