Service disruption…

There was a planned water outage at our building today. Now there are a number of questions one could reasonably ask about that, such as why this long planned outage was scheduled to begin at 7:30 in the morning on a Wednesday instead of some time during the last two weeks when the building was occupied by little more than a skeleton crew. Wednesday, for anyone paying attention to the ebb and flow of the workforce, is generally the day when the building is most densely occupied. Planning work to impact the maximum number of people feels like some solidly piss poor government decision making. 

Additionally, cutting off the water supply to a building that’s still largely papered with signs reminding everyone to maintain social distance and to frequently wash their hands in order to help reduce the spread of viral illness, is one of those things that could be considered at least vaguely irresponsible. It doesn’t feel like being able to perform basic personal hygiene activities, such as using the restroom or washing your hands, should be something that echelons higher than reality decide we just don’t need to do for half the day or longer. 

Of course, there was a simple and obvious answer to how this known and planned on situation could have been handled. Someone at a responsible level of decision making should have been able to look at a planned lack of running water, an easy to project inability for people to perform simple hygienic and sanitary activities, and make a decision that “Hey, this might be a good day to minimize the number of people in the building and let the majority work from an alternate location for the day.” 

Unsurprisingly, the decision from management was that no, we were going to press on with business as usual. If there was ever a more neon flashing sign that the decision makers at echelons higher than reality have willfully opted to ignore the lessons of the last three years, I haven’t seen it… yet. 

We had a once in a lifetime chance to redesign how work – especially information work – gets done in this country and we’ve blown it up in favor of falling back to the management principles and philosophies of the 1950s. It’s completely telling that when a service disruption at home prevents me from performing my job, I’m expected to schlep over to the office or take the appropriate amount of leave… but when the office is unable to provide uninterrupted water service, I’m also expected to schlep into the office and act as if that’s just a normal thing to do instead of going to a place where all the utilities are functional for the day.

I’d pretend to be surprised, but no one would believe me.

A low-grade crud…

I went from March 2020 to December 2021 without so much as a cough. I can trace my Christmas crud last year directly to the one time I strayed out from normal habits of avoiding people. Believe me when I tell you I was good at avoiding people before COVID. After COVID, I’ve become exceptional… of course that assumes a situation where I exert some level of control over most of the variables. 

I’m in no way surprised that six weeks after “return to the office” I already find myself dealing with a low-grade crud. You wouldn’t be surprised either if you heard the general amount of background hacking, sniffling, and general complaints that “it’s probably just a cold,” floating around the cube farm on any given day.

The good news is that as long as the handy little at home tests can be trusted, it’s probably a run of the mill cold and not the Great Plague. The bad news, of course, is the only reason I’ve got a head full of anything just now is because my corner of the great green machine continues to obstinately cling to the idea that work is a place rather than an activity despite two years of evidence to the contrary.

If you’re wondering when I’ll stop being salty about this world where asses in seats continues to be a more important metric than production, well, I won’t… and I don’t even need this periodic upper respiratory reminder to keep it in the forefront of my mind.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blue Falcons. From time immemorial there have been Blue Falcons. They’re the kind of people who would step over their own sainted grandmother or cheat their best friend if they thought it was a chance to get ahead. The ranks of the great green machine are thick with them to some greater or lesser degree. The worst of them, the ones who create a lot of smoke and heat but not much light, are the staff schmucks who think they’ll gain the barest marginal advantage by selling out someone down the hall over an issue that could have been remedied with an email. Being a buddy fucker isn’t a good look, friends. Even if you gain a nominal advantage temporarily, the taint will be on you till the end of your days.

2. Weekends. The problem with the weekend is whole vast swaths of the population are off at the same time. I found myself unavoidably out on Saturday afternoon to do some business with places that don’t obligingly open their doors before 7 AM. To my never-ending horror, there were people everywhere. Traffic backed up at every light. It’s goddamned nightmare fuel. Maybe I need to find a gig where I can take two sequential weekdays off instead of Saturday and Sunday… because weekends are absolutely not relaxing when I have to subject myself to the crowd.

3. There’s been a wave of “climate protests” across Europe. The most recent spate of “protestors” feature assholes damaging and destroying art across the continent who rank right alongside the Taliban scum who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas or the ISIS fucks who destroyed the Roman theater at Palmyra. At best they’re petulant little shits throwing a temper tantrum because their ideas can’t draw support on their own merits… but in my estimation they’re domestic terrorists who should be delt with as such.

