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Tag: Work

Who’s afraid of the Four Day Work Week?

Here’s an enchanting idea. Being able to go to places open the same hours as I work. Being able to make appointments during weekdays. Not always trying to manage the rest of my life around the time I spend yelling at computers and bending them too my will.

If you’re a “full-time” employee, your work week is likely five days (if not more), and spans 40 hours (if not more). You might be paid by the hour, or you might be on salary, but you probably have two days “officially” off every week (although work might slide into those days) and they probably land on Saturday and Sunday.

Now imagine that your salary and benefits stayed the same, your responsibilities at work stayed the same, but everyone at your company only worked four days a week. Think about your current life, and the current make-up of your week, and what you usually have to smush into the weekend. What would you do with extra day off, every week of the year, for the rest of your working life?

Who’s Afraid of the Four Day Work Week? – by Anne Helen Petersen – Culture Study

When you have time away from work, you’re able to refresh yourself and return to work with renewed vigor and focus. I work in a white collar industry that involves computers all over the place. My job isn’t physical. I’m not moving, lifting, running, or carrying things around. Thought that can absolutely be part of a computer job. Technical Support isn’t just 1s and 0s.

My job is mental. It’s keeping systems and information flows in my head. It’s remembering how different variables work together within a greater system to perform tasks. It’s knowing where the limits exist. And a simple Yes/No answer could be the result of an hour of work researching and testing.

Time away from work to unwind my brain and let is breathe and focus on other things is vital to my performance. I dive deeply into hobbies because I need the break. I need the time to unwind and unstressed and build up reserves for another five days of 8 (or more) hour days diving into complex problems and stuffing flowcharts, settings, variables and options back into my head.

Findings from Iceland support this. I didn’t read the full report (PDF) but the same answer appears whenever experiments like this take place.

Worn down by long hours spent at work, the Icelandic workforce is often fatigued, which takes a toll on its productivity. In a vicious circle, this lower productivity ends up necessitating longer working days to ‘make up’ the lost output, lowering ‘per-hour productivity’ even further.

Sound familiar? Replace Icelandic in this sentence with United States and the same applies.

And we don’t even have any of the following (emphasis mine):

But if you don’t have time for an 82-page report, the highlights are as follows: Iceland has a strong social safety net, with low income inequality, significant parental leave, and a robust universal health care.

How many weeks have you really only worked four days? Slow Monday. Taking it easy from a rough weekend. Friday hits and you’re so exhausted you coast through the day counting the hours until the salvation of a too-short weekend arrives.

This is the principle at the heart of the four day week: working less can actually mean working better. That idea is particularly difficult for Americans, who fetishize long hours for many ideologically tangled reasons, to understand. It’s true in knowledge work, it’s true in medical fields, it’s true in construction. You’re just a better worker — a safer worker, a more creative worker, a more astute and alert worker — when you’re not exhausted.

There’s so much in this article to unpack. But it’s time to start thinking about how we work and why we work like we do. Work has expanded through technology to reach into your homes, vacations and every moment of our lives. Long commutes take more and more of our personal time out of our hands and place them into the realm of working hours. But aren’t counted as such.

As a society, we’ve repeatedly shifted our understanding of the “standard” work week. We’ve shifted — through union force, through governmental edict, through business leadership — when it’s made sense. When the work could be done in fewer hours, when employees demanded it for their own health, when societies realized the way things are doesn’t have to be the way things will be. And now is one of those times.

Anne Helen Petersen has quickly become one of my favorite writers and Who’s Afraid of the Four Day Work Week? is this week’s reason to keep loving her work.

One Year into Web Conferencing during a Pandemic

It. Has. Been. A. Year.

One year since I left the government contract I was supporting and took a job with an events company as a Web Conferencing Platforms Administrator. That basically means I make Webex and Zoom play nicely with our software platform.

Let’s set the stage.

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
March 2020.
Unsuspecting Carl leaves his last job supporting Webex/VTC/video streaming to accept a new position at an events company. The job is to oversee Webex and Zoom. Both keeping up on the changes across both platforms and how to improve the company's offerings using them with its own events management platform.

Within a month, the global pandemic has hit. I’ve been sent home to work remotely and I struggle to learn my job, learn the people I’m working with, learn what exactly the scope of my new role is and field questions coming at me from all angles about how and what and how many and do you think…

…all the while praying to the tech gods that Zoom and Webex stay up and running…

This past year has been a massive learning experience. Taking this job was the second hardest time I’ve had start a new job. But that’s a story for another time.

But how does Zoom look in different browsers and platforms?

I’ve been the entire world change from under me. I’ve seen the business reinvent itself and respond to requests and demands from all sides. I’ve seen the team I got hired into completely change. (I’m the only one left on the team from one year ago.) I’ve learned how to build a product. How to plan and write developer tickets and think about scope of work. I’ve learned scrum and agile processes. I’ve learned so many new terms and systems and ways of working I can’t even try to remember them all now.

It’s been a year. I’ve still never met in person many of the folks I work with everyday. I’ve largely worked remotely, living in instant messaging, Zoom meetings, and Webex meetings. I’ve stared at myself for countless hours trying to document specific functions or answer questions from our team.

