As a relatively new and penniless freelancer, I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few in-house gigs across the capital. Some involve writing news articles, some are focused on copy-writing, some demand unending hours in front of InDesign, making tiny page tweaks over and over again until my eyes bleed. But I’m thankful for them. They instil in me a sense of gratitude that I don’t have to suffer a daily Tube commute, and of course they help to put a rat-infested roof over my head.
But there are rules. There are unspoken rules to working in-house. And here they are:
1) Every day is like the first day of a new job
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there, or how many shifts you’ve done. The security guard will eye you suspiciously as you smack your head against the revolving door for the third time that week, because you don’t have a special swipey pass. You know who you need to report to, but not where you’re sitting, so if your contact person for the day is absent when you arrive you’ve no choice but to float around with a false air of purpose. This may involve ‘hanging out’ in the kitchen until they arrive. But this is not without its own problems. See #3. Nine times out of ten you’ll have to sidle up to the desk of Simon in IT and ask for help logging on to the system because they won’t give you a password that lasts for more than two days, and despite having this conversation with alarming regularity and consistently coming in with the same face, Simon will always ask you if you’re new.
2) Your name is irrelevant
Now, this is not the case at all companies, granted, but at least one of my gigs involves members of staff repeatedly shouting ‘PAGE SIX IS READY TO GO’ into the ether of the open-plan office until I turn around and realise they’re talking to me. You will be introduced to new starters as ‘the freelancer for the day’. You will hear ‘Pass it to the sub’ at least once a day, from one production editor to another, who are sat on either side of you.
3) The kitchen is a potential minefield
What’s the deal with the mugs? Does everyone have their own mug? Do I need to be assigned a special ‘freelancer’s mug’? I’d use this one but it looks someone might have paid money for it. I’ll just use the one covered in chips and advertising a van hire company instead. But I did see it on Dave’s desk yesterday – maybe it’s his? Should I just ask? Would that seem mental? ‘Hi Dave, I’m the freelancer. I know you’re very busy but I was just wondering if you would claim the regular use of this particular mug?’ Then there’s municipal cake. Someone’s leaving or had a baby or whatever and you don’t know them and they couldn’t care less who you are but damn it there’s a cake in the kitchen.
4) Your face will be ridiculous
Someone gets in the lift with you = slightly strained, lippy smile. Sign in at reception for the fourth time that week = lippy smile. See someone from the office while out on lunch = lippy smile. Encounter group of girls in toilets getting ready for after-work drinks = lippy smile. Practice lippy smile in mirror of elevator and be horrified at your gormless, vacant expression, until someone gets in. Lippy frickin’ smile.