It’s been almost four years since I walked out of my last full-time job a free man into what’s become semi-retirement and a life of doing what little work I do, in my home office.
I want to warn many of you who are now working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic…you may not want to return to your offices.
Before I retired in 2016 I worked from my own glass-enclosed, private office. I didn’t like it, but in the idiotic way some corporations operate, your workspace reflected your “band level” AKA, if you’re standing in the payroll/title hierarchy. When I got promoted to a level that “awarded” you an enclosed office, I asked to remain in my spacious, but open, workspace because such perks seemed stupid and also cut me off from my team. I asked if I had committed a felony, warranting my confinement to a 12×12 cell. HR said if I didn’t move it would “send the wrong message.” Company politics being what it is, several people were actually jealous of me and said nasty stuff about me, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I spent my final three years before retirement in that office and hated every minute of it. So I would constantly get up, walk around, touch base in person with my teammates. When another glass office denizen would pop by congratulating me on “finally getting the glass office you deserve,” I thanked them and expressed my anticipation of one day being paroled, which in all their shallowness, they did not understand at all.
Now that I’ve been working from home in my very comfortable workspace..I don’t call it an office..I get more done in a day than what I accomplished in my old office in a week. For one, there are none of the dreaded “got a minute” drop-bys. You know how that goes. “Got a minute,” really means I’m bored and I’d like to waste as much of your time as possible to avoid going back to my desk and doing actual work. Many minutes later your plan for the day is blown so you may as well get up, get some coffee, take a walk, or retreat into a zen state in order to purge yourself of thoughts of committing that felony.
One day, in answer to “got a minute?” I replied that I didn’t. No problem. The annoying inquirer had his rejoinder locked and loaded. “Oh..it’ll take less than that!” Bullshit. Sigh.
Other aspects of the office life I don’t miss are random comments you can’t unhear even with a closed door. Examples include: “This fuckin’ printer doesn’t work!,” “This coffee tastes like burnt jerky!” “Bob sucks!” “Just like you,” “The boss has his head up his ass,” “I wish 5 o’clock came at noon.”
Then there are the endless meeting invites. When you work remotely, you can call in, put your phone on mute, do other, more productive, things while someone blathers and then chime in when appropriate or called upon. You can also make faces as an immature, but satisfying demonstration of your opinion of the proceedings.
I do enjoy popping into the office about once a week for an hour or two at one of my fun freelance gigs. Great people who are fun, smart and talented. We see enough of each other to cement our bonds, I appreciate the chance to get to know the staff on a more personal level and they quickly understand I have what I would describe as a “very limited” wardrobe with some items probably older than many of my colleagues.
Then I hit the freeway for the 25 mile drive home, and retreat to my cozy, personal workspace where the only ambient conversations I may hear are “Dinner’s burning!” or “The Jones’s schnauzer shit on our lawn again!” It’s so suburban. So natural. Then I get back to work, unimpeded, un-interrupted until my wife ventures down to my subterranean refuge, stops at the door and asks, “got a minute?”
I’m retired, but I’m not totally retired. I’m retired from full-time work, but I do some freelance things which means I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder and I certainly don’t care about a better title or office with its own bathroom. So it makes things a little tricky when I’m at an event that includes time for networking.
Oh….don’t get me wrong. It’s not difficult for me. I’m always happy to make new friends. I don’t even need benefits. Plus, networking has served me very well in finding freelance gigs. But it sure sucks for the non-retirees who made the mistake of striking up a conversation in hopes they’ve made a new connection that will result in new business or the inside track on a better job.
Take, for instance, an event I attended this week. The networking breakfast lasted an entire hour before the main presentation. I grab some food and coffee and camp out at a high-top table with three seats. I’m a sitting network duck. A guy aims his two-blue lasers at me, pivots to the empty seats and gamely asks, “these seats taken?” Me being a wiseass reply, “only by a layer of dust, but I’m sure it won’t mind if you sit on it.” The guy is intrigued and sits anyway. Oh boy, I’m guess I’m gonna get networked. We introduce ourselves and he stops and gives me an appraising look before asking the inevitable question, “So what is it you do?”
My answer always stops ‘em at square one. “Oh, whatever the hell I want,” I reply with a smile. “I’m semi-retired!” His face drops as he thinks to himself, “oh shit, now I’m stuck with a guy who’s useless to me and my career until I can find a graceful way to escape.” I know this and amuse myself with that thought.
He seems like a nice guy so I get a little serious and explain that I freelance as a journalist and also work as a consultant for a PR firm. The guy looks a little happier although it’s obvious we have no common ground.
