Tag Archives: Corpo

I’m just a coworker today in providing compassion

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You know it is sometimes easy to be a little wrinkled by your coworkers.  The point of this blog is to laugh about it a little bit.  Every once in a while you get caught in a storm you didn’t create and things become heavier than the element of humor.  September 11th, 2001 was one of those days.  Perhaps you were lucky enough to spend that morning with loved ones or even your frat brothers, but for most of us it was a Tuesday at work.

For me, I was working in public accounting.  I had been there just over a year and things weren’t clicking at the speed I wanted them to never mind what my bosses were thinking.  We were ticking down to September 15th where we’d have to file the extended corporate returns.  There were folders everywhere and people running around calling clients trying to squeeze out the last bits of information.  We were looking forward to the respite promised by the next weekend.  Especially me as I had plans to go up to Quebec for the first time in years.  I just had to get through Tuesday first.  It was a beautiful day – a crisp morning with a long blue sky.  The traffic wasn’t too bad even with the kids back to school.  I think we were all counting down the hours of the summer, in some ways looking forward to Autumn.

I got to the office about 8:30 and set up, looked at my to-do list.  I was trying to wake up by checking email.  One of my coworkers walked in.  She was one who had to have everyone’s attention any time she spoke, but she was so sarcastic you couldn’t be sure how much she was saying was true.  She had said as she walked to her desk that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I thought to myself ‘Crashing a plane into a building isn’t a good long-term survival technique.’  It happened every once in a while that a little Cessna would get out of control and crash.  I didn’t mean to be flippant, but we had bigger concerns.

It was when she saw on the internet that a second plane had hit, announcing it almost too matter-of-factly like she didn’t believe it, that I was awakened.  My mind couldn’t comprehend two small planes hitting the exact same place.  I had forgotten that there were two towers, but regardless it was puzzling. Those were the days before streaming video when a headline still had to break the news. I think we were all stung by the hot iron in that small window of minutes.  I jumped on the internet to see what we were up against realizing for the first time these were passenger jets.  That’s insane!  One of the managers had a tiny TV, maybe 6″ black and white.  It was one of those things that just gets piled over by papers and other junk in the corner of your office.  I had never noticed it before and I never saw it afterwards, but in those moments he had it on.  We were watching a black and white fire raging while the newscaster reached for any phrases beyond ‘a plane has crashed into the tower,’ but that refrain would be with us forever.

It was like a natural disaster you figured had to end.  And yet the moments left us pathetically out of breath.  The first tower down.  The second tower on fire.  The second tower down.  A plane charges into the Pentagon.  An unconfirmed fourth plane in Pennsylvania??!!  Then it all just went silent.  Silent in the sky.  Silence in our hearts.  People would come into the office and you’d ask them if they had heard anything.  There was nothing to hear.  The nation had a murmur for most of the rest of the morning.  In the weeks and months that would come it seemed almost everyone in the Northeast had at least a small fingerprint on what was lost that day.  I went to college with a couple people who perished with the towers.  In all, it was too much to consider in a short period of time.

At the end of the workday most of us hadn’t sifted out much good, but the mere ability to look at our coworkers and say ‘See you tomorrow’ was a golden enough reward.

God bless those at rest and those who still struggle with the events of that grueling day.

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Who steals grocery carts? The homeless and accountants.

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We’ve all worked in a variety of jobs from the time we were teenagers.  Almost every workplace has some sort of unique asset that helps us get the job done.  What am I talking about?  Here’s an example: at one accounting firm I worked at we actually used a grocery cart to truck files around the office.  I’m sure it was just a coincidence that we were within walking distance of Stop & Shop.  We found a good one though that didn’t have a funky wheel.

At another accounting firm I worked at we were right down the street from one of the local news station headquarters.  Occasionally you could see the anchors in their cars as they cut you off after a long, crappy day and we’d just laugh, laugh, laugh.  One day we got a knock on the door.  It was the police.  They said we should probably not leave the office as they got a report of a man walking around with an AK-47 looking to have a little meet and greet with one of those anchors.

Every workplace seems to have a little charm, in that respect.  I worked for Market Basket briefly as a “sacker.”  It is an institution here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire known for its narrow aisles and sawdust.  Oddly enough, I’ve never seen an ad on TV telling me to use sawdust to clean up spills, but go into a Market Basket anywhere and there’s a big, old box of sawdust.

At Sears Hardware the guys in the back decided to drag race lawn tractors until the manager decided to can them.  I worked at another small accounting office that was in the same building as a hospital.  I’d have to walk through the wing of the hospital to get to the office.  No, I did not shortcut my route by hopping on a gurney, though I guess I could have.  At one job I had a boss who ate tuna fish every day so there would be stacks of tuna cans in the cabinets.  How could I forget about the phones in the toilet stalls where he would talk to his stock broker or his unfortunate administrative assistant?

I’m sure you’ve got some behind the scenes stuff at your workplace that keeps things interesting – the room no one is allowed in, an ironing board in the conference room.  Make us jealous or creep us out.  Just tell us about it.

My day off belongs to everyone, but me

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You ever wish you had access to a guru?  Not a religious one – enlightenment should be limited to the books on tape you listen to during your commute while you’re trying to figure out what the vanity plate ‘PPLBON’ could possibly mean.  Give yourself a dinosaur sticker if you knew Jonathan Papelbon pitched for the Red Sox.  Consequently, he would not be allowed to drive a rusty Camry.  I’m not sure he can even spell his own name, but even he knows it’s dumb to have a vanity plate in New England that references a player who is now sucking fumes in Philadelphia.  So we could all use some enlightment, but that’s not the point.  The point is it would be nice to have somebody just show up one day and say “Geoff, I’ve reorganized your whole life an I actually came out with a profit of $60, 302.44.  Is it OK if I just put that directly in your bank account?”

