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.

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The time of the year. There’s a popular perception that people’s moods tend to improve has we head into the Christmas season. Maybe that’s the case for some, but not so much for me. By this time of year I’m just about worn down to the nub from relentless repeats of leaving home in the dark and returning there many hours later again in the dark. I loath and despise this time of year for the simple reason that for all practical purposes it means living like a mole for two months. If I manage to leave work on time and if it’s not cloudy, I do manage to catch the last few rays of watery sunshine on an occasional weekday. On a good day at mid-winter that lasts for somewhere between 5-15 minutes. So while everyone else is preparing their celebration of the birth of the Christian’s nailed God, I’ll be over here quietly awaiting the solstice and celebrating Sol Invictus.  

2. Thirty minutes. That’s how long it takes my work computer to boot up from a cold start on the average day in the office. Look, I can dick around for the first 30 minutes of the day with the best of them, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly great use of time. But hey, whatever. I can only use the tools and resources I’ve been assigned… Which is why I keep a stack of magazines on my desk.

3. Bulldogs. I love my bulldog. He’s almost eleven now. He’s got a permanent limp, only hears when he wants to hear, and seems happy enough to pass the time between feeding and being let outside lounging comfortably in one of his beds. He’s an old man and I don’t begrudge him any of that. For the last two months, though, we’ve been trying to get on top of what’s become a particularly aggressive skin issue. After two month of antibiotics and medicated baths we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution than we were at the back in late October. The condition itself isn’t something unusual – we’ve been working with bad skin for years – but the amount of time it’s taking to knock this one back is far more than history suggests should be necessary… and don’t get me started on $80 bottles of pills that don’t seem to do a damned thing. I love my bulldog, but if you find yourself ever thinking you want to fall in love with their wrinkly little faces, my advice for you is to take a hard pass. I’d never deny this one anything, but get yourself a dog instead of an eating, breathing, ongoing medical disaster… unless you have a sick desire to take lots of time off for vet visits and would rather not have to worry about disposable income. Then, by all means, bring home that adorable, smushed faced little pup.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Late breaking winter. I had a passing thought that I might get through this winter unscathed in the landscaping department. It would have been the first winter since buying the place that was the case. Clearly that’s the kind of thing that’s a homeowner pipe dream. In the bright light of afternoon – and now that a lot of yesterday’s snow has melted off, I can see at least three boxwoods that appear to be broken at the stem, several other shrubs that may have been bent and twisted beyond recovery, and a reasonably good sized maple limb that landed squarely on top of a forsythia that was just starting to take off. Some people love nature for what it is. Me? Aside from the adorableness of the fuzzy animals, I find nature to be something to be pushed back against at every opportunity. Seems like I’ll have reason to break out the chainsaw after all.

2. Six hour days. I use to enjoy two hour delays. That’s until I ran into a short day that felt like it lasted at least 2,476 hours instead of just the six that the “clock” says passed.

3. Congress (again). These asshats literally only have a handful of things specifically named in the Constitution as part and parcel of their responsibilities as elected representatives. The fact that they fail so spectacularly to get those few things done even when one party controls all the levers of government speaks to both their uselessness and our stupidity for continuing to elect 90% plus of the same 535 people time after time after time. Truly democracy has given us the kind of governance we so richly deserve.

Allowing for weather…

They’re calling for shit weather tomorrow morning. On a typical day, that would have been the sign to drag my laptop home in hopes that there was some combination of liberal leave or a closure called by the Destructive Weather Team. Having another day to work at home uninterrupted by 30 ringing phones and eight or ten pop up meetings would be a godsend in terms of getting some actual work done.

Sadly, I’m the guy who’s supposed to run the meeting tomorrow – which means I need to be there to flip the slides. Because it’s not an official meeting unless someone flips slides… and we certainly can’t expect people who come to a meeting to print off their own slides or bring their own laptop so they could see the slides. If we could count on either of those things there’s no part of what needs talked about tomorrow that needs my physical presence in a blandly decorated conference room.

