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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Mid-Level Manager

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I enjoy my job in corporate America, but my day to day life at work is somewhat different than I would have imagined in college. As a mid-level manager, my role consists of two main tasks: 1) leading meetings with people about topics I don’t understand and 2) creating PowerPoint presentations.

As to the former, here’s a snippet from a conference call I led yesterday with 2 statisticians. As you’ll see, by using a few well-placed, vague comments, I managed to pull off my role as meeting leader without being discovered for the fraud I really am.

Jim:  My concern is if  statistical formula , then   statistics 2  So, by including that set of values associated with variable X in our regression model, we’ll have the problem of perfect separation.

Me: I see.  (Actually, I have no idea what you just said.)  Steve, do you agree with this analysis?

Steve: Yes, Jim makes a good point. Let’s not forget, however, that  eetips_wrap1

Me: So, Jim, can you please refine the regression model based on Steve’s suggestions?

Jim: Yes, I’ll do that this week.

Me: Great, I’ll send out an Outlook meeting invite for Monday to circle back on this action item. (Phew, I made it through without completely embarrassing myself.)

Side note: Because I managed to use “circle back” and “action item” in the same sentence, I earned 2 bonus points on my corporate scorecard.

The bulk of my job, though, revolves around less frightening work – creating PowerPoints.  In fact PowerPoint is the main tool of communication at my company. 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 into PowerPoint. I need to use the restroom, I take my PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

As I’ve observed, 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.

Since a pre-requisite to upper management is being able to sound like an expert in your area when you’re not even sure who reports to you, I’m hopeful that a few more meetings with the statisticians just might spring me from purgatory.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Corporate Communication Skills

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Appropriately expressing one’s thoughts and ideas can be challenging in the business world. In light of certain communications I’ve recently been subjected to, I feel compelled to share with you some DOs and DON’Ts which will hopefully help you climb the corporate ladder more quickly and do so without getting on your colleagues’ nerves any more than necessary:

1. DON’T sign your e-mails with your initials unless you are high up on the corporate food chain. These are the only people who have earned the right to save precious time by signing with two letters.

If there is any question as to whether you are high enough up on said food chain, check your title to see if it can be reduced to a 3-letter acronym starting with the letter “C” (e.g. CFO, COO, CIO, CTO, etc).

  • If the answer is “yes”, you may begin signing with your initials.
  • If the answer is “no”, as disheartening as it may be, you must go back to signing with your full first name. Don’t be sad; at least you will no longer come across as a self-important douchebag to your co-workers.
  • If you are uncertain if your title can be made into an acronym, ask Human Resources.
  • If Human Resources informs you that you are the CEO, you may sign with just your first initial.

2. When responding to someone in writing, DO find a way to sound professional without using big words which do not belong together. For example,

  • DO say: I have spoken with John to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
  • DON’T say: I have spoken with John to circumvent recurrence.

If you are circumventing recurrence, you might want to look for another job that doesn’t require you to write anything.

3. DON’T try to get cozy with executive management over the lasagna at the holiday party. This will be seen as a last minute attempt to increase your bonus when you should have been working longer hours all year long. If you aren’t sure who at the party is an executive manager, check everyone’s title for one of the previously mentioned acronyms.

4. If you work in IT and manage to single-handedly, irreparably crash an application people need to finish their time-sensitive projects, DON’T pretend the application works fine on your end. Instead, beg their forgiveness and find someone to do your job who actually knows what they are doing.

5. When you are responsible for leading a meeting, DO make a reasonable effort to prepare first. While you are undoubtedly extremely busy, it will be a colossal waste of time to those who are forced to watch you think out loud as you try to figure out why you called the meeting it the first place.

If, despite the above, you still insist on not preparing for your own meeting, you must take the following steps to ensure your face doesn’t end up on a dartboard in someone’s cubicle.

DO:

  • apologize profusely
  • bring snacks or otherwise bribe your colleagues to not stand up and leave
  • promise to circumvent recurrence

 

Note: For an explanation of common terms used in business discussions, please refer to my previous posts on this topic: Corporate Lingo – the Key to Success in the Corporate Jungle and Heteroskedasticity.

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

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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.

Cheaper Than Botox

image4In June, Elizabeth’s fourth grade teacher nearly got me fired. As if that wasn’t enough, I almost dragged several of my friends down with me. To be fair, it wasn’t really her teacher’s fault. She certainly had no idea that an innocent cell phone app would lead to a dereliction of MS Office duties and general loss of productivity across several companies.

Let me explain. I had helped out in Elizabeth’s classroom one day and was chatting with her teacher after school. At some point during the conversation, she introduced me to Bitmoji, an app that allows you to create a detailed avatar of yourself. I was immediately fascinated.  (I also couldn’t help but wonder why none of my elementary school teachers had fun stuff like Bitmoji. Instead they threw chalk at us.)

While the concept of an avatar was hardly new, when you have young kids, “new” takes on a different meaning. This is because, beginning with the birth of your first child, you are on a perpetual five year delay when it comes to anything hot off the press. To my point, I didn’t even see the 2009 film Avatar until 2014.

The next day at work, the PowerPoint presentation I was drafting crashed my computer. Sadly, similar to drafting a PowerPoint presentation, restarting my computer can be a painful and time consuming process. IT attributes this to the software I run, however, I’m fairly certain the true reason is that the computer I was issued is so old that it shouldn’t be running anything more modern that Microsoft Works. IT was most likely instructed under threat of death not to reveal the truth of the matter.

In any case, since my computer was obviously out of commission for the near future, I came to the logical conclusion that downloading Bitmoji on my cell phone was the best use of my time. I opted against the other option, surfing Facebook, since “liking” anyone’s status at 10am on a weekday would at best be perceived as suspect and at worst a performance issue.

Once Bitmoji was downloaded I realized how much better it was than I had realized. There were countless options to personalize my avatar. Not just hair and eye color, but even things like eyebrows, face shape and body shape. I was completely intrigued with the possibilities. In fact, I was soon so busy trying out haircuts and shades of lipstick on my fake self, I had completely forgotten about real life, including my technologically-challenged computer and my half-finished PowerPoint.

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About 30 minutes in, I discovered I could make myself taller, a feat which has defied me in real life. I was barely able to contain my excitement; this avatar was cheaper and better than either Botox or plastic surgery. Since my life is spent in one of four places – behind my computer screen, in traffic, at home, or at Target – I never see anyone I know in person. Consequently, the chances were slim that anyone would figure out my new avatar was not a completely honest representation of me. I began madly texting my friends these images of my new self. They seemed to share my philosophy, because the next thing I knew they had ditched their spreadsheets and PowerPoints and were texting me back images of their new Bitmoji avatars. Corporate productivity had decreased across Southern California.

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I truly don’t think I’d been that excited about advances in technology since moving back to the U.S. from Switzerland in 2000 and learning that you could get “cash back” at the grocery store. [I had been living in Switzerland for a number of years, and while the Swiss were obviously superior in many areas (watches, Army knives, direct Democracy, cheese with holes), the idea of getting cash and chocolate in the same transaction had not made it to the Alps.]

When I finally regained my senses, I realized that I had been hunched over my cell phone in front of a dark computer screen for at least an hour. I got my computer up and running and frantically checked my Outlook calendar for any meetings with my boss I might have missed. Next, I scanned the halls for any sign that my idleness had been detected. All was calm; I was met only with the faint sound of productive employees typing on their keyboards. It appeared I had dodged the bullet this time, but if I wanted to keep bringing home a paycheck, it would probably be a good idea to embrace my wrinkles and delete Bitmoji from my phone…

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