Brent fever hits Microsoft UK

The Office's David Brent has gone down a storm at Microsoft UK, where staff are said to be queueing up for management training just so they can get a glimpse of the videos. Just don't tell Bill

Employees at Microsoft's UK office are said to be practically queueing up for management training courses after the company brought in David Brent, the infamous manager from the BBC's hit series The Office, to help with training.

But it is not the training that Microsoft UK's employees are after -- it's a chance to watch the two training videos that Brent's creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced for the company. Although Microsoft UK has signed a non-disclosure agreement that forbids the company from showing the videos externally, or even talking about them, details have leaked out.

According to one source close to the deal, Gervais and Merchant wrote the script, which is based on Microsoft's corporate values statement, in under a week. "They are genius," said the source, speaking to ZDNet UK.

Although Microsoft spin doctors in the UK are privately overjoyed at the implied association, they say there are no equivalents of David Brent at the company. Indeed, Microsoft topped The Times' list of the 100 best companies to work for in Britain last year and came second the year before that.

However, the company does have some features, such as engaging staff through a division called 'Great Company', of which Brent would likely approve. When asked once in an onscreen interview what his greatest strength is, Brent said it was the ability to make employees say: "David, not only do I count you as one of my best friends but I also respect you as my boss."

Some industry watchers have also likened David Brent's infamous dancing technique, which he characterises as "Flash Dance mixed with MC Hammer Shit" with Bill Gates' classic November 1997 performance on the stage of the Harley Davidson Cafe in Las Vegas during the annual Spencer F. Katt party at Comdex. Gates' routine was likened by one observer to "Travolta-isms" and to a "fully fledged funky chicken routine. To gasps, cheers, and not a few rubbed eyes, Gates jived for two minutes to disco music."

Whether or not Brent took dance lessons from Gates, Microsoft's spin doctors are unlikely to suggest Gates returns the compliment for his planned appearance on stage at Monday's "Developing Software for the future Microsoft Platform" event in London's QE II conference centre. When asked whether Gates was aware of the Brent training video, the source said: "God I hope not."

So even if Brent fever has replaced Saturday Night Fever at Microsoft, developers hoping to see Gates run onto the stage, wearing a baseball cap backwards and a t-shirt, to the tune of "You're Simply the Best" -- in the manner of one cringe-making episode of the hit comedy -- are likely to be disappointed. As are those hoping that Gates will pay homage to Brent by dressing up as a paunchy Austin Powers, and referring to Longhorn as "Shaggadelic Baby", before damning the name of the company's upcoming operating system as "sexist, that is".

Dance classes and 'Great Company' departments aside, The Times awarded Microsoft the title of "Best Company to work for" due to its aggressive promotion of flexible working, which includes wireless links throughout the Reading campus and broadband at home for everyone. The business park at Reading has a lake where charity rowing teams train, a Wellbeing clinic offering everything from a mechanical massage chair to well-man clinics (including classes on how to detect testicular cancer), a "bump" club to help pregnant mothers before their 18 weeks' fully paid leave, on-site nurses and doctor, and even a facility to donate bone marrow. The company also has a creche with 50 places. Sports are given a boost with a £260,000 social budget, and the firm subsidises outings to shows or trips abroad.

The only downside, said staff interviewed by The Times, is the 'evil empire' reputation the company suffers from.

The Brent video may, however unintentionally, do a little to help that reputation as the episode has proved a major PR coup for Microsoft UK: "We got on to page three of the Sun," said the source. "You can't buy that sort of publicity."