1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 22 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 22 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
2. Alumni giving. One thing I’ll say about the people who run the Frostburg State University Alumni Association and Annual Fund is they’re persistent. Phone calls, letters, and emails never stop. I’m sure they’re doing whatever it is that’s within their charter, but Jesus Christ maybe give it a five minute rest. If I were to drop dead tomorrow, the Alumni Association would be well taken care of. The broad strokes of that are already put in place. If they keep up this constant harangue for cash, though, they’re going to get cut out and the homeless dogs of Cecil County will find themselves heir to a windfall when I shuffle off. The constant pestering across every possible communications medium just isn’t a good look and I don’t want to reward or encourage it.
3. Rules. Look, I think the rules are stupid. You think the rules are stupid. Every-damned-body thinks the rules are stupid… but the thing is, if I’m being expected to abide by them while someone down the hall isn’t, well, they’re not really rules in any meaningful sense of the word. I’ve been a good boy and registered my objection through the proper channels to kept things right and proper. If that resolves the issue, great. If it doesn’t? Well, don’t expect I’ll be quietly accepting of having the rules applied to me and not to others for no discernable reason other than making people comply is awkward. I’ve been a bureaucrat way too long for that kind of fuckery to stand.
Focus is a funny thing. I say that because for most of the day today seven minutes seemed like just about the maximum amount of time I was able to focus on any one thing before my eyes started going twitchy. By ten minutes, I’d be working on a dull ache in the back of my head. Past fifteen and the ache would be running down my back and I’d find my shoulders somewhere up around my ears. Good times.
Honestly it reminds me of nothing so much as the one time, many years ago, when I had inflicted a mild concussion on myself by falling over and bouncing my head off the driveway. I’m just assuming it’s all some kind of reptilian brain trauma response running in the deep layers of the human operating system. I’m sure the brain is a remarkable organ, but sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass.
It’s well that no one came along asking me to do something that required any level of academic rigor, because I’m not at all sure I could have managed it even under duress. Getting out a few unremarkable emails and sitting through a thoroughly a probably necessary, but thoroughly uninteresting meeting seemed to be just about the limit of my mental prowess today. I’m sure I won’t win any prizes for the off the cuff word salad I spit out during that last meeting of the day, but I’m putting it squarely in the pile of things I’m choosing not to care about.
Even under those conditions, today felt like putting a lot of undue strain on the engines.
1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 20 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. I’m sure someone could make the case that there’s enough blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 20 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing to deliver for their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) and for continuing to stand in the way like some bloody great, utterly misguided roadblock. No one’s interest is served by their continued intransigence. The elected “leaders” of AFGE Local 1904 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
2. Artificial intelligence. Everywhere you turn, there’s an article or news story about AI – Deep fakes, creepy chatbots, ChatGPT – warning that we’re standing on the precipice of SkyNet. I’m somewhere between indifferent and intrigued. I mean I don’t especially want to spend the last 30 years of my run on this rock serving some new robot overlord, but the technology itself is undeniable fascinating. Honestly, if you take a look around at how humans have royally fucked up the 21st century, maybe it’s time we give AI a chance. I have to wonder if some of the fear surrounding AI is more concerned with it making better choices than we do rather than making everything worse. Take the humans out of the decision loop – our emotions, our ego – and hey presto we could be in for an interesting new world… or SkyNet. At this point, just roll the dice and see where they land.
3. Office sickies. Look, it’s bad enough we’re piled back in the office, but when you have big buckets of sick leave and the ability to request unlimited telework on an ad hoc basis, there’s no reason for anyone I work with to be in the office hacking, snorting, snot dripping, and generally spreading whatever contagion they’ve come in with on any given day. “You look like shit and sound awful” should be the kind of thing that triggers someone, somewhere in leadership to send plague carriers home to reduce the chance of the crud spreading… but it’s increasingly obvious that we’ve functionally learned nothing about how to manage illnesses over the last three years. Y’all were screaming about wanting to “get back to normal,” well I guess here we are. Same as it ever was.
A hundred years ago when Henry had Model T’s sliding off the assembly line at River Rouge, the standard 8-hour work day made some kind of sense. That line ran at a steady clip for 8 hours and each person performed X task or attached Y widget. One task necessarily had to follow the other and it all needed to be synchronous.
Easily one of the most farcical things in the world is the idea that assembly line techniques should be applied to working with information. As a desk jockey, my work is annoying but synchronous. A large portion of the things I touch over the course of the day depend on input from one or more people who may a) be out of the office; b) have other competing or higher priority issues; c) need to gather additional information from one or more other people; or d) have retired on duty and don’t give a rat’s ass who needs what or when. As often as not, there’s no particular order of operations because Task A isn’t necessarily reliant on Task B being all the way done.