Can do attitude…

So hey, what we’re going to go ahead and do is pile all of you guys back in this room with no windows or moving air so you can spread disease and shout over one another to have conversations, participate in online meetings, and make phone calls. Oh, and by the way, those nice noise cancelling headphones that you’ve been using for years and make working elbow to asshole with everyone else sitting in cubicle hell tolerable are also now contraband… but don’t worry, we’re going to replace them with piece of shit one ear call center headsets that are a-ok.

We’re also going to rip the microphones and cameras out of your laptops so you’ll need to go ahead and use external devices when you’re teleworking to get those functions. No, I’m sure that won’t be in any way a pain in the ass. They’re one step away from explaining why it’s a feature and not a bug.

One of the real perks of working here at this center of excellent excellency is that even when you can’t imagine being able to drive morale even lower, someone finds a way. If there’s a way to make working conditions even slightly more unpleasant, we’ll get after it with gusto. We’re organizationally resourceful like that. It’s the kind of “can do” attitude we like to see.

The part of this whole sorry state of affairs that I’m going to enjoy most is that six months from now someone is going to wander through the area and comment that everyone seems angsty and hostile. If they’ve got a day or two to talk it over, I’ll be happy to give them the full list of how and why… with examples and annotation. 

A sad bloody hash…

A million years ago when I was a teacher for about 30 minutes, I was a dues paying member of the local union. I don’t remember how much the dues were, but it must have been pretty nominal if I was willing to part with it when I was making something like $2,400 a month. Part of the deal there was that the union was responsible for negotiating our salary and benefits package. Outside of that, my engagement with them was pretty minimal.

For most if not all of my career as a cog in Uncle’s great green machine, I’ve also been nominally superintended by one union or another. The difference here, of course, is that none of these unions are able to negotiate pay or benefits or much of anything that really makes a strong case for sending them money every other week. In 20 years, the total number of times I’ve needed anything from a union is precisely zero point zero. Other than the few run-ins I’ve had with them complaining about me for taking up whole swaths of the parking lot with giant tents every April there for a few years, I simply haven’t had any reason or desire to deal with them.

After three weeks of wondering why no one has heard anything about when or if the new and improved telework program will be rolling out, I finally decided to reach out directly to the leadership of our local union. I sent over a perfectly professional inquiry about why we hadn’t heard a word about it, what the holdup is, and when it’s expected to be resolved. It’s certainly not as if it isn’t a point of conversation around the water cooler every single day at this point.

I’ll be honest here, I got the sense that the union official who responded either didn’t appreciate the specific questions, didn’t appreciate being questioned in general, or maybe he’d just gotten tired of being asked the same thing 100 times a week. His response did throw in one of my favorite old saws that anyone who’s been around more than a few days has heard – that “we train to standard, not to time.” You can roughly translate that to mean it’s going to take as long as it takes, so quit asking.

As a professional planner I consider it one of the worst possible approaches to doing anything. In my universe, time is part of the standard. A 100% solution delivered months after it’s needed is every bit as bad and often much worse than a 50% solution delivered on time. Neither one has the desired effects when and where they’re needed. Any good planner should tell you they’re working to both time and standard, not one or the other as if they’re mutually exclusive, unrelated factors.

Basically it was a very polite invitation to go fuck myself, which I’m not especially offended by… other than wishing people would just say that up front rather than couching it in euphemism. He made his point. I made mine. I doubt either one of us feels better for the experience. As a non-dues paying employee, my opinion doesn’t carry much weight to the union’s internal deliberations, but that doesn’t mean for one moment that I’m not going to voice them whenever I feel it’s appropriate… and I haven’t seen or heard anything yet that would convince me our “representation” hasn’t made a sad bloody hash of the whole thing. 

Value added synergy…

In recognition of my first day back at the office under 2019 working conditions, I’m excited to provide an exhaustive list of things I did at the office that I couldn’t have done if I were home.

– Cleaned off a shelf in my cubicle to restock with coffee, tea, and corresponding additives and accessories. If I’m going to have to be here, mass quantities of caffeine are absolutely going to be necessary.

– Cleaned out a drawer in my cubicle that was filled with crackers, ketchup packets, and sundry foodstuffs that mostly expired early in 2020. Mostly this was just gross. For the record, I should note that mustard packets absolutely do not age well even when stored in a cool, dark place.

– Found two banker’s boxes with lids that someone was sending to recycling. Banker’s boxes are great for book storage. They’re now stashed in my cubicle awaiting a dry day when I can liberate them.

– I spent an hour in a meeting this morning. It was probably one of only 3 or 4 meetings I’ve attended in person in the last 30 months. I have no idea why I was invited as none of the topics were anywhere close to my lane. But there I was, because that’s where Outlook told me to be at 10:00. I could have dialed in for this meeting, but since I was there in person, I’m claiming it as an accomplishment for the day.

