The difference a day makes…

I’ve been working one day a week from home for a little over a year now. There are many reasons I’d recommend it to anyone who is even marginally a self-directed individual. It does, however, feature two distinct problems that I’ve found so far.

The first is that in those rare moments when you actually need to talk to someone immediately you’re limited to phone, email, or text. If you happened to be sitting in a cube farm in those moments you could at least add “wander over to wherever that person is supposed to be” to the list of ways to get in touch with them. Needing someone right-the-hell-now, though, is such a rare occurrence in my experience that the issue is hardly worth considering.

The second, and more problematic issue, is that doing the work from the comfort of your own home establishes in clear terms just how utterly unnecessary sitting in one specified desk in one specified room of one specified building really is in the course of day to day activities. It makes then going to sit at that desk, in that room, in that building on the four other days of the work week even more difficult than it would be otherwise. Sure, I suppose there are a handful of good and legitimate reasons for needing to spend time in an actual office, but for all other times I have not one single clue why anyone would want to endure more time in cubicle hell than is absolutely necessary to getting the job done.

Cubicle hell…

I’ve been a cube dweller for all of my 15 years working for Uncle. The one constant across all those years is a firm belief that if there is a hell, at least one level of it has cubicles stretching out to the horizon in all directions. In effect, to work in a cube is to already be condemned to toil in a hellscape to get credit for your eight daily ours.

Most days, cubicle hell is a land of minor irritations – of people who talk too loudly, non-existent air conditioning, 30 conversations happening simultaneously, an utter lack of privacy, and an endless parade of small distractions seemingly devised to prevent anything that could be mistaken for productivity.

The small annoyances are punctuated occasionally by the large distractions. These are what you may expect to find when the Powers That Be will decide that everyone in the room needs to face a different direction or that the cube walls are one row too tall or too short. The Powers will then, in their infinite wisdom and goodness, decide to address these grave shortcomings in the most expeditious way possible.

If you’ve never tried to conduct business in the middle of a construction zone, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. At any given time your 30 square feet of cubicle hell could be made inoperable when they have to re-route the electric or network cables, when they have to disassemble your desk, or when they need to remove a panel so you can stare obnoxiously across 30 inches of open space at the face of the person with whom you use to share a “wall.” Now the Powers have removed even the pretense that you aren’t packed in elbows to assholes with your fellow condemned souls.

Even if your desk happens to be one spared that day, there’s the general construction noise – the power drills, and shifting metal, dropped tools and banging. All the while, you’re careful to pretend that everything is business as usual. There are no distractions. Everything is going according to plan. You love the new floorplan that the Powers have granted unto you, for they, in their spacious offices, behind actual closing doors, are secure from what they wrought. Surely they know best.

As it turns out, cubicle hell isn’t so much a place as it is a process – ongoing, evolving, and always looking for ways to make every day just a little bit harder and such just one more drop of joy from the marrow. We have met the enemy and it truly is us.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A crowded room. There’s something (well, maybe everything) about the roar of a crowded room. It’s truly the sound I hate most in the world. So many people. So needy. So many questions. All overlapping, running together, and becoming indistinguishable from all the constituent sounds, as every voice gets louder in a failed attempt to project itself above the others. Just listening to it consumes every bit of energy I can muster. Truly hell is just a room full of other people.

2. Own it. One of the marks of a decent human being, in my opinion, has always been their willingness to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. A decent person owns it, even when they’ve cocked up. I can’t list the number of times this week, “Yep, I fucked that up” has come flying out of my mouth. I might not do it with a song In my heart, but the one promise I can make is that I’ll stand the hell up and be counted for the bad as well as the good. If only showing that kind of personal courage was part of some kind of organizational system of basic values. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

3. Slobs. You are grown ass adults representing some of the largest corporations in the world. Stuffing a banana peel beneath your seat for someone else to deal with, much like an ill-behaved toddler, really should be beneath your dignity. Even if it’s not beneath your dignity you should damned well be old enough to know better. Even if neither one of those is the case, I’m more than happy to disabuse you of the notion that you’re in any way special and deserving of delicate treatment. You’re just a douchebag. Hopefully I’ll see you doing it tomorrow so I can tell you to your face.

