Lockdown Return

In March 2020 about seven and a half million people and about a million businesses had a lifeline thrown to them under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  The scheme allowed companies to furlough their workers with the majority of their wages being funded centrally by the British taxpayer utilising tens of billions of pounds of additional national borrowing and debt.

This short term solution isn’t permanently sustainable so as the COVID-19 crisis gradually eases more businesses are being allowed to reopen and we will soon all be back to work.  Lockdown is ending.

But how easy will it be to return?

Firstly, many managers and supervisors have already started to go back to reset our working environments to set out our new social distancing practices of keeping two metres apart.  Modelled on government and industry recommendations and examples based on the designs worked out and rehearsed by our national supermarkets.  By using notices, taped areas, arrows, perspex screens and reduced traffic we will be entering a slightly strange version of the place we abandoned in a relative hurry just a couple of short months ago.

Some of us, due to our particular jobs and restrictive work places may not be able to do all our work ideally spaced from our colleagues and there will inevitably be a lot of dancing and hopping about as we pass each other and jostle for position at toilets, photocopiers and shared work terminals.  Fun at first but eventually tiring and frustrating when the novelty wears off for different people at different times.

I foresee much frustration and anger between those who maintain the need to isolate for their own sanity or the safety of their families at home and those who care less about the potential reoccurrence of the virus.  The latter presumably from the same pool of people we have witnessed crowding onto beaches and into parks in a desperate last minute ditch to get some sun because slightly recolouring their skin seems worth the risk to them and their families of dying whilst desperately coughing up a sickening disease.

Much the above is pretty much widely known or already considered.  What hasn’t been covered is the fact that our sustained absence from our colleagues may bring some unexpected problems.

I’m not referring to the potential issues of subconscious, petty jealousy or alternatively envy caused by the gradual returning of staff, between those who wanted to return early or those who didn’t, or couldn’t.  There will inevitably some of this going on and we should make allowances.

What I am concerned about is whether this period has actually made us forget about some critical things.

Already there will be a natural variance in speed that some people can reengage with their work but add in learning new practices and processes caused by renewed working arrangements we should be sympathetic to those who cannot get back into the swing as fast as others.

But before all that what about our personal greetings to those we haven’t seen daily for many weeks?  We are all used to going on holiday breaks for a few days or even a couple of weeks and returning to a barrage of ‘hellos’, ‘how are you doings’, ‘tell us about its’ and ‘at last you’re back there’s a pile of work awaiting yous’.  Now we have all shared the break together so these salutations will be even more intense.

There is, however, another thing to factor in.  Particularly if we work in large establishments or haven’t been working there long before all this blew up.  How good are you at remembering names?

This issue has troubled me for ages, long before this pandemic.  Each morning I greet about a dozen people before the novelty of the day has waned and because of the irregular first entry time into my main workplace these dozen people may differ.  For each of those greetings I use a mix of ‘hellos’, ‘good mornings’ and ‘how are you?s’ dependant on the duration of the meet.  And for good measure and politeness I add their name where possible.  It makes the salutation more personal and assists in human camaraderie.

The responses I get vary from enthusiastic greetings through polite acknowledgement to complete ignorance as if I am actually invisible.  This hurts but I have learnt not to be offended if I get no response because I cannot know what is consuming their inner thoughts at the time.  Plus with repeat offenders I think their rudeness is a personal trait burden that they themselves have to carry.

Another consideration here may be another issue that prevents civil response.  Embarrassment.  That is they do know you but at that point, or possibly always, they cannot for the life of them remember your name so turn away or ignore you as this is easier.

It happens to us all.  Just think of all the films and TV you see, recognising thousands of faces, what they do and have been in but you are unable to recall their name.  Just the same in your busy workplace.  You recognise virtually every face but can you name them all?  It is probably a natural human condition, a result of our long having eyesight and less developed period of vocal speech and in particular identity.

In practice at work it may be that you rarely meet, maybe have never spent time working closely together or even you were not there when they were marched round with the supervisor to be introduced.  It seems that there is a window of about two weeks when you get a chance to ask a newby their name, after that the question becomes psychologically difficult.

