When, just under a year ago, it was announced that my office would be relocating to Canary Wharf, the reaction at work was not exactly one of hysterical joy and gratitude. We were City people through-and-through: we’d paid our dues and finally knew which was the correct exit from Bank underground station; we knew what to order from the incomprehensible Chinese takeaway downstairs (and what not to!); we had our timings for walking across London Bridge down to a tee, and we were so used to the sirens/exhaust fumes/smokers on every corner that we no longer worried about the detrimental effects on our health. What would we do without a House of Fraser 30 seconds away?! How would we cope without a direct tube link to Oxford Circus?! And you’re telling us the new office won’t have 659 meeting rooms? Outrage! Disaster! Abomination!
It goes without saying that this initial reaction may potentially have been slightly unfounded. But argue with me all you want: it is human nature to fear change. No matter how easy going and relaxed we may like to think we are (who am I kidding, those two words are not exactly my number one descriptors!), when it comes to the crux of it, we like to stick with the comfort of what we know. We all know that change is good, that remaining in the same stagnant state does nobody any favours – but that doesn’t stop us from trying to resist being ripped from our safe cocoons.
What followed the announcement was months of water-cooler mutterings; indignant conversations about the injustice of our futures: “they’re not going to let us have a toaster you know”, “where am I going to store all my papers from 1996 if I’m not allowed 25 personal filing cabinets?”, “I’ll probably have to move house with the extra journey time!” (side note: these were all me), but that first day in the new office, something just changed.
Stepping into that brand new space, a space with Scandinavian styling, glass walls printed with trees, and floor-to-ceiling windows; a space that had been created for exactly the right number of people, the rose-tinted filter on our former home in the City was quickly torn away. I saw the old office for what it really was: old, tired, dysfunctional.
For years I had been genuinely afraid of stepping out of my own small area because I literally didn’t know who half of my colleagues even were; I felt like an intruder who was about to be found out: “you don’t even work here!”. Coming into a fresh, more open space was like starting again. As my job had also recently changed, this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of the fear, to know that I belonged here just as much as anyone else. I absolutely love the fact that I even just get to walk past more of my friends and colleagues each day, that I have the opportunity to speak with people face-to-face (and that we actually know what each others’ faces look like!). I don’t think it’s just me either: it had been a hard year for the organisation, and whilst of course moving office doesn’t just erase the past, they do say a change is as good as a rest. I felt a renewed motivation in the office; who knows how long that will last/has lasted, but it was certainly needed at the time. What also helped was a seemingly bottomless bar tab on that first evening (in which one colleague actually ended up sleeping in the new office having missed his last train: welcome to Canary Wharf) – how I wish that had set the bar for every Monday night!
I do understand that I’m being very idealistic here, and of course Canary Wharf isn’t some kind of promised land Utopia (the personal security briefing was a key highlight – you never really want to hear the sentence “If someone comes in here with a Kalashnikov…” do you?!). It breaks my heart when a colleague can’t read his children a bedtime story because of yet another cancelled train adding hours to his journey, and it makes me so cross that a friend who loves cycling can no longer ride to work because the new office doesn’t have showers. Whilst most people benefitted from their new desks, a few lost their windows or were relocated to sit directly underneath a freezing cold air conditioner. Canary Wharf is far away from home: it is in fact another world, where people queue in perfect formation to get on the tube, where we receive daily emails about a great offer on a £40 pair of tights or a £75 set menu (yes, it’s someone’s job to promote the shops and restaurants there: my company is in a small minority of non-banks with non-banker salaries); and where it is quite possible to get completely lost on your lunch break in the ridiculous network of underground shopping centres (as long as you can get yourself back to Waitrose, all will be okay!).
Of course it’s not really about the place at all; we could have gone anywhere (and I’ll always feel a touch of nostalgia for the City), but I’m truly grateful that this move happened. It’s benefited my career, it’s benefited my personal friendships, and it’s benefited my shopping addiction (in that most of the shops are so totally out of budget that it’s not even worth looking). When I compare myself to someone outside of London, I know that I’m lucky to work in such a world-renowned area for business; somewhere that puts on free concerts, that offers multiple restaurants and bars and that’s one of the cleanest places I’ve been in London. If you’re in the area, come and say hi. I’ll show you around – as long as we can meet at Waitrose.