What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Just talking. I occasionally find myself in the position of “just talking,” or “hanging out” with women I have, for one reason or another, found preliminarily interesting. Most recently, I was involved in a conversation that led to the statement that she “like adventuring.” Honest to God, I’m a reasonably well-educated man, but I have no idea what the fuck that even means. Are you telling me you enjoy raising the jolly roger and raiding the Spanish Main, hiring up a party a Sherpas and summiting Everest, or free diving with great whites? In any case, I’m not sure exact meanings are important. Unless your definition of adventuring involves endless rooms of books, 2 o’clock tea, dinner served promptly at 5 PM, and to bed absolutely no later than 10 o’clock, I’m fairly sure I’m going to take a pass. But feel free to go on enjoying whatever hoodrat shit you’re up to with my best wishes for your continued success.

2. Gas. Thanks to the “safer at home” mandates and my own hermetical nature, I bought very little gasoline over the last 18 months. Now that safer at home has been replaced by “get your ass back to the office” mandates, that budget line has gotten entirely too big. I mean not big enough that I’d consider switching to something small and fuel efficient, but more than I want to pay in full knowledge that I’m doing so only because someone’s vision of a workplace fantasy involves full cube farms. It’s just a bit of insult to injury.

3. Masks. The Biden Administration is talking about bringing back mask requirements for vaccinated people. Look, I was in full support of masks in the early days of the Great Plague. They were the best defense we had against a new and unknown threat. Now, we have wide availability of three vaccines that are proven to be effective at preventing the vast majority serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Now severe illness and death is back on the rise precisely because some portion of the population refuses to take advantage of one of the scientific marvels of the 21st century. In the early days, we wore masks to protect on another – the presence of vaccination on demand makes that unnecessary. It’s time that we inconvenience those who want to pretend science isn’t a real thing rather than whose who have done the responsible thing all along. Being a dumbass should be painful. It should be inconvenient. Let them bear the burden of their own intransigence – and let the rest of us get on with it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. There’s nothing like being back in the office to really drive home the absolute absurdity of basing employment in the information age solely on the ability of / requirement for someone to sit in a specific geographic space for eight hours five times a week. I’m sure there are some jobs where “being there” makes an actual difference in how well or swiftly the information flows, but in my little corner of the bureaucracy, this week has stood as stark evidence that where work is location agnostic, corralling people into an office just because it’s how we did things in the before time isn’t so much strategic decision making as it is acquiescence to organizational inertia.

2. The end of an error. The fact that a serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other unformed officials were put in a position to actively ponder how to counter the possibility of a coup d’état in the United States isn’t so much annoying as it is horrifying… but I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last 36 hours or so. I suspect that as history sorts the wheat and chaff from January 2020 the details will be far more horrific than anything we know in the present. That so many among us still think the end of the Trump Administration was “business as usual” or it was somehow the victim of a vast and unprecedented left-wing conspiracy is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

3. Renovation. With multiple proposals now in hand, I’m edging dangerously close to becoming a broken record that says only “That’s almost what I paid for my first condo” or “I could buy a new damned pickup truck with that.” Evaluating the proposals shouldn’t be hard since they’re all within 8% of each other. I suppose technically that’s good news insofar as it means that’s probably a reasonably accurate estimate of what it’s going to take to put a new bathroom in this place. The hurdle I’m trying to get over, is that across the range of proposals, we’re about 50% over my original planning factor and into a point where cash on hand isn’t going to get the job done. Logically I know home equity loans can be had near lifetime low rates, but it all begs the question if I’m willing to pull a loan because I’m tired of schlepping down the hall to get a shower in the morning. 

It was a golden age…

I don’t suppose there will be any official notification. No proclamations. No drums or trumpets. There’s likely to be nothing but my own angst and deep disappointment to mark the passage of what I’ll always consider a golden age.

You see, by the time I get back from taking a bit of time off next week, we’ll have already passed out of the era of “maximum telework” and begun phasing back towards “normal” operations. As it turns out, we’re opting not to observe any of the lessons of 2020 and making preparations to restore things to precisely what they were before the Great Plague. Passing on this literal once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better way to work, we’re going to take a knee… because our particular Olympian god doesn’t get a warm fuzzy unless he sees asses in seats. It would be laughable if the outcome wasn’t so utterly predictable.

