Tag Archives: business

Anything you can do, a computer can do better

Technology in the Workplace

It’s quite the confidence booster to discover that a flash drive can do your job.

My boss called me into his office the other day.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I’ve got big news.”

My heart jumped. “Is it about that promotion I’ve been asking for?”

“Not exactly,” he said, sinking into his chair. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Oh.” I looked down. “This doesn’t bode well for my future with the company. And here I thought I was an up-and-comer.”

“It’s not your fault,” my boss said. “It’s just that we’re replacing you with cheaper labor.”

“You mean you actually found someone who’s willing to work for less than me? I didn’t know Bob Cratchit was in the job market.”

My boss pointed to a metal rectangle sitting beside his computer. “Meet Arnie the Artificial Intelligence. He’s the new you.”

I frowned. “It looks like a flash drive.”

“Essentially, that’s what he is. Once we plug him into the mainframe, he’ll start doing your job right away. Best of all, he doesn’t need bathroom breaks, and he’s not known for complaining.”

“So he’s a mindless robot? It sounds like he’ll fit in fantastically with the team.”

“I hope you’re not angry,” my boss said. “You have to understand that AI is the latest trend. Everyone’s doing it. Flesh-and-blood humans cost too much to employ. Plus, they have unreasonable expectations, such as making a living wage.”

“Of course,” I said. “And not only that, but I’m sure he excels at meaningless, repetitive tasks, too.”

My boss shrugged. “What can I say? We live in an economy where human beings no longer matter. Computers can perform every conceivable, modern-day job.”

“You mean like posting cat pictures to social media?” I asked.

“Precisely. That pretty much describes every conceivable, modern-day job. Everybody’s a social-media strategist these days, but once AI takes over, labor costs will go down dramatically.”

“Does Arnie have a college degree in journalism?” I asked. “Does he have sound writing skills?”

“Oh, Colane,” my boss said, “you know that writing doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody reads. Besides, everyone communicates these days using acronyms and emojis, and Arnie has thousands of them in his language database.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s comforting to know that human expression has been reduced to a handful of smiley-face emoticons and a pile of shit with eyes. Shakespeare would be proud.”

My boss shrugged. “Time marches on. The old ways eventually die. You can bet that had Netflix existed during the Great Depression, John Boy Walton never would have wasted all that time writing in his room. The whole family would have been too busy binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones.’ With all that entertainment, they probably wouldn’t have been so depressed.”

“What about my other skills?” I asked. “I excelled at critical thinking in school. I have amazing logic.”

My boss pointed at the flash drive. “You know who else excels at logic? Arnie. He’s a computer.”

“Fine,” I said. “So this is it? Seriously? Just like that, you’re going to replace me with a robot?”

“Exactly,” my boss said, patting me on the shoulder. “With your logical mind, I’d knew you’d understand.”

“But what if the worst happens?” I asked. “What if Arnie becomes self-aware and decides to take over your job, and then the CEO position, and then the world?”

“Well,” my boss said, shrugging, “I guess I’d have to give him points for ambition. Lord knows this company needs more up-and-comers.”

“I’ll see myself out,” I said. 

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An economy where no one has to work

connection economy

What we have in business today is a failure to communicate.

We live in an ultra-modern, super-high-tech society with instant messaging, social media, visual teleconferencing, desktop screen-sharing and collaborative workspaces.

Yet despite all that, it’s still impossible to get a hold of anybody.

In my professional career, I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone and actually gotten through. I’ve always been directed to voicemail. This frustration led me to undertake a yearlong project in which I researched the accessibility of the average worker. (Yes, that’s where I’ve been all this time, instead of blogging.)

The results were astounding. They showed that a whopping 93.8 percent of U.S. business is conducted by empty offices with phones sitting on desks. 

This may explain why highway traffic is so heavy during peak business hours. While phones sit and ring in unattended offices, working-age Americans are driving around wearing shorts and sandals, enjoying the weather.

In fact, David Von Sickle, chief economist with the Ingrate Institute, attributed the U.S.’s current housing shortage to unused office space.

