I’ve been back to work from Christmas vacation for two weeks, but between the time off and plague-encouraged telework, this was my first day back in the actual office in a month.
After ten months of this, can’t we all just agree that for most “office work,” cramming a metric shit ton of people into a physical office is a ridiculous holdover from the age of typewriters, carbon paper, and gray flannel suits?
There are two thoughts that really occur to me at this late stage: 1) If there are still people not pulling their weight while working from home, you probably should consider letting those people go find other opportunities since they’re, by definition, excess to requirement; and 2) If there are “core missions” that haven’t been getting done and it hasn’t caused a catastrophic failure of your office is supposed to be doing in the last ten months, that “core mission” is probably a waste of time.
This was an unprecedented moment to revolutionize the workplace… but it feels increasingly obvious that we’re collectively going to blow the chance and drive straight back to “business as usual” the moment some percentage of the population has gotten their shots.
It would almost be farce if the inevitable result wasn’t so damned predictable.
I’ve realized this week, though hardly for the first time, that a disturbing amount of my workload exists purely because people can’t be trusted to do what they’ve been told to do.
Let me give you an example. There’s a report that’s been due every Friday for months. Instead of doing something like sending out a message that says “Hey, you need to turn this information in every Friday until we tell you to stop,” and then expect that grown adults will be able to do that, every Friday morning we prep and send out an Official Reminder that the exact same information is going to be due again next week. Instead of doing a thing once time, we do it 52 times… because expecting alleged professionals to do their job is a problematic course of action.
Another example? Sure. We have a system that keeps track of all the official things people are supposed to be working on. Every office has access to this system and can see what’s assigned, what’s in progress, what’s due, and what’s late with the click of a few buttons. We send out a weekly reminder on those things too… actually, now we send out that reminder twice a week since, again, alleged professionals can’t be troubled to keep track of what they’re supposedly doing.
If you’re thinking that failing to do your damned job would lead to some kind of adverse action, you get partial credit. Nothing bad happens to the people who are days or weeks late getting the job done, but my little part of the Great Green Machine finds itself with more work to poke, prod, cajole, and plead with people to do whatever it is they were assigned to finish.
Those at echelons higher than reality seems to think that the problem is in not passing out enough reminders. I tend to think the problem lies in people being irresponsible and not getting a well-deserved ass chewing as a result.
I spent most of the morning having another close encounter with modern dentistry. It was a little “warranty work” on a filling that failed way earlier than it was supposed to, so at least I wasn’t out of pocket for the extra pain and aggravation. That said, my general hatred for visiting the dentist’s office isn’t really the point.
Since I was a slobbery mess and the day was more or less half over, I plugged in my laptop and spent the late morning and afternoon working from home. If I’m going to spend a few hours dribbling coffee down my chin, I’d rather do it in the comfort of my own office than in the open bay cubicle hell where I practice my trade most other days.
Let me start by saying that I’ve missed working from home. Circumstances the last couple of weeks have conspired to make it something like too hard to do. eventually I hope to get back on a semi-regular schedule. Instinct tells me that’s going to be a long time coming, so I’ll need to steal a day wherever I can.
What struck me most today, though, was how easy a time I had getting through something that I’d spent the last two days in the office trying to knock out. It wasn’t a particularly hard task, but it required integrating information from a couple of different sources into a reasonably coherent whole. It’s the kind of thing that requires attention to detail… and frankly I can’t think of any place worse than a standard office cubicle to try to make sense of something that requires focused attention. Between the random meetings, people dropping by just to chat, the gods on Olympus deciding you need to work on other “priorities” for a few hours, and the general hum and buzz of 30-odd people all working in the same 25’x75′ space, it’s a bloody marvel that anything ever gets finished. Of course that’s assuming that anything actual does ever get finished, which could easily not be a valid assumption.
In conclusion, whoever decided that cubicles represent the best way for information workers to get their job done was a fucking idiot and I hope his soul is condemned to eternal torment… like by never getting more than 37 uninterrupted seconds to try completing a fairly simple and routine task.
