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What ‘The Office’ reboot should look like, according to office workers

Phillis Smith as Phyllis Lapin, left, and Steve Carell as Michael Scott in “The Office.”  (NBC)
By Anne Branigin Washington Post

Boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is still making gaffes, except now 50% of them are on Microsoft Teams (last week it was responding with a skull emoji after someone said they had to miss work for a funeral).

You won’t see stringent office accountant Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey) at the office talking to her myriad cats on a nannycam, but you will see them tramping across her keyboard during a budget meeting on Zoom.

Meanwhile, grumpy boomers Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) and Kevin Malone (Brian Baumgartner) are still running down the clock – doing their crosswords and rolling their eyes – they’re just “working” from home with their cameras off.

According to office workers, this is what the 2023 version of “The Office” might look like. It’s a world that has already been traversing our feeds, fueled by bored white-collar laborers and the content creators playing them.

Among those documenting our present workplace reality is Bryan Ferreira. About once a week, Ferreira positions his phone at his desk, hits record, walks back out into his doorway and drop-kicks his bulky gray backpack into the room. Then he posts it on TikTok, where hundreds of users dutifully respond with cry-laughing emojis and affirmations of “same.”

“They like it when I’m cranky,” said Ferreira, a 32-year-old credit and collections specialist for an e-commerce company (quite possibly the most “Office”-like job). “They” are his 700,000-plus TikTok followers, who gobble up his weekday posts like it’s communal workplace candy.

Even though he’s reached influencer status, Ferreira is also the real deal: He is still commuting 45 minutes into the office five days a week, for God’s sake (well, really for his bosses’ sake).

And his TikTok tagline is “bringing back the office,” a reference to the hit NBC sitcom devoted to the dreariness, delights and dorks that define office life, and a perennial source of inspiration to the hundreds of thousands of people currently posting on #WorkTok.

In late September, the digital news site Puck reported that Greg Daniels, the creator of the U.S. version of the series (the original show, the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, was based in Britain) may be bringing the show back himself. In the past, Daniels has toyed with the idea of an “Office” reboot, though he has appeared on the fence about whether the same characters that made the American series so beloved would return.

“I think it would just be sort of like an extension of the universe,” Daniels told Collider last year. “The way ‘Mandalorian’ is like an extension of ‘Star Wars.’ ”

We do not know yet when and where this potential new “Office” will be set (a rep for Daniels didn’t respond to a request for comment). Prior versions took place in a prepandemic world, with full, flourescent-lit cubicles and packed parking lots. Daniels’s show ran from 2005 to 2013: a time when terms like “influencer marketing” and “hoteling” would have drawn blank stares from most American workers.

Hybrid work has fundamentally changed the American office, and with it, its workers and their relationships to each other. Even in a workplace that made full-time office returns mandatory, like Ferreira’s, managers attending the same meeting won’t huddle in a conference room, but Zoom into the meeting at their desks, he said.

Laurie Chamberlin leads recruitment solutions in North America for the LLH, a global human resources provider and temp staffing firm, and has seen firsthand how offices have shifted all over the country.

“For most companies, one of the first things that we’re going to notice right away is that you’re not seeing the same cast of characters Monday to Friday,” she said.

This means for hybrid offices, a smirking everyman like Jim Halpert (played by John Krasinski) and a raging power-nerd like Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) may not even cross paths during the workweek. Some companies may even shutter the office on specific days.

One scenario Chamberlin has personally witnessed: “You’re at the office and no one else is.”

And answering an office landline? Who even gives that number out anymore?

Not Gracie Lafevre, an executive assistant who works for the federal government. Her office recently began requiring workers to return three days a week. Lafevre, 25, doesn’t even know what her office phone number is.

“Much like Ken’s job is beach, my job is email,” she said, referencing the “Barbie” movie. “And Google Meets.”

A character with Dwight’s narc tendencies would also take a very online flavor, Ferreira speculates: Dwight is “definitely installing (surveillance) software on people’s computers. You know, just tracking keystrokes and how long the computer’s been asleep.”

