What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

The old fashioned way…

The blatant truth about today is that even though I was sitting here in the sunroom / home office banging out emails, I lost all sense that it was a weekday and that I’d need to have something ready to post at 6:00 tonight. After spending most of the last two weeks in the actual office, I suppose I forgot just how much being here felt like a much less onerous version of work. Not needing to attempt to concentrate over the sound of half a dozen other conversations probably doubles my productivity… not to mention ability to concentrate on whatever details are actually in front of me.

Unfortunately, those are precisely the sort of factors that are difficult to measure when it comes time to compare the costs and benefits of working from home versus being in an actual office somewhere. 

That observation makes for a bit of a bland post. It’s not exactly a eureka moment, but after spending more bulk time in the office than I have in a year, it was certainly a bit of reinforcement of just how good it can be.

The exact details of what the future of work will look like in my little corner of Uncle’s big green machine remain a little vague. It’s hard to imagine a world where everyone piles back into big concrete and steel boxes as if nothing ever happened. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a world where the gods on Olympus willingly go on only seeing people a few times a month. Some places will undoubtedly swing further on one direction versus the other. 

I suppose once that all shakes out, I’ll start needing to make some decisions about what I think the future of work needs to look like. Fourteen more years of going back to doing this “the old fashioned way” increasingly doesn’t feel sustainable.  

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Tucker Carlson. Tucker staked out a patently absurd position on his Fox evening entertainment program last week. I know, I know. I should be more specific because most of his positions come across somewhere on the absurdity spectrum. I know it was absurd because some of the most serious thinkers in DoD responded more or less instantly to rebut Tucker’s asshattery. They’re not generally people who feel compelled to stake out public positions, except in this case, ol’ Tuck decided to opine about things that are, by definition, these particular leader’s area of expertise. No one “attacked” Tucker. They simply had the audacity to tell him that he’s a moron and explain why that’s the case. No one violated the damned Hatch Act. Having a professional opinion doesn’t undermine civilian control of the military. Differing opinions are only dangerous when you’re so thin skinned or your position is so badly placed that you can’t defend it rationally. In this case, it seems Tuck and his supporters fall into both categories. As usual, the “leading lights” of right wing kook media have left me embarrassed to be an actual, practicing conservative.

2. Higher taxes. They say Joe is working on a new tax bill and it’s likely to be the largest tax increase since 1993. I see lots of people saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. Good on them. With or without a higher tax rate imposed by the government, they’re free to send as big a check as they want over to the treasury. They can do that. No one would stop them. But it seems what people mean when they say they don’t mind paying more tax is they don’t mind so you should pay more too. “But,” they’ll argue, “it only applies to people who make more than $400,000 a year – the ‘absurdly rich.’” Right, I think, because every tax that ever was started out as a tax on “just the wealthy” until our political machine needed a few more dollars over time and the “absurdly wealthy” became most every working sucker in the country. So, please, write as big a check to Uncle as you’d like. Feel free to give of your own income until it hurts. That’s your right and privilege. I’ll be over here fighting tooth and nail to keep every penny I’ve earned and distribute it how I see fit.

3. I spent today doing exactly the same things that I did yesterday. I answered emails, entered information in a fancy database, and generally moved electrons around from Point A to Point B as needed. The only difference between today and yesterday was where I was physically sitting when I did those things. Yesterday I was parked in the sun room with two dogs snoring in the background and today I was in my designated cube with seven or eight conversations humming in the background. Plus, today added an extra 80 minutes to the day since I had to drive to my cube and back to do exactly the same things I did yesterday from the comfort of my home office. “But we need to have a presence in the building,” is the most patently farcical reason I can think of to justify the construction, maintenance, and daily running cost associated with a modern office building. The argument against remote working forever is effectively that we need to have people in a special geographic spot because we happen to have a special geographic spot. As far as I can tell it has absolutely nothing to do with productivity or whether the work in any way depends on unique geographic positioning.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. A plastic bag. There’s a white plastic bag in the top branch of one of the trees in my front yard. It makes me unreasonably angry. Mostly because even with a ladder I don’t have any implements long enough to haul it down. So, I’ll have this damned plastic bag stuck in front of the house forever or until I cut the tree down, I guess. Just another reason why I hate people. This bag belonged to someone but because they are an irresponsible asshat, now I get to look at it indefinitely out the front window.

