Before the pandemic, in February 2019, Men's Health published an article reflecting on its favorite scenes from Office Space after the cult movie’s 20th anniversary. Three years later with the growing prevalence of remote work, work culture has changed so dramatically that we felt that this topic was worth revisiting. Office Space includes some references to 90’s work culture that future generations may simply not understand.
Here’s a top 10 list!
The interoffice memo
On the controversial topic of the new cover sheet for TPS reports, Peter received a paper interoffice memo. Would that be a Slack @channel message with a link to a Google Doc today?
Peter had to put up with cube neighbor Nina annoyingly repeating “Just a moment!” over the phone and Milton listening to the radio from 9-11am while collating. Have distractions from cube neighbors been replaced by family members working or schooling at home?
The PBX phone extension
During daily office life, co-workers chatted over the internal phone system (or PBX for "private branch exchange"). Here Milton was speaking to Peter on his PBX extension. It seems that most companies today have ditched their landline phones and left them in the office. Are today’s Slack Huddles and other soft phone applications going to live on?
Watching the clock
Here in Peter’s case, he was eyeing his watch to leave the office before 5pm. Has clock watching grown obsolete and replaced by our failed attempts to unplug in an “always on” culture?
Being “called into the office” on Saturday.
The boss, Lumbergh, left 17 messages on Peter’s home answering machine asking him to come into the office on Saturday. Even ignoring the antiquated device, wouldn’t today’s norm be to work from home rather than the office on weekends?
The window seat
Recall how Peter had to vandalize his cubicle just to see out the window. With working from home (WFH), why not simply rearrange your home to your liking?
While the old error message “PC Load Letter” is certainly an outdated reference, the concept of office equipment that Peter, Michael, and Samir would want to destroy has likely gone away, too. Would they ever want to destroy a printer at home that they bought themselves?
Walking through the office park
Peter, Michael, and Samir would take a break by walking across the office park to nearby Chatcki’s. Even watching this scene felt surreal. What is the future of the office park?
Managing by Walking Around
After Peter gets promoted to manager, he even starts managing by walking around, and we haven’t found a good replacement yet. In these days of remote work, managers have to either schedule lots of 1:1 meetings or attempt to infer people’s availability ad hoc by looking for the green dot in Slack! This is why we started Ampll.
For frontline service workers, pieces of flair (buttons) were used by servers at Chatcki’s to express themselves. Pictured below is Joanna being chastised by her manager for wearing only the minimum (15 pieces of flair).
Actually, perhaps this one Office Space reference lives on today. At our last tradeshow (SHRM 2022 in New Orleans), my cofounder Kristin showed off her flair as part of the show’s networking opportunities to spark conversations on technology, professional services, and other topics.
That said, even then, Kristin still felt a little silly, and we’ve been watching how technology like Braindate helps with networking and may change that dynamic in more modern settings. Still, for now, we recognize that most events still do networking the old way.
Our next event will be the HR Tech Conference from September 13-16, and we would love to meet you! Come chat with us at booth 514C about how we can help your organization better adapt to remote work. Schedule a time with us there at https://calendly.com/ampll/hrtech.
In the meantime, reflect. Revisiting period pieces like Office Space helps to appreciate how much work culture is evolving. Who knows what changes the next 20 years will bring?
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Steve Pao is Chief Product Officer at Ampll and a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals. Prior to Ampll, Steve was an early employee and product executive at two companies that did IPOs (Latitude Communications in 1999 and Barracuda Networks in 2013). Steve is a proud "empty nester" and lives in Portland, OR with his wife whom he met in 7th grade German class.