What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Random IT issues. I was issued a perfectly decent laptop a month or two ago. When I shut it down Friday evening and tucked it away for the weekend it was running just fine. For some reason, when I booted it up on Monday morning, I found it had turned into an underpowered and sclerotic piece of shit for no obvious reason. Opening files or programs took minutes. Some, like VPN never did work. I managed to limp along using webmail for a while, but eventually that too stopped working. After some begging and pleading to pull my helpdesk ticket forward in the queue and making an unplanned trip in to the office for our IT types to poke and prod at it a bit, the issue “seems to have resolved itself.” Look, I’m thrilled and happy to be able to function again, but I have no confidence at all that this has been a one-off incident and won’t now start happening at the most inconvenient possible moments.

2. Jorah. Before anyone gets up in arms, let me explain… I love my sweet, slightly neurotic boy, but the least little unanticipated sound sends him rushing the front window in a fit of barking rage. That’s fine enough, if not something to be outright encouraged most of the time. Where this tendency of his gets us into trouble is when the people across the street are in the middle of a major project to re-landscape their front yard. Then, it’s constant noise and movement that draws his loud and undivided attention. This, of course, does not bode well to how he’s going to respond when all the banging and foot traffic is coming from inside his own house. Yeah. That’s gonna be some good times.

3. Erdogan. Turkey’s president is threatening to torpedo the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. He’s accused them both as being “home to terrorists.” I’m not an expert on Turkish terror, but since it’s Erdogan doing the talking, I can only assume what we’re seeing is a good old-fashioned shakedown. Now that Turkey’s president has planted his flag, I’m expecting that way below the radar, someone from the State Department will swoop in with a big bag of cash or a novelty-sized check, and for reasons that aren’t discussed in front of the media, Turkey will quietly reverse its position. Failing that, there’s always the option of going with a stick – where the U.S. will have to threaten to withhold something that Erdogan wants in order to get his capitulation. Maybe it’ll be a combination of the two, but letting the tin pot dictator of Turkey dictate terms to the rest of NATO just feels like bad policy overall. 

Emotional support human…

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been spending a bit more time in the office than I have been since the outbreak of the Great Plague. What I’ve observed in that time is that Jorah, my wonderfully loyal, if slightly neurotic dog, has unexpectedly developed an ability to tell the difference between my go to work khaki pants and my stay home jeans. 

On mornings when I’m working from home, Jorah joins me in the kitchen while I’m having my coffee and puttering around. He’ll stay put there until we head back to the sunroom to get the telework day properly started. For days I’m scheduled to schlep over to the office, instead of hanging out with me and making himself comfortable on his bed in the kitchen, he detours back the hall and sprawls out on my bed. He’ll stay there until it’s time for me to leave… When I’ll usually have to lure him out with a peanut butter stuffed Kong before I head out for the day.

The only real difference between home days and office days is the pants I wear. If I pull on a pair of jeans, all is well. If I pull on my khakis, the fuzzy little bastard pouts… as if spending all day in cubicle hell is somehow my idea of a good time. I think the implication here is pretty clear. I’m going to have to declare myself his emotional support human and just start toting him along wherever I go and can avoid having him abandon me on what are already the worst days of the week.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coffee, black. I had blood work done this week and received instructions not to eat or drink anything prior to the appointment. Black coffee was excepted. I appreciate that I was allowed to get caffeinated and avoid the inevitable withdrawal headache, but honestly, even good black coffee is bad. I’m sorry, it just is. I mean I don’t want 10 times more cream in my go juice than coffee or anything, but I like it to come to a nice deep tan before pouring it down my gullet. I know there will be a chorus of “real coffee lovers drink it black,” well, you’re welcome to your bitter bean water, but I’m going to insist on something more civilized.

2. Hand wringing about corporate profits. “But companies are posting record profits,” they whine. Yes, they are…. and those companies are going to do things like invest in their infrastructure, identify growth opportunities, and return a big slice of that profit to their shareholders through increased value or directly by issuing dividends. If you follow the average news report you could be forgiven for thinking “shareholder” is just another word for the evil 1%. In reality, of course, shareholders reflect every single American who has a 401k, or an IRA, or a Health Savings Account, a 529 plan, or yes, even one of those old school union-backed pension plans. Big corporate profits are a good news story for the 55%+ of the population who have invested for their future. Sorry, but in a free market I’ll just never see businesses making a profit as anything but a good news story.

