Pretend Office

Apparently it’s National Office Week and I can think of no more depressing an occasion than this to tell you about Pretend Office. For a couple of months myself and some friends and strangers have been communicating via a mailing list as if it’s the “everyone@” company-wide list in an office where we all work. You can read the archives (here’s the first post) and follow the RSS feed. I’m told it’s quite funny.

A little backstory. A few times over the past couple of years I’ve discussed with freelancing friends how we miss out on some of the aspects of working in a proper company: the Christmas lunch, the after-work drinks, the fire alarm tests. All that bonding.

A couple of us thought that maybe we should start an email list to compensate in some way, although we weren’t quite sure what it would be for. Maybe we’d just send round stupid videos and fail to organise a get-together in December, but it might be fun. So I set up the Pretend Office mailing list with no expectations.

And a weird thing happened.

With no planning, we all started acting as if we were people in a real office. Almost immediately we began to adopt characters and send officious announcements. Soon we were referring to characters in the office who didn’t exist in real life. Meeting rooms were booked, couriers arrived, servers went down, timesheets were requested, and embarrassing emails were accidentally sent to everyone in the company.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed at email so much. It was, and is, the most fun I’ve had on email for a long, long time. I have no idea if it’s funny for other people to read — a few friends I’ve shown it to have loved it, but they’ve known some of the people involved. I hope there’s something there for others who come to it completely unconnected.

After the first few fun days I was a bit worried that we’d used up every office topic. But several weeks in and we’re still going. Longer story arcs have emerged, new people have joined and, while we’ve never yet mentioned what this company does, a world is gradually being created.

I’ll write a bit more about what it’s like, for me, to take part in this, as I’ve found it fascinating as well as hilarious, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy reading some of it.


  • Thanks for the post. Even grown-ups can be kids sometimes. There is no harm in it. It is very interesting but we must never mess it with the job. I will practice it with my colleagues, hope it will be fun!

  • Have you ever read a book by Matt Beaumont called "e."?…

    The its set in an ad agency, but the whole thing is written in emails, reminded me of this.

    The book and this post are both hilarious and depressingly familiar at the same time!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Having worked in and office, knowing what the company actually does never seemed to be that important.

  • Aidan, I must have heard about 'e' at some point but had forgotten all about it. Sounds good, although I probably shouldn't read it or I'll end up stealing ideas!

    I notice no-one's been to the third floor for quite some time (the broken photo-copier?) I mention this only because we established a subsidiary of Pretend Office a few weeks ago, and I'm sorry to have to say this but HR seems to have mislaid our time-sheets. Embarrassingly, not one of us has received a pay cheque for April and I am beginning to feel seriously concerned that May may turn out the same way. Please let Paul know that we have rigged up a makeshift ramp and he is very welcome to come along and introduce himself.
    Warmest regards,

  • Thanks for completely ruining my work day. Swines.

  • I'm in trouble with my boss because of you lot! He's a control freak who makes Attila the Hun seem soft and fluffy, and he caught me laughting at my desk today, reading the exploits of the Pretend Office staff. If I lose my job, are there any posts coming up in your organisation? I'm really in the mood for a new position.....

  • 'e' is funny, Phil. But I think Pretend Office is funnier. Good job. Disabled Day is of course something large media organisations in West London should have come up with long ago...

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