The Birdcage Archives

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Notes from the Office

Hello Gentle Reader
The day begins at 8:00am, this means wake up between 4:30am and 5:30am, though preference is given to 4:45am and 5:00am, which provides enough time to make coffee, eat breakfast or any morsel of food in the fridge, shower and get ready through all those morning rituals. By 7:30am, its best to be out the door to catch the bus. As its winter you need to leave earlier to account for the snow ridden and slippery streets. After you get to the bus you wait until it arrives. If you are on time its late. If you are running late it’s on time. The closest transit stop to work is across the street, which is a two minuet walk; four minutes if you need to wait for the light to cross. Upon reaching the perimeter of the building its time to smoke.  This first smoke is the last gasp before entering the building. A toxic final breath of fresh air, but a ritualistic one based off routine. It should be noted addiction is structured in routine. Routines are structured in habits. Smoking just happens to be filthy one, but in this instance excusable; and on that note habits are enforced by rationale, just like the one previously evidenced. After the cigarette is butted out, its time to collect one’s belongings and trudge forward. The doors are waiting, the receptionist on guard. Upon entering its time to begin with the pleasantries of work: “good morning,” says the receptionist, and in turn you exchange the same greeting back.  
If one positive note can be taken from the pandemic, it’s that everyone has been provided their own office. Prior to the pandemic—as you are told—members of your business unit were placed into a ‘shared workspace,’ because other offices had to be reallocated for clients working out of the building and an increase in engineering personnel. Prior to the client move in, and the engineering personnel real estate takeover; they each had their own offices. By the time you entered the shared workspace, the atmosphere to their new landscape was fermented with soured feelings. The pandemic raged on, social distancing was brought into further question and next thing you know, here’s your own office. While they happily skirted back to their own ‘space,’ getting first pick of the available real estate, you were left with the rotten leftovers. It’s a lot like hand-me-down clothes, or any other personal austerity measure, which can only be described in the plainest language originating from the vernacular: it fucking sucks. If you are to envision the ideal office it is tucked away, best left out of sight and out of mind. It’ll be hidden down some quiet corridor or lengthy hallway, the kind of place which can be overlooked or missed upon first impressions or glances. No place is quite as ideal as being somewhere lost in the labyrinth. Past nameless offices, doors and walls; just incidentally tucked away. No that’s not the case in this instance. You get the pleasure of being the neighbor of reception, that questionable, aimless function provided by the organization and no one knows quite why. Regardless every time the door opens, every visitor that enters, you know they are there. Oh, the pleasures of being placed right in the thick of it all. You do your best not to complain—at least not out loud—while internally you scream.
By 8:05am you made the short jaunt from the doors, past the reception desk, to your door. Might as well let loose the first sigh, as you envision a longer more enjoyable stroll down some other hapless corridor, to some other anonymous office. You enter where you don’t bother turning the light on anymore. Before when you did, you had them dimmed down as far as they could go; everyone walked by and thought is strange the light you kept, referring to you as a mole. Now that you don’t bother with turning them on, they walk by and exclaim with concern that its so dark, are you alright? After changing your shoes and hanging up your coat, the day has begun. The anchor takes hold the minute you sit down. The dreaded time sheet. The horrible time sheet, which is more aptly known as: Time Tracking. That micromanaging piece of accounting software that demands complete abject admonishing accountability with how your day is spent. This is measured in quarter (15 minutes), half (30 minutes), three fourths of an hour (45 minutes) and hourly (60 minute) increments. Each project you touch must be accounted for with a correct measurement of time, complete with a corresponding code as to what function in your business unit you performed with that project. A variety of codes exist corresponding with specific tasks, functions and actions you may undertake for each project. This unholy marriage of time tracking, and payroll grows in the back of one’s mind like a tumor. Its weight unmistakable. Its stress unmeasurable. It throbs away. On the first day of orientation when first introduced to this software you remember that foreboding statement: “When at all possible, always reduce and avoid overhead.” This has become goal and torturous mantra in your mind. To the point your quite sure your going to have it engraved on your tombstone; which at the current rate of you smoking will arrive at an expeditated rate; and of course, you’ll pay extra for the italicization of the term ‘Overhead.’
If its Monday morning though, you get to waste an hour on ‘Overhead,’ doing your time sheet, complete with micromanaged accounting principles. Honestly the devil really is just an accountant with horns at this point. On Monday mornings, time is wasted on filling out the time tracking payroll time sheet, project number by project number, code with code, function with function, and time allocated entered each time. The pleasures of doing that over and over for each day from the following week is a tedious waste of time, but a welcomed one. If it is not Monday morning that routine throb in the back of the head begins its daily drum. Time to open the e-mail and begin scanning the inboxes for work, correspondence, any morsel to sink one’s teeth into to set the day on the right direction. Meanwhile outside of your door and to your right you can hear the casual talks of the ‘Office Community,’ laughing and going over their weekend events. This is a select and secular group. You have not been invited to participate yet, and most likely will not be invited in future. Furthermore, you have no interest because you have nothing in common with them, so quite your bellyaching.