2. The days of the week. The only real trouble I’ve had in this long stretch of working from home, is that the days have a real tendency to bleed together. Monday is a lot like Thursday which is a lot like Saturday and on, and on, and on. Hey, I’m a creature of habit, I’m not really complaining… but it does lead to a lot of minor moments of crises that start off with “Oh shit, that was supposed to do that today.”

3. r/wallstreetbets. The Redditors of r/wallstreetbets were mad geniuses last week, executing a classic short squeeze and costing at least one hedge fund a couple of billion dollars. Everyone likes it when the scrappy upstart scores one against the big guys. I get it. The fun part was once things started happening the broader world thought, inexplicably, that everyone could ride GameStop shares to the moon. Now there are posts awash with disbelief that people have the audacity to sell shares and take some profit. Maybe the folks over on Reddit play by different rules, but expecting anyone to ride a stock as wildly overvalued as GameStop had become and then hold it there at its highs indefinitely as the knife started falling back to earth, feels like exactly the kind of wackiness I’ve come to expect from message board people. 

Vestigial snow day…

The home office over in Aberdeen was closed today to all but “essential” business. What essential means, of course, has never been described the same way twice in the nine years I’ve been working there. Every winter they try out two or three new definitions that never quite seem to stick.

Technically today was a “snow day,” one of those random, unexpected, weather related holidays that are scattered about the yearly calendar like birdshot. Snow days in the plague era ain’t what they use to be. Honestly, if it weren’t for the occasional pitter patter of sleet falling on the skylights, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between today and any other Monday over the last ten months. 

Losing the traditional snow day has always been the bitter catch of having a telework agreement. It’s still a trade I’ve always considered well worth making, but sitting looking at the snow-covered woods, I have to admit that I miss the old ways just a little bit on days like this. 

Before the plague, these working snow days were mostly alright. There were so few of us with agreements stipulating that we’d work through adverse weather that it mostly felt like a real snow day interrupted by an occasional email. It might have been an official work day on the books, but when the boss isn’t around to assign work and everyone you need to talk to in order to get anything done is “on holiday,” not much real work was happening anyway. 

Now that the vast majority of us are “telework ready” to cope with the plague, of course, it’s a brave new world. I like to think the ability to have the whole mass of us “work through the storm,” would be major points in favor of a greatly liberalized telework program… but I’m in no way expecting that to be the case. The opposite, reconsolidating central control and management, is always the more likely course of action. 

In any case, I’ve enjoyed my vestigial snow day and would happily welcome more of them.

The post holiday slump…

We’re back in that part of a year where hoarding vacation days is a thing. The next long weekend milepost is Washington’s Birthday. Then it’s the long slog through to Memorial Day before holidays start appearing regularly on the calendar again.

These are the days when I’m least likely to burn off annual leave. That’s doubly true as we prepare to enter Plague Year II. With the promise of a vaccine coming over the horizon, business as usual, and filling cubicles won’t be far behind. Vacation days then will be far more valuable than any vacation day taken while we’re still living under plague protocols and working mostly from home.

If it sounds like I’m more surly than usual in the next few weeks, it’s mostly because I am. Without even the hint of a week’s long weekend on the horizon for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say I’m in a mood.

The inevitable result…

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Accessories. I’ve been using the same iPhone case manufacturer since sometime around the 3rd generation. It appears that sometime early this year, they’ve gone defunct. That means I have a new phone coming tomorrow and now have to go through the paces of finding someone else who makes as close an approximation as what I use to be able to get, because, let’s face it, I’m not going to be satisfied with the first two or three or dozen I try. They’ll probably all be fine cases in theory, but none of them will be exactly what I wanted.  Sigh. It’s going to be stupid and expensive and I don’t want to do it.

2. Vaccine. Reports this week are there’s a COVID-19 vaccine coming soon from Pfizer. Moderna seems to be hot on their heels with their own version. It looks like a footrace to see who will be first to market and able to make a supply chain work effectively. If your biggest concern is fighting back against the virus, this is all basically good news. My contrarian instinct, though, can’t help but remind me that the arrival of a vaccine is the beginning of the end of the golden age of working from home. Getting “back to normal” will inevitably sign the death knell of being home all day with the animals and give the upper hand back to bosses who value asses in chairs more than measurable productivity… and that’s not so much annoying as it is sad.

3. The Republican Party. Do I really need to even explain this one? As a (mostly) lifelong Republican, I’m embarrassed by the elected members of the party who are too cowed by the ebbing power of the president to say publicly that Donald Trump has not won reelection. The numbers tell the tale. I know that constituents will almost always rather hear sweet lies than hard truths and staying elected means not pissing off your base too badly. Even knowing that, I can’t quite get past the feeling that the Republican Party establishment is, perhaps as soon as the Georgia special election in January, going to be punished for its cowardice in a moment that begs them to tell truth to power.

Inner peace makes for dull blogging…

It’s the middle of the week, a federal holiday buried between vacation days, pouring down rain, and about a gloomy a day as you could find. Businesses are starting to close up and people are beginning to revisit the days of “safer at home” as the Great Plague surges around us. I’ve largely tuned out the 2020 presidential campaign, which I consider over, done with, and not to be gotten back to until closer to the inauguration (aside from occasionally flinging rocks at both sides via Facebook or Twitter).

Put another way, there’s absolutely nothing that I feel a compulsion to talk about today. I’ve taken great pains to make the house a perfectly comfortable retreat from the world. I’m not sure the dogs and I could hold off a Spetsnaz assault team, but for keeping to ourselves through the pandemic whether it lasts a few months or another year, we’re reasonably well set to minimize how much time we need to spend dealing with the world “out there.” 

The days, especially when untroubled by even needing to telework, do tend to blend together a bit though. If it weren’t for knowing yesterday’s vet appointment was scheduled for Tuesday, today would be more or less indistinguishable from Saturday or Monday or the day after tomorrow. I’m a dedicated creature of habit and it doesn’t particularly bother me in any way… but it does make fishing for new topics just a little problematic, which is how you end up with a stream of consciousness mess something like this one.

Fortunately, I can already predict that things will be back to normal tomorrow and you’ll get a full boat of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Some things don’t stop, regardless of how peaceful and docile the week seems. I should probably be thankful for that.

A wasted opportunity…

I’ve got no interest in being a “digital nomad.” I don’t want to work from a different far-flung location every month, schlepping my life around in a suitcase. I sampled that life enough when I was young, ambitious, and living in hotels to know that being home with the animals and all my stuff is really where it’s at. That I can do with almost no limitations thanks to the amount of technology being brought to bear to make the old school office a bit anachronistic.

In its ongoing coverage of the world in the Great Plague era, National Geographic asks, “Is this the end of the office?”

As much as I’d like to think the answer is an unreserved “yes,” I’ve been bureaucrating long enough to know better. When you hear comments like “I don’t know how anyone works from home” or “I don’t think anyone gets anything done from home,” or a more general “I hate it,” from those in a position to make decisions on whether work takes place from anywhere other than the belly of cubicle hell, well, it’s a pretty clear indicator of what the actual future will look like. Evidence to the contrary won’t, in my professional estimation, be a factor when such things are decided.

It’s a shame, really. This should have been an opportunity to overhaul the way we thing about and do our work – and a way to create a distributed workforce that doesn’t rely on a single point of failure (ex. a big concrete and steel building) to get the job done. Instead, at the earliest possible moment, we’re likely to roll the clock back, and pretend that everything must be just as it was during the before time.

I had hoped that I was settled in to the place where I was going to ride out the last third of my career, but of that means a return to being judged by physical presence rather than output, I’ll likely need to reconsider that thought. I’m not sure I’ll be able to content myself to a world that goes back to valuing asses in cubes as its key metric for success.