I went from March 2020 to December 2021 without so much as a cough. I can trace my Christmas crud last year directly to the one time I strayed out from normal habits of avoiding people. Believe me when I tell you I was good at avoiding people before COVID. After COVID, I’ve become exceptional… of course that assumes a situation where I exert some level of control over most of the variables.
I’m in no way surprised that six weeks after “return to the office” I already find myself dealing with a low-grade crud. You wouldn’t be surprised either if you heard the general amount of background hacking, sniffling, and general complaints that “it’s probably just a cold,” floating around the cube farm on any given day.
The good news is that as long as the handy little at home tests can be trusted, it’s probably a run of the mill cold and not the Great Plague. The bad news, of course, is the only reason I’ve got a head full of anything just now is because my corner of the great green machine continues to obstinately cling to the idea that work is a place rather than an activity despite two years of evidence to the contrary.
If you’re wondering when I’ll stop being salty about this world where asses in seats continues to be a more important metric than production, well, I won’t… and I don’t even need this periodic upper respiratory reminder to keep it in the forefront of my mind.
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
1. Designer kindling. The internet just tried to sell me a $50 cardboard box of L.L. Bean branded kindling. The biggest problem I have with any of this is that if Bean has bothered to assemble a 35 pound box of kindling and put it on their sales rack, more than one person has actually bought it. That means there are people out there among us that spent $50 to have kindling shipped directly to their door. It feels like there are so many better ways to start a fire – shred a bit of newsprint, tear off some parts of that empty cereal box, soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or put a match to some of the lint you cleaned out of your clothes dryer. Throw a few small, dry sticks aboard and you could have saved yourself $50 plus shipping. Then again, you’d have missed out on the chance to impress your guests with your big box of designer kindling. The deeper we wade into it, the more I really do hate the 21st century.
2. Freedom of Speech. No, the NFL is not taking away anyone’s “free speech.” The First Amendment specifically prevents government from restricting speech, so unless you live in some Bizzaroland where you’re being governed by the commissioner and franchise owners, you sound like a ranting lunatic when you make that argument. The league, like most other business, is identifying what they deem acceptable behavior in the workplace. Knowing those conditions, people are then free to work for the NFL or not. As it turns out, even millionaires aren’t exempt from having a few limits placed on what they can say and do at the work place. After all, if it weren’t for those kind or rules, who in your office would decide that their version of “free expression” was dispensing with pants for the duration of their 8-hour shift?
3. LED bulbs. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked steadily to replace all the incandescent light bulbs on the homestead with LEDs. There’s been a surprisingly respectable reduction of power consumption (and corresponding reduction in cost) over time. This week, the bulb in one of the garage door openers went out and I dutifully replaced it with one of the spare LEDs I had laying around. It turns out there’s enough wattage running through the opener even when it’s “off” that it keeps the bulb lit at what I’m guessing is about 10% of it’s full output. It’s probably not enough to burn the house down, but it’s enough to be aggravating. I’d rather have a old-fashioned bulb burning for 5 minutes than a fancy new LED that burns all day every day until the end of time.
Last night I posted an update to social media more or less decrying the utter toolishness of both candidates for governor in my beloved home state of Maryland and putting myself forward as just the right third party candidate. It’s a happy fiction for a number of reasons. Not the least of those is the simple fact that as a employee of the United States I am legally barred from running for partisan office on any level – local, state, or federal. It’s just one of the many fun and interesting rules that apply to me under what’s commonly called the Hatch Act which is backed up by the full might and authority of the US Office of Special Counsel. They are not to be trifled with.
The short version of what could be a long and painful story is that the Hatch Act, among other things, seeks to ensure career civil servants are officially above the political fray and not drug kicking and screaming back to the bad old days of the spoils system, where good party men were put into positions of authority throughout the working levels of government without much consideration given to their actual knowledge, skills, and abilities. The sentiment is spot on. Having a cadre of people who are not beholden to any particular party for advancement is an unquestionably good idea. The political appointees at echelons higher than reality stand as a great reminder of the caliber you may end up with when decisions are based purely on party affiliation.
The problem of course is that Hatch essentially prevents the small segment of the population who know the problems inherent with the system best from running for office and doing something about it. It’s really elegant in its own way. Hatch effectively keeps the people who know first hand the problems created by politicians from entering the arena in an effort to unseat those same politicians. I’d like to say that’s purely coincidental, but my core cynicism simply won’t allow it.
Sure, I can participate in the process. I can vote, I can canvas, I can put a giant sign on my lawn, but as long as I want to keep getting a check from my currently employer, I can’t even touch the idea of running for office. It’s a pity really. Federal employees get a black eye in most discussions. Some of it is deserved, but in my experience they’re a pretty average group of people. Some are pure oxygen thieves, most are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, and a few are truly world class minds. It’s a real shame that some of those deep thinkers are barred from getting into positions where they could do more than rearrange deck chairs.
So let me get this straight. You want me to sign a “limited telework agreement” that basically says management can tell me to work from home any time it’s convenient for them (i.e. whenever the office is closed due to some outside condition like snow, hurricane, or wildfire). In return, they may possibly consider allowing me to work from home a few days a year on days when I would usually take some kind of leave (i.e. dthe cable guy coming to fix the TV). I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t jump at the opportunity to sign on for something that’s a whole lot of upside for management, but that gives me pretty much nothing in return.
Oh, and just in case you were considering signing up for the program, you’re signed agreement will give your employer the right to come into your home to inspect for “safety”. Sure that will probably never happen, but even knowing it’s possible is more than a little creepy; a creep factor that I’d be willing to deal with if it were for a regularly scheduled day where I’d get to read memos and build PowerPoint decks while wearing my fuzzy slippers and sitting at my kitchen table. It’s not a creep factor I’m willing to get onboard with just to have the privilege of working the next time we get snow deep enough to make the roads too hazardous to get to the office. Honestly, if it’s so bad that I consider coming to work a hazard to life or limb, I’ll go ahead and exercise the unscheduled leave option if the powers that be are too hardheaded to close up shop for the day.
For me, it’s a simple fact of living in the 21st century: Telework is either a good program or it’s not. It’s something worth doing right or it’s not. For an organization that does business in 100+ countries to say that individual productivity depends on sitting in a cube so people have physical access to them is farcical… or it would be farcical if they weren’t so serious when they said it. I’ve been at it long enough to know that you don’t gain a damned thing from swimming against the tide. I’m not going to wage war for the sanctity of telework and I’m certainly not going to fall on my sword for it, but the chance of my signing a “limited” agreement are somewhere between slim and none.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.