Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The day began like any other, which is to say on the eve of tomorrow. It was a “work” day. Sorry, of course, I mean work day. Not sure what those quotations were about as I approach every day with the mindset of giving my utmost effort, especially between the hours of 9 and 5. Now, I don’t go full out the entire time as that could shock the system, and I don’t want to risk injury. As any athlete or exercise aficionado can attest, you need to warm up first. Stretch your work muscles, if you will. For most of Corporate America, that means posting to and commenting on others’ posts to Facebook (or MySpace for those who also still use AOL for their email); checking personal email; scanning your favorite sports, news, and weather websites; grabbing a breakfast beverage and / or food item; and interacting in an analog manner with co-workers who may not have access to your Facebook page, and therefore, have no idea what you had for dinner last night, how cute you kids are, what a jerk your significant other is, or how long the lines are at Wal-Mart. That’s a good hour, hour and a half depending on how long it takes your computer to boot up and how much FB traffic you have. Could you do most of this before coming into the office? No, because that time is spent checking your work email, meeting schedules, and children’s temperatures in an effort to find some reason, any reason, to not come into the office. “Won’t be in today, Boss. My dog ate one of my kids…No, not that one; the practice one. Otherwise, I’d be much more upset, and probably take tomorrow off, as well.”
So, now it’s roughly 10:30. You respond to a few key emails, and by “key” I am, of course, referring to the emails with the largest distribution lists or highest number of senior leaders. This lets the largest number of people know that you are fully engaged with the least amount of effort. It’s all about efficiency. That “Busy” status on your work IM is for realz. (With a “z” for extra emphasis.)
“I can’t see the proverbial ‘ball’,” Senior Executive VP of Doing Thangs says.
“That’s, because I’m on it,” you respond quickly (as you do with all things, cause that’s what being fully engaged is all about)
If there are no such emails, you send an email outlining a relatively small issue that you have automatically made important by adding the right people to the “cc:” list. I find the “Follow Up” email works best in these situations. It doesn’t have to be a real issue, or a real follow up. The key is the distro list. Let’s face it, people get hundreds of emails a day and attend numerous meetings over the course of a month. They have enough trouble remembering where they have to be next to worry about what they may or may not have discussed with you on such and such day sometime in the not too distant past. The key is that the Middle Manager in Charge of Knowing Things doesn’t want upper management to think he / she doesn’t know things, and will, therefore, not call you out in a “reply all” fashion. Besides, with your company’s notoriously flawed email servers, emails get lost all the time.
Assuming you have done this correctly, it is now 10:45. (If you have had to respond to several IMs regarding activities from the previous weekend or plans for the upcoming weekend, it may be 11:00.) It’s close to lunch time. Someone on the floor makes a “seed comment” (i.e. a comment that has little, if any, intrinsic value but grows into a much larger conversation amongst the people in the general vicinity.) The comment could be work-related (loosely) or something as “thought-provoking” as “Do you think there any vegan zombies?” It doesn’t really matter what you talk about as long as several key people are also engaged in the conversation. The point is to get as many others around you to be as unproductive as you are, thereby masking your lack of productivity in a cloud of “team bonding”. The key is to ensure the conversation ends soon enough to enable you to get back to “work” (for 5 to 10 minutes), and then go to lunch without having to wolf it down before your next meeting. During lunch, it is perfectly acceptable to engage in “solitary unproductivity”. You’ve earned it. You tried to get that expense report finished before lunch, but…c’mon…vegan zombies.
Danger time is fast approaching, which is to say “the end of lunch”. If you have no immediately after lunch meetings, you could be expected to get something done. Something hard. What to do? More team bonding, of course. Five minutes before the official end of lunch, which is an hour or so after the start of lunch, which, in turn, is defined as “when you start eating your food”, because you can’t be held responsible for the long lines at the cafeteria, traffic congestion, ineffective microwave technology, or the time it takes your food to cool / reach room temperature, you start another non-versation (i.e. conversation about nothing). The topic should be something that you learned while surfing the internet during lunch, overheard while eavesdropping on others’ conversations, saw someone wearing in the course of your travels to and from the cafeteria. If all else fails, head to the bathroom, which I refuse to call the “restroom”, because it is anything but restful. There are a lot of unsettling habits in there, and you must always be on the alert. Taking notes regarding whose hand you should probably never shake, for example.
There are also rules and key roles to be played in the bathroom. For example, bathroom “conversations” should be limited to the acknowledging nod or split-finger hand gesture and contained in the “decontamination zone” as opposed to the “handling my business” area. Another rule involves “urinary spacing”. In decent society, in other words those places in where men are not asked to clear their bodies of fluid-based toxins in a communal trough, men like their space. If there are, for example, three urinals and someone is using the one on the far left, it is customary for the next patron to place himself in front of the vessel at the far right, even if it’s a low (aka child’s) urinal. In order to deflect any childish ribbing that you may experience from others due to your use of the “little boy’s urinal”, just mutter the following to no one in particular (i.e. everyone within earshot): “Finally, a urinal that gives me the room I need. Hate always having to hold it up at a weird angle. Am I right?” When a third individual enters the facility, there are several courses of action he can take: He could go into one of the stalls and pee sitting down like a little girl; he could act like he just came in to wash his hands, leave and head to the bathroom on another floor…like a little girl; or he can man up and fill the all-important role of “Middle Reliever”. The Middle Reliever bridges the gap between two urinary worlds. “It’s okay fellas,” he says. “We’re going to get through this together…but separately. There’s no judgment here, just flow…just flow.” (Of course, all of this is said via non-verbal communication, usually via a deep breath and slow exhale, as verbal communication and eye contact is frowned upon.)
