Welcome back to the office. Your boss is excited to have you here. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it. It will be just like it’s been for the past year – except that you’ll be expected to put in more than 3 hours of work during an 8-hour shift. And you won’t be able to play Minecraft during the weekly staff meeting because your boss will be sitting next to you, now that these sessions are no longer on Zoom.
So you’re going back to work soon, eh? Not to imply that you haven’t been working extremely hard all this time over the past year, your nose to the grindstone three dedicated hours a day (six hours if you count your time playing video games) – ever since you’d been ordered to work from home due to the pandemic. But you just received word that, for the first time in over a year, your employer is asking everybody to report for work at the office.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably greeting this news with mixed emotions. Sure, you’re excited finally to see all your co-workers again. But you’re also wondering if you’ll even remember what they look like. [Hint: they look the same as before – just 35 pounds heavier.]
Having, until recently, worked in a corporate office environment for most of my career, I thought it might be helpful if I reviewed some workplace basics, to prepare you for your transition back to the world of co-workers, company lunchrooms, and office gossip.
First of all, when you enter the office, that slightly annoyingly perky person greeting you is the receptionist. They can help you locate your desk since by now you’ve probably long since forgotten where you used to sit. [Another Hint: It will be in the form of a 5’ x 5’ cubicle with 4’ tall dividers – just like the cubicles everybody else has, except that your desk has been relocated to the basement.]
Feel free to personalize your workspace to capture your own unique style by displaying photos of people you care about, along with fun posters and knickknacks to let people see your fun, quirky spirit – just so long as your photos have been approved by Human Resources, and your cubicle adheres to the company’s new “no posters or knickknacks” policy.
That vaguely familiar plastic device on your desk – the one with a curly cord – is called a desk phone. It works much the same as your cell phone, except that your desk phone can’t check your Facebook feed, or play Angry Birds, or binge-watch Bridgerton. Okay, so it’s essentially useless. But it might make a ringing sound occasionally. If it does, you probably should answer it. It just might be your boss – either that or someone from HR, asking you to take down your Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster (it’s starting to creep people out).
That large white boxy-shaped machine in the hallway where people press buttons and curse at it is called a copier. When you’re in a hurry and you need to make copies of an important document, it will conveniently jam roughly 80% of the way through the run. But don’t worry, with help from three co-workers, you might be able to locate the source of the problem in under a half hour.
Check out your new socially distanced work space. Now you will have more safety and even less privacy than ever before. Your cubicle will look just like this, except that it’s in the basement with a peek-a-boo view of the dumpster.
Since it’s been over 12 months since you last had to wear pants for work, let’s go over office attire etiquette. While pajama bottoms technically constitute a form of pants, you may not score points with your manager if you show up in them – unless you choose the PJs covered with images of your cat. It’s adorable. And let’s leave your Seattle Seahawks sweatpants at home too. Looks like they’ve not been washed since their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots in the 2015 Superbowl. (It’s really time to get over it, buddy.)
Personally, I think your bunny slippers are hilarious, but your annoyingly traditional stuffed shirt of a boss might be a stickler for something they call “shoes.”
Also, while this may seem totally unfair, the office expects you there by 8am. Crazy, I know. So, you might want to update your previous routine of waking up at 9:30am if you plan to make it in on time.
When you get to the office, it’s a great idea to re-introduce yourself to your co-workers. It’s been so long, they might not recognize you with your beard and ponytail and the Hello Kitty lower back tattoo you got on a dare that you lost. And when you greet them, smile, and feign interest in their response. Perhaps don’t lead off by saying, “Hey, you looked way slimmer on Zoom than in person.”
When you greet one of your colleagues, for safety’s sake, don’t shake hands. Settle for a friendly elbow bump or an “air” high five – unless the other person is a total jerk and you’ve already been double vaccinated, in which case, go ahead and plant a fat, wet kiss on their cheek. They’ll steer clear of you from now on. However, you may get a visit from that same HR representative who has a thing about ghoulish movie posters. HR reps have no friends.
While the pandemic appears to be in decline, we’re not out of the woods just yet. Be patient. Please continue to wear a mask in the office until you are told otherwise by management. But don’t wear your mask over your eyes as eye shades – especially during the team meeting. It may be your go-to move for your daily 2pm nap, but the corporate policy on napping is a bit less lax back at the office.
When you’re stuck in a meeting you feel is a complete waste of your time, refrain from saying out loud that the presenter is an incompetent idiot and a bore. Your mute button only works in Zoom meetings – not during in-person meetings. I can’t stress this enough.
You will be asked to do your small part to keep COVID away by wiping down your desk, computer, phone, chair and office supplies with an antiseptic cleanser every 45 minutes. Remember to bring a new box of disinfecting wipes to work each day. No, you can’t expense it.
Oh, one more thing. See that large room with all the swivel chairs around a large mahogany table? That’s called a conference room. It’s typically going to be used by your boss when they convene a meeting where they will go around the room to scream at each team member about how they are failing to abide by the company’s new “no posters or knickknacks” policy.
