In which concerns are raised that we might be using the lockdown to have fun
The other day my head of department sent us an email saying that his boss had instructed him to ensure that activities didn’t stop just because of the lockdown and that, given that the normal workflow had slowed significantly, now was the perfect time to get on top of all those non-urgent things that had fallen by the wayside over the last few months.
“If you need files or any other material from the office, I don’t think Lara will have any problem dropping in at the office next week (by bike),” he added graciously.
The boss is obviously fretting that everybody might be using this work-from-home time as a holiday and wants to make sure that everybody keeps busy (he’s probably been getting emails from his higher-ups expressing concern that they might be paying us for nothing). So now he’s chivvying all his staff up, and they’re chivvying their staff up, all the way down the chain, until we’re all appropriately occupied with busywork.
I called my colleague to see how he wanted to coordinate things. I said that I was happy to go in to the office if necessary to access anything that couldn’t be accessed remotely and he shot back “There is absolutely NO REASON for you to go in and absolutely NO QUESTION of your doing so, under the current circumstances. Don’t even THINK about it.” (He is taking the lockdown very seriously. Shortly after we started working from home, under instruction not to go out unless it was essential, he phoned me one day while I was at the park. He must have heard outdoor noises in the background, and he asked where I was. When I told him at the park, he nearly had an apoplexy.
“Stay! At! Home!” he barked.
When I replied that the park was virtually empty and I was in no risk of coming into contact with anyone, he just spluttered “Yes, but… You never know!”)
One of the tasks that had been flagged was to research and compile a list of “useful contacts”. Now, as far as I was aware, this task was distant history (and good riddance), after I myself completed it about a year ago. I remember that it was horribly confusing and frustrating, because it wasn’t at all clear how “useful contact” was to be defined. I muddled through it and the list got drawn up and filed away somewhere, and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of it.
However, the head of department said in his email that “various interns” had worked on this task “at various times” (before crumpling one by one into dejected little heaps of derangement, I should imagine). It seems that after I finished the task, it was retrospectively clarified and the interns were put back onto it. But now they’ve all gone home to sit out the pandemic, it’s been left hanging again, and I’m supposed to pick up the thread.
“Between you and me,” said my colleague, “this is a task that it makes no sense to do and serves no useful purpose at this time. The only reason we’re being asked to do it is to show the boss that we’re doing something, anything.”
Later, the same colleague asked me to deal with an email from a member of the public requesting help. Usually he deals with those emails, for which I am very grateful, because they make me want to bang my head against a wall. They are almost always requests for information that the requesters are perfectly capable of finding out themselves with a bit of googling or a phone call, but they’d rather get someone else to do it.
Another thing that drives me demented about the people who write these emails is that they always seem to be borderline illiterate. Perhaps they are just uneducated? You can’t judge someone for being uneducated. But no. Many of them also mention their master’s degrees or high-status professions, which leads me to conclude that they are not illiterate, just freaking lazy. They are incoherent, they don’t correct the nonsense that autocorrect throws in, they don’t use punctuation – often they don’t even capitalise their own names. It drives me nuts. If you’re writing a formal email, especially if you are asking for favours, make a minimum of effort!
I had to read this email four times before I even began to understand what this guy was going on about. I then spent the next two hours doing Google searches that he could very well have done himself. As my colleague never tires of repeating, when he deals with emails like this, “My Google works no differently from your Google.”
A friend of mine told me the other day that one problem she was finding with working from home was “timetable creep” – there isn’t a point at which you leave the office and go home, so if you’re not careful, you can end up working much longer than you normally would.
At some point I realised I was falling victim to timetable creep, and it made me so cross and resentful that I slammed my computer shut and went to make biscuits instead.
Here are my timetable-creep biscuits: