1. Workforce “recovery.” This week I’ve started hearing the first rumbles that planning is picking up for the inevitable “return to work” phase of the Great Plague experience. It’s part of the workforce recovery plan that’s lain more or less dormant for the last year. The bosses will talk about it in grand terms of “bringing people home” to the office or of the supposed productive benefits of stacking thousands of people into 6×8 foot cubicles. They’ll talk of being “better together,” of having team synergy, or a hundred other phrases that mean, more or less, nothing. That’s the story they’ll tell themselves. Some people, I suppose, will even believe it. Me? Well, I’ll know from fourteen months experience that there’s almost no part of my job that requires being in a specific place during specific hours. I won’t have the audacity to say everything I do could be done from somewhere else… but I will say my time sitting in a cubicle could be limited to, like the old National Guard slogan, two days a month and two weeks a year – and every lick of my work would keep getting done on time and to standard.
2. Intellectual property. In a press release yesterday from the White House, the Biden Administration announced that it supports waiving intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. Patent protection is among the most important functions we expect from government. It creates a safe and secure environment for innovation. While the federal government, through its expenditures supporting Operation Warp Speed, has a vested interest in vaccine development and distribution, the more rational course of action would seem to be continuing to ramp up domestic production of vaccines for export and cooperation with a few foreign manufacturers as trusted agents rather than handing over the keys to the kingdom without sufficient safeguards protecting the monumental intellectual effort that went into creating these vaccines.
3. Schedule. I had some maintenance scheduled here on the homestead this week. The day before they were to do the work, their office confirmed that “Yep, they’ll be there at 8:00.” Perfect. I like and appreciate early hours. The catch, because there’s always a catch, is the crew didn’t actually roll into my driveway until 9:05. Had the arrival time been given as “between 8 and 10,” I’d have been fine with it. I’d have even give at least partial credit for a call letting me know they were running behind. Yes, I know I’m more a fanatical devotee to staying on schedule than most. I tend to leave so far ahead of my projected arrival time that I’ve been known to tuck in to a nearby shop’s parking lot for a few minutes to avoid arriving obscenely early to appointments. I don’t necessarily expect that from other people… but if you say you’ll be somewhere at 8:00, being there at 9-something tells me you’re not even trying.
1. Dinner time. After eight months of mostly working from home, I can report faithfully that there are many things that annoy me about days I have to go to the office. I could fill whole steamships with that particular list, but I currently find none more objectionable than the fact that on days when I’m in the actual office, dinner is not on the table promptly at 5 PM. I’m just assuming I’m finding that more onerous that usual because we’re racing towards the winter solstice and the early evening darkness shades just about everything these days.
2. Canine behavior. For two days this week, Jorah was inexplicably afraid of going outside. He’d get to the door and freeze, tail tucked and hunkered down. Given the great speed at which he would normally race out the door and cut a muddy swath through the yard, kicking up clods of earth in his wake, you can say it’s a highly unusual situation. I’ve spent most of my adult life with dogs, but I’m not sure I’ll ever firmly grasp what they’ve got going on between those furry little ears sometimes. I’m sure, whatever the reason, it made perfectly good sense to him at the time.
3. Black Friday. I’m getting a metric shit ton of ads for Black Friday sales. Is Black Friday shopping even still a thing? I mean even before the Great Plague, there weren’t many deals at a brick and mortar location that couldn’t be equaled or bested online… and in those few cases where it couldn’t, the convenience of having the item dropped directly on my front porch beat the marginal extra cost every time. Now, here in throws of a plague year, I’m amazed at the pretense that stores and malls will be filled with eager shoppers still waddling off their 7500 calorie Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe I’m misreading the room, but as far as I’m concerned 2020 is the year of “if I can’t find it online, preferably with two day delivery, I don’t want it.”
I’m an early riser. I like to blame the yearly days of my career when crawling out of bed at four in the morning was the only way to (usually) beat the worst of the day’s traffic heading into DC. That old 6:30 AM – 3:00 PM is still my favorite, though I haven’t worked it in years because various bosses have seemed to want people in their cubes as late into the afternoon as possible. From my seat, it’s always been the earlier in the day you can get out of the office, the better the day overall.
As much as I want to blame a job I haven’t had for almost 15 years for doing this to me, I really do like the mornings. It’s a few hours of enjoying the world before other people wake up and ruin the experience.
Maggie, an ever loyal and supportive chocolate lab, is usually game for being awake and moving. She’s never far from my side, gamely following along whether it’s cooking breakfast, sitting with a steaming cup of coffee on the porch on a cool fall morning, or working through email long before the sun’s up. Jorah, though, couldn’t be more of a contrast – a case study in “not a morning person.” He’ll grudgingly get up at 4:30 for the promise of breakfast, but lately he’s added a new trick to his repertoire.