In theory you should never be embarrassed about making a ‘late’ introduction.  “Hey, we’ve known each other for three years now and do you know what, I don’t know your name.  What is it?”  Would you be offended if someone asked you this?  Even if you knew many small details about them.

Name badges help of course but not everyone wears these and as they are usually pinned on the chest it can feel awkward to attempt to stare at tiny fonts placed in that area on a woman.  And what sort of name is ‘Fruit of the Loom’ anyway?

The theory of name badges could assist though if we are prepared to rip up convention and adapt a novel approach to introductions.

What about the idea that when we offer salutation we should include our own moniker.

I shouldn’t greet you with the words “Hello Karen” but instead say “Hello Vince”.  After all I can always remember my name.  This does at first sound strange but will avoid any faux pas if your name is not Karen but was instead Bill.  Plus time will resolve the issue of strangeness.

The downside is getting universal acceptance of this change.  The upsides are that we are never embarrassed by forgetting a name again and constantly remind each other of our own identity, which can be as formal, informal or extravagant as we choose.

Maybe as we come out of this unprecedented period we could take the chance to make an unprecedented change for the better.

Author: Vince Poynter

This article was adapted from my website entry within the Blog section dated 24 May 2020
With apologies to all those key workers and staff that have had to work throughout this time and never experienced a furloughing.  I thank you all

Home Work

A MyDiary article from 27 Nov 2009

Today I am working from home.  No, really, I’m at home and working.  I’m not just messing about on my computer.  It’s real work.

I know it’s work because I have to open an Excel spreadsheet.  As usual, it is a complex, multi-formatted workbook with SUBTOTAL functions and my Mac’s pretty little spreadsheet, Numbers, does not seem to support these professional tools.

As a result I have had to install Sun’s VirtualBox which will allow me to load in my copy of Windows XP and the MS Office package on to my Mac.

I really do not want to do this, other than for the fascination, as it will be like fitting a Kia sunroof with ill fitting lock into my Jaguar.

The process involves adding Sun’s VirtualBox, Microsoft’s XP, the XP SP2 disc, MS Office 97 Suite [I can’t afford the extortionately priced upgrade, alright], adding AVG virus protection, then running several dozen Windows Updates, each of which wants to have its very own restart.

I will then be able to fire up the Excel sheet.

All of which is very time consuming and will mean I won’t be finishing early today.

Despite working from home.

Which I am.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog , Software and Worker sections of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 19 Jul 2018
First published on 27 Nov 2009

Well Executed

Extract from my blog from 29 Sep 2005

Well the 2.02 version of the site was launched with the usual lack of fanfare and ticker-tape.

Compiling a site like this is a thankless task.

However, I’m in it for the long run and recognise that all this early effort will, one day, be recognised and appreciated in the way that it has been designed.

First up I had to reconfigure this blog section so that there were useful links to my past blog sections.

Now I’m all properly set to mesmerise you with my blogging thoughts.  This blogging lark* will prove to be useful to my regular readers as it may be some time before the next proper update is compiled.

There are three reasons for this.

Firstly I am being reassigned at work [no, not gender-wise] and need to settle into my new role in a professional manner, secondly I always plan to update bi-monthly to give myself a reasonable target and finally, because I want my next update to raise the game significantly.  More on this later if it comes to pass.

One reason for my re-assignment is the imminent conclusion of a current task that I have been working on for a client.

The last job to be done is create an Executive Summary compiling all the raw data that I have produced over the last few months.

Whilst doing this I was moved to consider why they are called Executive Summaries.  Surely an Executive, having achieved such a high rank, must be able to absorb facts and data in a manner better than others.

Therefore the summation should be entitled Idiot Summary.  I feel the fact that it isn’t proves the real ability of Executives.

Finally, I read in the papers today that a firm has developed a tracksuit for that automatically monitors performance and provides instructions to the wearer about training regimes and performance.

This reminded me that my intelligent shoes idea is not so far fetched.

