Tag Archives: workplace

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. 

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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!!!!!”

Superfluous fashion: Time to retire the tie

businessman in meeting wearing a tieEach morning when I wake up, I’m grateful for one thing:

I don’t have to wear a tie.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for my life and my health, too. But mainly, it’s the whole not-having-to-wear-a-tie perk that instills me with gratitude.

I’m lucky that my job doesn’t require a tie. (But come to find out, it does require competence. And despite all my lobbying, they’re not yet willing to waive that outdated demand.)

Although I don’t like ties, I’m not a slob. I always wear a collared shirt to work, whether it’s formal button-up or a polo. I’ll even put them in the washer, on occasion.

I also make an effort to look nice. Big emphasis here on “making the effort.” If I run a comb through my hair, I think that shows I’m trying. (The same can’t be said for my sandals with black socks.)

Despite my strict no-tie policy, I always carry an air of professionalism. (I always carry a rubber chicken, too, because I like to be prepared. You never know when you’ll be asked to meet with the CEO.)

Ties should be abolished. Other than decoration, they serve no useful purpose. (Unless, of course, you want to hang yourself following an unexpected layoff.)

Ties are also uncomfortable. And when you’re striving for productivity, comfort is crucial. Call me crazy, but I’m not exactly at my best when I’m being strangled by an abrasive piece of cloth cinched around my throat. Keep reading…

A day in my old life at the real-estate office, Part II

home for sale sign in front of house

Working at the front desk of a busy real-estate office requires patience, a professional demeanor and a cheerful attitude. So naturally, I had to pursue another profession.

Two minutes before quitting time, a man walked in to pay his rent.

“By the way,” he said, “I’m pretty angry that no one’s called me back.”

“About what?” I asked.

“About my house!” he snapped.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t work in property management.”

He glowered. “I offered to buy the house at market value. They never called me back.”

“Who did you speak to?” I asked.

“I don’t know!”

I frowned. “You don’t know who you talked to?”

“No.”

“Well, I don’t know, either,” I said. “That’s why I’m asking. Was it the owner? A real- estate agent? The property manager?”

“I said I don’t know.”

“Well,” I said, raising my shoulders, “I don’t know what to say. You’re not giving me much to go by. Even Dick Tracy would have trouble cracking this case, based on the lack of clues.” Keep reading…

A day in my old life at the real-estate office, Part I

receptionist in front office talking on phonePhone ring and caller say, “Hey, is property manager there?”

So I say, “No, but I can forward you to her voice mail.”

So caller say, “Yeah, but I really need to talk to her, when is she going to be in?”

So I say, “I don’t know; she’s out doing inspections and move-outs and walkthroughs and postings, so it may be an hour, it may be two hours – it may be the rest of the day.”

So caller say, “Well, I want you to give her a message for me.”

So I say, “Well, I’m not in Property Management; let me just forward you to her voice mail so nothing gets lost in translation.”

So caller say, “No, you’ll write this down: My garage disposal gurgles and makes a weird humming noise when there’s no food in it but when I put food in it, it clanks and grinds and makes an even weirder noise and then it shakes the sink so basically it doesn’t work and I need a guy to take a look at it but he can’t come on Mondays and Tuesdays because I’m off and I sleep in and he can’t come Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays because I’m on graveyard and I’m asleep during the day so he’s going to have to come on Saturday but he can only come between nine and ten-thirty, but that’s only if he calls first to make an appointment because I won’t be home so I’ll have to have my neighbor let him in because I don’t want strange people in the house when I’m not there, and I also have a dog that can’t be let outside and he doesn’t bite but I don’t want him getting out because if he gets out I’ll sue the guy and I’ll sue your company and then you’ll be sorry, especially if my dog gets hit by a truck and dies.”

So I say, “That’s a lot to write down; can you give me a minute?” Keep reading…

Not much networking, but plenty of debauchery at the local chamber mixer

If you want to party like it’s 1999 (minus the hand-wringing anxiety caused by the possible Y2K meltdown), then look no further than your local chamber of commerce.

Chamber mixer

Depravity and debauchery are hallmarks of any successful chamber mixer. And if you can network a little during the festivities, then so much the better.

I sense your skepticism, but I’m serious. Chambers of commerce party more often than your local chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda. Plus, there are no annoying resident assistants to break up the fun.

Many chambers participate in monthly events called “chamber mixers,” which is a business term meaning “alcohol-fueled orgy where participants can network, make contacts and wake up in a neighboring county with no memory of how they got there — and all while promoting the corporate agenda.”

I have personal experience with these lascivious, libation-drenched displays of celebratory overindulgence. At the peak of my freelance writing career, I worked as a $10-an-hour receptionist for a small real-estate office. My duties included greeting customers and answering phones. All that hard work and money I had put into obtaining a journalism degree had finally paid off.

The office was part of the local chamber of commerce. And each month, the chamber would pick a different venue to host its mixer.

Usually, the location was at the place of business of one of its members.

And sure enough, our turn came. I received the foreboding news one morning that the next mixer — and all the carnal, frenzied festivities that term implied — would be held within the delicate confines of our meek and meager little office.

An announcement of such magnitude required extreme preparations. We catered pizza and sandwiches, chicken wings and taquitos. Workmen arrived to wash the windows and steam-clean the carpets. I was enlisted to dust bookcases and straighten furniture. As always, I seized the opportunity to put my bookish, cerebral journalism education to good use … so I grabbed a toilet brush and scrubbed like a madman. Keep reading…