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.

How to improve cubicle hell…

I was in the office today. Even five months into the Great Plague, the rhythms of the place carry on largely unchanged. With upwards of 70% of the staff working from home it has a bit of a ghost town feel… but the phones keep ringing, the email keeps flowing, the day-to-day work seems to be getting done, and ridiculous ideas continue to abound. If it weren’t for needing to pick up the phone instead of sticking your head over a cubicle wall, I’d honestly be hard pressed to know that today was any different than the before time. I suppose you can decide what to make of that information.

What I noticed most about the day, though, was the absence of periodic fuzzy interruptions throughout the day. I hadn’t noticed until now how much I’ve come to expect the cat to occasionally jump onto the keyboard or work through the next email one handed while one or both dogs lean in for ear scratches and ear rubs. Even with that, they’re among the least distracting coworkers I’ve ever had.

The golden age of working from home will end eventually – killed off by the unstoppable force of an employer who believe asses in seats equals productivity as much as by the immovable object of employees who equate working from home with a paid vacation day.

I’ve known for most of my working life that there’s very little I can do at the office that I couldn’t do from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection… but these last few months have only just reinforced that having the animals alongside makes the fuckery of the standard eight-hour work day infinitely more tolerable. If we’re all eventually going to be stuck back in cubicle hell eventually, adding some coworkers with wagging tails or a steady and reliable purr would be incredibly helpful.

Red shirt Fridays…

Since the beginning of the Great Plague, I’ve been an “occasional” essential employee. That mostly means I schlep over to the office on days when a warm body is needed to meet the mandate that someone physically be there.

Like my Pepto-Bismol pink shirts of yore, worn as a mark of being sick of a never-ending monthly series of hours long meetings that accomplished absolutely nothing, I do my best to arrive on duty these days wearing my finest red shirt. Like the red-shirted crewman of Kirk’s Enterprise, I know too well that my role here is to be utterly replicable phaser fodder.

What I’ve learned through four months of working through my occasional role as a red shirt is that easily 90% of what I do professionally can be done from anywhere in the world that offers a stable high speed internet connection. As often as not, it can be done faster from such far flung locations as my home office or back porch because the work isn’t interrupted every 15 minutes by chatty colleagues or impromptu meetings. If I’m brutally honest, the other 5-9% of work that I need to be in the office to do could also be done from remote locations, but would require something more than the current “basic load” of software we have to work with.

That leaves somewhere between 1-5% of work activities that require specialized access or equipment that can only be provided in the actual office. Even assuming the upper end of the range, which I’m not conceding other than for illustrative purposes, that’s a legitimate need to be in the office about one twentieth of the time spent working.

I have to wonder if, at some point, the universe of bosses will figure out that constructing these monumental buildings of concrete and glass are ultimately a bad return on investment. They’re literally billions of dollars of infrastructure that can’t be justified because the work doesn’t need those buildings to get done. Better, perhaps, to build smaller, more cost effective offices that people could use “as needed” rather than continue to proceed from the assumption that nothing can be done if it’s not happening in a cubicle.

I’ve got, hopefully, less than fifteen years left in this ride of mine, so I doubt seriously I’ll see that glorious awakening – not when the current generation of uber-bosses still like to throw around phrases like “team cohesion,” “collaborative workspace,” or “synergy.” They’re still too hung up on seeing asses in seats and slavering at the bit for the day they can bring everyone back to cubicle hell.

They have the power. They can return the office to (almost) exactly what it was before the Great Plague. They can, but they shouldn’t want to. They should replace the old constructs with something better, more cost effective, and employee friendly.

I know it’s a dream, but it’s a happy one – and one I won’t stop advocating for even when they bring all the red shirts back.

Friday on Wednesday…

I’m on the cusp of taking my first vacation day since January. With a four-day weekend stretching out in front of me, I’m nearly as giddy as the proverbial school girl. I’m not going anywhere and I have no particular plans. It’s just an extra day not spent fighting with the help desk, or figuring out what the right teleconference number is, or ferreting out what people are actually asking for through email that was possibly written by four-year-old ring-tailed lemurs. 

It doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but it really is.

At 4:00 this afternoon, I packed my work laptop away – out of sight and mind – instead of letting it occupy the same real estate on my desk where it’s been nearly every day since mid-March. It’s a small thing, but for me, deeply symbolic of the transition between working from home and just being at home. It’s a small difference, but an important one.

So, it’s Friday on Wednesday and that, friends, does not suck.