*Is that related to other Larks I wonder?

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 22 May 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 on 29 Sep 2005
The title photograph shows a screen grab from the vinceunlimited website, version 2.02. It was first added to the website in Version 3 on 29 Mar 2010

Remaining Unlimited

Continuation of the posting of early ‘blogs’ from the vinceunlimited website

Following a close friend’s change of job recently and his necessary formation of a limited company to serve the position I resurrected thoughts about my own position.

Professionally I work as a sole trader (self-employed) but could form a company to trade through just as many of my work colleagues do.  However a call to my accountant friend dispelled any myths about saving tax and threw doubt about the promises of limited liability.

This all meant that the novel company name I created yesterday was now redundant.  Shame.  It was surprisingly difficult thinking up a relevant, short and memorable name that was not previously registered in Companies House and could be purchased as a .com or .co.uk web address.

But I did manage it.

Well, did you expect otherwise?

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 25 Apr 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 on 20 Sep 2005

Disaster Into Opportunity

Continuation of the posting of early ‘blogs’ from the vinceunlimited website

Monday morning and the day is already living up to it’s reputation.

I travel through about eight sets of traffic lights in my short bicycle journey into the city and at least twelve of them were on red.

When I got to the office the lift was once more out of action and upon starting my computer I find the office network is down so I cannot get on with finishing the important task I started for my client, even though I have now just two weeks left to do the estimated twenty-days work.

So it seems I have just found time to get my September 2005 version of the site finalised.  It is important that this is done during the next fortnight as I am moving to a new assignment in October and do not know what facilities I will have to hand.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 24 Apr 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 on 19 Sep 2005

Word Minutes Template

Take a minute to read this

The thing with big software applications is that they are so well developed that they are often hard to fault.

Thousands of pounds and man-hours go into producing a top class product worthy of the fortune you have to spend on it.

Or rather thousands of dollars, because let’s face it. The yanks have got it all tied up.

So when I came across a need for an elementary layout in a powerful popular application I was surprised by its omission.

Microsoft Word ’97 doesn’t have a standard template for minutes.

How did this occur? Surely when they were beta testing the product they would have held meetings.

And minuted them.

Have I discovered a secret here? Do they use Lotus Ami-Pro in Seattle? We should be told.

By the way, I have created a template myself. If you need a copy, send me a request.

And if Bill Gates is reading this. Get in touch. You’ll find my hourly rate very reasonable. Compared to yours.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the ideas section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site Version 5.030 dated 4 Dec 2017
First Published: Version 1.00 in Oct 2003 and reproduced here in full, unedited
The image depicts a typical Windows XP desktop, taken by the author around November 2011 and was added in Version 5.030 1 Dec 2017.

 

The Dinger Show

You may have heard of Schrodinger and his pussy.  It wasn’t an actual cat of course but an imaginary one because potentially bad things are only allowed to happen to theoretical felines.  Schrodinger attempted to simplify the notion of a belief in something being in both one state and another by postulating that if you trapped a cat in a box containing a radioactive poison and then didn’t open it, at one point the cat would die.  But at any point up to then, because it is as yet unobserved, it may or may not have been an ex-cat and therefore must be considered during this period both dead and alive.

Schrodinger clearly didn’t use a dog because the actual time of canine demise would be marked by a sudden but obvious silence from all the previous barking and this would give the game away.  But Schrodinger assumes the cat wouldn’t meow.

Perhaps it should’ve been Scrodinger’s tortoise all along.

White cat on kerb
“Mrs Schrodinger, have you let that cat out again?”

Schrodinger did all this to help partly explain quantum mathematics.   Which is clearly unnecessary as we are obviously all familiar with those theories.   And partly because he fantasised about tabby torture.

But apart from explaining complex molecule movement we could apply his findings to business.  I suggest that any powerful business person, or engineer, or specialist may have a bit of Schrodinger about them.

When in such a position you are trusted, respected, admired.  And you have probably earned this air of actual belief.  Either through training, study or experience.  And it is easy to embrace these feelings.  However, if you have ever been in this position you will know that in truth the powerful often also have feelings of being a bit, shall we say incompetent.  A bit fraudulent even.