I’ve learned how to not only read but interact with APIs. I can speak to Zoom and Webex fairly fluently. I’ve been reminded how I could never be a programmer, but can read bits of code and generally understand the parts of it.

The value of having a supportive, positive, encouraging team who unfailingly has your back as I have theirs cannot be overstated. It has been an absolutely exhausting year. But a challenging one full of failure, success and growth in all the right ways.

I could not be more proud of the work we’ve done and successes we’ve shared this past year. My timing could not have been worse but my decision could not have been better. The team that’s been built around me is unparalleled.

I work in a a positive, supportive environment. I joked this past week that we were working holding a Mutual Admiration Society because we’ve all been thankful for the work our teammates have done these past few months. But this week particularly, as things were coming to a head and crushing us all in different ways. The ability to ask for help and not only receive that help but no where is no risk taken in making that ask.

We’re here to learn together, fail together and succeed together. This has been the most stressful year of my life. I look back and it’s an absolute blur. Even now, it’s been nearly two months since it was a year. I wrote a short post on Linkedin around the actual anniversary to express my thanks to the team and the company.

March to March. And here we are on the cusp of May. Things haven’t slowed down, they’ve only changed. I’m still on a marathon. I’m still sprinting towards a never-ending finish line. But I’ve got good people with me. A phenomenal support network. The best friends I could ask for. And a marriage that has only grown stronger after this storm we weathered together.

I’ve grown extremely fond of Mourning Doves this year. We share a certain lack of preparation but determination.

Lessons from last year

  • It’s OK to say you’re wrong.
  • It’s OK to admit something failed.
  • It’s OK to start over when something doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes, the week of work you put in towards a project just doesn’t work in the end.
  • Document the failures and move on.
  • Take notes.
  • Save those notes in a place you can easily search later.
  • Give Future You a chance to see what Current You is thinking and working on.
  • Rely on your team and they will rely on you.
  • Give Praise.
  • Praise good work publicly. In front of others. Especially your manager.
  • Give Thanks.
Keep your hear up. Look around. Take a breath.

Reminders to myself

  • Nothing is as big a deal outside of your own head.
  • When you’re exhausted, everything feels worse.
  • Take breaks.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Step away from the computer.
  • Walk outside.
  • Breathe.

Zombie persistence

People said I did the impossible, but that’s wrong: I merely did something so boring that nobody else had been willing to do it.

Embrace the Grind – Jacob Kaplan-Moss

I was reminded this morning that much of technical support work is to continue trying something until it works.
“I rebooted already.”
Try it again.
“Now it works.”

My wife’s phone started booting in a loop this morning.
I held the power button down until it restarted and then it loaded properly.

I joked about it needing the hands of a seasoned technical support technician.
Likely, it just needed another reboot. More forceful than the last.

I thought about a recent post from Jacob Kaplan-Moss about Embracing the Grind. And I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a little bit. I thought it was going to be another missive about working hard and through hard work comes success.

And it was, but not in the way I expected.

I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic — works in tech too.

I think about that a lot. Especially in my early days starting out when I would have computers running disk scans to repair issues, trying to recover deleted files without backup, or scanning to remove malware. Sometimes it took multiple scans that would run for hours, sometimes overnight. But eventually I’d find success.

There is magic in hard work. But it doesn’t have to be 90 hour work weeks or 17 hour days. Sometimes just persistence. A little bit of effort over a long period of time. A mundane task slowly worked through.

This is the grind I embrace. The slow advance of a tireless zombie hoard. They’re not fast. They’re not hard working. But their determined. And in the event, their simple determination is what makes them dangerous.

Ninjas need not apply.

Looking for a Job? America’s Listings Are Inscrutable – The Atlantic

The result is the obnoxious state of the modern job listing, which is often short on details and long on silly demands.

I’ve seen listings for more years of experience in a technology than years the technology has existed.

More than ever, it seems, hiring managers are looking for extremists: You can’t just be willing to do the job. You must evince an all-consuming horniness for menial corporate tasks. In an American labor market where wages are stagnant and many workers feel their jobs seeping into their personal time, such demands only create even more anxiety and dread for Americans looking for a new gig.

Extremists don’t make for good team players. Which raises the final point.

In other words, few people seem to want to do the duties of a rock star if they’re not going to get paid like one.

If you’re looking for amazing, dedicated people, you need to reward them. Giving them less than market wages isn’t going to attract or retain them.

I’ve been in the market for a new job. I’ve been in the same place for three years under 5 separate companies and the contract I work on has expired and we’re working on an extension until a new contract is awarded. This is always a natural time to look around and see what else is out there in the market. I’m happy where I am, but I can always be happier. When I came across this article today I had to stop and read it. It is everything I see in ads today.

Even when they’re not filled with flowery language, which many of the DC-area government contracting jobs are not, they’re written so vaguely it’s often hard to determine exactly what sort of job it is. Is it a help desk? Would I be answering phones all day? Is it face-to-face support? Is it infrastructure support where I’d see more server rooms than people? It’s hard to determine if I’d even be qualified enough to attempt an interview since it’s hard to know what I would be doing and what would be expected of me.

