You’re Back at the Office. Your Annoying Colleagues Are, Too.
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You’re Back at the Office. Your Annoying Colleagues Are, Too.

Employees are rediscovering the pet peeves that come with working inches apart from one another.

By Sarah Needleman
Thu, Aug 4, 2022 10:18amGrey Clock 4 min

It didn’t take long for Gary Bush to become reacquainted with the harsh realities of office life after two years of working out of his home.

Within a matter of days, the sales manager for an auto dealership found himself having to break up a spat between two employees over a large container of apple juice. One said she brought it in and left it in the office refrigerator to drink later that day. The other conceded to consuming most of it, but argued that he wasn’t at fault because it wasn’t labelled as hers.

“Any little thing that happens they come to me,” said Mr. Bush, 36 years old. “It’s like I’m a babysitter.”

In recent months, many more professionals who were sent home at the start of the health crisis have been returning to the workplace, where they’re being reminded of the pet peeves that come with sitting inches apart from one another. Some say having to once again deal with office politics, loud chatter and other workplace grievances is already making them nostalgic for when they were only able to engage with their peers over the phone or online.

When Andrew Hashem resumed working in an office for a software company, he figured that stepping into a glass office and closing the door to make a phone call would be enough to discourage colleagues from interrupting him. “They would knock, I’d point to my headset and they would still come in,” he said.

A new makeshift bar set up near Mr. Hashem’s desk for Wednesday afternoon social gatherings added to his discomfort. The fun would often start while he was still on the clock, but many of his peers weren’t.

“I could hear them having loud conversations and playing music,” said the 35-year-old, who recently changed to a fully remote job with a healthcare company. “It made it really hard to concentrate.”

Migrating back to the workplace after spending so much time away can be a bit of a culture shock for many professionals, said Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot Inc. “There was this romanticising of the office experience,” she said. “Now we’re seeing a return to normalcy.”

Workers may need a little time to readjust to a challenging commute or a new one for those who changed jobs, added Ms. Burke.

“Everyone can benefit from taking a deep breath before going in and approaching things with a little bit of kindness,” she said. “When in transition everyone tends to forget what the expected rules of the road are.”

Now that Josh Ross is spending his days in a cubicle farm again, the tech-company support specialist said he is back to being flanked by noisy co-workers. Audible sighs of frustration are a common irritant, along with the sound of his peers typing on mechanical keyboards.

“All you hear is the clacking of the keys,” said Mr. Ross, 31, adding that he mutes his microphone on calls with customers when he isn’t speaking so they aren’t bothered, too.

Mr. Ross longs for the days when he could work out of his home in Lansing, Mich., where he lives by himself. There, he said, “I control the sound level. In the office, there’s literally no sound control.”

Companies calling staffers back to the workplace in many cases are offering hybrid schedules, allowing people to come in only a few days a week. But for Matt Shantz of Winnipeg, the arrangement has created a headache he didn’t anticipate.

During video calls with colleagues still working remotely, he now hears the voices of other office workers in real time through a wall—and then again about half a second later through his computer.

“There’s a slight delay,” said Mr. Shantz, an academic adviser for a university, who went back to working in an office in May. “It’s an echo chamber.”

Even if all of his colleagues eventually resume working on campus, the 37-year-old expects to be stuck dealing with another inconvenience—thermostat wars. Mr. Shantz is comfortable working without air-conditioning in the summer but some of his office mates prefer to turn it on. A vent located directly above his desk makes him shiver.

“It sometimes gets to the point where I have two sweaters on,” he said.

Many companies used the downtime to remodel or reconfigure offices.

Mae Tila, a 36-year-old customer-care manager, initially didn’t mind when she found out her employer, a mailing and printing company, moved her desk to the front of the building because she went in only a few days a week. But now back to a routine of going in full time, along with many of her colleagues, it’s clear to her she’s literally in a weird spot. “Everybody walks by me to get to their designated area,” she said. “I get everyone’s life story.”

Ms. Tila has started saying only “Good morning” when colleagues come in and not also “How are you doing?” in hopes of discouraging small talk. But it rarely works. Recently a colleague griped to her about the challenges of babysitting grandchildren and a dog at the same time.

“I’m a private person so when people spill their lives to me it’s overwhelming,” Ms. Tila said.

Some office workers who have been back longer say the change of scenery was initially refreshing—until it wasn’t.

Destiny Palmerin, a sales and marketing coordinator for a health-product manufacturer said her attitude started to sour once she started hearing her boss clipping his fingernails at work. “I know what that sound is,” she said. “I should not hear that.”

Ms. Palmerin, 24, grew leerier of colleagues as competition for the office microwave started to cut into lunch break. “Almost everybody goes to lunch at the same time,” she said. She’s also been unhappily reminded of what it’s like to work after someone burns popcorn. “You can smell it everywhere,” she said.

Mr. Bush, the dealership sales manager, expected his colleagues to have kicked at least one bad habit over the past two years—coming to work despite feeling sick. Yet a few weeks ago a sales associate who went home early for that reason returned the next morning, he said, seemingly worse off—not a comforting sight in the Covid era.

“She’s coughing and sneezing,” he said. “I’m like, dude, go home.”

The associate wanted to stay to increase the chances of landing a bonus, since part of the compensation is commission-based, but Mr. Bush insisted the worker go home, he said. “I was super annoyed.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 3, 2022


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More than 280 modern and contemporary artworks will be up for sale Friday at Christie’s Post-War to Present auction in New York.

The live sale, which will be held at Christie’s Rockefeller Center sale room, has a low estimate of more than US$27 million and will be led by Frank Stella’s Abra I, 1968, which is estimated to fetch between US$1.2 million and US$1.8 million, according to a news release from Christie’s.

Abra I is a fantastic example by Stella, a large-scale canvas from the protractor series,” says head of sale Julian Ehrlich. “It engages so many crucial aspects of his practice, including scale, geometry and colour, and has appeal to established post-war collectors and others who are just coming to historical art.”

Ehrlich, who has overseen the semiannual Post-War to Present sale since its first March 2022 auction, says his goal in curating the sale was to “assemble a thoughtful and dynamic auction” with works from both popular and lesser-known artists.

“With Post-War to Present, we really have a unique opportunity to share new artistic narratives at auction. It’s a joy to highlight new artists or artists who have been overlooked historically and be a part of that conversation in a larger art world context,” he says.

Joe Overstreet’s ‘Untitled’, 1970

Works from a number of female artists who were pioneers of post-war abstract painting, including Helen Frankenthaler, Lynne Drexler, and Hedda Sterne, will be included. The auction will also include pieces from a group of Black artists from the 1960s to present day, including Noah Purifoy, Jack Whitten, and David Hammons, in addition to a Christie’s debut from Joe Overstreet (Untitled, 1970) and an auction debut from Rick Lowe (Untitled, 2021).

“The story of art is necessarily diverse,” Ehrlich says. “The sale itself is broad, with more than 280 works this season, and it has been fun to think through artists inside and outside of the canon that we can put forward as highlights of the auction.”

In addition to Abra I, other top lots include Tom Wesselmann’s Seascape #29, 1967, (with an estimate between US$800,000 and US$1.2 million); Keith Haring’s Andy Mouse, 1986, (also with an estimate between US$800,000 and US$1.2 million); and Jack Whitten’s Garden in Bessemer, 1986 (with an estimate between US$700,000 andUS$1 million).

“I think of the Post-War to Present sale as being especially dynamic … in the best case, even for someone deeply embedded in the market, there should be works which surprise and delight and are unexpected, as well as celebrated market-darlings and art-historical greats,” Ehrlich says.


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