1. Nextdoor. My neighborhood is one of many that have elected to use the Nextdoor website and app to take nosy-neighborness to the next level. The current conversation that seem to be monopolizing everyone’s time is focused on barking dogs, the causes, and what can be done about it. Participants are divided into two broad camps by this discussion. Without spending time recounting the dozens of posts, I fall pretty firmly into the camp that says that even though the lots here are large, we do, in fact, live in a neighborhood. That means we all have to endure a certain amount of fuckery we find personally obnoxious from neighbors (and their dogs). Yes, I’ve heard the occasional barking dog – and from time to time, mine have contributed to the cacophony. In the grand scheme of obnoxious shit neighbors do, the dogs aren’t even close to the top.
2. The House of Representatives. A few weeks ago, at least according to leaders in the House, the President of the United States represented a clear and present danger to the republic. Hearings had to be conducted and a vote held with all possible haste. Since then, though, the leaders of the House have spent weeks sitting with their collective thumbs up their own asses while refusing to deliver the charging documents to the Senate. Since they seem to be in no rush to get the trial underway, I can only assume House leaders no longer think President Trump is a pressing threat to the country. If he were, surely they would have pressed for a trial to go forward as quickly as possible… unless, of course, these fearless leaders of the House are more interested in political theater than actually standing upon their dire warnings for the future… and dealing with the fallout from their actions.
3. Doing for others. I’m generally open to lending a hand, or taking on a project, or generally at least attempting to make myself helpful. What I have consistently resented the hell out of over the course of my career are the things that land on my desk that could have been done by someone else faster or with less explanation required than pushing it over to me with a laundry list of instructions. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know the details of everyone’s workload, but I’m willing to bet that if I walked the halls I’d be hard pressed to find someone with more ash and trash cluttering their inbox than I’ve had this week. The fact that so much of it is stuck there by “trusted professionals” who could handle it themselves isn’t surprising, but it is annoying as hell.
It’s the third day back from vacation. The restive and restorative effects of having a long and happy break have long since worn off. Frankly they didn’t make it past Tuesday morning.
I’ve spent most of this week trying desperately to uncluster a Special High Interest (SHIt) event that, not unexpectedly, spent the last two weeks teetering dangerously on the verge of flying off the rails. It’s the kind of thing that happens when too many people who don’t know all the background information try to give things a little extra help.
I’m sure it was all well intentioned, but I could have done without the added mess in need of fixing this week. Easing back into the routine and building up a slow head of steam for the haul through the next four months doesn’t feel like it should have been too big an ask… and yet here we are, with me looking for the nearest load bearing structure to repeatedly bang my head against.
People will tell you that it’s good to feel needed. All things considered, I think I’d probably enjoy sitting in the corner being ignored far more than I do being the guy who gets tapped when the next SHIt event is in dire need of fixing.
Sigh. Some boys have all the luck. It’s me. I’m some boys. And all the luck is bad.
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.
It’s the week before my annual burning off of use-or-lose leave. Sure, plenty of people are festive and jolly because Christmas is coming. They have their priorities and I have mine. I’d be thrilled with idea of sixteen work-free days in a row regardless of whether it was accompanied by a couple of holidays or not. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
So, you ask, what does the week before two weeks off look like? Well, I could say it was a week filled with high motivation and determination to cross all the t’s and make sure nothing is undone… but yeah, let’s not set those kind of unreasonable expectations.
It’s a week where I spent Telework Monday clearing my inbox (that was productive at least). Tomorrow will be a standard Tuesday – random meetings and more email to be sure. The next two afternoons are taken up with my semi-annual checkup and the office non-denominational holiday party. You can make your own assumptions about how productive I’ll manage to make either one of those days. The first four days of the week should be non-events.
Then we come to Friday. The final day of the work week. It’s the wildcard. Hard life lessons in Uncle’s service have taught me that it will either be a vast sweeping sea of nothing at all or it will be an unmitigated shitshow from start to finish. Historically it’s been my experience that there is no middle way. Not on Fridays. And certainly not on Fridays before an an ultra-long weekend.