“Instead of building homes, we’re busy erecting executive suites that nobody will ever sit in,” he said. “To cut down on commercial real-estate costs, American companies would be better off installing a bunch of phones in a random storage shed.”

Efficiency expert Wanda (who’s so efficient that she has no last name), said that our economy has reached so-called “peak productivity,” meaning that everyone is apparently rich and doesn’t have to work.

“In this era where nobody has to show up to the office,” she said, “you could reasonably conduct a multinational conglomerate from a single warehouse in the Arizona desert. All you would need is a truckload of phones and a table to set them on.”

Indeed, corporate strategists have been busy building a connection economy in which nobody actually connects. Little work gets done anymore because nobody is available to do it. Some experts say that this has led to a widening national trade deficit and dizzying phone trees where all possible options disconnect the caller. 

“American business is falling behind,” said Amy Asinine, a prominent bureaucrat for a government agency that creates economic reports using made-up data. “Our foreign trading partners are overtaking us because they actually show up to work.”

Some people disagree that detachment from the workplace is necessarily bad. (However, perhaps tellingly, these people tend to be aloof and out-of-touch executives who never show up to the office.) 

Larry Lethargic, a corporate officer with a multi-syllable title at an unnamed tech firm, said that although he’s never seen the inside of his suite, he’s heard that it could fit 20 standard-sized cubicles. 

“I think it’s on the ninth floor somewhere,” he said, as he took a break from his 10 a.m. Wednesday tennis match to talk. “I’m not quite sure what it looks like, but I know that there’s a phone sitting on the desk.”

When I asked Lethargic about his job responsibilities, he looked at me with a puzzled expression, as if he were watching a David Lynch film.

“I don’t have responsibilities per se,” he said. “I just get paid money — a lot of it. The phone at my desk takes all my calls. And if the money starts to run out, I just buy back stock. That’s how business works.”

The most vocal proponents of social media tend to be celebrities who gather millions of everyday followers and then follow back only six people — all of them other celebrities. 

“I love interacting with my fans,” a popular musician told me, while plugging her new album on Twitter and ignoring incoming Tweets from her fans. “Thank goodness for these social media platforms.”

Other experts such as Michael Mindless, a thought leader living in New York City, argue that today’s connection economy has fostered collaborative relationship building across corporations nationwide. 

I reached out to Mindless for a comment, but I could only get his voicemail. He didn’t immediately return my call. 

Seasoned employees don’t use exclamation points

Two men at work writing an e-mailWhen I compare my work e-mails today to the ones I wrote as a new hire, there’s a noticeable difference.

My e-mails today — though friendly — are often brief and to the point. The sentences are simple, and the punctuation is basic.

“Hi John. Please send me a copy of the check. Thank you.”

Of course, when writing to upper management, I’ll usually throw in a semicolon – just to show off that I know how to use one. (You never know when good grammar might score you points.)

“Hi Boss. The project is nearly finished; however, there’s been a delay in receiving a copy of the check. I reached out to John in Accounting, but because he’s not as committed to the company as I am, he’s been remiss in providing a timely response. Thank you.”

However, when I look at the e-mails I wrote as a new-hire, the obsequiousness is downright obnoxious. To compensate for my lack of confidence, I used a nauseating number of exclamation points and smiley-face emoticons.

“Hi John! You might not remember me, but I’m the new guy down the hall!!! I sit next to Emily! Isn’t she a hoot? 🙂 She’s been super, super helpful in getting me acclimated. Anyways, can you please send me a copy of the check? Only when you have a chance! I know you’re like, super busy and stuff, and I’m still learning, so just when you can! OK? Cool, and thank you!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 :-)”

OK – that was a slight exaggeration. I wasn’t quite the shrill Valley Girl as portrayed above, but as a new employee, I did want to be perceived as friendly and eager to help.

I’m not sure where that enthusiasm went. I used to be the passionate newbie, but now I’m just the crotchety killjoy. These days, when a co-worker knocks on my cubicle for help, I just narrow my eyes and give them a Clint Eastwood snarl. That’s how bad it is.

It’s as if job longevity transforms us from fawning, ambitious sycophants to cantankerous, grumpy curmudgeons.