3. Anti-streaming. Look, if you’re going to have people schlep to the office and spend eight hours there doing work that they could be doing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, the least you can do is unblock some music streaming options so we can make an honest effort at ignoring those inane conversations going on around us. Unless, of course, sitting around listening in on six conversations at once is the “organizational culture” it’s so important to preserve. I mean I know there are people who really dig being in the office, but I can’t for a moment imagine why. There’s not a single thing there that works better than its counterpart in my home office… myself included.

Happily oblivious…

Due to a slight misunderstanding of the schedule, I spent the first two hours on the clock more or less happily oblivious to what I was supposed to be doing today. I mean I was still working on things, just not on the things anyone else expected me to be doing. 

It’s exactly the turn of events that leaves me feeling as if I’ve spent the rest of the day playing (badly) a game of catch up. Don’t get me wrong, it was a better day in every way than any day I could have spent in the actual office… It just could have all been a lot less hectic and scattered if I had bungled the first 90 minutes.

Worse things, of course, happen at sea. I’m confident that today’s issues won’t repeat tomorrow. Tomorrow will be dedicated to making new and more interesting mistakes. I won’t say I never make the same one twice, but now and then something slides through. I try hard, though, not to keep paying for the same ground. For now, I’ll sit down with a good book and mostly forget that there was any turbulence at all today. I’m immensely thankful that I built a mental wall between work and life very early in my career. It’s proven to be a very helpful skill to have now that as often as not work is sitting within arm’s reach even when I happen to be home.

Three days, three appointments…

It’s going to be a busy and unavoidably expensive week.

Tuesday: Should be appliance repair day. Hopefully they can tell me why the washing machine is throwing periodic errors and if it’s reasonably economical to repair. Otherwise, I’ll have to add appliance shopping to the list of things to do that I don’t want to do.

Wednesday: The bank has, at long last, funded my bathroom renovation loan. All that’s left to do is sign the paper work and hand over a ponderously large down payment for the work… and then we can get properly started in approximately 3-4 months… assuming the backlog in materials doesn’t get any worse.

Thursday: The last estimate on repairing and resurfacing the driveway… and shortly thereafter cutting another unpleasantly large check.

It’s fun that no matter when I start planning for projects they all eventually seem to tend towards a bottleneck.

Perhaps the one true up side of the parade of home repair projects over the last 18 months has been that I’ve mostly been here. Whether it’s getting estimates or needing to let people in to do the actual work, it’s all been sorted with minimal time off required. I’m very much going to miss that part when we get back to the new, new, new normal.

Partial victory…

As sometimes happens when you write in advance of publication, yesterday’s post went live shortly after “breaking news” that would have changed how I approached the narrative.

My little corner of the bureaucracy has, as I write this, a spanking new telework policy wending its way through the approval process. Late yesterday afternoon it was sitting with the union bosses for their final review. Sure, it’s a union that can’t negotiate salary or benefits or extra vacation days, but there they are – one more inexplicable wicket for policies to pass through on their way to final approval.

Pending this final review and eventual signature by one of our very own star spangled gods of Olympus, I understand the new policy will allow eligible employees to work from home 40 hours out of each 80 hour pay period. That’s not quite as good a deal as the three days per week that was initially rumored, but marginally better by than the current allowance of a flat two days per week – and much improvement over the one day a week that was often the “unofficial” standard.

Would I have liked to see a new policy that went further in really minimizing the days the average person needs to spend in the office? Sure. It’s possible the next guy who sits in the big chair will look upon telework as just normal “work” by another name rather than as something new and different that is frightening and needs to be constrained as much as possible. In this deeply traditional workplace, being able to work from home half the year is a pretty significant shift in how we do business under regular order versus in plague conditions.

Call it a partial victory…. if it ever actually gets signed, of course.

Long and lingering…

So we’ve been back to the new, new normal for a few weeks. I’ve never been in love with cube farm life – much less so after demonstrating that 95% of my weekly tasks can be completed from the comfort of my sunroom office at home – but I like getting paid, so I more or less toe the line. It’s something to bitch and complain about, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

While being back in the office is less than ideal, the shift to two day per week telework has been surprisingly helpful during this transition. Adding a mid-week day at home to my traditional Telework Monday at least breaks up the otherwise unpunctuated days of loitering in cubicle hell between Monday and the weekend. The middle of the week reprieve makes the three other days considerably more tolerable. There’s nothing, of course, that would make a week in the office all sunshine and lollipops, so anything that makes it even marginally more endurable is a net good overall. Never let it be said I can’t acknowledge the small mercies when I see them.