The spectrum of office high jinks has also changed. Less hiding your neighbor’s staplers and more turning your shyest colleague into a Slack emoji – then a viral meme. New battle lines have also been drawn over the open-seating floor plan: Who gets the prime “hotel desk” or comfiest chair? Who always seems to secure a meeting room but – you know, not to judge or anything – doesn’t seem to be working?

“The Office” – both the British and U.S. versions – excelled at creating and building out archetypal characters, part of the reason it’s so easy to cut and paste the show’s cast over today’s workplace environment. We all know the manager too eager to be included; the co-worker hopelessly devoted to their pets; the militant try-hard three desks over. But technology and cultural changes also mean a 2023 version of the show would have a whole new set of character types.

A 2023-based reboot would not be complete without the much-maligned (and imitated) Gen Z worker, about whom a growing portion of #WorkTok is centered.

Natalie Marshall, formerly of a “big four” consulting firm, is now better known as her “Corporate Natalie” persona on social media. Recently, several of her highest-performing videos show Marshall looking at a screen, delivering careful feedback to an imaginary Gen-Z employee.

“I think when you said to Brian, our key decision-maker, ‘Sup dude,’ … a small part of him was excited, and maybe a big part of him was like, ‘I’m never working with this team again,’ ” Marshall deadpans.

A fan of “The Office,” Marshall, a millennial, thinks the generational differences in today’s office are “kind of funnier now and look a lot different than they did then.”

Others sketched a similar character: The chronically online Gen-Z worker running the company TikTok account, dressed in crop tops and cargo pants, ghosting work in the middle of the day, filling the work Slack channels with memes and “slay” and “QUEEN!”

Lafevre, a member of Gen Z, corroborated some of this – she likes “seeing people on my terms, on my schedule” and feels awkward with in-person social interactions, like whom to sit with at lunch. But the mockery cuts both ways. What she considers to be mundane and fairly simple office tasks are befuddling or tedious to some of her superiors:

“I’m like, ‘Honey, you’re asking me how to print out a PDF?’ ”

Then there’s the office influencer, whose days and machinations are captured on social media (we’re looking at you, Ferreira); the mysterious remote employee who seems to be on permanent vacation (“It’s like, are those seagulls I hear in the background?” Lafevre said); and the side-hustler discreetly trying to juggle multiple jobs.

“I was getting my hair done,” HR exec Chamberlin recalled, “and the woman kept turning the dryer off. She was on Bluetooth. She had another job and she had to periodically respond to what they were saying.”

Of course, “The Office” was far more than its iconic and instantly meme-able characters – its magic was in its relationships: Pam and Jim, Jim and Dwight, Dwight and Michael, Michael and everybody. From that perspective, what’s fundamentally different about today’s workplace is the dwindling number of people with whom you have that 40-hours-a-week (or more) relationship. People you would otherwise never meet, let alone hang out with.

Still, we clearly can’t stop thinking about, lampooning or complaining about our workplaces, even if fewer of us have a 9-5 relationship to it. At the height of the pandemic outbreak, which coincided with the 15th anniversary of the American show, many turned to “The Office” as their comfort watch. Here was a place where the routines and faces were familiar and soothing; where among the mundane and the inane, there was heart.

It may not have reflected the reality of our own workplaces – “You would hope to walk in and everyone is a Jim and a Pam, but really everyone’s an Angela,” quipped Ferreira. But the show’s continued omnipresence – and our continued insistence on documenting all our workplace trials, tribulations and cringe – suggests we actually never left “The Office” at all.

Ferreira has an idea on how to open a 2023 reboot, by the way.

“A Zoom meeting mandating everybody back to the office. But, you know, seeing everybody’s reaction as they’re, like, in their home, still in bed, sleeping in their pajamas. Like, ‘I got to go back now?’ ” he said. “I think that would be very cool.”

Anne Branigin is a staff reporter in Style covering breaking news and writing feature stories. Previously, she worked at the Root covering news, politics, health and social justice movements through the lens of race and gender.