Man And Woman Elbow Bumping In Masks At Work

Jargon and the new normal of office speak

We thought we were up to speed with workplace lingo. Then the pandemic smashed down the office door

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Man And Woman Elbow Bumping In Masks At Work

Recognising we are all in this together, especially during these unprecedented times, everyone in our workplaces has been following a road map towards some form of new normal.

Along the journey, we have had to “change gears” to deal with significant challenges including lockdowns, shutdowns, restrictions and vaccine mandates. 

We have also had to contend with an everchanging workplace jargon spawned by the pandemic.

If you have spare “bandwidth”, then consider reading on. But be warned that you may find an unacceptable level of “analysis paralysis” and have your rhubarb rubbed the wrong way.

Most of us detest office speak yet we persist with using it, even while the pandemic continues to up-end the way we work.

Office jargon forces us to read between the lines to work out what is really being said and we typically do not trust those who hide behind cringeworthy clichés.

In the past we have had to come to grips with soul-sucking situations in which we have been told by the boss to “think outside the box”, “achieve maximum leverage from a sale”, “ping a report to me later”, “go for the low-hanging fruit” or “buy into a project”.  

Then the pandemic smashed down the office door. 

We quickly realised that COVID-19 would change how and where we work though we never thought for a moment it would dish up a whole new world of office dribble for us to decipher.

Workplaces lacked the right jargon to describe a new set of conditions, which gave rise to fresh pandemic-specific buzzwords as well as the re-emergence of some oldies like “disruption” and “road map”.

With new variants of pandemic-inspired office speak infecting workplaces on a daily basis, we have reached the point where we need a dictionary to get our jobs done.

Just to be certain that we are “all on the same page”, this is an essential “reach-out” to help you come to grips with some of the more frequently used buzzwords.

When offices were considered unsafe, many left to WFH (work from home) while most “essential services workers” remained at the frontline.

Those working remotely would connect with their colleagues by “jumping on a Zoom call”, with every likelihood of some “Zoom bombing” (a form of unwelcome intrusion like an unruly youngster in the background) and even the possibility of being “zumped” (sacked during a Zoom call) as many businesses downsized.

Those who had to be on Zoom calls all day would most likely end up feeling like a “zoombie” – no explanation needed – while others who had more time on their hands engaged in a “spendemic” –  online retail therapy during work time.

When zooming was particularly lengthy it was necessary to pause the meeting for a “bio break” during which time we would “mute” the call only to be reminded by our colleagues upon our return to “unmute”.

Zooming also meant more relaxed workplace dress standards.

Our new way of connecting with colleagues gave rise to “desktop dressing” or “waist-up fashion”, which involved wearing business attire on the top and casual or less clothing on the bottom. 

Some of us even referred to our “infits” rather than “outfits” to distinguish between what was worn while WFH compared with dressing for the office. 

While WFH gave some of us the freedom we had been looking for “BC” (that is, before COVID-19), others found being stuck at home made them lose all sense of time to the point that each and every day became “Blursday”.

There were reports of “coronacations”, when some were forced to take their holidays during periods of lockdown, while others opted for a “workation” and continued to work while on paid recreation leave.

With “an abundance of caution” and regular “deep cleaning” we were able to “RTO” (return to the office) though some opted to be “free-range workers” and “WFA” (working from anywhere) including from home, cafes, libraries or any other location where WiFi was available.  

Although workplace jargon often gets a bad rap, pandemic-inspired office speak may fill a void by embracing new meanings and situations that the pre-COVID-19 language failed to capture.

With new language variants popping up each day, pandemic-induced workplace jargon will undoubtedly remain in our workplaces for some time to come. 

If you are not a fan, the best advice is to “circle back” and “smash out” the most appropriate buzzword at the right time.