Same Shit Different Office

I sat in the office of a client, in a building situated near Taganskaya metro station, west Moscow. Taganskaya is a beautiful district which remains unscarred by the architectural harikiri of the 1960s. Unlike in other areas of the city, there are no ugly Khrushchyovka and every building is a feast to look at.

Earlier in the day, as I’d made my way to work from the metro, through tumbling clumps of plane blossom, which flurried to avoid my step, I’d passed churches and kindergartens. I couldn’t have imagined a better place to spend a working day.

The Stanislavsky Factory once made gold thread and electric cable. Now it’s a business centre housing some of the capital’s top media firms – Disney, notably. The structure is spectacular. Running half the length of the street and built of red brick, it stands in contrast to the white and cream buildings opposite and on either side.

Inside, the building is no less pleasing. Entering the complex, through sliding glass doors in its flank, a number of things are striking. First, the sense of space. The atrium is huge and, despite being decorated in dark shades, it still feels roomy. The other thing which unseats you is the style change. The outside of the building is what you’d expect an early 20th-century industrial building to look like, but inside it is more modern – a blend of LEDS, faded driftwood floors and brush-metal fittings. It all blends seamlessly and the design has won multiple architectural awards.

My clients office, situated on the top floor, is spacious. I sat for a while setting up the materials I’d need for the lesson. Then, as there was small likelihood of her imminent arrival – she’s always twenty minutes late for our appointment – I got up and took the opportunity to explore.

Her personal working space is separated from the rest of the floor by glass on two sides with venetian blinds for privacy. One of the glass partitions opens into a large conference room, and that room fronts onto an open-air terrace.

Staring vacantly through the french windows onto the terrace, lost in thought, I began, for the first time in over a year, to consider whether I’d made the right choice leaving nine to five security. This would be a great place to work, I thought again. I could do my tai chi here in the morning and evening, after and before work. I’d be in a beautiful area of the city. And corporate life does have it’s advantages – my income would be secure. I could always take my cousin up on his offer and get a job at CapGemini…

As I came out of my reverie, my eyes refocused and I noticed the weeds.

Sprouting up through the grouting between the tiles of the terrace, the plants had free-reign of the patio. I took a step back and saw too that the seal between the door and the doorframe – though granted formed by a fresh coat of paint – remained uncracked.

No-one uses the terrace, I realised. They probably don’t have time.

With that, my client arrived. I heard the secretary greet her and take her coat. I put the thought away and returned to her office.

I once mentioned the time-wealth principle, but didn’t elaborate.

In a nutshell, the principle states that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have the time to spend it, you’re not rich.

Obvious, right. So self-evident that to point it out seems patronising.

But when do we act on that understanding? We spend inordinate amounts of time chasing after money. In fact, the majority of our lives is directed to this end. We use so much energy that we barely make use of the money we slave for. Saturday, Sunday and weekday evenings are often spent in a slump recovering or else frantically passed, as we try to squeeze every ounce of juice out of our limited free time.

As the class continued, I had further confirmation of how precious my executive’s time was. She is in the office at all hours. Her husband cares for their child full-time allowing her to fulfil her role as company president and complete her Executive MBA course. She also told me she only takes holidays tagged onto the end of business trips. Her family come with her and then they enjoy the destination for a few days once business is concluded.

Don’t get me wrong, this way of life probably suites her. She’s a high-flyer – only a couple of years older than me – and she loves what she does. But the lack of time and freedom to enjoy other things would not be my cup of tea.

The higher up in that world you go, it doesn’t seem to me that the time money tradeoff is worthwhile. You have more responsibility to your shareholders and all the cash in the world can’t buy your freedom when you are indebted to stakeholders.

Lastly, after an hour and a half in her office, I started to remember the other reason I hated nine-to-five life. I had the fuzzy-headedness I associate with long hours in an office, lack of movement and computer screens. However perfect the working environment seems, hours and hours spent inside, making calls, sending emails and having meetings would get to me. It seems to me that it’s just the same problems packaged in a vastly more desirable box.

Give me wandering round a city – teaching punctuated by tea breaks, business and blogging – and financial uncertainty, but my time to spend as I see fit over this option any day.