Twelve chairs…

One of the many exciting “other duties as assigned” I enjoy during this, the worst month of the year, is that of circus roustabout. It’s toting, hauling, setting up, shifting, tearing down, followed by more hauling and toting. This time of year, my position description might as well read “Laborer, General” as opposed to anything that has “analyst” in its title.

Today’s major project was retrieving a dozen “VIP chairs” from one auditorium, loading them onto pickup trucks, driving them a thousand yards, and then unloading them into another auditorium so there could be a nice matching set on stage. I was reminded with every bit of toting and hauling why furniture moving is the kind of thing I happily pay someone else to do these days.

Believe me when I tell you I don’t in any way presume that moving furniture is beneath my dignity. I’ve had far worse jobs for far less pay… but then that’s kind of the point, I suppose. By the time you add up the hourly rate of all the people involved in shifting these twelve chairs and account for their individual overhead rates (to account for non-salary payroll costs), it would be far more cost effective to outfit each auditorium with twelve matching chairs instead of paying people to shuffle them from building to building as needed. If you assume a fifteen year life cycle for a chair that’s only used a few times a month, it’s an investment that would pay for itself in the first five years. That’s before you even look at lost productive time or basic opportunity cost of having a bunch of analysts move furniture around instead of working more “high value” tasks.

I’m sure there’s a parable about the nature of bureaucracy here. I try not to dwell on it too much.

Of feet and eyes…

One thing I can say for sure is that a year of working from home has not prepared me for a day of standing on a concrete floor. Even my best Docs are no match for a day on my feet.

By the end of it, sore feet wins hands down over the building flooding, last minute briefing changes, and scheduling problems that would have otherwise been contenders for the worst thing about the day.

It’s only Monday. I have no doubt the week will slide further and further from the rails as it trundles on towards Friday afternoon. There’s nothing to be done for it now, but to grimace behind my mask and get through it. Maybe the only good thing about mandatory mask wearing, aside from not passing on the plague, is that it least keeps some of the worst looks safely trapped behind cloth. They can still see my eyes though… and there’s no hiding what’s happening there, I’m afraid.

It’s been a day…

The longer I go along in this career of mine, the fewer days I have that seem to slide completely off the rails. I like to think that it’s because I’ve gotten exponentially better than I use to be, but I suspect the reality is that after 18 plus years, it’s mostly that I keep seeing the same things happening over and over and over and over.

Painful years of experience is one of the biggest reasons why when these anti-Midas days come along, they really catch me so completely by surprise. I’ve gotten use to knowing what’s likely to turn to shit in my hands and can often avoid the worst of it. 

Today definitely was not one of those days. Every single thing I touched turned into a big steaming turd. Some of it was clearly my fault. Some of it was inflicted by the actions or inactions of others.

I use to take that kind of thing personally. Now, I mostly just shrug and move on. I guess that counts as personal and professional growth.

The limits of good intent…

I’m sure it was with good intent that the powers that be declared we would have a “Combating Extremism Stand Down.” The insurrectionist attack on the Capitol in January highlighted the obvious, but rarely discussed, presence of bad actors in the ranks. 

Our version of this stand down involves a mandatory 90-minute training delivered up by the most senior leader we could wrangle. That’s fine. It’s at least an official acknowledgment that some of the apples are rotten.

The thing is, getting after people who support insurrection isn’t best served by dragging thousands of people into an online meeting and rationally explaining that raising a rebellion is a bad thing. Most people instinctively know that extremism is bad. It’s this same approach that leads us to have a yearly meeting where we’re told 37 times that rape and sexual harassment are bad… and that’s sure done a legendary job at stopping rapists.

Preaching to the choir has its place, but telling people who are already doing the right thing that they should do the right thing doesn’t solve many problems. It hasn’t been effective in clearing rapists out of the service and I can’t imagine it will have any greater effect at luring out the extremist threat. 

If the powers that be are serious about scouring the place clean, there would be less talk and more smashing skulls. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that rather than telling the insider threat to be nicer, maybe tearing it out root and stem would be a more effective strategy. Until extremists, rapists, or other’s who show criminal intent are fired, court martialed, hauled before a firing squad, or otherwise driven out, saying the words is fine. Raising awareness is fine. Just don’t expect that kind of minimal effort to get you where you want to be. 