Personally, I’m planning for the shitshow option. I think the universe likes to give you one last kick in the teeth before it gives you something so valuable as a long stretch of days off. I’d gladly accept a nice, easy Friday, but to stave off the almost inevitable disappointment, planning for the worst feels like a far better use of the limited time I’ve got left.
It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s technically a work day. Yes, I am technically working. You see, though, the thing is that no one actually expects they’ll need to do any heavy lifting on a day like this. Maybe that should be almost no one has those kind of expectations
There’s always that one guy. He usually lives well up on Olympus and is the one person in all the land who thinks somehow we’re going to move something forward with less than 50% staffing and way less than 50% interest.
Look, I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. In a perfect world I’m sure we should all be 100% committed for every one of our 8 hours on every single day. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. On a good day, we probably live in a world that could best be described as “tolerable.”
I’ll do what I can with the time and people that are available, but honestly, if you’re looking for something to happen after about 2:00… well, I guess I’ll see you Monday.
I’d just like to thank the folks who manage our network for pushing the patch that resulted in my computer updating at 12:54 in the afternoon on a damned Tuesday. The middle of the day is a notoriously slow time and rarely involves anyone racing the clock to complete a requirement. It absolutely wasn’t when I was setting up my computer to show pretty charts and graphs to 25 people gathered in one of the conference rooms. I mean who would have the unmitigated audacity to plan a meeting in the middle of the afternoon? Am I right?
I’m sure there’s some brillant reason the people at the Central Network Enterprise Control Center, Cafe, and Giftshop do what they do when they do it. I’m sure they’ve conducted countless studies to show why it’s utterly impossible to run updates and patches in the middle of the night when computers are more or less standing idle and could be completed with minimal interruption to the people who might, conceivably be using their machines in the middle of the goddamned work day.
After two hours and three or four reboots, I was finally able to get back to work… having once again justified the number of magazines I keep on my desk to provide something to do when my computer inevitable craps out and actual productive effort grinds to a halt. My boss was nice enough to schlep back to the office and come back with her computer so we could at least show the second most recent iteration of the material being discussed this afternoon. So it wasn’t a complete farce.
Honest to God, sometimes I wonder if we should just go ahead and contract with the Chinese to provide our tech support directly. Sure, they’d see all the information on the network, but that at least would be some kind of incentive to keep the damned bloody thing up and running and connected to as many computers as possible without random, unnecessary interruptions.
Most people wouldn’t see a lot of up side to sliding into work at 6am. I won’t say all those many people are wrong, but they don’t speak for me.
One thing stands out as a real perk of starting the day at an obscenely early hour… and that’s seeing the “end of tour” rapidly approaching immediately after lunch. All things considered, 2:30 doesn’t feel like a bad time to end the working part of the day. If it were an option I could convince any of the bosses to consider, hell, I’d probably volunteer to take that on as a permentant schedule. Lord knows it’s not as if I’d mind going to bed a little bit earlier to compensate.
There are, of course, reasons why that won’t happen – chief among them is the penchant my particular organization has for starting meetings after 4PM… and more than a handful that spring up at 5PM or later, depending on the vageries of when any given uberboss may have some white space on their schedule. For reasons surpassing understanding, free time is almost invariably at the end of the day. Somehow I think I’d be more sympathetic in these cases if suddenly they decided to come in early and stack the extranious meetings on the front end of the day instead of at the tail.
Late afternoons are a time I find myself to be generally less effective. You might be able to physically keep me in the building, but I promise you that once we’ve passed the end of my normally scheduled service day my brain has turned to mush. Eight hours of bureaucratic jackassery is just about all I’m wired to tolerate in a single sitting. A reasonably smart man knows his own limitations and accounts for them. You’re getting my best and most focused effort between the hours of 6 and 11 am. Outside of those times I can still be pretty good, but for every hour either side of “prime time,” you’re getting a deminishing marginal return on investment simply because the world doesn’t exist to accomodate how I work best… which is a pity, really, because I’ve long suspected I could be far more productive in five focused hours than I’ll ever be in eight hours that stretches across and well beyond my natural sweet spot.