The post holiday slump…

We’re back in that part of a year where hoarding vacation days is a thing. The next long weekend milepost is Washington’s Birthday. Then it’s the long slog through to Memorial Day before holidays start appearing regularly on the calendar again.

These are the days when I’m least likely to burn off annual leave. That’s doubly true as we prepare to enter Plague Year II. With the promise of a vaccine coming over the horizon, business as usual, and filling cubicles won’t be far behind. Vacation days then will be far more valuable than any vacation day taken while we’re still living under plague protocols and working mostly from home.

If it sounds like I’m more surly than usual in the next few weeks, it’s mostly because I am. Without even the hint of a week’s long weekend on the horizon for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say I’m in a mood.

The inevitable result…

I’ve been back to work from Christmas vacation for two weeks, but between the time off and plague-encouraged telework, this was my first day back in the actual office in a month.

After ten months of this, can’t we all just agree that for most “office work,” cramming a metric shit ton of people into a physical office is a ridiculous holdover from the age of typewriters, carbon paper, and gray flannel suits?

There are two thoughts that really occur to me at this late stage: 1) If there are still people not pulling their weight while working from home, you probably should consider letting those people go find other opportunities since they’re, by definition, excess to requirement; and 2) If there are “core missions” that haven’t been getting done and it hasn’t caused a catastrophic failure of your office is supposed to be doing in the last ten months, that “core mission” is probably a waste of time.

This was an unprecedented moment to revolutionize the workplace… but it feels increasingly obvious that we’re collectively going to blow the chance and drive straight back to “business as usual” the moment some percentage of the population has gotten their shots.

It would almost be farce if the inevitable result wasn’t so damned predictable.

Like meeting an old friend…

I spent the bulk of today tinkering around the pre-start up necessities for a project that not even the second year of the Great Plague has managed to kill off. It will be my 7th time attempting to herd the cats towards this effort. It’s entirely beloved by the powers high atop Olympus, but has been, is, and apparently ever will be the absolute bane of my professional existence.

It’s safe to say that whatever restive effects of taking the last half of December off are well and truly used up now. I’m shocked they lasted into the second day, really. That’s almost twice as long as I usually manage to not be completely agitated by the unique joys of the bureaucracy.

The only perk of having done the same thing for seven years in a row is I have an awfully deep bench of templates to draw from. It’s virtual acres of ground filled with slide decks, Excel files, and narrative documents that help limit the amount of original thought that needs to be applied. The biggest hurdle is sorting through it all to craft a package that looks new and interesting enough that the great overlords won’t realize that it’s a great batch of recycled ideas. 

The fact that this year, once again, will be in the format of a “virtual meeting” helps out a lot there. There are only so many ways to doctor up a Zoom meeting to make it look new and original. There will be allowances for that. Probably.

Still, today has been like meeting an old friend. The kind of friend who wrecked your car, slept with your girl, stole your wallet, and kicked your dog.

Second week…

I’m now into the second week of this long Christmas break. I’m quite sure I feel more relaxed, though probably no better rested than I did a few weeks ago. Lying about in bed or whiling away the hours snoozing on the couch aren’t really in my repertoire. The psychological imperative to “do something” is far too strong, even if that something is just tinkering around with truly minor repairs or sticking my nose in a book.

I’d usually spend this week chasing down new (old) books for the collection or running errands/tackling projects that are more involved than is convenient to fit into typical weekends. Life in a plague year has given me ample opportunity to take on those projects already – or at least the ones that don’t involve any specialized skills or abilities and therefore need to be farmed out. The search for books, of course, will have to wait for a bit yet, despite the almost overwhelming temptation to mask up and roll the dice. I could plug in some online orders to scratch that itch, but seeing them fall into the black hole of the US Postal Service for delivery God knows when feels like it would do the exact opposite of improving my sense of relaxation.

