Fiction

Office Christmas party

When we couldn’t decide where to have the office Christmas break-up lunch, things got heated. Traditionally there is a budget allocated, accumulated out of footy tipping bets and the amount the boss puts in, which generally meant we left the office on the designated day at 11am and went to the restaurant booked and simply did not return to work.

At last year’s venue we were still there when karaoke started at 6pm, and Howard Lim, who’d barely opened his mouth at work in eight months, gave such a blistering rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” that people were still talking about it this time round. It was generally agreed that in that four minutes Howard had done more for workplace cohesion than the two full-day team-building exercises we had done that year, despite one of them involving both paintballing and a rock wall.

This year it was left too late to book the same place. There was disagreement over whose responsibility this had been but it was also conceded that it was an exhausting unpaid task – gathering the list of specific food allergies and dietary requirements, locating a restaurant within walking distance, or else booking group Ubers, handling complaints about the alcohol budget and submitting receipts for everything. Those who had elected to work from home were consulted but their paid-for presence at the lunch itself as alleged “members of the team” was also disputed. It turned out nobody had taken minutes at the meeting in which the lunch was meant to be discussed, so no missed deadline for booking could be noted or proved, and the issue remained unresolved going forward.

 

In the end, we stayed at the office. Desks and chairs were pushed back to form a central party area. There were assorted wraps and trays of sushi. There were vegan burritos. Ray Truman was dispatched to purchase alcohol using his Costco membership card and the office fridge was stacked with chilling wine and beer.

We budgeted for eco-biodegradable tumblers and compostable plates. We did everything right to keep everyone happy.

I don’t know why Ray had felt it necessary to purchase cocktail premixes. Later, he explained he had bought a “bundle” on special and hadn’t realised this meant a dozen.

By 4pm most people had had several cosmopolitans and/or mojitos and there was talk of someone going out for more chipped ice. There was beer pong and a limbo challenge. There was further talk of sampling Helena Tyndale’s edibles, which she insisted were prescribed for arthritis. We phoned our partners and told them we would probably be home quite late.

Whatever the pretexts, let me say that disinhibition kicked in around dusk. The photocopier challenge began, as it probably always does, with people photocopying their faces and hands. Personally I regret the direction it took from there, but as team head of human resources tasked with leveraging the input of all employees in the company’s annual targeted goals, I felt compelled to join in.

 

Let me also explain again the principles of bottom-up communication, in light of what happened. In contrast to “top-down” hierarchies, bottom-up communication embodies the use of a pieced-together system that parses all input to lead to active group decision-making in which all participants feel included and valued, fostering collaboration, transparency and productivity. The end outcome reflects the accumulated inputs of all involved to create a holacracy.

 

In the photocopy challenge, fuelled by the festive group dynamic and camaraderie, both “top down” and “bottom up” photocopies were made. Also feet and legs.

I personally gathered up the anatomical photocopies for discreet disposal myself, and by mutual agreement nobody recorded the game on their phones or – thank God – progressed to making colour copies.

I also take it upon myself personally as team leader to collect contributions to replace the toner cartridge for the MC2000 Business All-in-One Laserjet WorkForce Pro and source a new paper tray. I am relieved the glass flatbed did not crack, considering the weights applied to it. I regret that “Top Down” and “Bottom Up” terms were used in this context, potentially cheapening their important contribution as workplace training models for the team going forward.

The party broke up about 8pm, and I can attest that the photocopier was definitely turned off. Security saw us leave. I was as shocked as anyone when I was notified by them to return to the building the following day – a Saturday – to view the CCTV footage.

 

The figure seen slipping from the rear exit captured by the security camera at 11pm is not anyone present at the party. It is not a person wearing a disposable polypropylene coverall or white tablecloth. It is not a stray white dog.

When we froze the image of the figure emerging from the back door and disappearing into the night, it was clear that it was not, in fact, human. No human has such a wildly disjointed method of moving or is composed of many A4-sized, impossibly disparate body components.

The staff are understandably reluctant to have these anatomical sections individually identified and CCTV quality probably precludes this anyway, but frankly there is no other explanation. We are looking here at an entity. Non-human. Purely holacratic.

 

I watched the footage over and over with the head of security. Together we put a match to the bundle of photocopied body parts I had salvaged from the office party. Clearly this is going to be pursued by the chief executive. Well, they can enhance the footage all they want, they’re not going to get any answers.

A photocopier works on one basic physical principle: opposite charges attract. How did this thing, whatever it is, release itself from the MC2000? Via the photoreceptive drum and charged corona wires and then slithering, Gollum-like, out of the lower tray?

My question, though, is not “what is it?” My question is: where is it now, this composite stitched-together creature composed of all of us, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 16, 2023 as "Office Christmas party".

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