Well, that’s not going to happen.  Here’s the reality.  You bust your butt every day.  You’re a smooth cat.  Even the auditors can’t always find you.  Todd, the Accounts Receivable contractor, is asking you for the same information you gave to the previous two contractors.  That’s annoying, but the trade off is that Todd is the weird nephew of Ray Liotta, and you get to mention you work with him at every bad party you’ve been to.  You’ve got a system at work.  While it still results in flashes of heartburn and numbness some days, on the whole it’s OK.  The problem is…actually we longer use the term ‘problem’ on this blog…the indirect cost of doing business this way is your personal life gets backed up.  Most of the time you are divorced from life outside the office anyway.  Your employer would prefer that you just paid alimony and were done with it. You’re more interested in visitation rights.  The odd compromise is the  Day Off Errand Run (DOER).  Wow, that sounds like a program HR invented when they realized it was the end of the year and they hadn’t actually created any initiatives.

Usually there is something that predicts a DOER is on its way.  Maybe you have a trip planned over the weekend to go up to Vermont and stare at trees or, simply, your shirts have become unevenly stained.  There’s nothing like being ridiculed by people who have better stains than you or who have been eating granola bars for lunch for the past week.  Yeah, those granola bars she got as a sample at that hippy-dippy concert she went to last weekend.  The moral of the story is that your boss should come up to you and put his hand on your shoulder and say “You’ve been working real hard.  We’ve all noticed it.  Let’s get you a day off.  How about next Tuesday, does that work?”  Again reality versus fantasy.  In reality you get to about 3:00 on Wednesday and you realize if you don’t see your boss about a DOER, Bernice, the hypochondriac, is going to get in there and take all the days for at least the next week.  You slink in to the office.  While he finishes up a phone call, your mind tries to reconcile the pencil cup on his desk that says “Even the successful know the value of an eraser” and the mousepad that has a picture of his baby daughter who is now, you know, eight.  What is this, an after-school special on work-life balance issues?  Well, upon hanging up he neglects to notice your head’s on all sideways.  When you mention you need a day off he probably gives you a look like he’s trying to pull off the cover of a half used paint can that’s a mix of crust and liquid at the same time.

We’ll skip the rest of the conversation and assume he relents and gives you a day off even though Bernice is already slotted in for a trip to the hospital.  There’s a couple slight chances during the weekend to stop what you’re doing and complete a couple errands, but that’s Tuesday stuff.  One time you used a DOER and got all of your errands done plus it was during the holidays.  That was a fantastic day.  But that was before the kids and the dog and it wasn’t this job so there was a little more flexibility.  Even NASA would struggle to figure how you’re going to make Tuesday successful.  It’s really just an oil change, drycleaners, library, get a gift card for mom, buy some dogfood, go to city hall, change out a lightbulb on the back porch, and maybe buy some underwear.  It really should take half a day and the other half you can spend reading a book, drinking a beer, stalking your coworkers on Facebook – whatever.  You ever notice that the people you visit on your day off never visit you on their day off?  That means the guy from Jiffy-Lube has time to drink two beers and chill out.  Maybe he and the librarian share a nice Beet and Apple with Goat Cheese salad while they discuss their mutual love for Bukowski.  Moral of the story: that’s not you.

Wednesday you’ve got work on your desk, your boss is aggravated, everybody’s asking you what you did on your magical day off (except for Bernice who has a bronchial thing).  All you have to report is that you somehow came out of the DOER with more things to do than you started with and less time off to accomplish all of these tasks.  Wonderful.  What do you think?  Does this pretty much sum it up?  Anybody have some handy-dandy tips for actual success?  Any epic failures out there like you went to pull weeds and got poisoned oak all over your body and upon telling your tale a thousand times the next day you were permanently nicknamed PO Boy and shunned by everyone including future interns who weren’t even there?  Just checking.

Another acronym or stab yourself with a pencil: choose your own adventure

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In addition to writing this blog I’ve been working on writing a novel.  The first draft is close to completion (!!).  As we start to work back out of this summer into the meat of the fall, it got me thinking about acronyms.  You’re like ‘What the hell suddenly got you thinking about acronyms?’ Well, they’re everywhere.  Being able to write out words and not use them in the regular degree gave me a chance to do some analysis.

When I was a kid there were a few acronyms floating out there.  You had the old reliable RADAR.  It was good to use IQ to belittle the other kids on the bus.  There were a couple others, but, for the most part, you were forced to write out everything…in cursive!  In fact, acronyms look weird in cursive.  We didn’t bend the rules.  Then you got to be a teenager and you knew about SATs and maybe RBIs if you were a baseball fan.  Hey, we got a vernacular – that’s pretty cool.  In health class they told you about AIDs and STDs.  If you were real smart you knew Lou Gehrig’s disease was ALS.  Still, you remained unfettered by adding too much to remember and decode to your already busy schedule of being a jerkwad teenager.  Even in college maybe you added on GPA or DPS.  It didn’t stop anyone from having a few beers.