Over time, as we establish our roots in the position, the exclamation points and smiley faces start to dwindle, then disappear entirely. Blunt curtness replaces the once-cheerful tone of our interoffice correspondence.

Where once our writing exuded wholehearted passion, now it just drips with Dilbert-like cynicism.

I can always tell a new employee based on their e-mails: the deferential tenor; the overeager intensity. It reeks like the leftover salmon someone microwaved in the breakroom.

Come to think of it, microwaving fish in the breakroom might be the one instance these days where I’d use an exclamation point in a work-related e-mail.

“Note to employees: Someone this afternoon microwaved fish in the office breakroom, creating a rancid stench that’s offensive to our environment. And not to place blame, but I have a strong suspicion that it was John from Accounting! If you see him in the hall, please let him know how appalled you are by his thoughtless behavior! Not only is he a detriment to the team, but that incompetent jerk still hasn’t given me my check!!!!!”

Welcome to the Period of Post-Quality, where the details don’t matter

Two men sitting in conference room

Remember when attention to detail used to matter?

A lot has changed since the 2008 financial crisis.

Some of the aftershocks are more obvious. There are fewer jobs. Fewer opportunities.

Wealth and abundance flow into Wall Street, while capital and resources are siphoned from Main Street.

Yet some of the effects are more abstract — harder to define. People sense there’s something off, but they’re not sure how to put it in words.

It’s vague, and harder to pin down, but there’s a definite difference in the way we do business.

I thought about it for a while, and out of nowhere, it hit me:

There’s less of a commitment to quality these days, and more of a focus on volume.

You see it everywhere, from the way we communicate to the products we buy to the superficial summaries we hear on the news.

Instead of forging a few meaningful relationships, we’re firing off friend requests to everyone online.

Rather than reading an article in-depth, we’re glancing at our phone and skimming the headlines.

Instead of fine-tuning the tiniest of details, we’re glossing over the aggregated data.

Like I said, it’s abstract and murky, but it’s a general sense that we’re not doing things as well as we could.

And I’ll be the first to admit: Maybe it’s just my perception. Maybe I’m turning into a crusty, old curmudgeon who grouses about social media and laments the good-old days when every phone had a cord.

But I don’t think so. I’m an older Millennial — just on the verge of being in Generation X — and I remember when things were different.

It’s not a dramatic change — like Marty McFly traveling to an alternate 1985 — but it’s there. It’s noticeable.

Details used to matter. Meticulousness used to count.

Go-getters would seek methods to add value to their jobs, and their motivation would be recognized and rewarded.

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences in the past. I was a receptionist for a small office, so I endeavored to create value for my employer. I was tasked only with answering the phone, but I offered to write ad copy, shoot video, start a blog, design intricate flyers.

I wasn’t looking only to advance. I wanted to develop a reputation as a valuable go-to and a knowledgable resource. I wanted people to regard me as an indispensable member of the team.

Yet that didn’t happen. The effort went nowhere. The details didn’t matter.

Despite my asking, the position didn’t expand to encompass all my skills.

Now granted, that’s only one bad experience. And it encouraged me to seek employment with my current company, where grit and heavy-lifting are appreciated.

But there’s a general malaise these days — and not just among Millennials like me. People in generations before mine feel the same way.

How do I know? I talk to them.

I’ve always felt more comfortable with people older than myself — which is a huge benefit in the workplace. Experienced professionals have stood in your shoes, and they can advise you on how to avoid the mistakes that they had to learn on their own.

I’d rather someone instruct me on the wisdom of tying my shoes, rather than falling flat on my face and finding out for myself.

I’ve heard many Baby Boomers talk about how things aren’t as good as they used to be. People cared more, they say. A job well-done was a badge of honor.

People aren’t as invested now, they tell me. Employees show up, but they shovel work onto others, or they make pompous declarations without considering all the facts.

These aren’t burned-out cubicle-dwellers on the verge of retirement. These are people I admire and trust. They’re not begrudging change, or holding their era in higher esteem.

When they tell me that things used to be better, I believe them. And I agree.

We’re living in a high-gloss, low-wattage society. There’s no substance beneath the surface. The perception of competency is paramount, but actual experience is scarce.

