“Are you happy?”
The question from my boss sifted through the cramped office and clung to us like crop dust.
Huddled on stained couches and broken chairs, we all paused from hammering on our laptops to consider the question. A few people looked up and shrugged ambivalently.
He walked out of the room. We let out a collective sigh and got back to work.
It was early morning and the rise of clicking keyboards, buzzing phones, flickering fluorescent lights and looming deadlines smothered any remnants of self-reflection.
Every now and then someone would stand and stretch, crack their knuckles, blurt out a joke, or walk to the patio for tea, a cigarette or a breath of fresh air.
Otherwise, we sat faceless and speechless, fixated on our screens, immersed in email, chats, text messages and reports.
People circulated throughout the day helping the office maintain an appearance of civility for those glancing in the windows as they passed by on the sidewalk. However, from inside the office seemed to sag in decay.
It smelled like a room occupied by stray animal ghosts and a buried history of recumbent asphyxiations. The thin, ragged drapes – like the potted plants cowering in the corner – had given up the bitter fight for polluted window light a long time ago. Now they settled in and stood stiffly at the opposite of attention.
None of that bothered us though. We were excited to keep working because there’s opportunity in a pit of despair.
Later, around lunch time, the drone arrived.
The installer wore a generic uniform and said the boss had sent him. He placed the drone on the bookshelf in the corner at about eye level to give its video camera a panoramic view for the boss from abroad. Installation took about 15 minutes and when the door closed behind the installer, four dim red lights began blinking under the drone’s four silent propellers. Then we got an email from the boss.
He explained that he would henceforth be telecommuting to work. Citing how seamlessly our digital processes had developed, he felt confident operations wouldn’t skip a beat if he managed the team virtually.
“This industry moves fast and we need to adapt to the changing landscape,” he expounded. “Learning to leverage emerging technology will keep us agile and well-positioned for sustainable success.”
To that end, the email continued, the drone would allow a new channel for enhanced two-way communication and collaborative feedback, with its high definition video camera, long-range microphone and speakers. To maximize utility of this new technology, workers would be required to a) work in the office during regular business hours as always, and b) speak to the drone at least once a day.
No one disagreed, and we got back to work.
For the rest of the day the drone mostly sat quietly on the untidy bookshelf, its red lights blinking slow and steady next to the dusty, crippled books. The boss was responsive to emails and we pecked away at our laptops working on our reports business as usual.
A couple times the speakers broadcasted a sneeze across the room from the boss that his microphone picked up. We whispered, “God bless you,” without looking up from our monitors. The drone did not respond and it was unclear whether our “God bless you’s” counted toward our quotas.
As the close of business approached we submitted our final reports without incident and started to pack up. Small talk sprouted among colleagues while our eyes adjusted and laptops shut down.
Before the first worker had left, the drone’s lights switched blue and its propellers spun to life, lifting it toward the centered fluorescent lights, hovering just below the ceiling – a new chandelier in a dilapidated dining room.
“Are you happy?” the drone boss asked, buzzing like a remote-controlled wasp.
“Yes,” we replied, and left for the night. It was Friday.
Painfully obvious disclaimer: This work of fiction does not represent my current or previous bosses, drone or otherwise.
Photo: Chris Martin