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.  

Inertia…

Some people, probably those with a more optimistic world view, would say we’ve reached the point in the week where momentum has kicked in. My less generous take is that really it’s just bureaucratic inertia taking hold of the event. Once a program or project starts, they’ll mostly just continue along indefinitely until something forces them to stop. There’s no stopping function here until close of business two days hence.

There’s a schedule we’re vaguely close to following. People are showing up more or less at their designated times. We’ve trudged through the first and longest day without any overly serious problems. Don’t get me started on people’s seeming inability to brief and then immediately go away so we can proceed on schedule to the next segment. This introvert will never understand the tendency to stand around, blocking the camera, glad handing for ten minutes once you’ve finished what you’re there to do. Personally, once my piece is finished, I want to be the first out the door. I’ve never felt the need or desire to mill around talking about what I just talked about when there was literally anything else I could be doing.

On a positive note, I haven’t had to worry about a giant tent blowing away during a freak thunderstorm, the caterer not making enough food for lunch, or issuing refunds for people wo decided to spend shit tons of money and then not show up. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Still, from my wheelhouse down at the edge of the stage, the only good event is the one that’s already over.

Another Tharp and Associates Production…

It’s the most ridiculous week of the year.

I spent most of the morning updating slides that were allegedly “final” three weeks ago. There’s always one more opportunity to swap out “glad” for “happy” for the 36th time, I suppose.

I should probably be happy. The inertia of large events is about to take control of this one and guide it down the slipway towards “mission complete” on Thursday afternoon. The only promise I ever make in the days before a Tharp and Associates Production is “Some things will go well. Some things will go badly. And a week after it’s over, no one will care except that it means we’ve checked that particular box for another circuit around the sun.”

This is the second year in a row that we’ve been forced to do everything “remotely.” Despite it being infinitely more manageable and cost effective, I can’t imagine that COVID-enforced way of doing things being allowed to persist in a post- COVID world. Before you know it, I’ll be back to talking to caterers, circus tent rental companies, stage and lighting designers, and the gaggle of other vendors you need to deal with to make sure every year is just a little bit bigger and more extravagant than the one before.

There are loads of future dates and activities that I look forward to, but I try not to make a habit of wishing my life away. All the same, if I were to go to sleep tonight and somehow wake up on Friday morning, I wouldn’t raise a word of protest.

72 hours…

It’s Friday. That used to mean something. Usually I’d welcome it unreservedly. This week, though, it just means the countdown to the inevitable raft of stupid that will consume all of next week is about to set sail.

There’s one final waypoint on Monday. It’s the last formal opportunity for the gods on Olympus to inject changes into a timeline that’s been tinkered with for months now. Certainly it’s been sloshed around long enough that a reasonable person could have already spotted anything they wanted to change. Life in the bureaucracy, of course, mustn’t rely on the expectation of the gods being reasonable… or even that they’ve looked at anything until the last possible moment.

It may be Friday, but there remains an entire weekend and a Monday before things start to happen and inertia exerts itself on the course of events. On Friday evening it’s still entirely possible for someone to breathe the wrong way sometime in the next 72 hours and send the whole thing spiraling off into a chaotic hell dimension.

But sure, other than that lurking in the background, I’m ready to enjoy the weekend.

More news from our stupid century…

I saw an article a couple of days ago from a nominally reputable news source, published under the headline “Retailers urged to re-think police calls for low-level crimes.”

Unsurprisingly, I fall into the camp that would take the exact opposite approach. As long as people are rewarded, or at a minimum not punished for criminal behavior, there’s no disincentive at all against continuing to engage in that behavior. I’m no sociologist, but it feels like a reasonable assumption that if I get away with some number of these “low-level” crimes, at some point I may be tempted to escalate towards criminal actions that aren’t minor. That’s pure speculation based on my estimation of basic human behavior, of course.

I’d hoped we could all agree on something as basic as stating “crime is bad.” Apparently here in the 21st century even that is a bridge too far.

While I’m perfectly willing to concede that some crimes are worse than others, I’m nowhere close to the idea that we shouldn’t enforce the law, deter would be criminals, and punish those who choose to live outside the law. I’d go so far as to say there should be more arrests and prosecutions for criminal activities rather than fewer. Otherwise, have the courage to change the laws so everyone has an equal opportunity to pass counterfeit notes, shoplift, or engage in whatever other petty criminal behavior strikes their fancy in a guilt free environment.

Retailers may be willing to look the other way, but catering to a criminal element by condoning or enabling bad behavior feels like precisely the opposite of the actions we need to be taking to discourage and penalize criminal activity.

The limits of good intent…

I’m sure it was with good intent that the powers that be declared we would have a “Combating Extremism Stand Down.” The insurrectionist attack on the Capitol in January highlighted the obvious, but rarely discussed, presence of bad actors in the ranks. 

Our version of this stand down involves a mandatory 90-minute training delivered up by the most senior leader we could wrangle. That’s fine. It’s at least an official acknowledgment that some of the apples are rotten.

The thing is, getting after people who support insurrection isn’t best served by dragging thousands of people into an online meeting and rationally explaining that raising a rebellion is a bad thing. Most people instinctively know that extremism is bad. It’s this same approach that leads us to have a yearly meeting where we’re told 37 times that rape and sexual harassment are bad… and that’s sure done a legendary job at stopping rapists.

