There are a handful of things that I can do at the office that I physically can’t do from home. They have more to do with obnoxious and largely outdated security procedures than they do with a lack of personal ability, though.
What I think we proved today was that with the exception of those handful of things that I’m prohibited from doing at home by law, policy, or regulation, everything else can run more or less seamlessly using our electronic mailboxes, a series of various interconnected world-wide web sites, and a portable cellular telephone. It’s far from perfect and not likely something that you’d want to do for more than a day or two at a time, but as a stopgap, it works well enough – or at least better than the alternative which would have been 100% of the work not getting done. If nothing else, it gives you an option to “keep the lights on” under circumstances where they otherwise would go dark.
Now, do I think this will be the bright shining moment where the bosses realize having people willing and able to work from home is more than having a bunch of personnel sitting around with their thumb up their asses? No. No I do not. Maybe they should, but I can’t imagine a scenario where that’s actually going to happen.
What’s far more likely is they’ll race hard in the other direction – specifying new minimum staffing levels, limiting the number of people who can be on leave at any given time, and focusing on the 5% that can’t be done instead of the 95% that can. I’d like to think I’m wrong about this, but history tells me I’m probably not. My entire career has been nothing if not a series of opportunities to observe moments where good intentions gave helpful cover to bad decisions. Getting the powers that be to thinking about productive work happening outside the walls of their adjacent cubicles feels like an awfully long way to stretch given the precedents involved.
If that’s not what happens here, you’ll find me a few months from now both stunned and amazed… and it would be one of those rare occasions where I wouldn’t mind being caught off guard in the least.
In my little corner of the Giant Bureaucratic Organization, very few pieces of paper ever move further than one’s own desk without passing through one or more layers of review. These reviews are almost the very definition of what it means to exist within the bureaucracy – the very reason the term “paper pusher” came into existence.
It’s hard enough to move a single piece of paper, say something as simple as a memo. The complexity and convolutions involved in getting something larger – say a document of several dozens of pages is mind boggling. It’s a herculean feat of bureaucratic mastery involving three layers of review at a bare minimum. I’ve personally seen the number of reviewers go as high as 14 on a single document. I’ve heard stories that the numbers can grow even larger as one progresses through echelons higher than reality towards the beating, five-sided heart of our bureaucratic empire. Each and every non-concur along the way carries the risk of sending you back to the starting block to try again.
I’m not saying that reviews are entirely pointless or without merit. In some cases I’d even argue that they are absolutely necessary. When it becomes the reviews themselves that drive the process rather what is being reviewed, I can’t help but believe that there is a flaw in the system. Then again, I’m a poor simple history major who learned to read original source documents that may have virtually no relationship to standard English usage so what the hell do I know.
It’s been a while since I wrote anything here. I don’t know exactly if that’s because things have gotten less stupid or I’m simply becoming use to the same level of stupid as before. Regardless, there are still a few moments when all I can do is sit back and shake my head.
As it turns out, I’ve been a bad, bad boy. I’ve been talking to people in other offices without the express, written permission of their supervisor. That, apparently, constitutes a gross violation of civil conduct and is an affront to the gods themselves. After half a career, you’d think I would remember that trying to get information directly from the source will do nothing but get you into trouble.
Instead of asking Person A directly for the information I need, the Official Process demands that I ask Person B, who will direct Person C to oversee the request for information and, who will thusly inform Person A that a request for information has been made. The information requested can then be transmitted back to me by the same circuitous route. Instead of taking 15 minutes, the process will take three days, involve, a minimum of two extra people, and has garnered three angry emails reminding me that “it’s not ok to talk to people from other offices without permission.” We could have saved an inordinate amount of time by any one of those three people simply answering the question rather than engaging in some half assed turf war, but there you have it, your bureaucracy in action… or is that your bureaucracy inaction?
So yes, please consider me sufficiently chastised for cheekily disregarding the standard routing of requests for information in an effort to actually get something done in a timely manner. Rest assured when it comes time to toss someone under the bus for delaying the project, I’ll have no qualms at all about reminding the Powers That Be who has been jamming their sabots into the machinery.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.