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the time for exchanging gifts November 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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I saw this bit of hilarity on Passive Aggressive Notes.

I’ve never had any major problems with corporate bathrooms, but I’m told that the ladies’ rooms in my building are nightmares. The worst that happens in the men’s rooms is a little splashback on the floor, but from what my coworker told me, the women leave things on the walls and the seats, find ways to arrest the automatic flushers so they leave little presents, and are generally unclean and disgusting.

I’m really glad I’m not on the maintenance staff, if that’s true.

When I worked in retail, each stall in the ladies’ room (which I had to clean some nights) had a small trash can for non-toilet trash. (I think you know what I mean.) They were never really unpleasant, either; the hardest part for me was convincing the managers to store-use a box of gloves so I could protect my hands from the mess. Maybe it’s just my co-workers, or maybe it’s just the ones on my floor.

This sign, though, suffers from the main pitfall of posting semi-amusing signs: people don’t listen, make fun of the person who posts them, rip them down, or post retaliatory signs of their own. It’s too bad because it really is a pretty funny sign.


why do you think I have it? November 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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I’m not known for having the cleanest desk in the universe. In fact, I was somewhat famous for it when I worked downstairs. Stacks of paper, notes scribbled on several pads in no particular order, toys and books and printouts all over the place, you name it. Now that I’m upstairs, things are a little neater — I still have a pile of stuff, but the notebooks at least are neat and everything messy is on one side.

One of the pitfalls of having a messy desk, of course, is losing things:

* Last Monday: “It’s not on my desk”
* Last Tuesday: “I rechecked, and it’s definitely not on my desk”
* Last Wednesday: “I definitely don’t have it. You must have it.”
* Last Thursday: “It’s definitely not with me. I remember giving them to you.”
* Last Friday: “I don’t know why you haven’t found it yet. It has to be somewhere on your desk.”
* Yesterday: “Erm, here’s that thing you were looking for. It was under some papers on my desk.”
* Today: “You need what from me? Why do you think I have it?”

This is more about e-mail these days — specifically “I didn’t get your e-mail” or “I didn’t get that meeting request”. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a place where I needed to give anyone anything that isn’t digital. Plus, most of the stuff I work on is on shared drives… though, given that downstairs when the shared drive failed we lost years of data… yeah, it’s possible that me, you, or anyone could have stuff on their computer hidden under a folder or something.

¿si quieres destruir mi sueter? November 12, 2009

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I don't care how cold you are at work; there's NEVER a good reason to wear a Snuggie to the office. (cc-licensed photo by adamgn)

When I was in high school, Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” was quite popular. I translated it for Spanish class. This is about all I remember; I think it’s pretty accurate.

Greener Buildings posted an article about employee dissatisfaction with the temperature of their offices. Here’s some of it:

[T]he study also found that 78 percent of workers said their productivity falls when they feel too cold or too hot at the office — and a whopping 98 percent said their offices are too hot or too cold at some point.

So what do they do? Things that can drive a company’s energy bill higher or stall work, according to the study findings:

* 49 percent said they use a fan when they feel too hot,
* 28 percent said they use a space heater,
* 30 percent said they leave their office building to warm up or cool down by taking a walk.

The study also found that 41 percent report their discomfort to an office manager or facilities worker, and 69 percent try to remedy the situation by donning or doffing a layer of clothing.

“Donning or doffing”. I’ll have to remember that.

I’m one of those people who’s always warm. Ever since I got my first real full-time job, I’ve had a fan on my desk. It’s not on all the time, but I’d say at least four hours out of every day it’s blowing air on me. Even in the middle of winter.

Conversely, many of my co-workers are those strange “I’m always cold” people. Some of them are from warmer climes, some of them prefer being warm to being cold, and some of them legitimately can’t get warm no matter how hard they try. Many of them have space heaters under their desks.

Now, I’m not against space heaters in principle — we use one in my daughter’s room because if we increase the temperature everyone else in the house roasts — but they can cause energy problems. Specifically, they pull so much power that they could overload a circuit and knock several employees off-line until someone figures out what caused the problem. But the best option is to adjust the office thermostat so everyone’s happy.