Suddenly your bright eyes brought you into your first office job.  For me I was working for the CPAs.  We were battling against the IRS.  Did we ever call it the Internal Revenue Service?  Have you ever called it the Internal Revenue Service?  No?  Well, there’s your answer.  We used more form numbers than acronyms, but it’s still speaking in a language normal people consider…well, they wisely walk away.  If you learned how to say ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ in French you will probably get to go to the bathroom.  If you learn ‘I’ve got a section 1231 loss that probably needs to be put on a 4797 with possible section 179 implications’ you will never get to go to the bathroom and you might just get a wedgie for old time’s sake.

Many accountants get burned out by form numbers and move on (actually we get burned out trying to magically turn boxes of faded receipts into something approximating a tax return while the owners keep calling us asking how it’s going).  The corporate world is a slushpile of acronyms.  You thought you were the North America Accounting Manager, but suddenly you’re anointed the NAAM by the GAM.  You look across the table at the guy who washes his hands before he pees and he’s giving you the once over.  ‘I’m the VeepSO, bitch!’  And the other Knights of the Round Table (or misshapen table that your PS (Purchasing Specialist) bought when HP went out of business) sit stoicly with their awkward acronym armor protecting them from people trying to logically connect how the Director of Program Development (DPD) being a jackass has helped program development in your company.

Close your eyes.  Well, open your eyes because you have to read this.  Imagine if you read these two sentences:  Marty Richter is the DPD for 123 Systems and he’s here today to talk about why the company struggles with Program Development.  Marty Richter is the jackass Director of Program Development for 123 Systems and he’s here today to talk about why the company struggles with Program Development.  Wouldn’t you surmise from the spelling out of his title in number 2 that Marty is the reason they struggle, whereas he remains more anonymous when he has his acronym?

I knew for me it was time to return to the forest of tall, well grown words when I started using sentences with three acronyms or more.  “How can you be sure the TBL revenue is hitting the P&L properly in Q1 if we are using a JE instead of an MRE to book the transaction?”

Look, I live in an Amish Acronym world where I can get by on the bare minimum.  If a twelve year old makes fun of me for not knowing what TTYL means, I’ll just tell them I noticed their thumbs looked a little misshapen when they text.  Go find an acronym to describe that complex.

Do you have insane amounts of acronyms at your workplace?  Have you ever actually invented an acronym on the fly to sound like you know what  you’re talking about?  Have you caught others misusing acronyms?  Have you given up like me?  Tell us about it!

Office onset flu-like symptoms; you’re not sick, just delusional.

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Outside the office today on the East coast of the US there’s an amplified heat that feels like wearing vinyl to Death Valley, but I bet there’s more than one of you who still has their space heater on in the office.  Maybe it’s just a favorite sweater that helps warm that tan you got over the weekend.

There are a million people out there fighting against global warming and looking for a fix to the environment.  Some of them are riding deer to the Poles with ropes and cool looking snow gear to save the ice as we speak.  You’re fixing a cup of coffee while wearing the fleece pullover your company gave you a couple years back that doesn’t really fit.  Well, I’m fighting for you, friend.  Maybe fight is a strong word.

I once worked in an office where, in my section upstairs, the heat was broken.  How broken?  As you stepped on the fourth stair it went from about 70 to 85.  Evidently the owners had done an analysis and realized paying for someone to fix it would be more expensive than just paying for the extra heat.  Of course, they made this decision in their wool suits downstairs.  Have you ever seen a sheep sweat?  No, because they don’t put sheep in 85 degree carpeted offices.  Trust me, we all had a look at that dial to see if we could fix it.  Well, not the ladies who thought it was great.  Let’s just say buy in for the audits of fisheries and meat packing plants suddenly rose to an all-time high.

In most offices the heat is not broken it’s just controlled by a fairy – the Heat Fairy.  Imagine if your office was a democracy and everyone had a vote as to what the ambient temperature should be  – whoa, bad idea.  Sometimes you know who the Heat Fairy is.  Usually it’s because they made a scene – they built a blanket fort on their body to prove that they were cold.  They use the word ‘dying’ often when they are hot.  They are sadly not good enough hypochondriacs to just call out sick.  They’d rather roam around and infect everyone with the notion that illness and potential death is only avoidable if they are allowed to adjust the thermostat.

Some places, though, the Heat Fairy really is a fairy that you can never quite catch.  Yesterday it was 62 degrees in here.  Today it is 75.  How does that happen?  Why is the AC on in the middle of February?  That’s assuming you have consistent heat across your whole office, but there are mysterious zones.  Do you guys have the one meeting room that is an icebox?  When you see it on your schedule you know you have to bring a sweater with you – it’s like an outing except you’re in the same office and your boss has about 50 slides to run through.  He’s got the projector light to keep him warm.  What do you have?  An ill-fitting sweater and your touchy-feely co-worker, Phil.

I would also recommend not working in a building that is cursed or the owners got a really good deal on.  Here’s the story.  You make the call which of the above led to this:

One day the partner heard a noise above her head.  It was not an accountant trying to escape through the heating system, but something.  She called an exterminator who used his masters degree  to explain we had a mouse problem.  He did not have a degree in psychology though, so when the mice started falling through the ceiling tiles onto desks and floors we were less than consolable – really just paranoid.  You know, if you could fall from eight plus feet, land, and bolt away you’d be in the Olympics.  You can’t and mice can.  We told the exterminator to stop thinking and just start shooting.