On the week before…

Next week will be my personal version of hell, featuring 12 hour days, 750 of my new best friends all crammed into one room, and having all the responsibility to make it go right, none of the authority to make any actual decisions, and every bit of the blame if the wheels fall off for any reason. If I were in any way in control of my own destiny this would basically be the very last thing in which I would ever knowingly engage. Yet, party planning sticks with me from job to job like some kind of Gypsy curse.

If next week is hell, this week is a strong contender for that title. It’s the week in which everyone who has been ignoring the impending arrival of hell week has their “oh shit” moment and realizes if they don’t do something they’re going to look like utter twatwaffles in front of a live studio audience. When I was teaching this was the part of the year when I got to tell students that no, they really were going to fail because they didn’t bother to do any homework. I’m told, however, that letting these people fail, regardless of how deserving they may be of it, is “unprofessional.”

It all means that in many ways I’m spoon feeding adult humans a lot of information that was previously made available in slides, and memos, and email, and through various and sundry face to face conversations. I’m paying for the same ground five or six times a day in some cases… and paying for the same ground over and over and over again makes Jeff very, very surly.

Whatever else may be in doubt this week, you can rest assured that behind this serene exterior is a stroke or heart attack just waiting for the right moment to strike me down.

Teaming…

I’m tempted to take back what I wrote last night about steps in the right direction. My opinion on that matter was corrected this afternoon with the arrival of a “save the date” email calling forth what is commonly termed a team building event. For someone who’s fundamentally an introvert, another name for team building event could easily be “An Afternoon in Hell.”

For those not yet acquainted with my views on teams, team building, and touchy felly management theory, I recommend you read this, this, and this.

I think it’s safe to say that my views on the issue have been remarkably consistent over time… and the likelihood of that changing between now and next week feels like something between slim and nonexistent.

It’ll be just another in a long line of moments to lie back and think of England.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, if you search Google for Teamwork Sucks, this humble blog is the 3rd ranked result. It seems I’ve been doing a good job at making the case. At least I have that.

Official Christmas…

That title is a misnomer, actually. As it has been for the entirety of my career, what was held this afternoon was the official Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Luncheon (NDWHL). I didn’t attend and if the past is prologue all it meant giving up my chance to pay $18 for a mediocre lunch and the opportunity to participate in painfully awkward party games.

I don’t have any philosophical issues with the annual get together. Sure it’s awfully lame compared to some that I’ve seen put on by private sector creatures, but that’s not really the problem either. Hanging around with Uncle, you get used to settling for the PG, family friendly, version of everything. For me it comes down to the simple discomfort of spending three to four hours boxed into a room full of perfect strangers. Being surrounded by people I don’t know and being required to make polite conversation with them for hours is basically one version of my own personal hell.

There is simply no amount of cajoling, peer pressure, or guilt that would convince me attending the NDWHL is a good idea. Telling me who to work with is well and good, but I always reserve the final say when it comes to who I do and don’t socialize with… and when I know something is simply going to be awkward and uncomfortable, why on earth would I pay for the privilege of enduring it when I have any other option?

The secret, little discussed 10th level of Hell…

There’s a special level of hell reserved for the bureaucrats. Conveniently, you don’t have to die to get there. All you have to do is show up, day after day for 40 years and suddenly somewhere along the way you realize you’re already there. You find yourself sitting in meetings that have been held every Tuesday since before anyone in the room was even an employee. You’ll find yourself updating a PowerPoint slide that you updated two months before, and two months before that and backwards in time to the dawn of the electronic age and into the land of acetate view graphs and overhead projectors before that.

Maybe somewhere in the mists of time there was a legitimate need to do these things, but so many of the time killing tasks we face day to day seem like they’re on autopilot that it’s near impossible to tell the important from the other stuff. Want to free up millions of dollars in resources? Cancel every repeating meeting on everyone’s calendar and only schedule meetings that are actually needed. Meetings shouldn’t be a weekly excuse for coffeecake and social time. Poof. Suddenly you’ve saved yourself a million man hours a month. Want to save more money? Never prepare PowerPoint charts unless they are absolutely necessary to express a complex concept. Our caveman ancestors used their words to spread ideas. Surely we can manage to do the same.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be toiling on the next series of charts in the 10th level of hell… my half-walled cubicle. Now if I can just figure out where they’ve put my stapler.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.