Okay. So most people are happy.

Okay. So the fewest people are unhappy. That’s more likely.

Sometimes it’s completely out of control of everyone except the Facilities Manager. At the office supply store, the air conditioner was controlled by sensors on the roof. Spring and fall in the south are very strange seasons and it was always sweltering during the evenings and never quite cool enough during the day. At my old data-entry job, the building’s a/c was only on from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and I worked until 8 p.m. every day. Then, before I came upstairs, I was right near the big door — the “refrigerator door” — which was always left open, much to the chagrin of my colleagues. Even I got cold sometimes. Now, at my new desk, I’m always warm, though I think part of that is because the guy on the other side of the wall has the ass end of his computers pointed at my desk, and his Mac has a fan like a jet engine.

There’s really no way around temperature discomfort at work. Do what the weatherman says to do when it’s cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon: dress in layers. Don and doff as needed.

And stop telling the Facilities Manager to make it warmer. It won’t be a pretty sight when I start sweating.

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rotting from the bottom up November 9, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Observations, Seen Elsewhere.
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A lot of us are pretty pissed off that our companies are doing poorly. We’re seeing our stock options lose what worth they had; we’re not getting raises or actual promotions — just new titles that mean “here’s another responsibility we’re not going to pay you for”; we’re working unpaid overtime because we can’t finish our jobs in the allotted day because we have so many meetings to attend that we can’t get into a groove and finish more than half a task at once.

But it’s not just the corporate office that’s the problem. Some companies are rotting from the bottom up.

Jim Hopkins, formerly of USA Today, used to run a watchdog blog that took USA Today’s parent company, Gannett, to task for its misdeeds. Here’s something that a blog commenter posted a while back that you might be interested in reading:

I can’t help feeling that lots of little stories were missed here. Combined, all the many smaller issues are what really makes or breaks a workplace. Employee spirits and productivity are often broken by bosses who hit the bottle a bit too much or by managers sleeping with the help. I know of one Gannett editor who was emotionally/clinically disturbed to the point where he should have been removed from his job years ago, before he inflicted so much damage on so many careers of people who worked for him. He went undetected because higher-ups refused to open their eyes to realities, a common problem at Gannett properties of all sizes:

* Staffers who have to pull double duty because of a coworker’s incompetence.
* The general lack of accountability for some while others are held to impossibly high standards.
* The huge workloads and all the rework that is necessary because of territorial misbehavior.
* The inability of mid-level editors to truly lead without being either mean or over-the-top friendly (in sort of a fake way).
* The lack of respect that comes in all forms.

Which of those five things have affected you already?

Double duty: I’ve written on several occasions — and in fact just last week — that employees often find themselves covering for the less-skilled workers so that everyone doesn’t get dinged. They do it without getting paid extra or even getting recognized, and if they go to their bosses because someone’s slacking… well, the boss might do something, or the boss might not, but it will trickle back down that you’re the person who tattled. It’s just like grade school except without dodgeball.

Accountability: The only person held accountable is you. Not your co-workers, who keep screwing up. Not your boss, who keeps overloading you and expecting you to continue to perform but doesn’t even thank you for making him look good. Not the CEO, who keeps his job and his expensive car and his two months off a year when you’re barely keeping your head above water.

Rework: The last person to know that the entire focus of the project has been changed is the person who has to do the most work, or the most detail-oriented work at any rate. And that person is always told at the last minute, right after turning in something that he or she thinks is some of his or her best work. And that person is always, always you.

Lack of leadership: Who’s in charge around here? No one! No one wants to take responsibility or make any decisions because that creates an accountability situation. People run around like beheaded chickens until the Big Boss finally tells them what to do, and that doesn’t help much either because the Big Boss just gets grumpy and takes it out on the peons — you again.

Respect: If your boss doesn’t respect you, then you don’t respect your boss. And you don’t respect your boss’s boss because s/he isn’t making sure your boss is respectful of how much work s/he is dropping on your head on a daily basis. Oh, and “employee of the month” doesn’t cut it. Not anymore.

Is your company rotting from the bottom up? Or just from the top down?