It was proven that mice cannot land in your hair unless maybe if you had a Don King afro.  But flying ants can do everything! And they’re creepier than those little cute mice.  Maybe we should have looked into replacing the ceiling after the mice incident because not long afterwards ants started falling.  You know how you get the first drops of a summer rain that peck the dust and you’re just waiting for it all to pick up.  Well, a couple dazed ants sauntering across the floor were noticed.  They had wings which was pretty awesomely scary.  Soon after they were plopping on desks, landing in hair, walking everywhere.  The exterminator was called again.

If you want to be distracted from work maybe a change in the temperature will do the trick.  If you really want to test your mental toughness add some animals into the mix and see how much you get done.  Faithful readers, migrant internet searchers tell us some stories.  You can stay anonymous if you’d like, but me making up comments on my own blog would be the saddest thing ever. Share!

1980s TV Stars you swear work in your office

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The 1980s was a fantastic time to grow up.  The career paths were seemingly endless.  I was drawn to those trying to help society by fighting crime independently.  Remember Hawaii-50, how they were cops in Hawaii.  In the 80s they took it one step further and had Magnum PI who got to choose who he wanted to help spending the rest of his time hanging out in a mansion with his posse in shorts and a Tommy Bahama shirt.  Michael Knight was driving a talking car, MacGuyver was saving the ladies with his gum wrapper neutron bombs.  The A-Team; even Michael Landon was bringing us on the Highway to Heaven.  When society was fixed it was chill out time.  I call that work-life balance.

I went away to college and found out that everything I had watched in those halcyon days had no career prospects – not even Dukes of Hazzard.  Well, not all my voracious TV study was in vain because one day I would learn that many of the characters I met on TV I would see again someday in real life (just not necessarily the cool ones).  Perhaps you have co-workers like these characters in your office too.

Wesley from Mr. Belvedere

The fact that Mr. Belvedere never backhanded Wesley was kind of touching in a I’m-just-a-kid-one-after-school-special-away-from-getting-that-I’m-annoying kind of way.  But we know adults like this.  The ones that ask a million questions so they can stick you in front of your boss when you trip up on one.  Or the folks that CC everybody in upper management, lower management, basement management so you’ve got to answer to everybody while they take a two hour lunch.

 

 

Edie McClurg in like every role she’s ever done

This is the really nice lady in your office who traps you in the copy room or at the coffee station and a seemingly innocent conversation about knitting somehow winds up with you calling Bonnie the Admin Assistant to God’s new hairdo something you saw on Jerry Springer one time after a stage fight.  You think maybe Edie was so pleased that I complimented her on her advanced crotcheting technique that she would maybe not roll over on me.  Then around 2:00 Bonnie and her ugly hairdo give you the stink eye and you have your answer.

 

 

Vinnie from Doogie Howser, MD.

Poor Vinnie – he was the less smart, less good-looking friend who didn’t even have a computer.  Doogie moved on awhile back, but Vinnie’s still kicking around.  He’s staring down error messages on the old PC, smacking the keyboard around a little bit when he gets frustrated, and generally making sarcastic comments when people complain about his work.  He likes to complain a lot about management, but the only thing they’ve done wrong is let him continue to hang around.

 

Aunt Jackie from Roseanne

Jackie is the perfect encapsulation of a contractor.  There are times when Jackie is the smartest, most logical person in the room at Roseanne’s house because she has some objectivity coming in from the outside.  There’s other times when you get to know her and it’s clearer why she isn’t married and doesn’t have kids.

 

 

 

Ted McGinley in like every role he had in 1980s

Ted is the guy who is in management and is probably in a role that is higher than his actual abilities because he’s so good looking.  He kind of kicked around different places after college maybe until he was around 40 and needed the 401K.  As long as he’s not your manager let the guy have whatever he wants.  He’s pleasant when you talk to him.  He just, from most accounts, doesn’t quite know what he’s doing.  They keep putting him on the brochures anyway.

 

 

Delta Burke’s character in Designing Women

Strangely enough the people who didn’t pay attention to you in high school still can’t seem to hear everything you say now that you’re an adult.

“Here’s the idea that I came up with.”

“I don’t think that’s the best use of resources.”

“Why thank you, it is the best use of resources, isn’t it? What’s your name again?”

“Major Dad and I wasn’t complimenting you.”

 

Bob Newhart from Newhart

There always seems to be at least one old guy in management who is afraid to change.  It’s because he knows once things change it could prove he’s not really that capable.  Mr. Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnatti is another example of this.  Now certainly if you’re working with Les Nessman or Larry, Daryl, and Daryl you’ve got your work cut out for you.  He’s a likeable guy, but frustrating as hell.  Everybody’s on Keurig and he’s holding on to that Mr. Coffee that Joe Dimaggio gave him in 1984.  Let’s move froward with the times.

 

Janet from Three’s Company

Poor Vinnie?  Poor Janet – she’s trapped in a world where she’s competing with Suzanne Sommers instead of just being herself.  Why were there so many neurotic woman characters in 1980s TV?  Joanie from Happy Days, Dianne and Rebecca from Cheers, Mrs. Garrett, Marcie from Married With Children, What’s her name from One Day at a Time.  It’s possible that the hairspray and shoulder pads led to some unintended side effects, but we’re over that now, right?  Not quite all of us.  There’s a few Janets out there that work really, really hard and get nowhere because they give off a nervous vibe.  When they release once a year there’s crying, there’s overindulging at the Christmas party, there’s squeeling tires in the parking lot.  This craziness is certainly not limited to the women in your office.