I, of course, know networking protocol, and make the required inquiry as to his line of work. “I’m in real estate. Commercial real estate.” An excellent profession. Now, hoping to justify wasting 10 minutes with me he gives it his best shot, asking me, “so where’s your office?” I love this one because I get to shatter his last hope by responding, “My basement. It’s awesome. Has a window that looks out into the woods, a microwave and a bathroom four steps away.”
Poor guy is ready to eject from his stool and uses the excuse I certainly have used many times. “Well, I’m gonna go get some more coffee.” He gets up and thinks he’s done with me. I decide to give him a scare. “Hey, me too!” But I’m not a complete jerk. I hang back and let him make his escape.
I actually do refill my coffee, grab a pastry and return to my high-top perch. I’m on reset. Here comes another one. “Hi! My name is Ralph, what do you do?” I go through the act, thoroughly disappointing him and this time it takes only 3 minutes before we both decide we need refills.
But this being a sort of game for me, I know I won’t always win. I see an old friend and we start to catch up. A woman who knew my friend pops by and I’m introduced. I have a feeling about this one. She’s looks really confident, and happy… and is carrying an empty coffee cup. “Oh, what do you do?” she asks, half expecting me to bullshit her with a fancy executive title. But being honest, as well as a wiseass I give her my stock reply. “Whatever I want. I’m semi-retired.” She half smiles, gives me a knowing look and says, with a conspiratorial air, “Me too. But the coffee is free and I need a refill.” “I do too!” I gratefully respond. “Damn right,” she says.
I’m not a violent person, but if you tell me to do one thing in particular, I may become surly, to the point of hauling off and throwing inappropriate punctuation at you. That one thing is so obnoxious I immediately forget how much I hate “The Ranch” and instead, visualize you as Ashton Kutcher.
What could be so offensive as to cause me to lose all sense of comity and turn to thoughts as dark as wondering if the late Mister Rogers ever wore that cardigan without a shirt?
I bet you’re with me now. You’ve been there too. If you haven’t, you’ll soon understand and immediately empathize. Yes..you guessed it. Someone at work has looked you squarely in the eye, and with all seriousness, demanded you stay in your swim lane!
The very first time I heard that idiotic term was during my time working for a car company. Someone from another department complained to me that a member of my team was not staying in his swim lane and I needed to do something about it. Realizing I had just heard a grown person say something inane I asked exactly what the problem was? I was very sure the member of my team was an excellent swimmer and regardless of stroke, never strayed beyond his lane. Of course I knew what she meant but I wanted to make it known I thought what she had just said was the daily double of dumb: arrogant and stupid.
Not having much of a sense of humor she went on and on about my excellent team member not sticking to his job description to the letter in his quest to use his imagination and initiative to expand and improve his portfolio to the betterment of the company. What was really going on was this person actually felt threatened and sought to quash the efforts of someone who might earn kudos and maybe even a promotion for being an excellent employee.
Me being a good teammate, I promised I would do something immediately. I called the apparently errant swimmer into my office and related my conversation with the moron upstairs. I told him to learn the backstroke so he couldn’t see where he was going in an effort to further stray from him swim lane. I left him with the firm directive to continue to be as creative and imaginative as possible, within reason. You don’t want someone straying willy nilly into someone else’s area, but you also don’t want to kill an employee’s creativity, drive or enthusiasm.
Just keep up the communication so you know what your folks are up to and step in if you think it’s not merely a swim lane infraction but a dive into a completely new pool. Who knows? That idea may be an opportunity to work with the person or team who may otherwise feel aggrieved and, if successful, you both win.
But just blatantly ordering someone to stay in their swim lane represents the depths of paranoia, haughtiness and pathetic power play. You tell me that and I’ll not only dunk your ass, I’ll pee in your pool.
I just can’t seem to do this correctly. Three years this week I walked out of my last full-time job, took a breath of free air as I exited the Fiat Chrysler Automobile headquarters tower and looked ahead to a well-earned retirement filled with doing whatever the hell I wanted to do…and whatever my wife wants me to do.
That lasted three months. First Automotive News and said they could use someone with my network (CNN) news experience on a part-time basis to assist with their video operation. Fun while it lasted. It lasted a year and 10 months. Was only a max of 29 hours a week and I rarely put in that many. Perfectly fine balance of a little work, a lot of spare time.