The correct answer is probably “both”, and you know it.

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you’re not here to make a difference November 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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You’d be surprised how many cubicles there are in the media, as evidenced by this post:

“If you want to make a difference, go somewhere else. This is a newspaper.”

You will not make a difference here. (CC-licensed photo by star5112)I can think of very few cubicle-based jobs that involve making a difference for the better. Doctors save lives; professors and teachers influence the next generation; people who run homeless shelters are turning on a light in the night.

What are you doing? Are you building a website for a company that makes couches? Are you designing the heads-up display for a sportscar that only a small percentage of the world will be able to afford? Are you the accountant for a music label?

You’re not changing the world by sitting in a cubicle. You’re not there to make a difference. You’re there to further your company’s interests and get paid for it. You’ll then go spend all the money you make (and more) to simply keep up with your neighbors and make your parents proud — or, worse, make sure that the parents of your kid’s classmates don’t figure out that you really can’t afford to shop at designer clothing stores.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I thought I was changing the world or making a difference in anyone’s life. I’ve done some media work that helped people by giving them information they might not have otherwise had, but it’s not like their lives were appreciably changed.

Of course, there’s the other side to that, too: what if the small thing you do makes life better for someone, and the butterfly effect takes hold? What if the website you’re making for Couchmasters helps someone get a couch they really want, and they’re happy, so the next day at church they’re in a good mood and they donate extra to the collection plate? You get the idea. It’s like that Kevin Spacey movie where Haley Joel Osment wore that ridiculous tank-top in all the previews.

(Yes, I know what it’s called.)

Okay, fine, so occasionally you make a difference. But don’t delude yourself; that’s not why you have your job. Not if you’re sitting in a cubicle for most of the day.

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you don’t know what you want until you want it November 2, 2009

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If you haven’t yet seen Digital Survivors’s excellent “If Architects Had To Work Like Web Designers”, take a few minutes and read it. Here’s an excerpt:

Please don’t bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the house: Get the big picture. At this time, for example, it is not appropriate to be choosing the color of the carpet. However, keep in mind that my wife likes blue.

The whole thing’s like that. Seriously.

Is this the floorplan you signed off on? Then you're stuck with it... unless your architect is a web designer. (Floorplan mocked up by That Guy.)

Is this the floorplan you signed off on? Then you're stuck with it... unless your architect is a web designer. (Floorplan mocked up by That Guy.)

Web designers — in fact, all art-focused designers — are in a peculiar place as far as dealing with client desires. The clients tell us what they want, we turn it into what we think they want, and they proceed to tell us how wrong we are. But because we’re not on their staff, we aren’t subject to the whole “let’s tell them politely that this sucks”.

A prime example of this is the redesign I did at my last job. Surveys of the users were done and the results presented to us by the survey company. I took that information and mocked up three different versions of a new website, which the Big Boss promptly shot down and railed against me and four executives for a good 15 minutes.

I came back a week later with three more mockups, and he picked one he liked. Then he handed it to the art department, who made all my sleek lines into big blocky graphics, and I was told “okay, here’s what you’re building now. Go for it.”

By the time the whole project was done (on time, thankfully), I’d redesigned each type of page (homepage, section page, article page, photo gallery page, e-mail form, and so on) at least five times to comply with the requests of five different people. It was a nightmare. But because the only resources we needed were digital — that is, hard drive space and enough time for me to redesign the website — I guess the company thought they could go ahead and keep tweaking things.

Meanwhile, when my parents bought their first (and, so far, only) new house, back in the 80s, they were given a set of basic floor plans to choose from, allowed to make whatever tweaks they wanted — in their case: “garage on the left, no sunken living room, vaulted ceilings, tile throughout except in the bedrooms, wallpaper in the bathrooms, shower stall in the master bath, no pool, circular driveway” — and that was it. The architects submitted the plans; the contractors and subcontractors built the house, and they’re still living there. They’ve made changes since then — added a pool, redid the kitchen, put in hardwood in places, wired it for surround sound — but each time they had to sit down and seriously consider how much time, money, and work it would take to remodel. And once it was done, it was done; their kitchen is a little hard to get around in because of the island, but they wanted a kitchen island and now they have one. It’s going to be a bit of a hard sell, I fear, especially if the new buyer is of the large persuasion, but that’s what they have to live with. Likewise with the pool — they removed the screens when they redid the deck, replacing them with a fairly-decorative fence, but now leaves and other detritus can get in the water. Screens might have been a better option, but again, that was their choice.

