A next week problem…

After going through this past Friday like a scalded dog, I didn’t have high hopes for today. I mean Monday is bad by its very nature. Non-telework Mondays pile badness upon badness. I expected today to be an unmitigated shitshow – just a continuation of Friday by other means.

A perk of my generally pessimistic view of the world is that every now and then things don’t go as abysmally as I anticipate. That’s not to say they go altogether well, but from time to time, the universe momentarily forgets to conspire against you and all your works.

That was today. It wasn’t great – cubicle seating and fluorescent lighting made sure of that – but the day had a reasonable ebb and flow that last week lacked in its entirety. The day had breathing room instead of presenting eight solid hours of things that needed to be reacted to immediately. That’s not to say that all the things with immediacy issues were important. My experience in the belly of the bureaucracy is that the really important stuff almost never requires an immediate, off the cuff reaction.

I fully expect there’s a price to pay for avoiding ridiculousness today. The universe will have to balance the scales… but just now I’m hoping to skate through two more days and get to my long weekend. Then balancing the scales can be a next week problem.

How to improve cubicle hell…

I was in the office today. Even five months into the Great Plague, the rhythms of the place carry on largely unchanged. With upwards of 70% of the staff working from home it has a bit of a ghost town feel… but the phones keep ringing, the email keeps flowing, the day-to-day work seems to be getting done, and ridiculous ideas continue to abound. If it weren’t for needing to pick up the phone instead of sticking your head over a cubicle wall, I’d honestly be hard pressed to know that today was any different than the before time. I suppose you can decide what to make of that information.

What I noticed most about the day, though, was the absence of periodic fuzzy interruptions throughout the day. I hadn’t noticed until now how much I’ve come to expect the cat to occasionally jump onto the keyboard or work through the next email one handed while one or both dogs lean in for ear scratches and ear rubs. Even with that, they’re among the least distracting coworkers I’ve ever had.

The golden age of working from home will end eventually – killed off by the unstoppable force of an employer who believe asses in seats equals productivity as much as by the immovable object of employees who equate working from home with a paid vacation day.

I’ve known for most of my working life that there’s very little I can do at the office that I couldn’t do from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection… but these last few months have only just reinforced that having the animals alongside makes the fuckery of the standard eight-hour work day infinitely more tolerable. If we’re all eventually going to be stuck back in cubicle hell eventually, adding some coworkers with wagging tails or a steady and reliable purr would be incredibly helpful.

Red shirt Fridays…

Since the beginning of the Great Plague, I’ve been an “occasional” essential employee. That mostly means I schlep over to the office on days when a warm body is needed to meet the mandate that someone physically be there.

Like my Pepto-Bismol pink shirts of yore, worn as a mark of being sick of a never-ending monthly series of hours long meetings that accomplished absolutely nothing, I do my best to arrive on duty these days wearing my finest red shirt. Like the red-shirted crewman of Kirk’s Enterprise, I know too well that my role here is to be utterly replicable phaser fodder.

What I’ve learned through four months of working through my occasional role as a red shirt is that easily 90% of what I do professionally can be done from anywhere in the world that offers a stable high speed internet connection. As often as not, it can be done faster from such far flung locations as my home office or back porch because the work isn’t interrupted every 15 minutes by chatty colleagues or impromptu meetings. If I’m brutally honest, the other 5-9% of work that I need to be in the office to do could also be done from remote locations, but would require something more than the current “basic load” of software we have to work with.

That leaves somewhere between 1-5% of work activities that require specialized access or equipment that can only be provided in the actual office. Even assuming the upper end of the range, which I’m not conceding other than for illustrative purposes, that’s a legitimate need to be in the office about one twentieth of the time spent working.

I have to wonder if, at some point, the universe of bosses will figure out that constructing these monumental buildings of concrete and glass are ultimately a bad return on investment. They’re literally billions of dollars of infrastructure that can’t be justified because the work doesn’t need those buildings to get done. Better, perhaps, to build smaller, more cost effective offices that people could use “as needed” rather than continue to proceed from the assumption that nothing can be done if it’s not happening in a cubicle.

I’ve got, hopefully, less than fifteen years left in this ride of mine, so I doubt seriously I’ll see that glorious awakening – not when the current generation of uber-bosses still like to throw around phrases like “team cohesion,” “collaborative workspace,” or “synergy.” They’re still too hung up on seeing asses in seats and slavering at the bit for the day they can bring everyone back to cubicle hell.

They have the power. They can return the office to (almost) exactly what it was before the Great Plague. They can, but they shouldn’t want to. They should replace the old constructs with something better, more cost effective, and employee friendly.

I know it’s a dream, but it’s a happy one – and one I won’t stop advocating for even when they bring all the red shirts back.

On the vagaries of fate…

Government work isn’t generally known as a hotbed of excitement. Still, there are people in Florida heaving heavy objects into deep space, bean counters at Treasury striving mightily to keep the economy on track, agricultural inspectors keeping an eye on our meat and produce, or Coasties rescuing sailors in distress. There’s a lot of good work going on out there.

I should put heavy emphasis on the “out there,” because none of those things is reflective of what I’m currently fiddling with on behalf of my rich uncle. I spent at least some part of today reviewing the website of a local porta potty company and talking with their very special customer service team about getting a quote to provide services to an upcoming event. Lest you think that we’re talking about hauling in a bunch of standard plastic single seater units that we’ve all seen or used at outdoor venues, you can get that image out of your head completely. We’re talking about trailerable units that are fully powered and ventilated, plumbed with hot and cold running water, and feature the latest in mobile bathroom design elements.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like living as a planner in one of those little corners of my universe that does the cool stuff… or what might have been if I’d have landed back in the strategic planning world I thought I was headed towards when I made the leap back to Maryland. I, and the world, will never know. It’s the path not taken.

