Monday, 22 January 2007


When working in government (and sometimes private) business in NZ, there is an almost ingrained concept called 'smoko' that I am starting to miss.

Often known as morning/afternoon tea break (and I guess 'smoko' is a bit of an archaic term, given the anti-smoking sentiment in NZ!), it's basically a semi-enforced 30min break at 10am and 3pm, usually in a common room somewhere. It probably has it's roots in the days when tea ladies physically served the tea, so if you weren't there, you missed out. In the government research labs I worked at in Wellington, smoko was something that everyone usually went to unless you were in the middle of an experiment/procedure that you couldn't put down, and it became less of a tea break, and more of somewhere to collaborate with other lab groups. A lot of decisions (formal and informal) were made, and 'political' type stuff (as it's a lot about who you know in the NZ science community) went on. It also helped with time management, as the day was split into four managable sections rather than two long ones - in my role as a research assistant, it made my life easy in planning what tasks I could fit in each of those four segments.

Whereas in the UK from what I've seen - working in both software houses, and teams that provide internal software services to various different business (finance, ecommerce, travel, local government), tea breaks either don't happen, or consist of someone in the team getting everyone their tea - so you rarely move from your desk unless you're in a meeting, lunch, or it's your turn for the coffee/tea round. And as a contractor, I've seen some employers go as far as trying to make contractors clock in and out for their 'smoko' breaks - even when they're a bona-fide cig smoker off for their 5 min fag out the back in some smelly alley way next to the rubbish bins yeuck!

I think we should campaign to bring back smoko! I think we all need more social interaction with our colleagues, and time away from our desks - possibly helping to prevent OOS/RSI, and sometimes even increasing productivity.

[Image from flickr - creative commons licence. Thanks Nick.]

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