Being stuck in a conference room is no fun. But don’t worry. You will only have to attend these meetings for a few weeks – until they realize that the vaccine you got does not protect you against the latest COVID variant and they need to send everybody back home again.
Before you know it, the next spike will hit, and you’ll be back on your couch, in your pajamas and bunny slippers, with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Good luck beating your high score on Fortnite.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021.
For several years, every November and December, I experienced three-day work weeks thanks to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Due to the shortened workweeks, I had to be extremely focused, making efficient use of my limited time those weeks. I cut way back the amount of time devoted to watching adorable cat videos on YouTube.
With only three days to get everything done, I dutifully avoided sending our my normal two dozen humor emails a day with links to things like hilarious parody music videos on the Twelve Days of Christmas. I discovered that I accomplished so much in these shortened work weeks that it got me to thinking: Imagine how much more efficient workers would all be if we all had a three-day work week.
There are many companies – and even a few cities (El Paso, TX, Melbourne, FL) and at least one state (Utah) that are currently experimenting with a four-day work week. Instead of five 8-hour days, their employees work four 10-hour days, and they really get a lot of things done in these ten-hour days…well, in the first 8 hours anyway. Polls of workers who have shifted to a four-day work schedule indicate that 85% prefer it to the previous five-day schedule and an overwhelming 99% prefer it to the seven-day 80-hour work week with no time off for Christmas.
The advantages of a four-day work week are obvious:
- Reduced commuting time and reduced energy consumption by eliminating one day of commuting travel per week
- Improved energy efficiencies from reduced use of electricity and heating in offices and factories which are closed one more day each week
- You can get drunk on Thursday night and don’t have to make up transparent excuses for not showing up to work on Friday, like “I can’t make it into work today, boss because my four-year old Nate is sick with the measles again… Yeah, I know it’s the 7th time this year. He has a really crappy immune system…”
Until this past July, for the previous four decades, I had always worked in business. I was routinely required to submit reports on my progress: Sales forecasts, pipeline analyses, business plans – you name the report, I made it up, er, I mean…. um …
My point is this: Just because I’ve recently retired and moved to an island home near an idyllic beach doesn’t mean I plan to stop submitting regular progress reports. Quite the contrary. I’m happy to report that I’ve continued this practice into retirement. The focus of those reports, however, has shifted slightly.
Here is my business report for the past week.
Sea Shell Inventory Forecast:
My collection of sea shells grew by an impressive 11% this past month, due in part to two unscheduled beach-combing field inspections. While sightings of scallop shells were up 14% year-over-year, unfortunately, the projected production of intact sand dollars is expected to be down 18 to 20% compared to the previous quarter, in part due to increased foreign competition (tourists from Japan) which is anticipated to grab significant market share. I plan to diversify my portfolio of shells by investing (my time) in conch shells, tibias and spiny oyster shells. I’m optimistic we will experience a net gain next quarter if beach market conditions continue on their downward tidal trend.
[Author’s note: The following is a memo I plan to send to my two daughters upon their college graduations, informing them that they are now officially responsible for their own lives – and phone bills.]
MEMO TO: Junior members of Jones Family Enterprises
FROM: Senior Executive Team
Congratulations to the junior members of Jones Family Enterprises [henceforth JFE] on your recent completion of your undergraduate studies. The Senior Executive Team is confident that your long-term economic forecast is bright. We wish we could say the same for your near-term economic outlook. This memo is to inform you of an important decision the executive committee has made regarding your status on the JFE org chart.
After a series of challenging years in which JFE has experienced steadily declining economic growth and spiraling costs, primarily in the area of our educational assistance program, the senior management has decided to implement some immediate cost-cutting measures in order to preserve the organization’s long-term cash reserves. This decision has forced us to make difficult personnel decisions to improve efficiencies and eliminate waste.
Effective immediately, JFE is announcing a 50% reduction in force. As a consequence, we are forced to terminate your roles as fully-funded dependents of this organization and re-classify your status as “non-essential employees.” We considered all other viable options before coming to this decision, including a recommendation by our firm’s Co-CEO, Ms. Jones, to eliminate my position on the executive steering committee. But that recommendation failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote required for passage by the two-person executive steering committee.
I’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years (as well as the worse part) in sales and marketing. One thing that has always impressed me in perusing the web sites of the industry leaders is how I have absolutely no idea what they actually do. Smart marketers learned a long time ago that when it comes to beating the competition, you don’t have to build a better mousetrap. You just have to sound like you build a better mouse. trap. That starts with the words you use to describe what your mousetrap does.
No industry has mastered this technique more than high tech. Ever heard of a little company called Computer Associates? Here’s what they do, in their own words: “CA Technologies provides robust management solutions utilizing closed loop orchestration of provisioning and configuration across physical and virtual resources.” It’s just that simple.
Or how about the 800-pound gorilla in the world of routers, switches and network systems, our buddies over at Cisco Systems. I wonder what they do. Here’s a description any seven year-old (with a graduate degree in Linux computer programming) could understand: “Cisco’s Borderless Network Architecture is implemented as a five-phase plan that moves from baseline services to advanced policy management and integration that ultimately delivers the borderless experience for users.”