There’s another trend of mentioning the need for an upper level security clearance at the very end of the job listing. After reading 3 pages of requirements, qualifications, a vague notion of exactly where you’ll be working, as I am ready to press Apply I notice I’d need a Top Secret security clearance. Not be clear-able, but to already have clearance.

Why bury that at the end of the ad? Put it at the top where you’ve placed the need for the applicant to be a US Citizen.

Modern job hunting is a minefield of guesswork and mistrust. I’ve asked many recruiters what government agency the position is for. And many of them are cagey about providing that information. In addition with a lack of trust, location has a huge amount to do with the length of the commute.

Is it in DC, Maryland or Virginia? Is it metro-accessible? If not, is there any parking available? From where I live, will it be 45 minutes? 90 minutes? More than that? These are all real concerns and even more real driving figures. Even metro can be an easy 60+ minute commute and that’s not counting any transfers in between.

Companies want dedicated rock stars to work for them forever. And they’re willing to pay wages fresh out of high school.

Employee Spotlight

It’s an honor to be nominated.

Last month I received an email from work I didn’t expect.

Hello,

An employee spotlight article in an upcoming edition of the FACT will spotlight you, and your career at the FDA. Please answer the following questions and include a picture of yourself to accompany the article. Since many of us work at home, or in separate locations it is always nice to get to know a little about our fellow coworkers. 

It asked a few questions about my for an upcoming employee spotlight for our newsletter. I responded with far more than they needed but I never know how much to write or what they’ll pick out to use.

Please describe what you do in your current role to support the FDA.

My current role at the FDA is a Rich Media Engineer. In short, that means I help support the WebEx, Video Teleconference, Streaming TV, and Cable TV at the FDA for the agency of 25,000 and anyone externally they interact with nationally and internationally.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

The biggest challenge I face in my role is information sharing and institutional knowledge. At FDA, information lives mostly in email and in various SharePoint silos where it quickly gets out of date and forgotten. When I worked at NIH when we had an enterprise wiki where all our knowledge lived. When something was out of date, it could be updated instantly, by anyone so we had a living set of accurate documents.

What do you enjoy most about your position?

I most enjoy the challenge of supporting a diverse set of collaboration and information tools. I like to educate customers about the technological options available to them and work with them to assure successful events.

What is your career history? Where have you worked before joining the FDA account; what did you do there?

I came from the quick printing industry where my father owned and operated a chain of stores called Copy General (based in Sterling, VA). I spent about a decade working in Desktop Support at NIH, The Atlantic Magazine, Honeywell, and the City of Richmond, VA. For the past 5 years I’ve worked in collaboration support, first at the Department of Labor, and currently at FDA.

Personal interests – What are your hobbies? Have you been on a recent vacation?

I enjoy walking around the local parks, my favorite being Lake Needwood. In my off-time, I like to tinker with technology toys, read (current favorites are John Scalzi and Jonathan Maberry) and play video games (current addition: Destiny 2).

What do you see from your office? Do you have a favorite place to visit in your area? Please include a picture with a description of what you are seeing “out your window” to accompany the article.

My office doesn’t have a window so a brick wall wouldn’t be interesting, so here’s a picture from my window when I work remote.

Education/Certifications?

I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Creative Advertising.

Where do you reside?

Rockville, MD

Family?

My wife is an Art Therapist running her practice in the DC area. My brother founded and runs Read The Docs, an open-source platform for documentation.

This is what they ended up using in the newsletter that went out to everyone.

Employee Spotlight: Carl Holscher

View from the building where I work at the FDA.
View from the hall window where I work at FDA (since I sit in a windowless room.)

Carl’s current role at the FDA is Rich Media Engineer. He helps support WebEx, Video Teleconferencing, Streaming TV, and Cable TV at the FDA; this includes providing support to anyone the FDA interacts with nationally and internationally. The biggest challenge he faces in his role is the process of information sharing and institutional knowledge. Carl states, “At the FDA, information lives mostly in email and in various SharePoint silos where it quickly gets out of date and forgotten”. The most enjoyable aspect of his role is the challenge of supporting a diverse set of collaborative and informative tools. Carl likes educating customers about the technological options available to them and works with them to assure successful events.

Carl came from the quick printing industry where his father owned and operated a chain of stores called Copy General (based in Sterling, VA). He spent about a decade working in Desktop Support at NIH, The Atlantic Magazine, Honeywell, and the City of Richmond, VA. For the past 5 years, he has worked in collaboration support, first at the Department of Labor, and currently at the FDA. Carl graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Creative Advertising.

When he is not in the office, Carl enjoys walking around local parks, his favorite being Lake Needwood. He also likes to tinker with technology toys, reading (his current favorite authors are John Scalzi and Jonathan Maberry) and playing video games (currently: Destiny 2). Carl resides in Rockville, MD.

The picture above is from his window when he works remotely. (This is where I forgot to update the text before I sent it. The picture is from FDA’s White Oak Campus, which I cannot see from my house.)

It was really nice to be selected (either at random or using some criteria I’ll never know. It’s nice to be recognized, even to have a little interview about yourself for your co-workers to get to know you better.