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.

Beyond repair…

On August 15th I entered what I thought would be a straight forward request with our computer help desk. Adobe Pro had started throwing errors and since the ability to read, edit, and sign pdf documents is more than than a once-a-day requirement in my job, I thought it might be nice to have that capability back.

I should have known it was not going to be an easy process when the confirmation email I got from the help desk had my name but described a problem someone on the other side of the country was trying to solve on their own machine. Actually, I should have known this process was going to be painful from the minute I discovered I was going to have to interact with the big help desk in the sky. Reducing the local service options and nationalizing IT help might have saved money but the user experience and wait times involved are appalling. At least I’m not paying for this service. Well, not paying for it directly, except for whatever of my tax dollars are being allocated for shitty IT support.

Over the last 13 days I’ve had three separate emails letting me know that Adobe was fixed and all is now well. All three of those emails have proven to be wrong, with the same inability to use Adobe continuing after each “fix.” This morning I was greeted with the 4th “we fixed it” email and discovered that not only does Adobe not work, but that the entire program has now disappeared from my computer. I suppose that’s one way to fix the problem. You can’t report a software error for software you don’t have. Of course I now have a two week and growing backlog of electronic paperwork that I need Adobe to process, so there’s that one small issue remaining.

I’m sure the men and women who work the Enterprise Service Desk are fine upstanding Americans who are doing great things for God and country. That, said, how it takes two weeks to fix an issue I could resolve on my home computer in less than 30 minutes simply leaves me with no option but to conclude that the “help” procedures for enterprise IT are broken entirely beyond repair.

Note: I should point out in fairness that just before I left for the day the issues was at long last resolved. At least tomorrow I know I can start clearing the backlog of Things Which Must be Digitally Signed. Sigh.

Small victories and minor defeats…

I was supposed to go to a meeting today. For the most part that’s the kind of activity that makes up the day, or at least is a common enough occurrence that it isn’t worth specifically mentioning. The only positive bit about the meetings I’m usually required to sit through is that 95% of them are held somewhere in the same building I find myself inhabiting four days a week and require minimal travel. Today’s meeting, one of those that makes up the other 5%, was being hosted elsewhere.

This meeting in particular was being held far enough elsewhere that attending in person would mean losing my parking spot in the middle of the day, finding a spot on the other side of our lovely cantonment, and then fighting for spot back at “home station” later in the day when the meeting ended. Mercifully they decided to provide a dial in number so skittering hither and yon wasn’t necessary.

Today’s meeting is what I’ve taken to calling a small victory. Victory, in this case, was tempered by the fact that the room in which the meeting was physically held has one speaker phone and possibly the worst acoustics of any individual room on the planet. The net result of this was only being able to hear approximately four words out of every seven. In fairness, though, that still doesn’t make it anything close to the worst meeting I’ve ever endured… so maybe it’s still a victory or possibly a minor defeat. It’s increasingly hard to tell the difference

The forgotten Monday…

I was home yesterday. I had plenty of time to write and post a normally scheduled addition to the blog. I have no excuse other than the fact that I really kind of forgot that yesterday was Monday. Weekdays are usually hard to miss based on my level of aggravation and discontent, but being a big, beautiful day full of annual leave, this particular Monday wasn’t so afflicted.

I should probably take it as some kind of a warning sign that so much of my content is driven by the annoyance and general disgust generated by the average five-day work week. On the other hand, the fact that I don’t have much to say about the other 80 hours each week may speak loudly about how low key and relaxing I find the time not spent dwelling in cubicle hell.

I may have missed Monday, but you can rest assured that Tuesday more than made up for it. After all, where else could I put my 15 years experience, bachelor’s degree, and MBA to work putting giant hard-backed posters on an easel and then taking them off again all while working two hours of unscheduled overtime?

You’re welcome for my service.

Moving day…

I’ve been back in Maryland for just shy of eight years now. I find that incredibly hard to believe, but it’s beside the point as far as this little tale goes. The only reason I mention it is that as of today, just shy of eight years on, I’m now occupying the 9th separate cubicle I’ve been assigned to since arriving back.

When I think of the manpower that’s gone into not just physically rearranging the deck chairs but also time allocated to “strategizing” the move and selling each one of them as a value added proposition, all I can do is shake my head and wonder at how we’ve managed to win America’s independence, put down a rebellion, conquer a continent, deliver victory in two world wars, and stay in “business” over the last 200+ years. Surely this isn’t the way we actually do things. I know better, though. Of course it is. This is exactly how we do things. It’s situation normal.

Sigh. Yeah. It’s good to be back in the saddle.