We pad our LinkedIn profiles with buzz-terms and jargon, but there’s no actual wizard behind the curtain. We build dense, keyword-specific resumes, but there’s no character beneath the clutter.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether it’s technology making us complacent, or the aftershocks of an all-embracing recession, we can choose to be the indispensable go-to who’d do anything to help out a colleague.

We can decide to be the master of details who’s known for accuracy and efficiency.

We can elect to be the resourceful collaborator who’s always seeking new ways to add value.

This doesn’t have to be the Period of Post-Quality. But it’s up to us.

If we can shake off all the malaise and complacency and rediscover our entrepreneurial roots, we could be living in a golden age where character counts, hard work is appreciated, and demonstrated proficiency is valued higher than smooth-talking swagger.

Details should matter. Competency should count. Hard work and resourcefulness should be rewarded.

That’s the way things used to be. And I’m hopeful that one day — once again, with any luck — that will be the way things are.

Being curt doesn’t make you businesslike

two businessmen in officeI’m noticing a trend lately where people respond to e-mails with an abrupt, terse tone.

No greeting. No “please” and “thank you.” Just a curt, one-sentence response, with a sprinkling of condescension.

I imagine they’re trying to sound confident and authoritative. After all, real professionals don’t waste time with pleasantries or kindness. Real professionals are tough and domineering, and they command respect with their aloof detachment and emotionless demeanor.

But if goal is to sound cool and confident, I’d like to remind these people that they’re failing spectacularly.

Instead, they’re just proving themselves to be clueless jerks with no skills to back up the swagger.

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between a person’s curtness and their incompetence.

The more curt the e-mail, the more incompetent the worker. It’s a rule.

I’d also like to remind these people that real competence stems from patience and understanding and putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

True professionalism comes from listening to the needs of others and responding to the best of your ability.

Genuine respect is earned by appreciating others and recognizing their contributions.

Humor and warmth go a long way in cultivating relationships and building trust. A person who can laugh projects much more poise and confidence than a sleaze-ball who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Most people want to be perceived as competent and able. It’s understandable. And our professional correspondence speaks volumes about our personality and the image we’re trying to project — even more so than the way we dress.

But please don’t mistake aloofness for ability. Don’t confuse curtness for competence.

No matter how stiff your upper lip, being a prick will never make you a professional.

So let’s cut it out with the abrupt, terse e-mails, OK? Si “hi” in your greeting. Tell someone you “hope they’re doing well.” Respond with a “thank-you” when they fulfill your request.

After all, isn’t common human decency worth a slightly cluttered inbox? If someone doesn’t appreciate a “thank-you” e-mail, then they always can delete it.

I’ll never subscribe to the notion that civility and decorum have to be sacrificed for the sake of doing business.

Skill and proficiency may define a professional, but it’s kindness and compassion that constitute the soul.

Every online Office Assistant job posting

An honest interviewer

Well, at least I know what I’m getting into….

Our company has an exciting opportunity for an enthusiastic and dynamic Office Assistant. The Office Assistant will be responsible for supporting 47 senior-level executives, as well as completing degrading, rudimentary tasks — such as making coffee and sorting the mail.

Qualifications:

• Four-year degree required, preferably with an emphasis on structural engineering or quantum physics. Candidates with a Master’s degree preferred.

• Must have your own vehicle for picking up Starbucks, giving rides to senior-level personnel and shuttling intoxicated executives to highbrow societal functions. Candidates with a Class-A commercial driver’s license preferred.

• Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Must be an expert writer and grammarian, with proficiency in Associated Press Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.

• Must have proficiency in technology, including hardware, software and network infrastructure. Must have expert knowledge of printers and printer drivers. Candidates with working knowledge of HTML, Pearl, Javascript, and CSS preferred.

• Must be an expert in graphic design, with working knowledge of Quark, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign. Must be an expert photographer with access to your own professional-level equipment.

• Must have advanced video-editing skills, with the ability to produce custom corporate videos in a variety of digital formats. Working knowledge of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere required.

• Must be proficient in web design and marketing, with the ability to craft unique weekly content for our company blog and social-media accounts. The candidate also will write and edit our 5,000-word daily newsletter, as well as execute weekly e-mail campaigns.