So are all Managers Schrodingers?  Discuss.

Schrödinger’s theorem states there only two possible outcomes.  So in conclusion you either understand what I’m saying or you don’t.

Or maybe both.  Or any combination in between.

Communist Capitalists

It has been widely reported today that by lunchtime [Wednesday 4 Jan] the average CEO had earned as much as an average yearly UK salary.

It is less reported that I will have earned as much as the average salary by August 12th.  Next year

So, how do I feel about this?  The CEO stat, not my situation.

This feeds partly into concerns over globalisation and the inequality of wealth that this supposedly fuels.  On this matter I am vehemently opposed but perhaps without the vehemence bit.

Generally, I think we should be happy with globalisation and all the benefits it brings our first world lifestyle but we should also be concerned about inequality of pay.  The sheer difference between the highest earners and me.

Maybe what we desire is to have communist companies in our capitalist world.

And on the matter of CEO remuneration I don’t think this is a problem.  They have probably worked hard and maybe risked all to be in their enviable position.  But they could have waited until Christmas dinner had been fully digested before earning what we do in the whole of our year.

Pod 014 Nine2Five

Welcome to another episode of my podcast.

In this episode Vince puns his way through a life of work.

Press play to hear the podcast.

This podcast has been produced by Vince on an iPhone using the Mobile Podcaster App. If you wish to receive this podcast series automatically subscribe in iTunes, where you can also add a review.

Pod 014 Nine2Five

Soul Trading

Contract or permanent, that is the question?
Whether ’tis nobler in the industry to suffer
the slings and arrows of outraged employees
Or take arms against a drying sea of Contracts

I apologise Mr Shakespeare but your soliloquy does help present a conundrum I have wrestled with lately.

Contract or permanent, that is the question? And I think the answer lies in time.

Often employees are subject to a three month trial. I’m not sure of the legal validity but it is common to hear this. So, if someone has lasted just three months in a company as an employee you may be entitled to ask why? On the other hand Contract work, being more ephemeral means three month assignments are more commonplace so the same suspicion may not arise.

However extend that duration to one year and there is real dilemma.

Consider first that this was a permanent position. A year as an employee initially suggests that the role was sufficiently carried out. The ‘three month trial period’ was easily surpassed so any failings would show well within this time but why just a year in a ‘permanent’ post? Questions of unfulfilled ambition and restlessness start to emerge and no one wants to waste money recruiting this attitude. Is there natural negativity here?

However, look at the exact same individual taking the exact same job on a Contract basis. This time any trail period was over in the first week and Contracts are usually job based so a whole year assignment suggests a successful conclusion. Here there is only a feeling of positivity.

So unless that employer is offering more than a year of work go Contract. And who can guarantee more than a year these days?

So permanent positions…

…by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

Smart

Does it pay to be smart?  If you are in the need of new staff you want the best don’t you?  You want someone who is smart.  Your business needs smart.  There’s enough dumb around and smart is better than stupid, right?  All positions are about risk and opportunity and if you hire smart the risk is reduced and the opportunity increased.  A smart manager will hire smart staff.  Don’t you agree?  Or maybe not?

You need to fill a role and you meet a really smart candidate.  This candidate will present great future opportunity and fantastically improve your business.  It’s a no brainier.  You want smart and here he is right in front of you.  All you have to do is make the offer.  But you hesitate.

You know there is a real downside to smart.  Firstly, smart is good, possibly too good for the role you have in mind.  Smart will soon become disenchanted and want to move on so you will have to hire all over again.  Or smart will move on taking all your company skills with them.  Nothing worse than having smart only for smart to get better and then move to the opposition.  Even worse smart may rise through the ranks.  You know smart rises to the top and between smart and the top is you.  If you’re not smart, smart may become you.  It takes a brave person indeed to hire someone smarter than they are.  Are you that brave?

All I can say is that I’m smart.  But don’t worry.  I’m not quite as smart as you.