 

Judge Harry from Night Court

We get it – you like magic tricks and practical jokes. We get it – you love Mel Torme.  We get it – you’re responsible for trying criminals.  Actually we don’t really get that part given that you can’t stop being silly for ten seconds.  Yes, the fun guy is in your office.  Whether it’s sports or You-tube or wrapping your stapler in Seran Wrap he’s there.  It’s fun during a coffee break.  It’s exceedingly annoying when there’s a deadline.  He never quits.  Night Court has so many characters you can see every day – the sleezy Dan Fielding, the neurotic OCD toting Christine Sullivan, Mac the guy who’s there for a paycheck, Bull Shannon, the freakishly tall guy who people keep raving about, but you don’t really know anything about him other than he’s really tall.

 

Dwayne Wayne from A Different World

Who can forget Dwayne Wayne with his flip down sunglasses checking out the ladies? He’s ditched the flip downs, but he’s still stylin’.  Why’s he stylin’ at your office – who the hell knows?  By day he answers phones, but at night he is Miami (at least that’s what he tells you when he’s in the bathroom checking his look in the mirror.  How he could be Joe Smooth in this part of the state you’re not really sure.  He lives in a whole ‘nother world, A different world, dare I say, with tanning beds and manicures!

 

 

Corey Feldman

No really – Corey Feldman works at your office.  He’s the one that drives that beat up Toyota who parks it way out because that’s where the shade is and his creditors are not.

Corey says everything’s going to be alright

If George Clooney was in IT they’d put him in the basement too.

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The plight of the poor IT professional.  Thirty years ago there were no IT people.  They all worked at IBM and other software companies.  They were the cutting edge of a cool, sci-fi, Tron-like world where there was no doubt they would own those people who once made fun of their amped up graphing calculators and mastery of their joysticks.  For a wonderful moment in time there was a binary bubble.  Then Apple and Microsoft decided to put a computer in everybody’s home…and car…and phone.

These computers are just a fad! I’ll be on TV foreva!

In the 1980s everybody’s dad was Tony Danza pulling out the old ball glove pretending they could still play.  In the 1990s they gave up on that crap.  Now they could be a hero to the family if they brought in a PC.  Now everybody knows about computers – even old people!  But where has all of this knowledge gotten us to?  It’s kind of like when you give your dog peanut butter.  He likes peanut butter, but you really think it’s just funny to watch him smack his lips and shake his head back and forth.  We like our computers, but the real entertainment is when people can’t figure out how to use them.

Enter Donna Double Click.  She’s the nice woman you work with who, just has no luck with computers.  It doesn’t really make any sense because she’s had a PC in her house for years, but you ask her send out a meeting request and she says ‘I know you’ve shown me this before, but can you show me how to do that again?’ You suck in a deep breath and say ‘Of course I can because you’re a nice woman.’  Later on, of course, somebody is steamed about something and exclaims, ‘God, she’s such a dope!’  Then the Donna stories come out.  How she called IT when she couldn’t get rid of the lines in Microsoft Word and they had to explain to her that she was in Excel.  How IT got stuck there for an afternoon as there were 178 automatic updates that hadn’t run on her computer because she didn’t realize that turning off the monitor didn’t actually turn off the computer.  And the seemingly daily struggle of the demons within her computer making the icons either far too small or Super Mario big.

Donna’s not even that old.  You can’t blame people who had worked for twenty years before a computer even landed on their desk to be a little slow on the uptake, but it doesn’t seem to be that – there are just some people who don’t get it.  Then there’s five accountants huddled around a computer trying to figure out why the screen won’t move up and down.

It’s tedious at times (especially for IT), but at least Donna asks for help.  Kevin Keyboard Shortcut never asks for help until the Blue Screen of Death hits.  Then you get ‘Dammit, this computer sucks.  My last one was so much better.  What’s IT’s number?’  IT comes up and grabs the computer and then you see neither IT nor Kevin for the rest of the day.  The problem is that Kevin knows how to do stuff on the computer.  He’s got like 15 printer options because he can add one without prompts.  He’s accessing networks that aren’t really his.  Yeah, he gets error messages, but most of them are just warnings; they’re not critical or anything.  Then IT asks him what happened and he’s suddenly pretending to be as oblivious as Donna Double Click. ‘I don’t know.  It just kinda popped up.’

IT should really just monitor some of these people’s screens all day.  They might if they weren’t stuck running to the planning meeting only to find out one of three things:

  1. The presenter figured out the fix to his problem which probably means something else will soon be screwed up.  For every check box clicked there is an equal and opposite critical error message to be dealt with
  2. The solution to the problem was so dumb that it had to be a practical joke because no one who is potty trained or can tie their shoes should have missed it.
  3. The network is actually screwed up in which case there is a shitstorm brewing in emails.  Sitting here and pretending to try to fix this, while people keep telling me how yesterday their computer wasn’t working either, might be the best thing I can do for my own sanity.

Yes, most IT people didn’t seek it out as a profession, but getting blown around from company to company like dandelion feathers wasn’t cutting it as a programmer.  Or the company they working for blew up and this is a job.  There are two rules in the job as IT professional:

  1. Like a magician you can tell people what you’re doing, but never teach them how to do anything.  It saves you and your buddy’s jobs in the basement plus teaching is for training.  IT only trains their own.
  2. You are a data collector.  Sure, figuring out diagnostics and solving problems is cool, but really you just need stories to share.

Sales conferences, at times, are like the movie Bachelor Party, you know with Tom Hanks before he got all Saving Private Ryan on us.

