Stupid (but mostly true) Story of Workplace Terror and a Stapler

shining

With Halloween rapidly approaching, it seemed like a good time to share this tale of workplace fright.

As many of you know, I work from home. However, I also have an office assigned to me in the nearest company location, which is about 45 minutes away with no traffic…but I live in California, which means that the window in which there is no traffic is between 10 pm and 4 am and, of course, the week between Christmas and the New Year. Outside of these times, the drive is about an hour and a half.

About a month or so into this job I decided to brave the commute to check out our location and the space allocated to me…and print every document I could think of. C’mon folks, a crappy home printer is no match for an industrial machine that prints a 35 page document in a matter of seconds. (It takes Ole’ Bessie at home about a minute per page.) Oh yeah, and the last part of my mission was to kidnap a stapler. You never know how much you need a stapler until you go without one. This working from home gig is not for the faint of heart.

As I soon found out, my company occupies 2 floors of an 8 story building. (I did not know this before, because I had interviewed at our headquarters which are located in another state and had never visited this location prior to this fateful day.) Arriving at the entrance to our suites I knew something wasn’t right. It was extremely quiet. This was due to the fact that with the exception of the security guard, there was no one in sight. I turned right to go search for my office and ran smack into the facilities manager, whom I’ll call Igor. Igor had shifty eyes and a nervous habit of wringing his hands. He put on his best friendly voice, which was still faint and ghoulish, and asked me if I wanted a tour of the facility. Who could say no to a personal tour with Igor? What was he going to do…kill me? I laughed at that thought and quickly agreed.

As we walked down the hallway, things took a truly creepy turn. We passed rows and rows of deserted cubicles and not one other live human being. As we continued on I could hear the buzzing of copiers and fax machines, as they waited patiently for someone to press the button. The coffee machine had sputtered to life but there was no one there to drink the coffee. I wondered if I was being punked. I get this feeling often at work and figured this time it had to be real.

We turned a corner passed more empty cubicles, and then entered into one of several conference rooms Igor would show me, each larger and more elegant than the last. I finally broke down and asked him if anyone actually worked in this office. He was oddly surprised by my question and exclaimed that people did in fact work in this office…just not on the day I chose to visit.

Not to get too hyperbolic here, but it was at this point that I lost my marbles. This place was like the big deserted hotel in the movie “The Shining.” Similar to “The Shining’s” protagonist who went crazy and tried to kill his family, I was pretty sure Igor had gone crazy and killed all the other employees. Thoughts frantically filled my mind. Was I bound to be next? Did HR know what had happened here? All I wanted was a pleasant visit to what I thought was a normal office location and a stapler. Instead it looked like I might have to actually test out my karate training in the real world. I was definitely not ready for this.

I tried to stay calm as he showed me to my office and hung around to make sure everything was “working alright.” As soon as he left I shut the door and locked it. I figured I’d stay long enough to print my stuff and secure the stapler. After that, I was outta there.

After several minutes the lights started flickering, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. I was certain the ghosts of the slain employees were trying to warn me to get out before Igor came back with an ax. That was it, my nerves were shot. I grabbed my stuff and ran as quickly as I could to the lobby and out the door to the nearest Starbucks with wifi.

And that’s why I still don’t have a stapler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Purgatory (and Appraisals)

powerpoint

I spend a great deal of my work life creating PowerPoint presentations. In fact PowerPoint is my main tool of communication. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes in PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

I have determined that to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

On a rare occasion, I am able to leave PPP for a day to obtain some insight into company operations. Recently I spent a day reviewing residential property appraisals. While this may sound boring, I assure you there was plenty of excitement to be had. In fact, based on this experience, I learned some important points to consider before refinancing my mortgage:

1. If you want to make sure the staff is awake, don’t flush the toilet before the appraiser comes to take pictures. A good toilet picture will have a more lasting effect than coffee.

2. If you have so much junk that the appraiser cannot physically get into your house, you might want to first consider renting a storage locker.

3. If at all possible, remove the bicycle hanging from the basketball hoop. This may not affect the value of the property but will probably confuse the review staff who will have to figure out which way to hold the picture.

4. If you’ve converted your Home Depot garden shed to a kitchen/bedroom/bathroom, you probably won’t get credit for the additional square footage.

Now, I think I’ll go put these tips in PowerPoint.

Jump Into That New Job With Confidence

Dilbert New Job

Starting a new position can be somewhat nerve-racking. Not having changed jobs in over 7 years, I was somewhat anxious when I started with my new employer recently. Of course I was also really excited, having left my prior employer for an intriguing opportunity (translation: “more money”).

But, even with dreamy thoughts of the new gas-saving, carpool lane-eligible Chevy Volt I was hoping to purchase with my increased salary, as my first day approached, butterflies filled my stomach. Would I be able to win over my colleagues with my brilliance and wit? Would my office have a couch in it? Would I be able to map the new printers to my computer when the IT guy fails to show up after 3 days of nagging? Would the coffee machines be even less hygienic than the grimy coffee pots I was used to?