After 18 and a half years on the job and with 14 years left to go, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that the best, most rewarding fifteen months of my career are about to be over. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance more suited to my personal and professional temperament than the one we just worked through. Watching what worked so well being garroted to suit one man’s vision is damned near heartbreaking.

If there’s ever a time in the next 14 years where you think I’m sounding bitter about a stark refusal to embrace new modes and methods of “accomplishing the mission,” there will be a good reason for that… because I don’t plan on passing up an opportunity to continue agitating for a workplace that isn’t mired somewhere in the land of the gray flannel suit when it comes to their philosophy and practice of management.

It won’t make me the most popular kid in class, but fortunately I’ve had a lifetime of experience in knowing how to carry that role. 

The old fashioned way…

The blatant truth about today is that even though I was sitting here in the sunroom / home office banging out emails, I lost all sense that it was a weekday and that I’d need to have something ready to post at 6:00 tonight. After spending most of the last two weeks in the actual office, I suppose I forgot just how much being here felt like a much less onerous version of work. Not needing to attempt to concentrate over the sound of half a dozen other conversations probably doubles my productivity… not to mention ability to concentrate on whatever details are actually in front of me.

Unfortunately, those are precisely the sort of factors that are difficult to measure when it comes time to compare the costs and benefits of working from home versus being in an actual office somewhere. 

That observation makes for a bit of a bland post. It’s not exactly a eureka moment, but after spending more bulk time in the office than I have in a year, it was certainly a bit of reinforcement of just how good it can be.

The exact details of what the future of work will look like in my little corner of Uncle’s big green machine remain a little vague. It’s hard to imagine a world where everyone piles back into big concrete and steel boxes as if nothing ever happened. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a world where the gods on Olympus willingly go on only seeing people a few times a month. Some places will undoubtedly swing further on one direction versus the other. 

I suppose once that all shakes out, I’ll start needing to make some decisions about what I think the future of work needs to look like. Fourteen more years of going back to doing this “the old fashioned way” increasingly doesn’t feel sustainable.  

Windows…

I think I’ve said it before, but it feels well worth repeating that the standard work day is considerably less onerous when you’ve got a view of your own sun dappled woods rather than the inside of a concrete box coated in low bidder paint with a view of your closest colleague’s lunch leftovers. Increasingly, as spring weather tries to take hold, the windows in my home office have become the best part of the work day. 

I’m not a head shrinker, but I’ve long suspected that at least some of the general antipathy I feel about most days at the office can be attributed to having spent the vast majority of my career occupying horrifyingly bland interior rooms. I’m sure there are a host of other reasons too, but just now, with the good light streaming into the room, that feels like an element that can make a significant difference in the day’s mood. Having a couple of dogs and a cat who are blissfully indifferent to rank around shouldn’t be undervalued either… though my chance of having a window to look out feels far more likely than ever working in an office where bringing your pets to work is encouraged.

For now, though, I’m focused mainly on the idea that my office here at home is more comfortable, better laid out, and significantly more pleasurable to work in then even those reserved for the most high of our own little band of Olympian gods. Giving that up to go back to sitting it a poorly ventilated, badly lit, and overcrowded little corner of cubicle hell will probably be the single hardest thing I’ll have to do in my career.

The bitterest end…

I was sitting in the kitchen this morning and the realization came that this – endless early weekday mornings of the cat expectantly watching for the first birds to arrive at the feeders, dogs snoring comfortably after their breakfast, and a book in my hand – this is going to end eventually. 

This is going to end and mornings will again be about rushing madly to leave the house on time and get to the office. We’ll go back to sitting for 8.5 hours doing the things that the last month have proven don’t need to be done in a special box, in a certain room, in a specific building. 

It will end because old management philosophies die hard. It will end because despite evidence to the contrary the bosses are never likely to accept that work gets done if they can’t see asses in chairs. There are outliers, of course. People who can’t or won’t function on their own initiative or a few tasks that for reasons can’t be conducted “in the clear.” Those are the outliers, though, and could be resolved through proper performance management or innovative scheduling. That’s likely too big an ask for a creaking old bureaucracy.