• Must have the ability to type 90 words per minute on a Royal typewriter.

• Must have working knowledge of General Accounting Principles, with the ability to oversee annual budgets, complete weekly payroll and respond timely to unexpected IRS inquiries.

• Must have expert carpentry skills, with the ability to complete office remodels as required. Knowledge of HVAC, plumbing and electrical wiring required. Candidates with a general contracting license strongly preferred. 

• In addition to meeting day-to-day expectations, the successful candidate must complete 500 hours of career-focused training within the first 90 days of employment.

Applying:

To be considered for this amazing opportunity, please send your resume and a link to your LinkedIn profile. Also, please submit a 5-minute video in .m4v formant detailing your skills and accomplishments. Candidates also must take an online personality assessment, as well as commit to 60 hours monthly of community service.

Salary:

Compensation starts at $10 hourly.

So my boss said to leave the report on his desk…

boss patting employee on back.

When my boss is brutally honest….

When I first got my new job, my boss, Steve, asked me to write a one-page report for the executive manager.

“Be sure to send the report directly to me,” Steve said.

“You don’t want me to send it to the executive manager?” I asked.

“I don’t. I want to check it before he sees it.”

“I’m a fairly good writer,” I said. “I got As in high-school English, and I run spell check on all my correspondence before sending it out.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Steve said. “It’s that I want to review the report’s content prior to the executive manager reading it.”

“Are you afraid I’m going to say something offensive?” I asked.

“I just have to review it before he sees it. Employees are not permitted to e-mail the executive manager directly. Only managers can e-mail the executive manager.”

“So I have to write the report and send it to you so you can send it to him?” I asked. Keep reading…

Your dirty dishes are my problem

woman in office rolling her eyes

My response to most company policies….

Dear Senior Leadership Team,

Good morning. I’m writing to you today to express a grave concern.

I’ve spent many sleepless nights debating whether to escalate this concern to senior management. As a result, my work performance has suffered, and I’ve ordered way too many useless gadgets from the Home Shopping Network.

I feel I have no choice now but to voice my thoughts. Stoic silence is no longer an option. And though I often hesitate to make waves, sometimes you have to be the fat guy who does a cannonball into the pool.

My concern this morning is in regards to the company breakroom policy.

That’s right: the company breakroom policy. I don’t like it.

There. I’ve said it. I feel much better already.

As senior management is aware, all departments are required to take turns cleaning the breakroom. During a department’s designated month, employees must rinse dirty dishes, load and unload the dishwasher, wipe tables, restock the cleaning supplies, sweep the floor, and chisel Lean Cuisine explosions from the roof of the microwave. (At least I hope it was Lean Cuisine. But based on the mess, it could have been a cat. I’m not sure.) Keep reading…

Attack of the time parasite

time parasite

The dreaded time parasite attaches himself to a hardworking employee and sucks away not only his industry knowledge, but also his will to live.

The time parasite is a wretched and despicable creature. They’re among the lowest form of scum imaginable (a true invertebrate with no noticeable backbone or useful purpose), and they often come with an overinflated sense of self worth and a graduate degree in business administration.

The time parasite is a true bottom-feeding life form oozing with sludge and dripping with charisma. They often have a sallow, oily appearance, and they thrive in dank, slimy places covered in dead rot (otherwise known as the upper echelon of senior management).

To survive, the time parasite will attach itself to an amiable, industrious employee. The employee won’t mind at first, because the time parasite will present itself as an eager and dedicated manager committed to assisting the team.

As the employee discusses the easy-to-follow steps of a rudimentary procedure, the time parasite will sink in its fangs and begin to feed. It will ask pointless questions to prolong the conversation, and the employee will be forced to restate in a different way what he or she already explained in intricate detail.

As the moments stretch into minutes, the employee will begin to feel anxious and short-tempered. E-mails will keep piling up — many requiring immediate response — but the time parasite will refuse to release its sinister hold. The employee will motion to his or her screen, or they’ll pretend to pick up their phone and make an imaginary call, but neither tactic will work. The time parasite has a hunger for the souls of employees, and its ravenous appetite is insatiable.