Whereas, when designing a website, if the client doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it on someone else’s site, he can call you midway through and force you to make changes, and you have to make them or risk losing the client to someone who will bend over backward to please him.

I should’ve gone into architecture, I think.

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a little goofing off is good for productivity October 8, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Seen Elsewhere, Unsociable Networking, Wasting Time.
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Don’t be so quick to crack down on people who use the internet to goof off at work:

A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia apparently flies in the face of conventional wisdom—and many employers’ common sense. According to the study, workers who are allowed to use the Internet for personal reasons during the workday are actually nine percent more productive than workers who don’t. The reason? Perhaps surfing the Internet for pleasure or personal reasons increases worker’s concentration levels or eases anxiety about other parts of their lives, enabling them to concentrate more on their work.

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

Admittedly, in the U.S. we don’t like hearing that people in other countries, such as Australia, have come up with ways to make employees happy (I still think mandatory mid-day exercise, as has happened in Japan, is a great idea), but this makes total sense to me.

Think about it: if you aren’t automatically penalized for spending a few minutes checking Facebook or writing an e-mail to your mom, you’re probably more likely to do only a few personal things before getting back to work. But if it’s absolutely forbidden to even log into your Gmail or pull up I Can Haz Cheezburger, employees are more likely to either do it anyway and for longer or spend that time they’d spend on TMZ complaining to their peers about how much it sucks that they can’t go onto TMZ for five minutes.

The IT policy in my new department is a little stricter than the old one — for example, I know for a fact that they monitor the ports AIM and Yahoo Messenger go out on — but I still have the freedom to check Facebook every now and then, tweet or retweet, and see whose life is normal today. I get my work done, I get it done right, and I get it done on time.

Obviously people will occasionally abuse the policy, but in my experience as a manager I’ve found that it’s better to be a little permissive and deal with the fallout than to be completely draconian and have to penalize people for posting a status update when someone in the office says something totally inappropriate and you just had to tell someone.

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expanding on the idea killer: the marketing manager October 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Management, Observations, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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This is the third post in the “idea killer” series, based upon three images I posted on September 28.

I’ve spoken at length about how there are final hurdles — people whose job it is to find the flaw in the plan, that one sticking point that’s going to take your carefully-constructed project and make you redo all of it, usually at the very last minute. That person is most often the marketing manager.


Marketing managers, unfortunately, perform a very vital task at any company: it’s the marketing manager’s job to figure out if something is marketable at all, and if so, how that will be done. They’re generally operating on reduced budgets and with too-few people, and they’re trying to do everything and satisfy everyone:

  • Big Bosses. The Big Boss wants to see everything he already knows. He doesn’t want it to be new. He wants magazine ads, television spots, radio jingles, the works. Oh, and billboards. Lots of those.
  • Webmasters. Anyone who’s come up through the web world knows that it’s the web where brands are built these days — blogs, robust websites, mobile apps, and so on. Marketing on the web generally costs less, but it’s harder to do because you have to know where and when the right place and time are to make your buys. Webmasters know this stuff, but unfortunately marketing managers don’t know enough and don’t listen to them. Instead, when it comes to online, they listen to…
  • The Marketing Team. These guys (and girls) are the absolute worst. They’re bucking for their own positions as marketing managers; they want to show that they have a reason for drawing a paycheck. So they point to their favorite buzzwords: social networking. They’ll put a disproportionate amount of time and effort into Twitter and Facebook — or, worse, force the webmaster to develop a local social media application that lives inside the walled garden and doesn’t play well with others. Then they’ll call it a success when someone fans the product on Facebook. Because, you know, that’s the best place to spend your marketing dollars.
  • Interns. They’re there to prove they’ve got what it takes, and interns — who are still in college and are still part of that vital network of college kids with disposable income who will buy your product no matter how crappy it is. So they promise to energize their awesome group of local young people to hawk the product. It’s basically building viral marketing, which is good in theory, but interns don’t know how to do it. No one does — it happens completely by accident, and usually too late to capitalize upon.