After breakfast has been served and he’s patrolled the house while I’m showering, Jorah sneaks back to bed. Any of the five dog beds aren’t good enough, of course. He finds is way to my bed before burrowing into the covers and catching another hour or 90 minutes of sleep before really coming out to start his day.
We’ll see if this is a short-lived fluke or if it’s going to become part of his established routine. The only thing that’s certain is that the youngest member of the household appears to not share a love of mornings with the rest of us. Thank God he’s still fully supportive of our geriatric bedtime, so it’s not quite like having my own teenager.
It’s mid-May, a magical time on the calendar where the end of the long slog through the months of spring bereft of federal holidays is in sight. The long holiday weekend for Memorial Day is almost upon us. That usually marks the first of my planned four-day weekends, with Fridays as often as not spent trolling through used book shops, antique stores, flea markets, and barn sales. Given the climate, that normal kickoff to summer doesn’t feel likely to happen, which is, in a word, disappointing.
The next mark on the wall is a week of leave starting on June 1st that I scheduled back in the depths of winter. That’s historically a week when I go further afield on my quests for the next interesting item – ranging widely through eastern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva, and central Maryland. That too seems like an activity that will surely still be out of reach just three short weeks from now. I also question the value of taking a restorative week of vacation time when I’ve already mostly been home for the best part of two and a half months. I’ve often enough needed a proper break from the office, but needing a rest from being at the house is beyond my understanding.
In any case, the marks on the wall by which I plan my year appear to be lining up to fall in 2020. Admittedly, two months into the Great Plague and its associated closures probably makes me a little late to this particular party. Although I find this impending change of plans annoying, they’re not debilitatingly so. They certainly don’t drive me to take to the streets in protest… even if that’s the cool new thing to do.
There will be other marks on other walls at some point in the future yet to be determined. My vacation time balance isn’t going anywhere (as long as I’m not dumb enough to let it expire at the end of the year) so holding those plans in abeyance isn’t cause for alarm just yet. Getting all up in my feelings about anything that’s not happening feels about as useful and productive as wandering down to the river and ordering the tide to go out.
1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.
2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws. That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered.
3. Outlook web access. On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?
Further wrecking any hope I’ll ever have of having a normal relationship with sleep, I’ve pushed my daily wake up call up to 4:30. The extra 30 minutes means time to actually fix a reasonable breakfast, give the dogs a bit of attention, and to sit down and take a breath before charging out the door. I didn’t fully appreciate just how harried my typical mornings were, nor how much I was trying to cram into 35 or 40 minutes… and doing it badly.
I like the new, reasonable relaxed morning procedures. I suppose if that means I’m eternally damned to wake up well before 5am, it’s a price I don’t really mind paying. It’s not as if the dogs mind keeping vaguely unusual hours.
Leaving the house in a relatively calm and well prepared manner, specifically on a day I know is going to be a shitshow from start to finish at least starts me on the best foot. Since there’s no hope of finishing that way, best to control what I can, when I can.
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.
1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic. You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.
2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.
3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.
1. “Responsible” adults. If you’re over the age of 18 and find just about everything in your life continues to end up being a big ol’ shit sandwich, might I recommend taking a chance on trying to be accountable for your own decisions and actions rather than trying to pass the responsibility off to any or everyone else. The neat thing about being an adult is that, with very few exceptions, I’m responsible for my own actions – and for the outcomes that follow. Apparently, though, there’s a whole bevy of other adult humans that think the problems lie with everyone except them. This, I suspect, is overwhelmingly the cause of my generally dim view of humanity.
2. “Encouraging” telework. Oh, the paperwork definitely says we encourage telework. It’s an important part of our continuity of operations plan to help us get through a hurricane, the building burning down, or a bad year of the flu. What we don’t do is actually encourage it. I know this because the expectation, no matter how unstated, is if there’s a meeting involving one of the Uberbosses, there’s never a provision made for anyone to participate other than by being right there in the room. Sure, you could ask and they might set up a phone line, but it will be done grudgingly and met with a decided side-eyed look. We’ve gotten very good at lip service to this not being 1975, but how we actually operate hasn’t changed all that much. It’s less than a surprise.
3. A return to “normalcy.” After a couple of days of clocking out at 2:30, getting back to the normal schedule has been… disappointing. It’s hard to believe that a realtively minor shift in schedule can be a significant mood enhancer. It would probably be even more of an enhancement if I somehow managed not to be so relentlessly commited to issues of time and schedule… but as always, I know my key motivators and influences and time is likely to always be one of them. So here we are, back to situation normal, trying to stave off the madness for another day
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.