If anyone needs me I’ll be over here thinking about executive porta johns and wondering which particular career decision put me inexorably on the path to this exact moment.

Ten days…

So I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in ten days. As much as I’d like to say I missed it and can’t wait to get back on the schedule, truth is I haven’t even really been thinking about it. I haven’t made many notes and the general aggravation that fuels most of my writing is decidedly absent.

The obvious point here is that it’s clearly the job that pushes me into writing regularly and to vent my spleen. I mean people as a whole are still every bit as annoying as they always are, but without the overarching influence of being in the office, they’re just not agitating me like they usually do.

Vacations don’t last forever, of course. By this time next week I’ll be up to my eyeballs in it and feeling like I was never away at all. I’ll try to squeeze in a couple more posts this week, but believe me when I tell you that the spirit just isn’t moving me. It really makes me wonder if I’ll have to shelve the whole blog completely on the happy day when I finally retire (or hit a multi-state lottery jackpot, whichever comes first).

As it turns out when I’m left to my own devices and away from the influence of working for money, I really have very little I’m compelled to bitch about. Go figure.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. System access. There’s a system at work that I nominally need access to in order to do my job. The last time I’ve had access to this system is on the 25th of November. A few help desk phone calls, a few opened and closed help tickets, and I’m still no closer to being able to use it. That’s fine, though. I suppose when Uncle wants me to be able to do that part of my job someone, somewhere, will figure out what’s supposed to happen. Until then, it’s shrugs and pursed lips all around when I mention it, so whatever, yo.

2. I told you so. There really aught to be a unmitigated right in every employee’s conditions of employment document that allows them to kick in the door of senior leaders and scream “I TOLD YOU SO!” while gesticulating wildly and pointing accusatory fingers whenever such a display is made appropriate. This would generally be because advice was ignored, actions were delayed, and “somehow” a nine month planning window suddenly condensed into three months. Maybe that’s too specific circumstance. Still, I’d like to “I told you so” a whole bunch of people right now, but no, that’s not “a professional attitude.” Bugger that. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll see it here.

3. Scheduling. I’ve got a pretty substantial stretch of non-work days coming up. This week I’ve started laying out what I want to do against the amount of time available. Before the vacation has even started, I’ve got slightly more than half of the days accounted for by at least one appointment, task, or “to do” item. Some of those activities will be more entertaining than others, of course, but what’s really chaffing right now is how little of this long awaited down time is legitimately going to be restful or relaxing.

I’m like the Queen…

As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.

I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.

What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.

After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.

Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.

Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.

Underrated perks…

One of the truly underrated perks of telework Monday is throwing Monday’s dinner in the crockpot at lunchtime and spending the rest of the day smelling it come together. Sure, there are a few better smells than kielbasa and sauerkraut, but it’s one of those that ranks right up there. Yes, the 20 foot commute is hard to be upset about, but having a fresh hot meal ready when you close the books on the day is just hard to beat.

This, sadly, was not one of those nice quiet telework days where you can get a little bit caught up. It was more of a steady drumbeat of questions already asked and answered and repeating yourself until beating your head bloody against the keyboard felt like a reasonable option. There’s nothing about the experience that would have been made better by spending it in a 6×8 foot cube. Far be it from me not to recognize the small mercy of at least endure it while wearing fuzzy slippers and in the company of dogs.

So I’ll use what would otherwise be my commute time to stick my nose in a book and wait for dinner to reach peak sauerkraut-y goodness. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was good enough.

In my mind, a few quality perks are fine compensation for a whole host of minor sins.

A late lunch…

I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.

Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.

I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.

Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.

Feeling a little nostalgic…

It’s been a minute since the last time I spent a day glued to NOAA weather briefings, memorizing Department of Transportation route plans, and casting a professional eye towards America’s excess bottled water and ice production and storage capacity. It was a gig that required finding ways to say yes as often as possible, but also offering definitive “no’s” when there was no way to get there from here. I mostly enjoyed the work… and I was good at it.

On days when the storm flags are up, I almost miss it. Working hurricanes was one of the few times in my career I could draw a straight line between the work and the outcome. It was more than editing version 26 of the next set of PowerPoint slides. Getting personnel and supplies marshaled and delivered to the people and places where they were needed was possibly the only time in my long career I’ve felt like I was legitimately accomplishing something.

Now, the TV screens are flickering between cabinet secretaries resigning under fire and the arrival of what should be a routine, if not trivial, tropical storm along the Gulf Coast. With unseasonably high water on the Mississippi, a few feet of storm surge, and the potential to drop ten or more inches of rain in a few hours, Barry isn’t an unusual storm… but he does does arrive bring an unusual confluence of factors that probably don’t bode well for New Orleans and southern Louisiana.

My armchair professional best guess is that the levees will hold this time, but the bigger factor will be the city’s pump capacity. Not even the vaunted pumps installed after Karina are sized to de-water that much sustained rainfall over a period of hours.

I know tonight over at 500 C Street, SW there’s a small army of FEMA personnel and an array of planners from the federal partner agencies making educated guesses on what’s needed, when it needs to get there, and how to deliver it effectively. On days like this, I miss the urgency of that kind of work… but lord, I don’t miss the 16 hour days.