Well, rest assured, two months down this new road, I am here to tell you that if you too are contemplating making a leap to new employment, there truly is nothing to fear. In fact, you should be confident. You will soon find that, money aside, there really are some great upsides to the new gig and when it comes down to it, the usual stuff you’re used to at the workplace isn’t much different. Here are some concrete examples, to put you at ease:

New Upside: The travel expense and timekeeping systems are easier to use.

Usual Stuff: In theory this is true. In reality, you have no idea, since it takes weeks to actually get access. To avoid wanting to throttle someone in IT at your new company and winding up explaining your violent actions to Human Resources, don’t go on any business trips or get sick for at least a month.

New Upside: The Human Resources Department has a direct support line staffed with helpful, internal employees. 

Usual Stuff: When you finally get access to the timekeeping system, you realize after running a few calculations that your vacation isn’t accruing correctly. The external, non- Human Resources staff who are responsible for fixing the issue, argue with you that the “computer isn’t wrong.”

New Upside: You work with a really friendly group of people who take time out of their day to teach you the ropes.

Usual Stuff: You still have no idea what the statisticians are saying. (Tip: just complain loudly about “data quality” and shout “chi-square” (pronounced: kīskwer) every few minutes, and you’ll make it through the discussion.)

New Upside: You hear about an exciting new project at the company.

Usual Stuff: You find out the project is staffed with consultants who get paid obscene amounts of money to put together colorful presentations with “swim lanes” (complete with “swim sprints”) and made-up words like “ideation.” When you look more closely, you find they were too busy doing important consultant stuff to worry about spell check or slightly racist undertones in their “user profile” slides.

New Upside: You get a huge new office with a couch. Wow, you’re really moving up in the world.

Usual Stuff: Facilities can’t seem to fix the overhead light which makes a constant loud buzzing noise. It looks like there will be no napping on that couch after all. Besides, it’s easier to work from home than sit in traffic for an hour.

New Upside: Working from home means you get to see your kids more often.

Usual Stuff: Your kids find every opportunity to interrupt you. You consider padlocking your office door and investing in a noise cancellation headset.

New Upside: Once you have access to the travel expense system, you travel across the country on exciting business trips.

Usual Stuff: Your last flight home is delayed by two hours, because no one can figure out how to fix the plane’s coffee maker.

 

As you can see, there really is no reason not to take on that new opportunity that recently presented itself. In addition to the many favorable things that await you, you won’t be pushed too far outside your comfort zone, because you will still get to deal with the same crap you’re used to. And if you have an extra bit of luck like me, the germy coffee pots will have been replaced by a Keurig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Office Tips for the Holidays

With the holidays approaching, it’s important to treat your colleagues at work with kindness and respect. This is particularly critical if you are relying on them to 1) cover for you when you’ve ditched your afternoon meetings to go holiday shopping 2) put in a good word for you at year-end bonus time, or 3) wash their hands before baking you Christmas cookies.

Don’t be a victim of some of the pitfalls in the corporate jungle. Instead follow this list of DOs and DON’Ts to ensure you stay in the good graces of your co-workers.

When scheduling a meeting:

  • DO remember to actually invite the key participants. (Unless of course this is a secret strategy to have time to finish designing your Christmas cards while you wait for those participants to “dial into the call”.)
  • DO make certain your guest speaker knows he/she will be expected to say something. You might think preparation is for wimps, but that attitude will get you blacklisted by corporate Santa.
  • DO ensure everyone has time to eat lunch. If the main speaker has back-to-back meetings until 1pm, DON’T force that person to join your crappy meeting at 1pm, because you are trying to accommodate the 2 invitees in other time zones who have better things to do and won’t be attending anyway.
  • If you ignore my above advice about lunch, DO provide food. Failure to do so will ensure your speaker has low blood sugar and is incoherent. Five minutes into the meeting, that person will be deemed incompetent and wheeled away in a stretcher; you will then be expected to take on that person’s responsibilities without the additional pay or title change. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Other holiday activities:

  • DON’T bring a Queen CD box set to the department holiday gift exchange. The only acceptable gifts are alcohol (the harder, the better), gourmet food and gift cards. Anything else will cause you to be labeled not a team player. You will then be banished from participating in any future reindeer games.
  • If you overreact to some data from analytics and cause a corporate emergency in the middle of the holiday party, DON’T suddenly disappear from the premises, leaving everyone else to clean up your mess. They would rather be eating the store-bought chicken and macaroni salad at the potluck lunch. (There’s no budget for an actual company-paid meal.)

  • DO slap the office whistler who insists on whistling holiday classics for the entire month of December and has even started taking requests. You might end up in HR, but rest assured that your colleagues will thank you for taking one for the team.

Corporate Dream Careers

dream job

In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.