“God, the owner was freakin’ ancient with like mummy breath.  You know like the mix of dentures and that Robitussin you can only get in Canada.  He’s been jerking us around for three years.  I finally just said to him flat out.  ‘You could have had us at $20 a unit two years ago.  What the hell are you waiting for?  For us to throw in a pack of Tic Tacs for you and your wife? OK $35 a unit and one pack of Tic Tacs.’  I actually wrote the Tic Tacs right on the sheet.”

“No, you didn’t do that, Barney!”

“I most certainly did and he took it!”

I imagine IT conferences are a little more subdued

“Yeah, I was trying to fix this guy’s network connection and I jumped on the phone for a couple minutes and suddenly a screen saver pops up and it’s a naked woman…who might just have been his manager.  I hit the mouse and we pretended like nothing happened.”

“Was she hot?”

“Not bad.”

“You should have said, A little pre-meeting scouting?”

“Yeah, I shoulda said that – damn.”

Poor IT personnel, their stories will make you frightened to ever turn on your computer, but they can’t tell anybody.  They just fix your little hiccups and go back to their basement cubicle monastery in the shadows of the junked computer parts closet.

Screw national administrative assistant day (OK, that’s a good idea too), but IT needs a pat on the back once in a while too.  Who would play a good IT pro in a movie?  Are you the IT Hall Monitor on your floor helping to fix everybody’s computer issues before calling in the big guns or are you the saboteur who uses a broken computer as an excuse to leave early?  IT has a dossier on everybody – what does yours say?

Nobody invited Emily Post to their meeting. I wonder why.

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Hi, I’m your IT professional.  You might remember me from such roles as the guy who ended your embarrassing Blue Screen of Death problem, the person who sat awkwardly at your desk while you tried to busy yourself when the network stalled during a ‘routine’ download of Adobe.  Or perhaps it was my finest achievement to date, retrieving your lost Powerpoint on the fly during your last quarterly meeting.  By the way, handy-dandy tip: sweating on your keyboard will not prolong the life of the keyboard.

Everybody has meetings.  They are unavoidable and, at times, actually productive.  But they can also go rotten milk bad real fast leaving us all with nothing more than cautionary tales.  There should be etiquette and when codification was brought up in a recent meeting twelve people volunteered to create Meeting Etiquette Standards.  Somehow it hasn’t gotten done.

Who

If I don’t know why I’m in your meeting I’m going to set out to destroy your meeting.  Not intentionally, of course, but you’re stealing time out of my productive workday to not be productive and I will comply.  It’s OK to check your phone once in a while.  You know, to make sure you voted for American Idle or to see what the weather is in Auckland, but it does get contagious.  The wise veteran presenters tell folks to leave their cellphones in their cubes, but then you’ve got yawning, elbow leaning, and pen cap chewing.  You could set up a table like the kids table at Christmas for the unimportant people or you could just not invite them.

What

If you don’t tell me what this meeting is about in reasonable detail I’m going to use it as a forum to complain.  Are the complaints going to be reasonable? No! We’ll talk about Sue’s squeaky shoes.  We’ll spend ten minutes discussing why some people can work from home, but others can’t.  There will be rollicking argument over font size in memos.  Eventually we’ll come around to the fact that there is no meeting agenda.  What was this meeting supposed to be about again?

Where

I had a meeting once at my desk.  It was a web conference that we were forced to attend, but at least I had my office chair and could check Facebook on my cell phone if I needed a diversion.  Web conferences are the best for reaching a lot of people who are in all different locations, but when something goes wrong it becomes a mutiny.  There are people who are good web conference presenters.  We did not have one of those folks that day.  Our presenter decided not to mute all of the phone lines.  Let’s just say there are people who work less hours and make more money than you do who are not smart enough to mute their own line during a live telephone conference.  These people also listen to weird Euro Techno music, have dogs that berate them when they are on the phone, babies that they leave unattended, and evidently unsettling stomach reflux.  It must have been a full moon because it was happening all at once.  Oh, I forgot the cackler who was laughing at something we ordinary humans were just not privy to.  The presenter, bless their heart, would get through a couple sentences and ask for people to mute their lines, but the laughter and the techno music could not be defeated.  It was Pink Floyd song in my telephone colored by the little blips of people dropping off the call.

The moral of the story is: once a meeting starts to go bad stop the meeting.  Don’t try to resuscitate it.  If your conference room projector isn’t working and you’ve called in the IT professional they might be able to fix it, but you’ve got your MacGruber time bomb ticking.  If you have to call in IT you don’t have to cancel the meeting, but don’t make me sit there and watch.  To paraphrase Englebert Humperdinck’s lyrics to  Release Me, this meeting’s screwed and I need some coffee.

When

The time you choose for your meeting is critical.  If it’s right after lunch I want a laser show.  If it’s first thing in the morning I want a laser show.  OK, just kidding.  If your meeting is before 9:00, between 12:00 and 1:00 or after 6:00 you would be wise to have food because kids are starving in Africa and, apparently, professionals are starving in your meeting.  If your meeting is over three hours long (good luck with that) there should also be some sort of sustenance or, at least, a parting gift.

Making a meeting request for a meeting of more than four people, while giving the group less than four hours notice, is a definite no no too, Daffy.  Today was the day I planned to take a two hour lunch and now you’ve screwed it with your meeting request! Follow this simple rule that I just completely made up: for every meeting attendant give one extra hour of notice.  Four people in your meeting means giving the group four hours of notice.  Three people in your group makes three hours of notice comfortable, etc.

When we worked in public accounting we used to get what I termed ‘4:45s.’  Those are clients who show up at around five with a box of receipts and suddenly your early departure evening is now a rush out the door at 7:15.  Unless it’s an emergency or you are really invested in brown-nosing your boss by proving how late you can work, don’t set up a meeting after 4:00

Why

Why are we having this meeting? Because Joe doesn’t write well enough to explain his three points in a five minute email.

It’s 10:05, why have we not started?  Because Barbara didn’t shut the door and we’ve got refugees somewhere between the kitchen and the copy room.

Why does Phil’s meeting agenda look fall foliage?  Because Phil’s one ‘tryout’ at Giggles has led him to believe he could be a standup and just start winging it when the meeting gets off topic.  Plus a fall foliage background is relaxing.

Why do we always order pizza from Brothers’? You do realize there are kids starving in Africa who don’t get free pizza?

There’s always going to be complaints so do yourself a favor.  In those meetings that you were invited to that you really didn’t need to be at, sit there and think about what you would do to make the meeting better or risk it and just don’t go.

How

How many meetings do you get stuck in each day?  How do you leave one and sneak into another?  How do you rate your workplace meeting etiquette?  Do meetings run smoothly or is it like the wild west?  Have you ever fallen asleep in a meeting?  We all have meeting stories, tell us yours.

Meeting Villains on the rise

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Wouldn’t it be nice if that meeting that you got a request for an hour ago was canceled after you sat in the conference room by yourself for five minutes?  As you swiveled steaming in your chair to leave and go tell somebody off, the door opens and people walk in with ice cream.  They say ‘Way to go, Buddy.  Keep up the good job.  Here’s some ice cream to make you happy!’  Well, the chances of that scene happening are very slim unless you work at Ben and Jerry’s and even they don’t give their employees the good flavors.

Meetings are like arthritis, the older you get in an organization the more meetings you have.  When you’ve got a nice day of productivity planned they pop up and even ice cream doesn’t always offset the chronic pain that meetings can cause.  Remember when you were new in your job and you got invited to your first meeting?  You had gotten past filling out W-4 forms and having the interns show you how to access the network.  Now you’re in a room with the pink shirt guy and the lady who looks like she’s perpetually about to sneeze and the crusty coffee mug dude.  All these people who were anonymous for the first few days are pulling into focus.  This is good.  You actually have a mission in those early days to learn who these people are and what’s going on.

In every group there is the Mad Questioner, we’ll call him Mark.  Mark asks relevant questions in meetings usually somewhere between minute 30 and minute 45. Statistically (because massive research has been done on this) after minute 45 Mark’s questions become…well, they’re absurd.  So, for example at 10:32 Mark asks ‘So you’re saying the numbers are down because consumers aren’t really picking up on the connection between the vitamins in our food and the health of their dogs?’ But at 10:52 it has devolved into ‘Has anyone actually thought of tattooing our brand logo onto the dogs? Or not tattoing, but giving the dogs free t-shirts or something?’  The lights should flicker at the point when Mark asks his first borderline question.  You feel like a judge in The Voice when you think ‘Yup, that’s the one’ and you look around to see if anyone else is rolling their eyes.

The problem is that Mark is often the only one who asks questions.  For a couple meetings the new people will ask questions, but eventually Mark is king of the mountain and the competition fades away.  Ironically Mark is often a very poor presenter.  Technically it’s because he lacks in focus, hence the questions all over the board.  In reality, though, it’s likely that people have just learned to tune him out over time.  You’ve got to figure that 20% of people in meetings don’t really need to be there unless you count the guy who’s a modified gopher.  He has very little idea what is going on and since he’s spending parts of the meeting sweating over paper jams and picking up lunch for everybody, he doesn’t stand a chance of capturing much, but he needs to be there.  Plus he has no fear of standing on the table to adjust the overhead projector and other maneuvers featured in OSHA filmstrips.

Then most meetings have at least two people who know basically everything that’s going on before the meeting starts: the presenter, obviously, and the Wingman.  If you don’t have a wingman in your meeting you are risking certain doom.  The problem is the Wingman is usually one of the keener people in your little organization so they get invited to a lot of meetings.  On Outlook the Wingman is optional, but in reality your thinking ‘Please God, show up to my meeting.’  Why is the Wingman so important?  It’s not necessarily for their knowledge.  It’s because when, as a presenter, your laptop decides to freeze up and, while staring at it, you’re drooling feverishly the Wingman can stall for you.  They’re like a clown in a circus.  For five minutes they are a happy clown keeping everyone occupied, but then the Wingman sees this meeting is screwed and they become angry clowns threatening to leave until the presenter finally relents, ‘OK, I’ll just send everybody an email.’ Wingman out.

Who are the other people in the room?  Well, some of them understand what’s being presented.  Most of them don’t, but they’re really good at Angry Birds.  There’s a Chicken Little ‘What if there’s a snow storm and IT can’t get the network working and the President of the company is sitting right next to me waiting for this report – the company will have no choice, but to just close operations completely!’  Maybe there’s a savant who slides in late with no paper or pencil and spends the whole meeting staring at a wall only to make a comment that is so startlingly insightful that you would follow him around the rest of the day to figure out where he comes up with this stuff.  That is if you didn’t have four more meetings to go to.  You’ve got Buda who just sits there always looking serene and you can’t figure out if he’s really tuned in to what’s going on.  You’ve probably got a Jim Jimmy-Legs who can’t sit still, a Heavy Thinker Face lady who’s obviously considering hard what’s going on, but she’s also the first one out the door and to the bathroom.  Maybe she just really has to pee.

