When Is a Tree Not a Tree?

As the person in charge of decorating the office for Christmas, I am facing a dilemma. A serious dilemma.

We are a small, rather eccentric media company (www.fens.com), where most people arrive by bike and getting dressed up means wearing shoes instead of flip flops. Socks are optional.

At least we were. This past year we moved from our converted Victorian stables, where we had a spiral staircase with several bolts missing, windows that needed nailing shut in the winter so that they didn’t slide open and a kitchen sink where you could have either cold water or hot water, but never both at the same time. In the courtyard across from us, was a community hall, where old ladies sang in a choir and heavy ladies went to a slimming club and flexible ladies did yoga. In the evenings, the men joined in with indoor bowls and badminton and billiards.

We loved it. It had enormous character and a sense of history and it suited us. In fact, we fought hard to stay, but our lovely little building was bought up by developers and will soon be yet another identikit luxury house for someone with more money than sense. But, that’s another story.

And so, we moved, to a rather swish ‘media village’, complete with studios, and interview rooms and a bistro cafe. Not to mention the foose ball and pool tables. There is a radio station next door, a television station or two upstairs and a modelling agency, with models, based as far from the cafe as is possible in a building this size.

The people, as you can imagine, are also swish. There are a lot of nice suits, and high heels, and sun glasses. I am sure they are all perfectly pleasant people, despite being so good-looking, although it’s hard to tell. I haven’t really spoken to many of them. They tend to talk on their mobile phones most of the time, or else they are walking fast, looking busy, and acting important.

Being a media village as it is, the building is rather modern and open plan, with tall ceilings and a lot of glass walls that open on to a communal atrium. So, walking around, you can peer into everyone’s office. And that’s the problem. Everywhere you look you see large, tastefully decorated Christmas trees. They are beautiful, a little bit too perfect, perhaps, but beautiful.

And we have….

The ancient, tatty, foot-high tree that the granny of one of our staff had on top of her television set for a million years. When she died, he couldn’t bear to throw it out, his wife wouldn’t let him bring it home, and so he brought it into work. To be honest, it didn’t look that great in a 200-year-old falling down building, but it was Granny’s so what could we do?

What we did was embrace it.  Over the years, the bringing out of the tree has become a big event. When it makes its appearance, old staff cheer, new staff look on in disbelief, and we all gather around it and drink something vaguely resembling champagne.  Christmas has officially arrived. It’s become a tradition, our tradition.

But, in the new world in which we find ourselves is it one that we should keep? If we do, will our younger staff look into the other offices and wonder why they don’t work there? If we don’t and we go out and get a swish tree, will we have to take off our bicycle clips and put on designer sunglasses? Will we lose our identity, the spirit and attitude that makes this such a great place to work? Would that be such a bad thing; is it not, after all, time to move on and develop a more corporate, professional image?

Does it matter? When it comes right down to it, is a tree just a tree, or does it mean more?

Answers on a postcard, please.  And hurry. The office party is on Thursday.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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12 Responses to When Is a Tree Not a Tree?

  1. katetapping says:

    I vote stay true to your roots and keep granny’s tree. Explain the heritage of the tree tradition to the younger staff who might have better tree envy. Keep celebrating the tradition. And make your company’s unique individual tradition the one other sterile swish companies envy. And have a great time on Thursday 🙂

  2. Adam says:

    I say it’s high time to develop a proper, corporate image and the sooner these smart, suited, clean-shoed, beautiful mobile phone-talking people develop it the better. Smart offices are only smart until they get used, after all.

    Keep the tree, keep the Cava, keep the traditions, keep the party and keep the bicycle clips. Remember what Quentin Crisp said: “Never keep up with the Joneses, drag them down to your level, it’s cheaper.”

  3. notquiteold says:

    Keep the tree. It had built-in memories. Isn’t that the most chic of all?

  4. Mim says:

    Definitely keep the tree and the socks and cycle clips. Tom just doesn’t go with black trendy trees with blue lights ….he ‘s a ready-made elf…anyway you’d give your staff more of a shock if you suddenly went 21st C. corporate! Have a great party.

  5. Harriet says:

    You have to keep the tree. It’s a great tradition and a definite reminder of the socks-optional days.

    Now I’m going to go out on a limb (pun not really intended)… is there any reason this is an either/or choice? Can’t you have granny’s tree to continue past tradition and a (petite) new tree to decorate as a company, with awards for silliest ornament, most news-related ornament, and ornament that looks least like an ornament? I’ve always thought that something-like-champagne goes well with both old and new trees.

    As a dedicated jeans wearer who keeps my cell (not smart) phone in the car and generally turned off, I’m not suggesting nice suits, high heels or sunglasses, or walking around talking on a smartphone for the purpose of impressing onlookers with your importance. Only pointing out that cherishing a tradition and celebrating the new are not mutually exclusive.

  6. Allan says:

    Use Granny’s tree! Maybe you could make a cardboard gravestone with the words ‘Granny RIP – Now pickled in heaven’ or something.

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