You know that feeling you get when you’ve been away for a few days? By the end of the holiday it feels as if you’ve been away from the office forever; but when you get back, hardly a thing has changed.
My desk still has piles of useless paperwork on it, and Big Dave is still stressing about the amount of work he has to do. It doesn’t help that he still keeps getting “help!” calls from random people when he’s in the middle of urgent work, of course. From his mother-in-law, for example, who this morning put Dave’s stepson’s new £250 mobile phone through the washing machine, and wanted to know how to fix it. A full cycle, apparently, although I’m not sure if it was a boil-wash. Big Dave’s advice: “put it in the airing cupboard for a bit, and whatever you do don’t tell him about it until you’re sure it’s knackered.”
In the meantime, I have a big pile of mundane and tedious things to do, which haven’t been done since before I went away. Updating all those files that need updating every few days but don’t work automatically. Generating nice reports for the management. Doing the inter-departmental billing run. All those jobs that really don’t need any brain, but which for one reason or another can’t be automated very well, because of all the exceptions and special cases that go against the rules. Why they fall on my shoulders to do, I’ve never been entirely sure – possibly in an attempt to persuade me to work out how they can be automated, in order to avoid boring myself into a coma. If only they were so boring that I could daydream at the same time; but they’re not, that’s why they need a human to do them.*
This isn’t the sort of task, to be honest, that makes me sit and think “my god, I need another job.” At least this sort of task doesn’t involve inter-divisional politics, or any of the related nastiness. This is just the sort of task that keeps me bumbling away in “Room 3B, IT office” (as the new sign on the door almost says)** wishing I could turn off my computer and go and do something more interesting instead.
* We’re talking about jobs like: reconciling our internal phone system’s billing reports with BT’s billing reports. Which is a hard job for a computer to do because their clocks aren’t synchronised, and they disagree on how long each call lasts. I could write a program that would match on the phone number first then look for fuzzy matches in the other fields, but for a job I only have to do once a quarter it’s not worth the effort.
** that’s one thing that’s changed whilst I was away, a new sign on the office door. I have thought about editing the IT building plans so it is actually called Room 3B, but haven’t got round to it yet. We already have our own room numbering system for some parts of the building, because when it was last rebuilt the Facilities Management office didn’t get around to telling us what the official room numbers were until long after we needed to number the rooms ourselves.
The office is still stress-filled and tense. The Boss is worse than anyone, but for some reason decided today to bring in his dogs to the office. So, as well as harrassed, worried, scared staff running around barking at each other, we had an office of dogs joining in.
There are some scenes, that, in comedy, you can see coming a mile off. As soon as two particular elements have been introduced, you’re thinking: ah, set-up. Our offices, you see, have very new carpeting, and we have lots of strict rules about always carrying drinks on trays, and suchlike, to make sure that the new carpet stays new. The dogs, clearly, know the rules of comedy as well as I do, because it didn’t take long before we heard The Boss shouting: “No! Bad dog! No!”, and saw him dragging a whining dog to the door, a dark trail of liquid on the carpet behind it.
It’s still only spring, and it’s becoming rather clear that our new office was rather badly planned. It’s a two-person office, with lots of computers in it,* no windows, no air conditioning, and a door which, we’re told, must remain closed. The only concession to ventilation is a small extractor fan – the only incoming air is from the corridor. The fan itself was an after-thought, installed after the office secretary started campaigning for us.
It was only a mildly warm day outside today, but the office was already unbearable. I sat in a sleepy stupor all afternoon. In a couple of months, it’s going to be a danger to our health. I really must bring in a thermometer to see just how hot it gets in there.
* five at present, including the company mailserver, which lives under my desk and occasionally gets an accidental kick.
So, as I explained yesterday, the security contractor at the office has saddled us with three “incompatible” security systems, two of which probably are compatible after all, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to get them to work together. We complained to the office manager about it. “Well, if that’s what the contractor said, that’s what’s going to happen.”
The next day, our boss comes through to visit. “What’s this about us needing three different tags for the alarms?”
We told him what we’d been told.
“It’s a bloody stupid idea. I thought they were all going to work together.” Yes, so did we. “I don’t want to have to carry three tags on my keyring.” And he wanders off, grumbling about it.
The following day, we notice the Managing Director stalking about in our part of the building, looking at the security gadgets and making “hmmm…” noises. The office manager is following him around, trying to explain how wonderful these expensive systems we’ve commissioned are.
“…you’ll have one tag for these doors, one tag for the outside doors and gates, one tag for…”
“Why do we need three different tags for everything? Why can’t we just have one?”
“The contractor says that they won’t…”
“Well, I thought we were just going to have one tag that would do everything. I don’t want…”
I tuned out, but it was clear the way the conversation was going. What makes me sigh isn’t that we always prefer contractors who have worked for us before, even when their track record is hardly promising.* It’s that the management should have spotted this coming. The contractor did give the office manager a nice thick specifications document – did the manager bother to read it at all? Didn’t he bother to ask questions about the vague parts?
* This isn’t the first time the security contractor has fitted something and then not set it up properly, because although he’s agreed to fit the system we wanted he’s not willing to learn how to configure it.