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Pulling a groin: straddling the generational gap

October 23, 2007

Adam and I were talking this morning and he brought up a topic that has pissed me off to no end ever since I joined the professional working world. In an increasingly virtual (usefully virtual) world where the value of face-to-face time with coworkers/managers should be on the decline, the actual change in business place practice is annoyingly lagging. I heard all this garbage about “working from home” and “virtualization” when I was in college and when I was starting at this consulting firm. I’ve yet to really see any of that.

I decided to set up a comparison between my on-site work situation and what my situation would be working from home. The results are actually a bit saddening, and reflect a problem in the generational gap that has always existed: old people just don’t get it. The reason I am required to come to this office every day to do this work is barely more credible than “just because”. Here’s why:

Office

Facilities: Bathroom. Kitchen w/ fridge, microwave, sink. Wooden table for my laptop shared with 2 other people in hot cramped room. Bright ass fluorescent lighting. Business casual dress mandatory.
Location: 40 minute drive or train ride from my home. Have to check in at front desk and call someone to sign me in. Risk of death or injury related to commute: probably more than I’d like to admit. People or car traffic abound.
Connectivity: 3 dial up ports shared between at LEAST 5 people at all times. No office phone. There is a laptop I need to use in the morning to update my results from the previous day’s work.
Communication: I can talk to developers and PMs face to face. Get printed Excel files with my work responsibilities for the day.

Home

Facilities: Bathroom. Kitchen w/ fridge, microwave, sink. Personal desk. Television. Windows. The faint glow of incandescent lighting. Comfortable seating. The ability to work without pants.
Location: I wake up here every day. Risk of injury limited to accidentally stabbing myself with a sharp knife. Extremely safe.
Connectivity: Broadband internet. No office phone. No access to database needed to update results.
Communication: I can call, e-mail, and IM developers and PMs. Can get Excel files in e-mail.

So, what do I really need to be at the office for? I do need access to that database, but it’s only to fill in a few fields per record and click upload. I could very easily write up what I have and then e-mail it to a PM here to enter. I mean, god forbid they actually give us a connection to this database. We’re already doing it the most ass backwards way possible, it’s already super inconvenient, so I’d gladly sacrifice the “convenience” of sharing 1 laptop between 7 or 8 people to upload results to be able to work from home, even if it means a little extra legwork for me in writing up my findings.

I think the bottom line is that older people just don’t get it. Most of them don’t embrace the ability to be flexible with a work location and they greatly overvalue the need for face-to-face contact. 2 of the other consultants that are on this project with me spend 90 minutes getting to and from work. It’s so pointless. It would make much more sense, considering there are 5 of us, to alternate days and have 1 person come in for each weekday, to act as a point of contact for uploading our issues to the database. 90% of our work is done independently.

The old people that manage this project seem to equate being at work with doing work. This is not the case. A guy on our team spent probably half of yesterday playing mine sweeper, because we were waiting on a file we needed. A 5 megabyte file that could be e-mailed to us, but the PM refuses to do so. So we’re at work but doing nothing. The worst part is that the PMs know this. They walk into our conference room “office” and ask if we need stuff to do and we respond in the affirmative. Then we sit for hours waiting. Is there really any point to spending the idle time in this awful building rather than at home? And then we bill 10 hours a day and submit it to them and they don’t even flinch. I suppose there is some fair hesitation on their part to assume that we’d just dick around while we’re at home and get less done. Makes sense…but we’re just dicking around here waiting on things, and it’s much more painful with no TV or real internet or books to read to help us kill the time.

Once again my favorite “that’s how we’ve always done it” business practice is biting us in the ass. I keep thinking the generational gap should be closing, but people just aren’t with it. I’m not sure this will ever change.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink*
    October 23, 2007 5:51 pm

    On my current project, there are three guys in their 20s, me included, in one room. Usually we go out to lunch together. At one point, one of our managers tried telling us that we couldn’t all go to lunch at the same time because someone needed to be sitting in the room so the client could see them.

    So (1) our client valued our physical presence in the building over actual results and (2) our management bought into it and tried to enforce this arbitrary rule. We eventually got them to relent, but it was amazing to us younger folk that this was even an issue.

    They could not understand that it is possible to be productive and not physically sitting in the office. When confronted with the idea of working remotely, they assumed we meant on top of what we were currently doing, not in place of coming in to the office.

    I could go on and on about this one all day; the point is technology enables me to be productive in places other than the table where I am currently sitting. Put a little faith that I will actually work when I am at home and I will be happier and more productive and more likely to stay with the company. It’s really not that difficult a concept to grasp.

  2. andy permalink*
    October 23, 2007 5:58 pm

    It is that difficult of a concept to grasp when your chief hobbies are watching the evening news and mowing the yard, like all the old balls people we work for. The problem is not being out of touch with reality, it’s being out of touch with what MOST people consider reality.

    It’s amazing how surprised some people are when they realize that we, people who have not given up on getting enjoyment out of life, would rather be somewhere else than at work.

  3. Adam permalink*
    October 23, 2007 6:27 pm

    What really scares/depresses me is the people who have not given up on enjoying life but are in a job that precludes enjoyment.

    They get so beaten down by their miserable job they don’t have the energy to do anything else, even though they would very much like to. You can see and appreciate that other people are having fun, but that fun remains just out of their reach in their current job.

    Single people, we can quit and tough it out. But once you have a family that is depending on you to provide for them, you will be much more likely to remain in the shitty job. And that scares the hell out of me.

    I hear about these people who worked these miserable jobs for years on end and I really cannot help but feel totally sorry for them. I really never want to be in that position.

  4. andy permalink*
    October 23, 2007 6:36 pm

    As soon as people have resigned to using their weekends to get chores and shit done, that’s the nail in the coffin. I’d rather use the time after work on weekday to do that sort of stuff. The day is already more than half wasted anyway.

  5. Adam permalink*
    October 24, 2007 2:33 pm

    In brighter news, I have a new PM who has been on the project only a month or so. She has been away at a conference all week and we have been working together via email and IM.

    The arrangement has been working out very well, and even she agreed. Maybe things will finally start to change a little around here…

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