Eventually this will end and the relentless tentacles of Cubicle Hell will reach out and pull us all back down into the pit forever.

It’s the most bitter of bitter ends.

Against the tyranny of the cubicle…

I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.

Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.

Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.

What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.

In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.

With “thanks” to those who run the network…

I’d just like to thank the folks who manage our network for pushing the patch that resulted in my computer updating at 12:54 in the afternoon on a damned Tuesday. The middle of the day is a notoriously slow time and rarely involves anyone racing the clock to complete a requirement. It absolutely wasn’t when I was setting up my computer to show pretty charts and graphs to 25 people gathered in one of the conference rooms. I mean who would have the unmitigated audacity to plan a meeting in the middle of the afternoon? Am I right?

I’m sure there’s some brillant reason the people at the Central Network Enterprise Control Center, Cafe, and Giftshop do what they do when they do it. I’m sure they’ve conducted countless studies to show why it’s utterly impossible to run updates and patches in the middle of the night when computers are more or less standing idle and could be completed with minimal interruption to the people who might, conceivably be using their machines in the middle of the goddamned work day.

After two hours and three or four reboots, I was finally able to get back to work… having once again justified the number of magazines I keep on my desk to provide something to do when my computer inevitable craps out and actual productive effort grinds to a halt. My boss was nice enough to schlep back to the office and come back with her computer so we could at least show the second most recent iteration of the material being discussed this afternoon. So it wasn’t a complete farce.

Honest to God, sometimes I wonder if we should just go ahead and contract with the Chinese to provide our tech support directly. Sure, they’d see all the information on the network, but that at least would be some kind of incentive to keep the damned bloody thing up and running and connected to as many computers as possible without random, unnecessary interruptions.

My lane…

One of the best parts of having been around for a while is that “my lane,” those areas of the workflow for which I exert some measure of control or influence, are reasonably well defined. Put another way, I know my boundaries within the organization or of the specific projects I’m assigned. I know what I can and can’t do – or rather what I’m supposed to do and those areas on which I am not supposed to tread. It helps me not dive into the deep end and fire off my opinion without first having that opinion grounded in fact.

It’s important to remember that your lane can change over time. It can narrow or grow wider based on the needs of the organization you serve or on the whims of those who lead it. Because of this, remembering who is empowered to change the size of your lane, also helps you avoid careening through the guardrail and finding yourself upside down in a ditch. 

It’s critical to remember this when someone who isn’t in legitimate position to shift the width of your lane tries to give you a nudge. The fact is, I don’t care if you are a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, doctor, lawyer, or indian chief, if you’re not one of the handful of people who are authorized to change the width of my lane. Despite all their efforts to the contrary, I’ll smile politely, give them and understanding look, and then carry on as if we’ve never had a conversation. 

I am an American bureaucrat. I have honed my craft over years. Who’d have thought that innate intransigence and a prickly sense of how things ought to be done would ever serve me so well.

When Monday sucks a little bit more…

It’s Monday. That would usually mean I spent the day happily tucked in to my home office with views of the woods and three fuzzy critters keeping me company. Those Mondays, telework Mondays, are something to be celebrated rather than serve as a source of existential dread.

Today, of course, was the existential dread kind of Monday. It’s the kind that required my presence in the 5×5 foot, half walled box I usually only spend four days of the week occupying. I was thrown off my normal Monday by a meeting at which my bodily presence was encouraged if not actually required.

The catch is, some time between signing off on Friday and arriving on Monday the meeting in question got cancelled… with the net result being I gave up a delightfully dreary telework Monday for absolute no reason at all. Not cool, man. Not cool at all.

Sure, I know this is one of those fancy first world problems that everyone enjoys, but since I, in fact, live in the first world, I’m not sure what other type of problems I could be expected to encounter on the regular. I’m not saying that anyone died or was maimed as a result of this series of unfortunate events. All I’m saying is that Monday sucks as a general rule and I missed out on an excellent opportunity to make Monday suck a little bit less.