Preaching to the choir has its place, but telling people who are already doing the right thing that they should do the right thing doesn’t solve many problems. It hasn’t been effective in clearing rapists out of the service and I can’t imagine it will have any greater effect at luring out the extremist threat. 

If the powers that be are serious about scouring the place clean, there would be less talk and more smashing skulls. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that rather than telling the insider threat to be nicer, maybe tearing it out root and stem would be a more effective strategy. Until extremists, rapists, or other’s who show criminal intent are fired, court martialed, hauled before a firing squad, or otherwise driven out, saying the words is fine. Raising awareness is fine. Just don’t expect that kind of minimal effort to get you where you want to be. 

The darkest day…

This afternoon a vile and seditious mob stormed and attempted to occupy the United States Capitol at the direction of the President of the United States. Their intent was to subvert our laws and Constitution by preventing the Congress from formally counting the votes of the Electoral College.

At best it’s insurrection. At worst it’s treason.

Today we’re watching an attempted coup d’état in the United States of America.

January 6, 2021 should forever be condemned as the darkest day in the history of our republic.

Skipping the COVID luncheon…

If there was any remnant of the Before Time I thought the Great Plague would manage to kill off, it was the whole concept of the office retirement / going away party. For eight months now, medical advice has been to severely curtail unnecessary social interaction (ex. graduation parties, weddings) and for the last few weeks the wisdom of traveling to join family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas has even been called into question. 

It’s bad enough for people who need to show up for jobs that can’t be done remotely (and even worse for those whose job can be remote, but prevailing management culture prevents or discourages it). The goal there, in the absence of proper vaccination, should be in minimizing the number of people occupying the same workspace to the maximum extent possible. Pulling more people into that space for something as blatantly needless as a farewell luncheon feels like approaching the very height of an unnecessary activity.

People want normalcy. They want to do things that way they use to be done. I get it. Wanting to put more people that necessary for continued operational requirements in a room for the sake of a pot luck lunch, is, in my estimation, an absolute jackass move and you’ll never convince me otherwise… but by all means, I welcome an explanation of how it in any way “supports the mission” without unnecessarily increasing the overall risk to every person in the room and any person who might be in the room after the fact.

I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but a farewell luncheon in a confined space is just a bad judgement call from people who should know better. So yeah, I’ll be skipping the COVID luncheon, thanks.

There’s a first time for everything…

I’ve made something of a hobby out of ranting and raving about the job, poking fun at the nature of the bureaucracy, and generally saying out loud what I suspect a lot of us have thought at one point or another. The truth is, I’ve had a remarkable career – well beyond what any kid born down the crick in the late 1970s had any right to expect.

With one or two notable exceptions I’ve been blessed with bosses who existed somewhere in the good to exceptional range. Again, with occasional exceptions, I’ve mostly had colleagues who I both liked and respected.

In a few months, I’m coming up on 19 years on the job. Through all of that time, I always felt capable of informally working through any problematic issues that came up. At worst, there would be an awkward conversation and things could be nudged back on track. For the first time in almost two decades of service, I’ve encountered an issue that couldn’t, by its nature, be resolved informally, off the books.

Despite my reputation as a grenade thrower, let me say that I absolutely hate having been put in this position. I hate that I needed to be the one to say something in a universe that values going along to get along. I hate that it puts more trouble on my boss’ plate when it’s already piled high with shit sandwiches. I hate that I have colleagues who could be put into a worse position than they were before I opened my mouth.

Mostly I hate the fact that decisions made by those at echelons higher than reality made any of it necessary in the first place. 

A wasted opportunity…

I’ve got no interest in being a “digital nomad.” I don’t want to work from a different far-flung location every month, schlepping my life around in a suitcase. I sampled that life enough when I was young, ambitious, and living in hotels to know that being home with the animals and all my stuff is really where it’s at. That I can do with almost no limitations thanks to the amount of technology being brought to bear to make the old school office a bit anachronistic.

In its ongoing coverage of the world in the Great Plague era, National Geographic asks, “Is this the end of the office?”

As much as I’d like to think the answer is an unreserved “yes,” I’ve been bureaucrating long enough to know better. When you hear comments like “I don’t know how anyone works from home” or “I don’t think anyone gets anything done from home,” or a more general “I hate it,” from those in a position to make decisions on whether work takes place from anywhere other than the belly of cubicle hell, well, it’s a pretty clear indicator of what the actual future will look like. Evidence to the contrary won’t, in my professional estimation, be a factor when such things are decided.

It’s a shame, really. This should have been an opportunity to overhaul the way we thing about and do our work – and a way to create a distributed workforce that doesn’t rely on a single point of failure (ex. a big concrete and steel building) to get the job done. Instead, at the earliest possible moment, we’re likely to roll the clock back, and pretend that everything must be just as it was during the before time.

I had hoped that I was settled in to the place where I was going to ride out the last third of my career, but of that means a return to being judged by physical presence rather than output, I’ll likely need to reconsider that thought. I’m not sure I’ll be able to content myself to a world that goes back to valuing asses in cubes as its key metric for success.