You’d hear the rattle of the cups first. People would look up from their desks and say, “Ooh, lovely, just what I need” or “About time, I’m gasping”, depending on their disposition.
The trolley would nose its way through the doors, with the the tea lady in tow.
And we’d all stop work as she made her way around the desks, dispensing cups of brown fluid of diverse flavours whilst people um’ed and ah’ed over the various bits of cake, buns and other confections.
Conversation would naturally arise as we sipped our drinks and munched our sticky treats. What we’d seen on the telly the night before, where we were going for our holidays, our plans for the weekend. We shared the minutiae of our lives and got to know a bit more about each other, filled in our mental picture of each other and deepened the bonds a little.
We also share the office gossip; who was going out with who, the various births, marriages and deaths in the lives of our colleagues and what news of changes to the business was in the air.
After 10 minutes or so, physically and mentally refreshed, people would start to return to their work. Feeling a little more connected, safer and secure and satisfied they were completely up-to-date on the latest rumours.
These little shared moments of sociability and connectedness were the oil that kept the wheels turning and made people feel good. (We now know this is due to the release of the ‘feel good’ hormones).
Yet the tea trolley didn’t last long, seen by the bean counters as inefficient and an unnecessary expenditure. Instead of that moment of mutual connection and shared experience, we each scuttled off to the canteen on our own.
I think bringing back the tea trolley could be one step towards de-crapifying work. Or a modern version of it, like the swedish tradition of ‘fika’, scheduling in time together for coffee and cake.
We certainly need to make work social again and create the time and space for people to share each others lives and build those deeper connections, because that’s where the meaning lies.
All those buns and non-vegan snacks may not have been the healthiest for our bodies but they were certainly healthy for our minds and our offices.