Almost isn’t always…

After a weekend I’ve almost always got something to say. There’s almost always something ridiculous that’s happened that needs to be addressed. Almost, though, isn’t always. 

This weekend there were books, and dogs, and takeout, and cooking, and weather that didn’t leave the back yard looking like a mud pit. It was just the kind of weekend that leaves me just about as content as I ever expect to find myself. It’s also the kind of weekend that just doesn’t make for good blogging.

It’s Monday now, but I’m still basking in a little of that reflected weekend glow. I won’t say I don’t have a care in the world, but for the time being there’s nothing too triggering trying to ruin the mood… aside from knowing that won’t last very long now that the working week is underway. I mean in the world of the professional bureaucrat, nothing is more detrimental to a good mood than the steady ping of emails or spreadsheets with no end. Well, maybe meetings, but those aren’t a problem until at least tomorrow.

Sigh, now that I think about it, maybe that sunny weekend disposition really has faded more quickly than I thought. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here dwelling on meetings and how much I’d rather be hit in the face with a shovel. 

Turns out that Monday is a mood killer after all. 

My kind of motivation…

I took a bit of time this morning to engage in one of my favorite work activities – gazing at the calendar for the next 11 months and starting to plug days I know I want to take leave into Outlook. It’s a delicate balancing act between maximizing where vacation days adjoin various federal holidays and holding enough time in reserve to scatter around the rest of the year on days when I just don’t have the mental energy for bureaucrating. 

It’s probably more art than science, but it’s one of the more personally vital things I do every year. I’ve long known myself well enough to understand I do better when I have well-marked targets. I can plow through almost any governmental foolishness when I know there’s a long (or very long) weekend somewhere out on the horizon at a date certain. I do better when I’m working towards something – and there’s not one thing in Uncle Sam’s gift that I value more than time off. Cash awards get taxed to hell and back, medals gather dust in a drawer, and certificates won’t even get you a cup of coffee… but time off, time not spent updating spreadsheets or sitting though meetings that could be emails, that’s the good stuff.

Like 2020 before it, we’re still in the belly of a plague year with 2021. Days off in the back half of the year, after we’ve all been shot, and are presumably back in cubicle hell, will be more valuable than days off here on the front end when I’m still mainly at home. My plan of attack is weighted heavily in favor of days in June and onwards, with a balance of seven days in reserve to take “just because.” 

No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Some of these dates will slide about a little. It’s a mark on the wall, though – something to work towards beyond hours of mashing at the keyboard on behalf of our wealthy uncle and that’s exactly the kind of motivation I need. 

Vestigial snow day…

The home office over in Aberdeen was closed today to all but “essential” business. What essential means, of course, has never been described the same way twice in the nine years I’ve been working there. Every winter they try out two or three new definitions that never quite seem to stick.

Technically today was a “snow day,” one of those random, unexpected, weather related holidays that are scattered about the yearly calendar like birdshot. Snow days in the plague era ain’t what they use to be. Honestly, if it weren’t for the occasional pitter patter of sleet falling on the skylights, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between today and any other Monday over the last ten months. 

Losing the traditional snow day has always been the bitter catch of having a telework agreement. It’s still a trade I’ve always considered well worth making, but sitting looking at the snow-covered woods, I have to admit that I miss the old ways just a little bit on days like this. 

Before the plague, these working snow days were mostly alright. There were so few of us with agreements stipulating that we’d work through adverse weather that it mostly felt like a real snow day interrupted by an occasional email. It might have been an official work day on the books, but when the boss isn’t around to assign work and everyone you need to talk to in order to get anything done is “on holiday,” not much real work was happening anyway. 

Now that the vast majority of us are “telework ready” to cope with the plague, of course, it’s a brave new world. I like to think the ability to have the whole mass of us “work through the storm,” would be major points in favor of a greatly liberalized telework program… but I’m in no way expecting that to be the case. The opposite, reconsolidating central control and management, is always the more likely course of action. 

In any case, I’ve enjoyed my vestigial snow day and would happily welcome more of them.

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.