The pandemic has raged on relentlessly. The public health crisis is now deemed a backdrop of day to day life. As cases numbers rise, deaths rise, everyone blinks and moves on. Some have greater concerns then others. You are continually told to be thankful you have a job. How long that job will last is still unknown. The pandemic has caused complications across the spectrum, including battering an already unstable and frail economy. Work is riddled with an atmosphere of dread. There’s a desire to maintain production, while projects begin concluding, and no further clients brought on, and no contracts signed. The future is bleak. Layoffs continue, and when at first, they were announced with the gravitas of mourning iron bells, the entire business has become more rogue. Its all cloak and dagger now. One day you’re at work, the next you’ve disappeared. When these ‘disappearances,’ happen, discussions are brought up in hallways and common areas. After awhile human resources graces the organization with an e-mail. Yet another boilerplate template ridden e-mail, all the organization has done, its successes in providing a safe work environment, followed by another reminder that the continued discussions and speculation about employee departures does not contribute to a positive, healthy or safe work environment and should cease immediately. Dissidence and resistance ensure it continues. It goes without saying morale is in the shits. Of course, the reason layoffs are happening is because there is a scant amount of work for anyone to cling to. Those who have it are reluctant to relinquish it. How ironic is to think that when you first started, after being recruited you were as pumped up as a peacock. Then as the pandemic began to take hold and the new reality set in, your once lustrous peacock spirit animal became a scavenging hyena. While still learning your position, you worked hard to learn and improve faster. As the pandemic raged on the scavenging hyena reduce itself to an emaciated and mangy coyote. Now pushing a year into the position and no end in sight with the pandemic, and no economic recovery certain on the horizon you are forced to face the facts, all that remains of your previous ambition is that of a tenacious cockroach. A scuttling and scurrying insect that skirts on the edges, remains in the peripheral and seeks to survive in the most austere landscapes. A cockroach would not be described as a beacon of hope. Its more a reminder of abject survival. As a subject of study, survival appears heroic even admirable in retrospect. In the present it’s a dirty business.
With work depleted or concluding what few scraps roll down must be immediately snatched up and held on to. Afterwards you need to ensure that the work can be stretched out; or else its back to concerns about filling the day with productivity, before the time tracking tattle tale time sheet snitches. This is a dangerous game. If you take too long on a certain task questions are raised regarding your competencies. Complete the task and work with routine expectations and its back to the dread. A common remedy prescribed is then create work for yourself. Make manageable tasks or micro-projects that will benefit the company. An endearing resolution, but in this situation doomed for failure. An organization such as this has found its success by slowly adapting with the times and maintaining a stronghold regarding templates and predefined notions of what it should be. There is no solicitation for imagination. Though to be fair it has been attempted, which in the yes of the organization carried within its sentiment the guise of revolution.
By 10:00am it’ll be time for a reprieve, in the form of another cigarette. This short sojourn becomes a welcome refuge from sitting at the desk and waiting for work. Afterwards it’ll be time to skirt about the office seeking out work. Like a beggar you’ll need to seek out work from your co-workers, offering assistance. To no surprise, your offer is politely declined. They’ve already snatched up their own morsels of work in which to itch away at. You may be tossed a bone or in your absence something may appear in the inbox. In the intermediate you have the chance to talk with a co-worker. Those tangent ridden narratives which move between topic are a welcomed distraction from the throb in the back of your mind. Regardless you’re on a mission to find work to pad out that time tracking time sheet software before it turns on you and states you have a variable amount of time unaccounted for. By the time lunch hits your more exhausted by the search for work and tasks to fill the day, then any actual work. After lunch that ephemeral and finite intermission, the afternoon replays the same situations from the morning. Seeking and waiting for work; debating about talking to your immediate supervisor for work; or resigning yourself to the indignation that your cockroach position demands. By 3:00pm there is another reprieve for yet another cigarette, which follows the innumerable ones burned during lunch. The final two hours of the day are the longest. Time moves slower. It creeps along at a casual pace. The throbbing in the back of your head has become such a constant companion throughout the day, you’ve almost gotten used to it. When the hour strikes 5:00pm your exhausted and distressed by the little accomplishment the day had provided, knowing full well the following days would be a continuous chain of reoccurring events.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary