Good intentions, bad decisions…

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 They have more to do with obnoxious and largely outdated security procedures than they do with a lack of personal ability, though.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.

Telework Wednesday, interrupted…

It was a good day at Fortress Jeff. It was a scheduled Telework Wednesday. I’d made eggs and toast for breakfast. My laptop was sitting patiently booting up in the sun room in preparation for the day. All the critters had been fed and I thought they were all accounted for… except, of course, they weren’t.

Somewhere between slathering butter on my toast and setting the dirty dishes in the sink, Jorah snuck off and a ranging loop through the house. It’s become a common enough sight now that he’s a more or less trusted agent.

That’s the point where the morning started its trip off the rails.

Unbeknownst to me, Jorah made a stop in the sunroom and took the opportunity to bite my work laptop’s power cord almost directly in half… a situation I didn’t stumble upon until I walked into the room with my coffee and more or less prepared to started the day.

Dogs chew. It’s a natural fact. The issue here is that for the 7+ months he’s been here, Jorah was remarkable good at leaving everything alone that wasn’t one of his toys. He didn’t chew chair legs, or moulding, or shoes. He never showed so much as a moment’s interst in any of the exposed cables that are strung everywhere around the house. He ignored them completely, right up to the point today where he didn’t.

So instead of starting off Telework Wednesday with a nice easy read through the overnight email and a bit of mouth scalding coffee, I took off my fuzzy slippers, put on a semi-clean pair of jeans, and then made the round trip drive to the office to pick up a spare power cord that I had stashed in my desk.

So this week my day working from home started off with the same old drive to the office… only slightly later in the morning so I was able to enjoy even more traffic than usual. If you think I’m not going to find half a dozen castoff Dell power cables to create my own strategic reserve against future incidents of cable gnawing, well, it’s like you don’t know me at all.

Underrated perks…

One of the truly underrated perks of telework Monday is throwing Monday’s dinner in the crockpot at lunchtime and spending the rest of the day smelling it come together. Sure, there are a few better smells than kielbasa and sauerkraut, but it’s one of those that ranks right up there. Yes, the 20 foot commute is hard to be upset about, but having a fresh hot meal ready when you close the books on the day is just hard to beat.

This, sadly, was not one of those nice quiet telework days where you can get a little bit caught up. It was more of a steady drumbeat of questions already asked and answered and repeating yourself until beating your head bloody against the keyboard felt like a reasonable option. There’s nothing about the experience that would have been made better by spending it in a 6×8 foot cube. Far be it from me not to recognize the small mercy of at least endure it while wearing fuzzy slippers and in the company of dogs.

So I’ll use what would otherwise be my commute time to stick my nose in a book and wait for dinner to reach peak sauerkraut-y goodness. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was good enough.

In my mind, a few quality perks are fine compensation for a whole host of minor sins.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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

Somewhere in the middle hump…

When you get use to easing into the week by spending most Monday’s working from home, a Monday thrown directly into the daily asshatery of the office is like wrapping yourself in a cold blanket of angst. Going from a nice quiet Sunday surrounded by books and dogs to a cubicle surrounded by 30 other chattering bureaucrats is just hard on the system. It’s not insurmountable pain and agony, of course. Maybe it’s more akin spending eight hours with your swim trunks full of sand. It’s just unpleasant.

There are two sides of every coin, though. In this case, the obverse is that it’s one more day ticked off the calendar – meaning the work week is 1/5 the way done and there’s still a nice day of answering phone calls and emails from the comfortable precincts of Fortress Jeff still left to come. Don’t tell me I can’t see the brite side of things.

All told, it’s probably just another Monday – somewhere in the middle hump of the bell curve; not great and not awful. If there’s one thing I can count on my inner pessimist to deliver, it’s a constant stream of reminders to not worry, because things can always get worse. I’m quite sure that’s one of those sayings that’s supposed make you appreciate what you’ve got, but for me it’s always been more of a warning that even in the midst of what seems stupid, there’s plenty of room to drive the train even further off the rails… and into the ditch… knocking over a bridge… and crushing a bus full of nuns and children on their way to adopt all the puppies.