About a year ago that job ended, which was fine. I mentioned it on Linkedin and within a day or three, I was offered two more part-time gigs–as a consultant at Franco PR and as a contributor at Forbes.com. Both great organizations. Both fun positions and both as freelancers, which was important. No desire to get sucked into a corporate bureaucracy again matched with a strong desire to keep using my skills in the service of respected companies.
A couple of months ago, one of my hockey buddies asked if I was open to a little freelance writing for his company that’s building a website for a client. Oh, what the hell. That sounded like fun too. Add that one to my roster of retirement recreations.
If you’re keeping score, my “retirement” is now up to three gigs. They’re all fun and rewarding and then out of nowhere I received an email from someone at Forbes that I’ve been promoted from “contributor” to “Senior contributor.” She said it was a reward for doing good work. Well, that made me smile, because there’s so much ageism in the workplace today, so it was a nice feeling to think even as I’m closer to 70 than 60 someone, I’m sure much younger, thinks an ol’ scribe like me still has something to offer and it’s pretty decent. It’s that sort of small gesture that gives you the confidence you haven’t lost too many steps, and in fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve picked up the pace since I’m now working for myself and because I want to, and thankfully, not need to.
I’ve been very lucky in my work life as a journalist and communications executive working for mainly large, respected companies and never feeling what I was doing was actually work, but rather very rewarding fun.
It’s no wonder, then, I can’t seem to totally retire. And besides…if I keep working, even just a little, maybe I’ll earn another promotion! Heh..maybe I AM doing retirement right!.
In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate two years into my retirement and just in time for that anniversary I’ve been faced with a little change. Three months after I walked out of my full-time job for the last time in 2016, I began a part-time position at Automotive News in their video news department. They came to me looking for someone with many years of network TV news experience to give them a hand.
On Monday, that came to an end with a morning phone call from my boss and I wasn’t surprised since there really wasn’t much for me to do there anymore. It was fun while it lasted and I have to admit, I did feel bad to see the job end because it was a nice little glidepath between working fulltime and being totally retired. My livelihood certainly depend on this job..I planned well for retirement…but it certainly did wonders for my self-esteem and mental health. But not my diet. With the office a block from Detroit’s Eastern Market and all of its food emporiums, one never faced a work day hungry.
I posted this change on Linkedin and Twitter and the response was heartwarming, supportive but not surprising….because I’ve always had faith in my network of friends, associates, colleagues and folks I’ve been in contact with over the years. Still, I received an unbelievable number of messages and comments consoling me, promising to keep eyes and ears out for any opportunities, complimenting me on my skills and predicting I wouldn’t “be on the bench” very long. I heard from people with whom I hadn’t had any direct contact in ages but still, they were kind enough to take the time out of their days to buck me up or simply write something supportive. People who do that are quality people. They’re people who know the shoe may be on their foot one day. I hope it never happens, but if it does I will reciprocate the support.
In this world where it’s so easy to tear down people, spew negativity, and show selfishness we need to take care of each other. Even if it’s a quick line, post, text, email or..yes..a call.
No..the loss of my little part-time job was not cataclysmic at this stage in my life, but my network simply took it as an unfortunate setback in my life and these wonderful people knew I might be feeling badly and need a few kind words.
Retirement? From the fulltime rat race? Yes. But we must never retire from the fulltime effort to take care of each other.
Being semi-retired, my attendance in the office is only semi-regular. That means I can only stand..or sit..guard over my workspace semi-regularly. So I was only mildly surprised, but thoroughly disappointed when I showed up the other day after a few days away to find my chair in two pieces, on the floor with two screws sitting on my desk. No explanation until my boss happened by and I pointed to the wreckage while giving him a questioning look. He kinda laughed as he explained the person who sits across the aisle from me had a “chair emergency” while I was gone and grabbed my chair. That meant the carnage on the floor was actually her chair and not mine. My chair was under her butt.
After an embarrassed apology my chair was returned and the victim of the “chair emergency” got a spare chair from some other office.
It all got me thinking not only about how important our office furniture is to us but how it can also be used as just another form of bullshit one-upsmanship.
Cases in point.
At a former employer..a large corporation…office furniture was doled out according to your “band” or pay level. A vice president or above got a big office with a defined furniture formula of a walnut partner desk, meeting table with four chairs and a credenza for displaying photos, awards and free shit from media events.
The formula cascaded down quickly to a counter with 6 drawers and a meeting table all the way down to a cube with two file cabinets, a counter and a trash can. Actually, that’s about as much space as most anyone needs to do most jobs. When I was promoted to a glass office with 6 overhead bins and nine drawers I just dumped crap in them that I didn’t want to take home. I did use two drawers for files and another for my lunch.