Every now and again, the Middle Reliever is saddled up next to a “Chatty Cathy”. Someone for whom the silence is so uncomfortable, the urinary journey so intense, that they feel compelled to talk; even to a perfect stranger. This can get awkward, as happened to me recently. (Editor’s Note: I share this story within a story as a learning moment…and a cautionary tale about the dangers of urinal-based relationships i.e. “urinationships”.)
It was a typical Fall day. Some may call it “Autumnal”. The wind was blowing out of the northeast at 5mph with the occasional 10 mph gust. It wasn’t warm; it wasn’t cold; it was brisk. The type of weather that may require a light jacket made of nylon with a mesh lining that ended at the elbow. Perhaps, a wicking material if your sweat glands had proven to be overly sensitive…like a little girl. The presence of cotton fibers wasn’t required; definitely not a hood…unless you just liked the mysterious mad-bomber look afforded the donner (defined as “one who dons”) of a hood…or the touch and/ or the feel, of cotton. It is, after all, the fabric of our lives. I had spent the day working diligently, only taking a brief moment to stop and smell the Rose. She apparently did not care much for that, as was made clear to me in yet another conversation with Human Resources later that afternoon.
While at my desk, I had consumed water in amounts recommended by many healthcare professionals (and “Big Water”). It was only a matter of time before Nature called. (And when Nature calls, you don’t want it to get the machine, because, as with unanswered calls from your mother, there are consequences, and you will never hear the end of it.) I made a bee-line for the second nearest bathroom. No reason I couldn’t work a little exercise into my routine.
Upon entering the bathroom, I noticed the two side urinals were occupied. Only the middle remained open. I “joined the conversation”, as it were, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. Things were going well. Flow had been achieved. All of a sudden, the guy to my left, your right, decided to “break formation”.
“Did you see the game this weekend?”
“Nah,” I responded hoping to end the conversation and get this rogue pilot refocused on the mission at hand, or “in hand” as it were.
He, however, took it upon himself to bring me up to speed and tell me his life story, even the irrelevant points, which most of them were.
After “M. Night-ing my Shymalan”, I zipped up my pants and headed to the sink to wash away the evidence.
Later that day, I crossed paths with Sir Talks-a-Lot. Out of habit, I gave him the acknowledgment nod. Not a full, “What’s up, Man?” but more of a “I know who you are, but not really, and I would like to keep it that way, but it’d be rude to act like I’ve never seen you before.” Nothing. No return nod. No half wave. Nothing!
“Hey, man!...I sez uh, ‘hey’, ma-yun! What gives? You don’t know me now?!? After what we shared in the bathroom? Yeah, I know how it sounds. Get your minds outta the gutter, people. Alright. So, that’s how it’s gonna be, huh??? You just gonna do me like that…Again, I know how it sounds. Treat me like some girl that you talk to at “last call” while waiting for your boys to come out of the bathroom? You say you’re going to call, but you never do. You never had any intention of calling! Just a way to pass the time...So, I’m a time passer now! You know, I’ve stabbed people for less! (Phone rangs…yeah, ‘rangs’) Human Resources? Yeah, I’ll be right there…This ain’t over, Man!”
But it was, in fact, over. Took weeks of therapy before I could ever use that urinal again, and by “weeks”, I mean “months”.
Don’t let it happen to you. Learn from my mistakes. Pay it forward. Back to my original story.
After lunch and the after-lunch bathroom break have occurred, it’s time to buckle down and get to it. After all, you need something to fill the time between lunch and the afternoon coffee run. (You don’t actually have to drink coffee to participate as it presents yet another opportunity for “team bonding”.) Hopefully, there’s a meeting to attend. Preferably, one you are neither leading nor taking meeting minutes for. If not, there’s always Rhapsody or espnradio. Both make the day go by much faster and serve to drown out impromptu requests from management or coworkers that could result in hyper-extending your productivity muscle. (If it’s important, they know how to use email or IM.)
It’s 4:00. One more hour of being (looking) productive before you get to head home and get back to doing what you really enjoy; nothing. You release an audible sigh and announce, “Time to call into this freaking meeting.” It doesn’t have to be a real meeting, you just need to be known as someone who is frequently asked to attend impromptu meeting and, therefore, dials-in a lot. This can be gained from actually being asked to attend a lot of impromptu meetings or dialing into a bunch of fake meetings. You pick up a phone receiver, place it to your ear, and push the necessary number of buttons required to dial into a meeting. After a few seconds, you enter the pass code, wait a few more seconds, re-enter the pass code, because you were so eager to attend that you misdialed, wait a few more seconds, and announce your presence and apologize for being late. After that, it’s a matter of a few well-placed “sounds good to me”, “I don’t have any concerns”, and “I’ll have to check with my management team and get back to you.” After hanging up, feign another sigh and proclaim, under your breath but loud enough for people close by to overhear, “That was pointless.” That way, no one expects any debriefs or deliverables to result from that meeting. Almost time to go. You do a little quick “typing” on your keyboard, then head to the printer. You don’t actually have to type anything. Just print a blank page or two. No one actually looks at what you print, anyway. You can always return the unused paper to the tray later. In the event some “Make Everyone Else Look Bad Worky Workington” is looking over your shoulder, let out a sigh and ask, “Does anything work in this place?!? Damn you, maker of substandard printing hardware and / or word processing software!”
It’s now time to time leave. Well, it will be once you finish closing up. You don’t close up on your own time, that wouldn’t promote proper work/life balance. And there you have it, another long day at the office. When is the weekend coming? I need a break…
(Editor’s Note: The above was obviously a complete work of fiction as I do real, actual work. Some have said in an –aholic manner.)