So if you’ve ever wanted to know what thoughts lurk in my head on a typical Monday in the office, there you have it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Telework. This time of year, the slow choking off of my coveted weekly telework day in inevitable. This week, I moved my regular day to accommodate a meeting that ended up getting cancelled. Another meeting was scheduled creating a conflict with the day I moved it to, so slipped it to a third day and now another meeting has cropped up. I fully expect this third meeting will be cancelled or reschedule around the time I show up in the office tomorrow. My day for next week already conflicts with a meeting request. Everywhere I go I’m often met with an, “Oh, I can’t meet that day because I’m on an alternate work schedule” or “I’ll have to call in because I’m working from home that day.” I’ve clearly got “sucker” stamped on my forehead in giant block letters. I know this time of year it’s inevitable, but I was really hoping to squeeze in one more decent week before the shit began overwhelming the fan.

Voicemail. On Wednesday I got two voicemails in a row that indicated they were from my dentist. One of them was, in fact, from the dentist. The other was from a vendor I’m working with on the current party planning extravaganza… except when I called him back he said he hadn’t called my cell in weeks. So, thanks Verizon, I guess, for delivering the message both late and from the wrong source entirely. This should just serve as a reminder to everyone that voicemail is archaic and really need not be used in the modern era.

Facebook activists. I saw several posts this week decrying the fact that former Vice President Biden was being pilloried by the popular media for being a little handsy on the campaign trail. The argument was something along the lines of “why is the media talking about Biden when Trump is grabbing ’em by the pussy.” I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember the mass media making a fairly large story about that particular quote from then private citizen Trump. In fact they still trot it out from time to time. I’m pretty sure the media isn’t ignoring it… the bigger issue, perhaps, is that large swaths of the population think the job of the media is to tell them only what they want to hear and go apoplectic when it doesn’t.


What I did on my snow day…

My first experience with telework, or working from home, was way back in about 2005 when I was home based in central Maryland and working in downtown DC five days a week. Any option that saved me from the 35 minute drive, 30 minute metro ride, and ten minute walk of a commute (when everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to) was a welcome change.

Since then I’ve worked for bosses that were true believers in the virtue of having employees work from home and I’ve worked for others that were firm in the belief that nothing happens unless they could physically see asses in seats right outside their own office door. The truth is, even though I support the idea and take advantage of it at every opportunity, I recognize that finding success working from somewhere other than an office can be very much driven by the personality and work style of the person doing the work.

If that sounds like less than a full throated argument to let everyone work from home as often as they want, it probably should. There are some jobs – and some people – that would be badly served by having that kind of flexibility in deciding were the work gets done. By contrast there are plenty of people and situations that are perfectly well suited for doing the work from anywhere. So, if you ask me if I support telework, the honest answer is, “well, that depends.”

I like to think I’m reasonably successful at carrying out the vast majority of my day-to-day tasks regardless of where I happen to be physically located. Tending to email, participating in meetings, reading or writing, pondering recommendations are all things that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebs, are location agnostic.

Due to the slightly comic language of the agreement that lets me work from home on a regular basis, when the outpost of the bureaucracy where I work is closed, I’m on the hook to log and and carry on business as usual. The catch, of course, is that I’m one of the few people who have taken advantage of this opportunity… which means my snow days are largely made up of sending email and leaving voicemails for people I already know aren’t going to be around to read or listen to them for 24 hours. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it doesn’t get after the kind of continuity of operations anyone wants to pretend we have during an emergency. It’s just the way things are.

If sitting around largely talking to myself on a few rare days in the dead of winter buys me a day a week of staying home and working in my fuzzy slippers the rest of the year, it’s a farce I’m perfectly willing to go along with to keep the peace.