It’s funny how people fall into these caricatures in most meetings like they’re bad guys from the Batman comics.  They’re not bad guys, they’re our co-workers!  The reality is that we often act differently in meetings than we do at our desk.  Why?  Because meetings can be a burden and we really haven’t been punished for our lackadaisical behavior.  Maybe we are bad guys; Meeting Villains.  Tortured by half hour meetings that take an hour, a shortage of chairs in the meeting room, turkey sandwiches when we asked for roast beef.  We’ve taken to the dark side and we might not ever come back (but we’re very pleasant at our desks so please stop by and chat later).

What do you think your co-workers see you as in the meeting room?  Do you have a hard luck meeting story that you have to share? Do you think Charlie Hawkins works at your office (Meeting Ice Breakers)?

What we can learn from unwanted office chairs

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I once had a colleague who said “Be your own boss, but make sure you use somebody else’s desk because it’s going to get messy.”  I would never advise someone to infringe on somebody’s personal space, especially in a work environment.  You can certainly stink up the office with microwaved fish, dial up the heat and get everyone angry, but when you start grabbing pens out of the little cutesy jars that people have on their desk or you borrow their chair and change the settings – have you no conscience? Here’s how I would calculate the No-Fly Zone in my cubicle.  If you disagree please chime in.  If you are sitting in your chair facing your monitor stick your arms out to the side (because it looks silly).  I would say everything from your fingertips to the back of your desk is a No-Fly Zone for cube guests, meaning they need serious permission to touch anything in that area.  It goes both ways.  Your guests probably don’t want to encounter your germs or crumbs or anything else hiding in the Zone.  IT, of course, has an exemption from the No Fly rules because they are taking their own lives into risk by touching your keyboard and mouse.

Where’s the troll head pencil topper? (picture courtesy of http://www.oddee.com/cool-gift-ideas/)

The pen thing is bad, but there are a lot of pens in this world.  There’s only one office chair.  You invested two hours in sliding things up and down, there’s casters rolling, cranking lumbar supports,  flapping ailerons.  You even watched a video on how to use your chair.  You are certain that the office looks strangely brighter from your new perch.  With your armrests cocked in that particular position the computer actually runs faster.  Glory, glory hallelujah!  It’s not a pretty place where they take your old chair (but I have a feeling that it will return).  You don’t care.  You’re like Mary Tyler Moore throwing papers into the air (then you pick them up because your boss is a little concerned that you’re losing it).  “It just so pleasing that the company spent $750 for a nice chair to help guide me through the coming years,” you think.  And you go home that day telling everybody how you got the sweetest chair. “It’s an Aeron, it’s got like 36 settings!”  Like your boss, your grandma’s a little concerned with your sanity, but as the months go by your relationship with your chair matures.  You’re just a good match.

Then one day you come in after a long weekend and something seems not right about the office.  You call over the cube asking around to see if they notice it too, but it seems to be you.  You go to reach for a pen out of your Staples Supreme Desk Organizer and you realize your arm has shrunk since Friday!  No, it’s the chair.  You try desperately to reset it, but it’s statistically impossible to get it back to where it was.  For forty-five minutes you’ve been hitting levers and rolling dials, but it’s not the same.  You coolly ask your neighbors whether they used the chair employing the phrases ‘any chance’, ‘possibly’,  etc.  OK, before you start terrorizing your neighborhood, let’s think this through.  Why would the people around you who have chairs of their own mess around with your chair?  Either they are playing a joke on you, in which case they should have hidden your cell phone in a ceiling tile and then repeatedly called the phone, or the neighborhood watch fell apart.  The third option is that they do know, but they’re not telling.  And I guess there is the outside chance that you’re just paranoid, but that couldn’t be it.

Ironically enough you had noticed the previous Friday that Barney Finklestien’s name plate was no longer on his cube.  Talk about a paranoid guy.  You wrote something a inappropriately mushy on his going away card, but hey, you were feeling good that day.  The good old days.  Anyway he had one of those rear view bike mirrors affixed to his monitor.  That would work really well to make sure nobody’s creeping around looking at your chair.  Unfortunately Barney’s cube now looks like a Dollar Store for used office electronics.  The 21 inch widescreen flat monitor is now a clunky old 17 inch.  Forget about the mirror.  There are like three keyboards all in various stages of rot, a couple of mouses, a printer that seems to missing a power cord, a bunch of pentab folders.  It wasn’t even a nice adding machine that he had, but it’s gone.  He had a serious scanner.  IT might have grabbed that one for their black market list.  You know, the list of special equipment that you need like eight signatures to get approved? Not because they don’t have it in a closet downstairs, but really just because you’re not allowed to play with really cool stuff until you have proven your worthiness by being on The List.  And, wouldn’t you know it, Bernie’s nice Aeron chair, the one he got a doctor’s note for, gone and replaced by your old chair.  Here’s your chance to bring that old beast of a chair out of the minor leagues for one last callup.  You’re like ‘Ugh, no.  I will stick with my new tainted chair.”

What is your best pickup from the employees who have gone to a better place?  Was it willed to you or did you have to sneak in ninja-style to get your prize?  Why do co-workers who should have more respect break the no-fly zone in a cubicle?

The remote office