Where’s Wally?

My boss has got his knickers in a twist. Apparently too often people aren’t at their desks and that is causing real problems with, for example, colleagues needing immediate attention to be paid to a particular problem or, probably, the boss not being able to call meetings on a whim.

The other day all the company’s smokers, yours truly included, were roped into a meeting to discuss this crippling issue. “We never know where people are!” was the complaint. “If you’re out having a cigarette and someone needs you he’s lost!”
Various solutions were thrown into the open but it quickly became obvious this wasn’t a smokers’ problem. “What about using the toilet?” someone asked. “Or if you pop out to the convenience store?” asks another. At this point the colleague charged with chairing the discussion realizes that maybe there is a deeper problem here.

A whiteboard is suggested where you can make notes if you leave the work-floor. “What, every time you go to the toilet?” Well, no, that’d be a bit silly. “But that never takes too long,” is the retort. “Neither does having a fag.” More reluctant head nodding. A board where you can move magnets with icons on next to your name for when you…
Look,” I say, “I have a very simple solution for this.” Heads turn expectantly, probably to see what the crazy gaijin will say next. “If someone isn’t at their desk it means they’re not at their desk! If you need someone for a meeting,” I pause for effect, “schedule the meeting in advance so people can be there on time.” The crowd nods in agreement and the chair person realizes this is probably too simple a solution. “But what if someone needs you to fix a problem?” “Tell them to wait 10 minutes.”

The audacity of asking meetings to be scheduled in advance…what was I thinking? At least my reputation is still fairly in tact as my Japanese wasn’t good enough to sarcastically suggest tracking chip implants. But the problem, and the meeting, was, as is the tradition, unresolved.

The very next day we have the same meeting. Apart from my input it was identical. It felt like I had been in a time warp. This time, though, the boss himself was present only to reiterate the outlining of the problem as it had been the day before. Again the meeting eventually ends unresolved.

For a while my smoking colleagues and I make exaggerated proclamations when we go out for a cigarette. “I AM GOING OUT FOR A CIGGIE NOW!” “OK, how long will you be?” “FIVE POINT SEVEN MINUTES!” “ALRIGHT!” “If anyone asks for me…” et cetera. Sometimes it’s surprisingly fun to see my colleagues go along with playing silly buggers.

In the end I stumble upon a solution of sorts. I quickly whip up a JPEG with a massive black “smoking” icon on it. When I go out I hide all my apps and open up this image in Windows image viewer. It nearly fills my massive screen so anyone who walks by can see it signaling to them that I am out having a fag. It’s hard to imagine how a simple image can scream sarcasm but somehow it does.

After a single use the guy that sits next to me taps me on the shoulder and asks me for a copy. He adds a little colour, a red and yellow to indicate a burning tip, and the Japanese text equivalent of “I’m ‘aving a fag!”. He starts using it. A girl from the other side of the office comes round and asks him for a copy. And before you know it I have created a new tradition. It’s a fairly passive aggressive one, but now the smokers in my office just show a burning cigarette on their screen when they’re out. And if that doesn’t answer the onerous “where are they?” question, well, nothing will.

Now, to make a “toilet” one.


  1. I might do a "taking a shit" sign to go on my desk.

    At the moment I have borrowed a nice big screen so I have two monitors, if I could get an ETA countdown on the smaller screen and a large turd silhouette on the other, nobody would ever need worry about me.

    Actually, I think because I'm not a lead and am working on a separate project to all the other designers at the moment I don't really need it, but in a Japanese company you never know when the next random meeting will come.

    ...and with my bowels, you never know when the next movement will come.


  2. Hehe, when we take a fag just outside our office, we usually play soccer at the same time (to compensate for the damage, I guess).
    This way we can always be heard by our fellow workers and they never wonder where we are.

    (My office isn't *that* big anyway... how many people do work at your office?)