Probably more than anything else, what this two-week reset has done is reaffirm my firm belief that I’ll be beyond satisfied not schlepping to work (either in office or virtually) at the moment I reach that magical congruence of age, years of service, and fiscal sufficiency. Even here, in the belly of a plague year, when I can’t or opt not to do many of the things that I so heartily enjoy, time is better spent than it would be knocking together version fourteen of a random set of slides or flinging email into the bureaucratic void. 

Some other beginnings end…

I’ve got nothing special tonight. I wish I did. The arrival of the last workday of the year is always big news around here. It’s the highlight of my anti-social season.

Coming through the door tonight, I heaved a mighty sigh of relief and it feels almost like my brain is in the process of purging a year’s worth of everything. That’s not a bad feeling, but it doesn’t lend itself to even mediocre writing. I’m not sure it lends itself to anything beyond a quiet night with a good drink.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound awful in any way.

Happy end of the work year.

Two paths to a “good” December…

It’s the last day of November. That’s important for a couple of reasons – not the least of which is it means I only have 17 work days between me and a glorious 16-day weekend. That’s sixteen days to stow my laptop and neither schlep to the office nor work from home. It’s two weeks and change of just hanging out. Let me tell you, friends, even in a plague year that’s already been filled with time at home, I’m kind of living for the long end of the year time off.

Even if my standard two-week Christmas vacation wasn’t in the offing, there’s actually a different, and possibly mor important date fast approaching. The 11th of December won’t stand out to anyone who doesn’t draw a check from Uncle Sam, but that’s the date most of the federal government runs out of money and would be forced into another shutdown. 

Look, I have no idea what a government shutdown would look like in a plague year, but hey, what’s one more bit of fuckery in the mix? With a mostly useless congress and a president who clearly has no interest in governing (and has a propensity for last minute tantrum throwing), it feels possible, even if not likely, that we could have a as much as 40-day break between funds running out and the new president taking office. Even though Congress seems to be working to stave off the possibility, it remains a wildcard.

Now I’m not saying I’m rooting for a crippling Christmas themed government shutdown amidst a rising tide of plague… but hey, if it happens, I won’t be marching in the streets or anything. Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, but I should be able ride out a 40-day shutdown without resorting to cat food and tree bark soup… and from that perfectly selfish perspective, more than a month just dicking around the house hardly sounds like the worst thing in the world. 

That’s true at least if precedent is followed, meaning there will be back pay for the shutdown and they’ll restore the two weeks of pre-scheduled leave that got overwritten by the closure and add it in my bucket of vacation time for 2021. If a shutdown happens without those two key components, then I might just be tempted to take to the streets after all.

My eyes are firmly on the calendar for the next couple of weeks, either way.

On the illusion of business as usual…

There are always a few days each year when Uncle Sam would be better served to close up shop and send everyone home rather than attempt to maintain the illusion that offices are open and it’s business as usual. The Friday after Thanksgiving is, predictably, one of those days year in and year out. Most offices I’ve worked in over the years have had to assign someone the short straw that day to come in, turn the lights on, and then watch the clock for eight hours. Sure, technically it’s a work day, but virtually no business is transacted. Calling it a work day is fiction at best, farce at worst.

In any given years there are other days that result in the same basic effect. You can count on it happening any time a federal holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday through the year. People are going to want to maximize their leave by turning a one day holiday into a 4-day weekend. Thinking that won’t be the case is just swimming against the tide of human nature – and that makes it an extremely foolish activity. The bureaucracy, of course, is no stranger to foolish activity, so we press on as if these periodic days of bare bones staffing will somehow result in actual productive work.

Although the mid-week holiday effect can take place any time of year, it’s most pronounced here at the tail end of the calendar, when so many of the old hands have leave that needs to be used or lost before the end of the year. The day before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas are almost as useless, though not quite. Today there were four people in my office, well less than half of what it would have been on any other day, even given the reduced staffing due to plague.

I’m sure a few odds and ends that could be considered actual work transpired today, but when balanced against the cost of turning on the lights and heating every federal building across the country, I have to wonder if anyone has every paused to consider if the return on investment even comes close to making sense. If they have, they’ve obviously put far more stock in the value of maintaining the illusion of being open for business than I do.

