Magazine

The office breakfast's unstoppable ascendancy

  • 16 November 2010
  • From the section Magazine
Man eating breakfast
Have boundaries between office and home broken down completely?

Have you ever eaten breakfast at your desk? It's time to reconsider such behaviour, says commentator on office and workplace life, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times.

There is a new man in the office who sits at a desk just behind mine. Most mornings he's in early, as am I, and as I leaf through the newspapers, I hear a rustling sound and the ring of metal on china followed by a slurp-munch-slurp noise.

I look around and see that he has pushed his keyboard aside and at his elbow is a box of Fruit 'n Fibre cereal. Presently, he gets up, takes the bowl to the sink, washes it and returns to his desk.

It makes no sense to eat cereal at work. It takes about 90 seconds to prepare and eat a bowl of Bran Flakes at home. The fridge is to hand, as is the dishwasher. But over the past decade there has been a steady onward march of objects, activities and emotions from hearth to cubicle, so there is now almost nothing left that belongs entirely at home.

People these days turn up in sweat pants, take a shower, clean their teeth and apply make-up when they get to work. Offices double as wardrobes and laundry rooms with damp towels, spare clothes and shoes strewn carelessly around the place. Grooming complete, workers present themselves at their desks, where they are greeted by stuffed toys, rugs, bunches of flowers and, of course, photographs of children and pets.

Differences in what we wear and how we behave at home and work have been steadily eroded. We may still be marginally smarter and more polite in the office, but it's a matter of degree. Crying and shouting are both deemed perfectly acceptable, as are jeans and flip-flops.

It is even OK to sleep on the job - it's called a power nap, and a few offices have installed beds or sleep pods to make it easier for us.

Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are part of office life, too. The first and the second are officially forbidden, but still practised when no-one is looking. Rock'n'roll can now be done quite openly at work, thanks to the iPod. We also watch television at our desks, keep up with who did what last night on Facebook, do our shopping online and get the parcels conveniently delivered to our desks by the office post boy.

So is there nothing left that we do at home but not at work? There is still a taboo on nudity in the office, and I don't think I've seen anyone at a desk wearing a pair of flannel pyjamas.

Neither have I caught them knitting or daubing oil paints on to an easel, though that may be partly because hardly anyone does such things at home anymore either.

There is only one thing that people choose to do at home but not at work: to give birth, though this can't be far off. One colleague recently sent me an e-mail about a work matter as she was being wheeled into the delivery room, so to have the baby in a birthing pool on the floor at the office would seem the logical next step.

There is one final activity that we do less and less of in the office - work.

But this makes perfect sense: there is no point in working there when we can do it so conveniently at home instead.