One day things suddenly changed. A co-worker decided she needed to stand while she worked and got the office manager to order one of those Varidesks. Maybe you’ve seen them. You plop it on your real desk then raise or lower it to a comfortable level. Pretty cool. The cheapest one is about 400 bucks. After a few weeks it looked like Varidesks were growing wild. They started popping up all over the office. Short people, tall people, busy people, people who didn’t do 3 minutes of work a day all decided they would be more productive if they could just have the option to stand while they surfed Zappos for shoes, played Solitaire or screwed off on the boss’s dime in any number of ways. At one point I could hear at least one standee emulate Mr. Ed because she was sleeping standing up and snoring like an old nag.
I couldn’t help inquiring of the office manager while the company was spending all this money on stand-up desks when budgets were otherwise tight. She didn’t want to tell me at first but finally admitted that once the first person asked for one others became jealous that a co-worker got something new and they wanted one too…even if there was no physical reason for working standing up. In fact….it wasn’t long before some of the me-too standees realized they couldn’t stand standing and ordered high stools so they could sit at their standups. I don’t have to tell you once the first stool arrived, more were demanded because why shouldn’t they have what someone else has..even if it’s malaria.
As time went on, I noticed many of those who had stamped their feet for a standup desk caught wind of the “vari” part of the Varidesk and began using its various settings to gradually lower the desk until, after a week or so, the standup desk was simply sitting on top of the sit-at desk and the high stools were shunted into a corner and used as coat racks or just another surface to stack crap. This left the original Varidesk requestor feeling mighty lonely because she really needed to stand to help ameliorate a painful back condition. I had to ask her how she felt about the jealous copycats demanding, then abandoning their Varidesks. Well…she said. It was satisfying that as the one person who actually needed it.. she was the last one standing.
Now I work mainly from home. My wife and I each have our offices..and our own chairs. Invoking the crazy guy in the movie Stripes, we always joke with each other, “you touch my chair…I kill ya.”
How often has your temper boiled while being forced to cool your jets waiting for someone to reply to a simple question, make a deadline or serve you the sandwich you ordered 45 minutes ago? When you ask for the cause of the delay, the reply is usually some variation of “oh, I was busy.”
Busy is a loaded word. It’s loaded mainly with bullshit. Oh, it has actual definitions…which are also bullshit. Dictionary.com contains several meanings for busy:
- actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime.
- not at leisure; otherwise engaged
- officious; meddlesome; prying
- full of or characterized by activity
Let’s examine those definitions. #1 means the person is either working , or not, since you wouldn’t equate a “pastime” with work. A pastime would indicate something you’re doing for pleasure and one wouldn’t be described as “busy” doing something fun…but rather involved in an activity they were able to do because they weren’t so damned busy.
#2 is completely at odds with #1 because now busy is defined as not being at leisure, meaning you’re not involved in a pastime. So what is it? Can you be busy and not busy at the same time doing the same thing?
#3 is incomplete. The complete term is “busy BODY.” Fact is, you can be a meddlesome prick even if you’re not busy. For some, prying into others affairs is a pastime. Uh oh. Does that now make them busy or not if referring to #1 or #2?
#4 simply means you’re doing stuff. Living a life, peeling bananas, catching up on Stormy Daniels films. Does that mean you’re busy, or simply not stationary. Indeed, some folks might argue being stationary is their way of keeping busy.
When someone responds to my second or third inquiry as to why they haven’t responded sooner with “oh I was busy,” I know they’re making it up. Maybe they were, in fact, involved in a pastime…that pastime being too freakin’ lazy to follow through. Maybe they were too busy just blowing you off because they’re immature or arrogant. Perhaps they were engaged in a questionable activity that would get them fired, but use the catchall “busy” to cover up that activity with a word that actually means nothing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally sympathetic to those who at time can be buried under a growing number of tasks and deadlines, but that’s no excuse for being unresponsive. Grow up, prioritize your activities, perhaps send someone further down the list an acknowledgment you received the inquiry and will respond in line with any deadlines that may have been set. If none have been set, ask for a reasonable time frame for completion. But watch out. Often, those pleading they’re busy just want you to come through on your end faster than necessary just so they can get the project off their calendars…and then they can get busy…with their pastimes.
So when you tell me you’re too busy to reply, to respond I know what you’re really busy doing. It’s what a bull does when it squats in the field. I’ll bypass the stink and move on to greener and cleaner pastures.