There’s still the vague promise of allowance for an additional telework day or two in every pay period working its way through our Byzantine review processes. As of this afternoon it remains spoken of, but un-adopted. I’d optimistically looked for official word on that to reach us by this point, though that’s obviously more a case of my own wishful thinking than the reality of the speed at which the paperwork flows. That more days, even if only an even split between home and office easily qualifies as a win – an opening gambit for future agitation if nothing else… but with each week that passes without it being enshrined into policy, procedure, and guidance there’s more opportunity to get it twisted or for it to become just one of those things we talked about but never put in practice.

Such is life in cubicle hell… where good ideas go to die a long, lingering death.

It was a golden age…

I don’t suppose there will be any official notification. No proclamations. No drums or trumpets. There’s likely to be nothing but my own angst and deep disappointment to mark the passage of what I’ll always consider a golden age.

You see, by the time I get back from taking a bit of time off next week, we’ll have already passed out of the era of “maximum telework” and begun phasing back towards “normal” operations. As it turns out, we’re opting not to observe any of the lessons of 2020 and making preparations to restore things to precisely what they were before the Great Plague. Passing on this literal once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better way to work, we’re going to take a knee… because our particular Olympian god doesn’t get a warm fuzzy unless he sees asses in seats. It would be laughable if the outcome wasn’t so utterly predictable.

After 18 and a half years on the job and with 14 years left to go, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that the best, most rewarding fifteen months of my career are about to be over. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance more suited to my personal and professional temperament than the one we just worked through. Watching what worked so well being garroted to suit one man’s vision is damned near heartbreaking.

If there’s ever a time in the next 14 years where you think I’m sounding bitter about a stark refusal to embrace new modes and methods of “accomplishing the mission,” there will be a good reason for that… because I don’t plan on passing up an opportunity to continue agitating for a workplace that isn’t mired somewhere in the land of the gray flannel suit when it comes to their philosophy and practice of management.

It won’t make me the most popular kid in class, but fortunately I’ve had a lifetime of experience in knowing how to carry that role. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Timing. The 76 billion cicadas camping in my back yard are fine – aside from the dogs wanting to eat all of them. I generally don’t get freaked out by bugs. Their early morning screeching is what I’d charitably describe as “troublesome.” It’s made my favorite pastime of sitting on the patio for an hour each morning with coffee and a good book decidedly unpleasant. I know they’re temporary, but the little bastards are stepping all over the last days of full-time working from home. That’s just exquisitely bad timing… and I hate them for that.

2. Eligibility requirements. Marylanders who received the COVID-19 vaccination are eligible for daily drawings for $40,000… unless you’re one of the Marylanders who got the “federal” vaccine instead of the state jab. That puts me out of the running. Would I have waited a few more weeks to get the vaccine if I knew I could win a sweepstakes? Maybe. I suppose the world will never know… but I want my damned money.

3. Good intentions. The people who control the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government’s version of a 401(k) retirement plan are being pressured to make two significant changes to how the fund is managed. The first would see the TSP divest from fossil fuel securities, with an eye towards, supposedly, making the investment funds “environmentally conscious.” The second major change would be driven by proposed congressional legislation to prohibit TSP from investing an any company based in China. Maybe both of those are admirable objectives and people should feel free to target their own money in whatever fashion they want… but for the TSP in general, which bears the lion’s share of responsibility to secure federal employees’ retirement. Personally, I want fund managers laser focused on driving down costs and maximizing return on investment… while keeping the “good intentions” of socially crusading politicians as far away as humanly possible

Just another day (at the office)…

It took just under 100 minutes from the time I pressed the power button until the time my computer was fully booted up and ready to work. I’m sure it was downloading and applying some very important patch or update that we just couldn’t live without, but why that sort of thing couldn’t have been pushed on any number of the nights when my computer was dormant, but connected to the network by VPN, I’m sure I don’t understand. Later in the afternoon,I got the opportunity for another restart and update. Whatever. If that’s how our rich uncle wants me to spend a third of my time on the clock today, that’s his issue… but don’t ever tell me that having asses in these seats is about “productivity.”

The rest of the day was mostly keeping up with email and fiddling around with databases that it was my job to fiddle with today. This was all accompanied by the background noises, from a few cubicles down the row, of a colleague deeply in the grip of allergy season and their regular snorting, coughing, and hacking. Of course then there were the seven other people here with their own phone calls, random conversations, and general distractions rounding out the day. Remind me again why I should be in a hurry to return full time to a room full of this?

With the exception of being the designated warm body present to press the button that grants access to our little room, I’d be hard pressed to identify one thing that was better or more effectively done today because I was sitting in my cube rather than in my own office at home. Reports didn’t get done faster or with more precise information. The databases weren’t updated any more promptly. Yet, there I sat. Because it’s how we’ve always done things… and we operate in a world where that’s more than enough justification for the people who make the decisions.