For accuracy’s sake, The Office spinoff should be one endless Zoom call

The Office is getting a spinoff. Is the new series prepared to deal with the issues and trends of today’s work culture?

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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When The Office first aired in 2001, it was a slam dunk for the BBC. Critics lauded it as a brilliant and absurd comedy show. But more interestingly, as such a convincing depiction of a typical office setting that some viewers couldn’t tell documentary from mockumentary.

Last month, the show’s equally-revered American branch, The Office US, announced a new spinoff that is set to air next year. If it is to achieve the same level of realism, it will need a major overhaul. The traditional mise-en-scene of water coolers and carpeted cubicles must move to where most of us now spend our working day: the Zoom lobby.

In the hybrid working age, an accurate portrait of desk life would require three out of every five episodes to take place on video conferencing software. I need six hour-long episodes against the background of a Microsoft Teams loading screen. Give me a character being caught out by employee monitoring software for putting a bottle of Coke on the spacebar.

Dull? Perhaps. Still, the quiet monotony of The Office is what has continuously attracted eyeballs. According to Nielsen, it was watched for 57.1 billion minutes by US fans in 2020.

Those same fans might be taken aback by a present-day retelling. Post-COVID, a language of lazy girls and career cushioning has taken over the office. Fierce debates rage between employers and employees, as bosses demand an end to home working.

Of course, the real show did hit upon many of these trends. We just didn’t have a glossary of terms for them yet. Tim (or Jim, to non-Brits) was the ultimate quiet quitter. Multiple boomerang employees were shown going to work at a rival firm and then crawling back.

But The Office spinoff won’t be a reboot. There’ll be no scenes of Michael Scott or David Brent trying to be the ‘cool boss’ who ignores the company’s return to office policy. Instead, the new hires will most likely be designed to reflect the characters who make up today’s workforce (doubtless, an annoying Gen Zer who loves TikTok will also enter the mix).

That’s if Dunder Mifflin can afford to keep them. Mass layoffs have been a recurring guest star in 2024. Perhaps halfway through the first episode, a third of the cast will be replaced by generative AI, as the IBM CEO has threatened to do to his own workforce.

Indeed, the new iteration will not be able to ignore the challenges facing today’s workers and HR teams — many which are hard to laugh at. Stress and burnout are rising, with a record number of people off work on long-term sick leave. Redundancies are surging.

Change can be positive, however. 19 years on, some episodes of The Office US seem tired and outdated. In an age where DEI feels increasingly vulnerable, previous plotlines featuring racism, sexism, and harassment have been criticised by its writers as “inappropriate”.

Cultural insensitivities acknowledged, I will admit that when I rewatch old episodes, I’m reminded of what I miss about the (now seemingly endangered) office environment.

With how much time we now spend working alone, the shared birthday celebrations and ice-cream cake of some episodes feel strangely novel. Even the clutter on workers’ desks looks enviable in a world of coworking spaces and impermanent hot desking.

Can The Office work again? That might be a bigger question than first appears. It is normal for company culture to evolve. Yet as we shift towards isolated, remote working setups, it does feel like we have lost an element of camaraderie and teamwork along the way.

Perhaps life will imitate art. Let’s hope the new series of The Office helps us to fall in love with our workplace again. And, at the very least, to make sense of this new, modern office.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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