Skipping the COVID luncheon…

If there was any remnant of the Before Time I thought the Great Plague would manage to kill off, it was the whole concept of the office retirement / going away party. For eight months now, medical advice has been to severely curtail unnecessary social interaction (ex. graduation parties, weddings) and for the last few weeks the wisdom of traveling to join family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas has even been called into question. 

It’s bad enough for people who need to show up for jobs that can’t be done remotely (and even worse for those whose job can be remote, but prevailing management culture prevents or discourages it). The goal there, in the absence of proper vaccination, should be in minimizing the number of people occupying the same workspace to the maximum extent possible. Pulling more people into that space for something as blatantly needless as a farewell luncheon feels like approaching the very height of an unnecessary activity.

People want normalcy. They want to do things that way they use to be done. I get it. Wanting to put more people that necessary for continued operational requirements in a room for the sake of a pot luck lunch, is, in my estimation, an absolute jackass move and you’ll never convince me otherwise… but by all means, I welcome an explanation of how it in any way “supports the mission” without unnecessarily increasing the overall risk to every person in the room and any person who might be in the room after the fact.

I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but a farewell luncheon in a confined space is just a bad judgement call from people who should know better. So yeah, I’ll be skipping the COVID luncheon, thanks.

Of elections and lessons learned…

On this day back in 2004, I was attending a week-long “training event” in Portsmouth, Virginia. I remember it clearly because it was the early morning the followed a long night huddled around the television in the hotel’s bar following the results of presidential election pitting George W. Bush against John Kerry.

Every time the instructors called a pause, a small gang of eight or ten of us would skitter across the hall from the meeting room to see the latest changes. As that particular morning dragged on and no winner was declared, we were later and later getting back from breaks. Hey, we were engaged citizens and it was a moment in history.

Eventually, after a particularly lengthy break – maybe after lunch – one of the instructors wandered in and offered the words I like to imagine he lived to regret. To a dozen young-ish bureaucrats he foolishly said, “Well, if you think the election is more important that what we’re doing in class, you should go ahead and stay over here and do that.” Now I’m not a fancy big city lawyer, but even then I was enough of a bureaucrat to recognize a great big, beautiful open door to waltz through when I saw one.

I’m sure he was trying to shame us into compliantly filing back into the meeting room. A few of our little clutch did wither under the instructor’s stink eye and drift back to training, but as far as I, and a few like-minded souls were concerned, we’d just been handed a get out of jail free card. I was sure then, as I’m sure now, that the outcome of the election and the mechanics of how it was decided, were far more important than analyzing our Myers-Briggs type, learning fun facts about our “leadership color,” or any of the other tidbits that could have been gleaned in their entirety from reading the course handouts.

Half a dozen of us opted to stay put that day. Maybe we didn’t learn much out of the official leadership curriculum, but we did learn a bloody fearful lesson about being careful what options you lay out when you have no idea how people will react. In all my long career from then to now, when there was only one “right” direction, I never presented it as an optional activity.

Most of the “leadership training” I’ve been sent to has been laughable in one way or another, but just this once, I feel like there was a solid lesson learned.

A nine hour mistake…

I spent the first nine hours of today mistakenly under the impression that it was Thursday. 

It turns out, it is not… and that has been a tremendous disappointment throughout the remainder of the day.

It’s mostly a disappointment because it injects an additional day between me and my next scheduled long weekend. In the panoply of possible sins, that feels like a mortal one, as there’s not much I take more seriously than time spent not spent fiddling with spreadsheets and briefing slides.

Since I had originally planned to fire off the week’s edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week tonight, I don’t have all that much to say. I was woefully unprepared to need what now feels like an extra post this week.

What I will say, without additional comment or commentary, is that almost eight months into doing business under the black flag of the plague, you’d think we’d have sorted out most of the day to day issues. You’d think that, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The deeper we forge into the plague lands, the more people seem to forget about things I thought we’d sorted out months ago. 

That realization seems somehow fitting for the day, really.