In spite of the work being largely asynchronous, my work day is a regularly scheduled 8.5 hours. The hours are more or less fixed. And you can count on one hand the number of days I’ve worked in the last 20 years that have included a full 8 hours of production. On my best days, an easy two or more hours is pissed away just by waiting for other people to do something or provide some information. On days that are not the absolute best, productive time might be just one or two hours with the rest being lost in the sauce.
The real ridiculous bit of this is that regardless of whether time is productive or not, the expectation is that you’re mostly at your desk for the duration. It feeds the age-old illusion that the appearance of work is far more important than the reality of being productive, in spite of any logic to the contrary.
It seems to me that once you’ve cleared the deck of the day’s required work – whether that took you three hours or eight, your day should be pretty much done; Congratulations! You’ve won at working today. Get on outta here. The notion, most often held by those of the managerial persuasion, that people with time on their hands should cast around looking to pick up work from someone else is patently ridiculous. It’s a sure path to end up not just being assigned your work, but also some of the workload for two or three of the local office slugs. Instead, by common consent, what really happens is we stay firmly ensconced at our desks providing the illusion of productivity, but being 300 posts deep in r/AmItheAsshole.
Look, people are going to abuse whatever system you put in place. We seem to be hard wired to get away with whatever we can get away with. All I’m saying is that applying 1920’s industrial management principles to an information workforce in the 2020’s might not be getting anyone the best bang for their buck… but it’s the path of least resistance, so here we are.
I consider myself fortunate to not be one of those people who has an unseemly love for hearing his own voice. Like Mr. Ed before me, I try to make it a policy to never speak unless I have something to say. It mostly leaves me free to observe people’s comings and goings, their small tics and tells, and generally to spend my time trying to read the room rather than just sitting there cobbling together whatever I want to say next.
Once I make whatever point I believe needs making, I’m perfectly happy to fade into the background as things play out to their logical or illogical conclusion.
The result of this long practice is that, to quote Jed Bartlet, “I hear things. I don’t understand most of it, but I hear it.” Hearing the things, over the course of being dragged into a multitude of meetings, having offhand conversations, and overhearing random comments in passing over the last two decades has proven to be a veritable treasure trove of information about this, that, or the other thing. The vast majority is information that may not prove useful today, but that’s available to dredge out of deep memory at the point where it may be useful.
The trouble with sitting on this vast amount of information ferreted away in dribs and drabs is that much of it was never presented for public consumption. The amount of great stuff I have to write about that’s being self-embargoed because I don’t want to burn my sources and methods is an absolute absurdity… but since using any of it overtly risks leaving me out in the cold, embargoed it shall (mostly) stay.
Maybe someday I’ll get around to writing another helpful guide – this time one on not just joining, but learning to survive decades in the bureaucracy. It’s not the worse idea I’ve ever heard.
The dread I’m feeling about tomorrow being the end of my 17-day Christmas weekend is palpable. Without any scientific evaluation, it’s precisely why I think most heart attacks happen at the beginning of the work week.
Despite none of the plans of the last two weeks playing out as expected, the time has been an absolute delight – seemingly endless hours stretching out surrounded by books, and animals, and range time, and generally doing whatever caught my fancy on any given day or hour. I imagine it’s a sample of how I’d spend my days if it wasn’t necessary to work in order to afford those things.
I’m jealous of those people who, it seems, find fulfillment in their jobs. More power to them. I don’t know that I’ll ever find it more than a rude, 8-10 hour interruption, keeping me from doing the things that are actually of interest. For good or bad, I’ve told every boss I’ve ever had that it’s just a job, not some kind of sacred calling – usually in response to their misguided questioning about my desire to move upwards through positions of “increasing responsibility.”
If I were going to embark on some uplifting holy quest, I promise you it wouldn’t be planning the best gosh darn conference ever, or writing the OPORD with the fewest spelling mistakes, or sending out the most taskers in a single day.
It’s job, not in any way to be confused with actual life. If you’re expecting me to be passionate about it, you’re looking in the wrong place and at the wrong guy. I’ll do it well because that’s why I’m getting paid. The minute I’m finished, though, it won’t even be a passing thought during the rest of my day.
I’ll schlep into the office tomorrow because it’s what keeps the lights on and the animals fed. I might even crack some jokes or make a few snarky comments while I’m there. I’ll create the necessary illusion of being interested and engaged. Uncle will get his money’s worth… but it’s never, ever going to be a place or activity I’ll run to with a smile on my face and song in my heart.
1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 11 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 11 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.