Y’know who’s not there? The person who built the product or service or offering. That person won’t be lucky enough to be involved in the marketing efforts, but he or she damn well better make all the changes marketing wants made or else.

This is why people don’t come up with new ideas anymore: they’re tired of their ideas getting bogged down in committee, which is really a horrible feeling. Now, if you’re lucky, the marketing department will only make cosmetic changes — in a full site redesign I did a few years ago, all they did was add big chunky graphics to my nice, clean layout — but that luck doesn’t come around more than once a year. If that.

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expanding on the idea killer: the creative client October 1, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Observations.
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This is the second post that expands upon a series of idea killer images I posted on September 28.

I’ve had a lot of so-called creative clients in my time. Unfortunately, they are rarely creative, which poses a huge problem for me and my co-workers.


The best of all possible worlds is when the client retains an advertising agency to bother with every little detail, and then the agency provides the creative to the web developer or the ad trafficker. Unfortunately, a lot of agencies make their money by building really awesome projects.

So you deal with the creative clients. All of them.

  • The Wise Client. This is the one who comes to the meeting, brings you everything you ask for, sits with you for an hour, and at the end you know what he wants. Then you give it to him and, except for some minor tweaks, he’s happy.
  • The Wicked Client. These are pretty bad, but they’re not the worst, unfortunately. First they tell you what they want, and you either don’t offer it or aren’t capable of doing it. Then they change their minds halfway through, and again halfway through the next four or five iterations. They’re never fully happy, so no matter what you do, you’re going to be frustrated because you can’t give the client what he wants, and it’s going to be reflected upon you the next time you have a review.
  • The Simple Client. Y’know all that awesome stuff you guys can do? He doesn’t want it. He just wants you to do exactly what he’s laid out in the simplest, cheapest way possible. You’ll do the job right, but you’ll be completely unsatisfied.
  • The Client Who Doesn’t Know What He Wants. I hate these so much. Usually these are people whose bosses retained your agency because it’s the best, or because they saw something you did and want the exact same thing, except in a slightly different way. So you give them what you can, to the best of your abilities, and it’s never quite right. It sounds like the wicked client, but it’s really not because these guys keep apologizing and being so nice about everything. In the end, no one is happy, but on the bright side if you give these guys your best they’ll be your clients for life.

Unfortunately, we need clients of all stripes to pay our bills. I just wish more of them were of the wise variety.

And yes, I totally ripped the four clients off the Four Sons in the story of Passover.

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office revelation 3:16 August 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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Revelation 3:16 can be translated thusly:

Be thou hot or cold. Be thou lukewarm and I will spit thee out of my mouth.

Wonderful image, isn’t it? And yet so frequently seen at offices around the U.S., no one is comfortable: half the employees are hot, and half are cold. We all want to be lukewarm — that is, comfortable — but everyone feels comfort at a different temperature.

In our old building, my desk was near the server room, which was kept quite cold, as server rooms often are. It wasn’t as well-secured as it should have been, and the big door that led into it — we called it the refrigerator door — was almost always left standing open. My co-workers would often grumble as they walked past me to shut the door. I personally didn’t mind; I like it cool. To me, that’s comfortable.

In the new building, the temperature fluctuates quite a bit, at least to me. Sometimes I’m very warm. Sometimes I’m cool and comfortable. Occasionally I’m quite cold. Many days, though, my body can’t decide what it wants. I keep a fan on my desk in case it gets hot in here — a common problem at every one of my places of work — and like as not I’ll turn it on for a few minutes, get cold, turn it off, heat up, turn it on, get cold, and repeat ad nauseum. My co-workers are in a similar situation. I’m sure yours are too.

Perhaps in an office the verse should be:

Be thou hot or cold. Be thou lukewarm and you’re probably not sitting in the same room as the rest of us.

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This was post 300.