The top 10 Quartz at Work stories about life at the office

Office space.
Office space.
Image: Gosia Herba
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The office isn’t what, or where, it used to be. The quest for greater empathy among colleagues, the rise of remote work, and the advent of things like chat tools have altered the nature of our workspaces. There’s a lot that hasn’t changed, though—for instance the gossip, the office-equipment arms race, and the potential for interpersonal drama between co-workers.

The office is one of our favorite obsessions here at Quartz at Work, perhaps because everyone who works has a stake in what happens in the places where people and/or ideas come together. To celebrate the anniversary of our October 2017 launch, we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite office-related stories from our first year.

1. Time is a strong but rarely recognized power construct in the workplace

Throughout history, people in power have literally controlled our time by dictating and rewriting the calendars we live by. You might find a similar, if more subtle, dynamic in the workplace, where time is a form of currency—and where the way we treat one another’s time sends important signals to everyone around us. Quartz at Work reporter Lila MacLellan explains.

2. How to talk about God in Silicon Valley

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the least religious regions of the United States and, of course, the seat of the tech sector, where organized religion is commonly viewed as an anachronism, if not an outright malevolent force. Quartz’s Oliver Staley went to California to find out how Silicon Valley’s Christian faithful navigate secular workplaces in which words like “evangelist” and “mission” have taken on a very different meaning.

3. Awkward eye-contact in my therapist’s waiting room made me a better co-worker

Quietly judging people is a pastime for Quartz at Work reporter Leah Fessler. But in the waiting room at her therapist’s office, she does so with an appreciation for the complexities and imperfections of her fellow patients, as she notes in this compelling essay. “I have nothing to forgive them for, but I forgive them—for tapping their feet; for turning their earphones up too loud; for being genuinely happy; for being unapologetically sad. I do not know their lives, but I have true empathy for them—for their broken relationships; for their loneliness; for the harm they’ve endured; for their fears, anxieties, and attempts to feel better, all communicated through that glance we share as they exit the room, and I enter,” Leah writes. “Lately I’ve been trying to bring a similar approach to how I see people at work,” where we’re much more inclined to withhold empathy and ascribe our colleagues’ shortcomings on any given day to a personality flaw or professional incapability. It’s a simple shift in mindset, but a potentially very powerful one.

4. How to persuade your company’s product team to build something

Technology is becoming ever more important in business, but business people who know how to get their technical colleagues to build new software or features for them are in short supply. Kevin Kim, a product manager at Quartz, has been on both sides of the process during a career that has included stops at Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. He has detailed tips for working with your product team to get your technical wish-list items addressed.

5. Take this quiz to see if you’re ready to go to your office holiday party

It’s that time again! Hopefully you’ve learned a lot in the past year about the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a work setting, whether you’re at the office or gaily celebrating the season at an off-site venue where alcohol is present. Better take our quiz to be sure.

6. Dorky motivational posters invented memes and changed the way we make fun of work

Before the internet made irony our default state, before the financial crisis of 2008, before the implosion of Enron, or 9/11, or the bursting of the dot-com bubble, an earnest kind of wall art became an office staple. You’ve probably seen these posters. They feature uppercase lettering applied to uplifting words like “EXCELLENCE” or “TEAMWORK” against a black border, under a soothing photograph of a dramatic sunset, a rowing team gliding on the water, or perhaps a a noble eagle in flight. The business that supplied this office décor still exists, and as Quartz at Work senior reporter Corinne Purtill discovered, the blandness of these once-ubiquitous posters belies the fascinating story of the rise and fall (and rebirth, in the internet age) of the company responsible for them.

7. Stop replaying your worst family dynamics at work

If you’re experiencing drama in the workplace—be it in the form of psychological warfare with a rival at the office, or a boss who seems to be unwittingly pressing your buttons, or an entire team that has begun to resemble the characters on Arrested Development—you might want to consider whether family history is playing a role in the dysfunction. Quartz at Work’s Lila MacLellan talks to psychologists and coaches who specialize in connecting familial patterns to workplace conflicts.

8. Is it OK to talk with my coworkers about smoking pot?

With weed now legal in some form in 46 US states and a host of countries around the world, it’s high time for Scott Steinberg, our workplace etiquette columnist, to tackle this question.

9. The unintended consequences of a too-nice work culture

Good as it may feel to work there, a company where everyone is exceedingly nice should be a red flag. Jonah Sachs, in an article adapted from his book Unsafe Thinking, argues (politely) that niceness stifles insights and can actually work against the inclusivity goals that have led many too-nice cultures to be that way in the first place.

10. Cushy office perks are a trap

You might not realize it, but that free cold brew you’re enjoying at work right now is a form of oppression. Quartz at Work writer Simone Stolzoff talks to the Silicon Valley leaders who are fighting the trend of turning company campuses into full-service living quarters, and he agrees with their reasoning. “Work should be a means to an end,” Stolzoff argues. “And in the end, we should go home.”

Thanks for reading Quartz at Work. Like a good officemate, we’re eager for your feedback. Find us on Twitter or email us at (subject line: Quartz at Work).