2. Feigned concern. Suddenly, with cryptocurrency crashed off its highs, and big players in that universe collapsing, and taking hundreds of millions of dollars in customer “investments” with them, there’s a hue and cry that something must be done. You didn’t hear much of that when early adopters were making millions off of every dollar invested. But that’s not the point, is it? Crypto, not backed by a national economy or the full faith and credit of a government, not pegged against any number of global currencies, or even backed up by a giant vault of gold, is like walking in your local casino and putting your bet down on red. Pretending surprise and alarm that the ball dropped on black, people are now outraged. Look, I still hold Bitcoin. At its high that holding represented about 1/500th of my net worth. Now it represents somewhere less than 1/1000th. If it went to the moon, great. I’d take my winnings and go home. If it collapsed, also great. It’s a tax loss that offsets a bit of earned income. If you took a 3rd mortgage on the house and pawned everything you owned because crypto couldn’t lose, well, yeah, you’re an idiot. I know there’s a subset of popular opinion out there that believes everyone must be constantly coddled and protected against their own stupidity, but damn, sometimes stupid should be painful and people should be allowed to take their lumps.
3. Singing. You know what doesn’t happen when I’m working from home that does when I’m in the office? Well, it’s a lot of things, but the one that’s currently topping the chart is the fact that while I’m home there’s no one sitting 15 feet away with their headphones on singing at full volume like they’re the only motherfucker in the motherfucking world. I was raised to believe in valuing civil behavior, but every now and then expecting a guy not to take his red stapler and beat someone unconscious is asking a hell of a lot.
Most parts of life, in my estimation, are about finding the proper amount of motivation. Whatever goofy shit you can’t find a way to avoid doing, requires at least some motivation to get through. For instance, I rarely actually want to do laundry… but I like having clean socks and underwear. See, that’s the motivation.
As I sit here, with a mere 24 working hours between me and a 17-day weekend, let’s just say that motivation is more than a little hard to come by. Systems not working right? Fuck it. “Urgent” email asking things that have been answered three times already? Don’t care. Computer refusing to download a critical system patch that will result in the machine becoming unusable after Friday? Yup. That sounds like a January problem.
Look, I like getting paid on a regular basis. That’ll be all the motivation I need to muddle through the next three days… but it’ll be just that – a good old-fashioned pre-holiday muddle. Don’t waste your time looking for over and above. Disabuse yourself of the idea of it being a zero-defect environment. It’s the time of year when everyone’s just going to need to be satisfied that there’s a warm body here at all. Anything past that truly is a year-end bonus… or perhaps a Christmas miracle.
I read an article this morning that more or less decried the death of the downtown business district due to the continuing popularity of remote work. The percentages cited are hard to get around.
The city I’m most familiar with, having spent three years commuting into DC five days a week for three years back in the early stretches of my career, it looks like the in-person workforce is about 65% of its pre-pandemic high. Back when I worked in DC, my regular commute involved a 30-minute drive, a 40-minute Metro ride on the Green Line, and a 10-minute walk. So that was an 80-minute one way trip under perfect conditions and assuming I left the apartment no later than 5 AM. That time could easily double if there was even the hint of trouble on 95, 495, or the BW Parkway. The trip home in the afternoon? I never made that in less than 90 minutes and the worst day was 3.5 hours from door to door.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not surprised that the average employee isn’t knocking down the doors to get back into their downtown cubicle, burn up fuel, buy expensive downtown lunch, or generally feed the beast when they don’t need to do those things as part of getting their respective jobs done. It’s not captured in any of the articles or studies I’ve read, but if the downtown businesses that supported armies of office workers are losing out, it feels intuitively like there should be a corresponding uptick in the money being spent by these workers at the shops and stores closer to home. Those are more diffuse, of course, and necessarily harder to track. They’re not the story that the big players want to tell.
The death of the great urban downtown is, I suspect, being greatly exaggerated… but maybe there really is a crack in the idea that downtown must be synonymous with gleaming office towers only occupied from 7 AM to 7 PM five days a week. There really is a better way… of course that would involve real estate investors and management companies spending some money to bridge the gap between what was and what will be. Whether they’ll want to do that instead of just paying for bitchy articles about how much better it was when office buildings were full remains to be seen.
It’s that time of year again. In the last few days of run up to Thanksgiving, it’s obvious that no one’s got their heart in it; Even those that are here aren’t really here. Sure, physically some of us are banging around the office, but everyone is somewhere else in their own mind – tucking in to a proper holiday dinner, Black Friday shopping, or generally being anywhere other than cubicle hell.
Next week everyone will trickle back. There won’t be enough of us to pretend it’s a flood. There’s too much leave to be taken between now and the end of the year. Like dragons, we hoard it just for the joy of seeing that vast pile of time burned in a conflagration roaring across the closing weeks of the year.
Sure, there will still be a few of the bosses who want to pretend that it’s business as usual and everything is getting done. But the rest of us will know better. The five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are a land out of time. To fight against it in any but the most dire circumstances is the height of folly and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
Even now, a few days before Thanksgiving, I can feel the inexorable draw of Holiday Time. And that’s the real magic of the season.