As the time parasite continues to devour mercilessly, the employee will feel his or her existence slipping away, as if they’re attached to the Count’s life-sucking machine on The Princess Bride. Indeed, even the most self-driven, highly motived employee will lose his or her momentum when ensnared in a time parasite’s inescapable grasp. The employee will cease to perform at a high standard, and instead of looking forward to five o’clock, they’ll start wishing for their own death.

In that way, time parasites are much like the Dementors that guard Azkaban Prison — except much more career-focused and self-serving.

Indeed, the time parasite’s enervating effects drain the employee of their motivation. When the time parasite finally releases its bone-breaking grip (usually because it becomes bored by a conversation that it cared little about in the first place), the employee will feel chewed up and violated. They’ll shake themselves off and go back to work, but their once-productive workflow will be disrupted. The time parasite took from them something that they can never get back. Not only time, but a sense of wholeness — as if the very fabric of their being was unraveled by a tug of the thread.

It will dawn upon the employee then that none of their skills, knowledge, or ideas matter anymore — at least in terms of the employee’s long-sought-after upward trajectory — because the time parasite will be there to gobble them up and to take credit for all of the employee’s accomplishments.

And so the time parasite will slink back to its dank, slimy environment, leaving in its wake a department of demoralized souls who now have to work past five to make up for lost time.

An under-appreciated office-dweller

getting a big promotion“Thanks.”

That was the extent of your e-mailed response: “Thanks.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad that you at least acknowledged my effort.

But “Thanks”? That’s it?

Not to sound entitled, but I think I deserve a little bit more.

Did you see how quickly I acted upon your request? And did you bother to grasp the thoroughness of my reply?

I mean, I don’t expect you to write a haiku as a testament to my glory and magnificence, but give me something more than “Thanks.” Maybe something like “Thank you very much” or “Your assistance is greatly appreciated.”

Nope. “Thanks.” That’s the length to which you ventured to recognize my contributions.

I don’t want to complain, but I feel like my work here isn’t appreciated. No matter how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my personal life, I put forth my best each day. My commitment to timeliness and quality is unparalleled, and I’m highly regarded as a dedicated team-player. The meticulous approach I bring to my work has earned me stellar reviews from upper management.

So I don’t think I’m out of line to expect a little bit more than “Thanks.”

I suppose it’s not in your nature to recognize others (being so singularly focused on your own career and upward momentum). But the next time I go out of my way to accommodate one of your “urgent” requests, a little more gratitude would be appreciated.

And I’m not talking about an overdone dissertation dripping with sarcasm. You don’t need to say “I so dearly value your heartfelt dedication and perseverance. You are a radiant beacon in a shadowy sea of cubicles; a pillar of strength standing among a battalion of slump-shouldered staff. You consistently outshine your peers, like a brilliant star streaking across a twilight sky. Your mind brims with industry knowledge; your heart and soul exude the passion you bring to your job. I truly cherish having you on my team, and I wish to thank you profusely for your wholehearted dedication.”

No, you don’t need to say all that. I’m not looking for unconditional admiration, or a stepping stool to senior management. I’m clearly not on the fast-track, because instead of brown-nosing my way to success, I’m too busy doing all the work.

I just want something more than “Thanks.” And at the end of a trying workday, is that really so much to ask? I’m but a mere human with a humble heart. I seek not riches or fame, but just a smidgen of recognition, to validate my otherwise futile existence.

This mysterious journey of life holds little clues to the grander intricacies of the universe. Life moves forward in a constant current of progression, and unless we flow forward with friends, the world can make us feel isolated and lonely.

We must respect each other, cherish each other — love each other. If there’s a deeper meaning to the universe, it’s that all we have is each other. All people (and indeed, all office-dwellers) are interconnected — like a connect-the-dots game in which all the points are linked.

By the mere act of existing, each of us is obligated to bring warmth to this world, and we can do that by respecting each other. Don’t let your condescending, managerial detachment make this world a cold, unforgiving place. Be warm. Be loving.

Be human.

I so appreciate your contributions to this organization. All I ask is that you appreciate mine.

Thanks.