– Pushed the button to unlock our room door thrice. As far as I can tell, this is in fact one of my mission essential tasks. In light of that I’ve begun tracking how many times a day I push the button. If it’s going to be the thing that keeps us here in person, I want to make sure I get credit for it on my next performance appraisal.

– Got to listen to at least one person hack up a lung in each and every room I entered today. No idea if it was flu, cold, allergies, plague, or some new and exotic illness, but there they were, spraying the room and everyone in it with their aerosolized gunk throughout the course of the day. I’m just going with assumption now that the office is 100% where the Great Plague will finally catch up with me.

– It was Taco Tuesday featuring a selection of hard- and soft-shell tacos, homemade empanadas, all the appropriate toppings, and a selection of deserts. It was one of the rare occasions when I willingly violated my personal rules against participating in lunch events in badly lit conference rooms. 

There you have it. That’s what extra value you get for your money when I’ve schlepped over to cubicle hell instead doing business from the ease and comfort of my office at home. I’m sure it was all very “value added” or “synergistic” or “team-focused” or something.

Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

It’s a long list…

It’s new supervisor day at the office. I’d like to pretend raging indifference, but the fact remains that whoever signs your leave requests and timesheets has a tremendous influence on whether the eight hours you rent yourself out for on a daily basis go well or badly.

After almost twenty years in harness, I’ve accumulated a long list of former bosses.  If I feel like being polite, I’ll say that some were better than others. If I’m not, I’d say that some were princes among men and others were oxygen thieving asshats I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. Most were somewhere in between the extremes.

I don’t know the new guy, so I’m withholding judgement until there’s a reasonable basis for deciding where he falls on the spectrum. A lot of that is going to depend on just how “energetic” they decide to be in their new position. All new bosses will inevitably make changes, but the real determinative factor is whether they wants to change the things that need changing or whether they end up chasing wholesale changes just because they want to “leave a mark” or because he knows better than anyone ever before.

The dude has got big shoes to fill… and I’m not just saying that because the old boss is now my senior rater. It’s a hard, thankless job made all the more difficult because echelons higher than reality can never quite agree on what the job is actually supposed to entail. I’ve had two chances now to apply for what would be a respectable promotion and opted against doing so both times. I wouldn’t want the job at twice the pay. I’m happy enough letting others sit in the councils of the great and the good while I tend my widgets and get home at a reasonable hour.

My own personal hell…

The only sure things in life, it’s said, are death and taxes. Those do seem to come with alarming regularity while most other aspects of getting by are a bit more sporadic.

There are, though, other truisms of life in the bureaucracy that feel as if they are just as certain. Unsurprisingly, the one I’m most focused on today relates directly to events… because no bureaucracy worth its salt can seem to resist the temptation to throw itself big, showy parties for no discernable reason whatsoever.

In terms of bang for the buck, I’d be hard pressed to give you any real return on investment for these adventures. I’m sure it makes someone, somewhere, probably those managerial gods on high Olympus, feel good. For the rest of us, it’s nothing so much as a good old-fashioned pain in the ass. One more thing to do on a list that never, ever gets any shorter regardless of how many items a day you manage to strike down.

The only thing consistent across the universe of these parties and events is that they start more or less on time, some bits in the middle go well, some others slide off the rails, and then they end slightly earlier than scheduled. Everything else is details and by the time the next week starts, no one remembers any of those as they race off to do the next Very Important Thing and try to scratch out a modicum of credit from whatever bosses they serve.

My career is well into its back half now. Mercifully the days of feeling the need to get every attaboy or head pat are long gone. Now, my only love language comes in the form of a time off. I’ve already got a box full of certificates and general officer notes that will never see the light of day again. Cash awards end up being taxed away before you even know you’ve gotten one. There’s no appetite for time off awards at echelons higher than reality, though. They mean for some fixed amount of time there’s some other Very Important Thing you’re not working on… and the bosses hate that.

I’ve reached a stage of bureaucratic enlightenment beyond the trivialities of cash, certificates, or time off awards. All I really want is for this thing to start so that it can eventually end and we can all forget the part in the middle. With this agonizing exercise in organizational self-gratification wrapped up, so I can think about something – anything – else for the next six months before the planning cycle starts for the 2023 version of my own personal hell.

Wartime leadership…

If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch Ukrainian President Zelensky address members of the US Congress. The man displays more leadership in ten minutes than the Congress has shown in the last ten years.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2022/03/16/volodymyr-zelensky-congress-speech-ukraine-video-newsroom-vpx.cnn