We’re stuck in some kind of bizarre world where we want everyone to be prepared to work from wherever they happen to be, but make in next to impossible to do so. Where it is possible, we make the processes and procedures painful to the point where most find the option unattractive.

Me? I’m a contrarian and poker of people with pointy sticks from way back. I’m already turning over plans in my head to slowly drag my team into the 21st century – and prep them for the day when I’ll be leading the discussion while wearing sweats and fuzzy slippers. Until people see working from some place other than your designated spot in the cube farm getting results, I’m afraid the bureaucracy will never get away from it’s favored mode of business as usual. I like to think I’m feisty enough on this point to lead the way by example.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ice. I hate dumb stupid ice and the asshole who didn’t salt his driveway because “why bother, it’ll melt in a few days anyway. Occasionally I am a real idiot. Conveniently I was summarily punished for it so I feel balance has been restored.

2. Not doing the maths. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve watched someone walk to the checkout only to be rung up and announce in what appears to be complete surprise that “I don’t have that much.” Maybe some quick maths before getting to the counter would have been helpful. On any given day I’m keeping a reasonably accurate running total on two different checking accounts, three savings accounts, two brokerage accounts, one e-trade account, two IRAs, a “401(k)” type account, the Dow and S&P 500, and the spot price of gold, silver, and bitcoin. I won’t always know what those numbers are to the cent, but you can bloody well believe I’ll know if I have enough funds available to cover a cart full of whatever it is I’m trying to buy before I get to the point of sale. It isn’t about wealth or poverty. It’s about awareness and knowing the condition of all the resources you can bring to bear on the day. Situational awareness in all its many forms is your friend, kids.

3. Mr. coffee. My venerable 11 year old Mr. Coffee seems to be on his last legs. It’s mostly failing to drip through the last cup of water and when it does, it brings a quarter cup of grounds through to the carafe with it. No amount of scrubbing or spring adjustment seems to make a difference. I’m suspect of change at the very best of times… and changing something as central to my life as the coffee maker feels likely to set all my nerves twitching.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Looking busy. During an average year there are plenty enough times when the number of requirements arriving over the side are large and numerous enough to swamp you before you ever get a chance to close them out. The few days before Christmas are not, generally, one of those times. The real issue now is no matter how important the thing is, the people you need to provide the answers, aren’t around. Sure, you’ll make an effort to close out those things that can be closed out without needing a lot of outside input, but with that done, you’re left largely with either make work projects or simply trying to make yourself look busy. At least when I get back after the first of the year, I’ll have a beautifully set up file system already built for all of those new 2018 emails. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

2. CNN. The day after a bill passed out of Congress giving most Americans an income tax cut, CNN’s website lead off with the banner headline “Enjoy your tax cuts while they last.” They go on to concede that “a lot of households… will see a lower tax bill in the next several years.” The article largely focuses on the expiration of many of these individual cuts by 2027 – a decade hence. The thing is, though, Congress can pretty much do whatever it wants. Tomorrow they can pass a bill making these cuts permanent. The next day they can pass a bill that changes the date they expire to a week from Tuesday. Sure, I would have loved to see the individual tax reduction provisions made permanent in the original bill, but I’m damned if I’ll reject a reduction now when balanced by what might be a decade in the future. A decade is a hell of a long time in politics – more than enough time to apply maximum pressure to our duly elected representatives to ensure the cuts they’ve made now are made permanent or replaced by better alternatives… and bird in the hand and whatnot.

3. The shortest day. We have the solstice over with now, but it’s a long, dark climb back to a point when we don’t exist as a race of mole people, traversing to and from home each day in utter darkness. I’m sure some people will wax poetic about the majesty of the shifting seasons, but I’d be happy enough stuck on high summer with its ready supply of daytime in big, beautiful 15 hour blocks.