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Don't Blame Me, I Just Work Here

Tuesday, July 03, 2007
As most of you surely know (or should know) by now, I work for a corporate behemoth that used to be a "technology" and "internet" company, and now is really a "media" company owned by MultiMegaBiggaCorp, Inc (MMBC). I'm one of the privileged several hundred fortunate enough to have been granted his own office near the cube farm, which saves me from having to "prairie dog" over the cube walls for a glimpse of the outside world (instead, I just can't glimpse the outside world). I suspect that I am grossly overpaid for what I do, which consists mostly of telling other people what to do and dodging phone calls so I can write blog entries.

Several months ago, our department was merged with another department. This was a merger of equals in which the other department lost both their leadership and half their staff. We lost our office space. All 30 or so of us were moved from Building Five to Building Four, Third Floor. "Restructuring" is a corporate word which means "$700 per employee paid to the moving company."

My old office was configured for someone two salary bands above mine, which meant that the extra desk in the office for the person who didn't inhabit it was removed and replaced with a small round table. MMBC must not realize that its executives don't spend most of their time huddling with teams in their expensive prison cells; they do business on the golf course. But the company corrected its "error" when moving me to Building Four, Third Floor. The new office had two desks, two sets of filing cabinets, two sets of overhead bins (really: we have overhead bins), and (I swear I'm not making this up) two sets of wastebaskets -- a black one for trash and a blue one for recycling.

I've seen the cleaning crew empty both bins into the same large trash can.

A recent trick of corporate architecture is to use modular furniture. Office cubicles, and even entire walls, can be "constructed" more or less overnight out of pre-manufactured panels and interlocking posts. It's sort of like Tinker Toys for MMBC executives. A few days before the office move, I was assigned a new office number (a borg-like designation, like Seven of Nine), and I decided to check out the new office, knowing it would be just like every other office in the MMBC cube farm.

It didn't exist. There was a double row of cubes (two rows of three cubes each) where the office was supposed to be. Facilities assured me they'd be tearing down the cubes and building offices.

Indeed, the following Monday my colleagues arrived in their new offices and began the process of discovering everything wrong with them. I showed up at an office in Mumbai, India, where I spent the next two weeks on business. When I finally returned to MMBC Building Four, Third Floor, I discovered:
  1. All of my stuff had reached the right office.
  2. The office door was locked.
  3. I did not have a key.

This was okay, because MMBC offices, although they lock securely, are made from modular panels and interlocking posts. It is trivial to remove an outer panel, pop open an inner panel, reach through, and open the securely locked door. Both panels can be replaced, leaving the illusion that you had the key all the time. No tools of any kind are required: just pull, push, and open. I love corporate security.

Once in the office, I discovered numerous problems. There were no overhead lights. That meant it was fairly dark, but not so dark that I couldn't immediately see the next problem: one wall did not reach all the way to the ceiling. I also saw the root cause of that problem; the wall was situated directly below a sprinkler head, meaning that in the event of a fire, both my office and the one next to it would be exactly half as wet as it should be. Despite the missing wall, it seemed unusually stuffy in the office; this was because there was no ventilation. Maybe it was a good thing the wall didn't reach the ceiling.

No light, no air, 3.9 out of 4 walls, and 50% of the required fire protection. Oh yeah: the bulletin board was a solid aluminum panel, completely impervious to both magnets and push pins. As sort of a consolation prize, however, two of my file cabinets were completely filled, top to bottom, with someone else's paperwork, mostly printed out e-mails directing a particular contractor to perform some task or other. There was no way to determine whose papers they had been, but MMBC Facilities indicated they had no need of them, and I could dispose of them according to MMBC Document Retention policies. They went in the shredder bin.

It took several weeks, but eventually the facilities crews worked out all of the remaining issues. To their credit, every person who showed up to fix something in the office shook his head in disgust and said, "I can't believe they did it like this in the first place." To celebrate the correction of the very last problem in my office, I received a present from management.

It was an eviction notice. Our department had been advised that we would be moving, in less than a week, to Building Four, Fifth Floor. We had been moved to our present locations less than three months prior.

In case you thought this anecdote had reached some sort of crazy climax, let me assure you that all this is really just background for the truly bizarre portion of this story. I swear, I am not making up what I found out next.

You see, we were being moved from the Third Floor to the Fifth Floor. Each floor has two sides, "A" and "B", and generally we abbreviate locations using building-floor-side codes such as 43A for Building Four, Third Floor, Side A. We were moving from 43A to 45A. As it happens, there were already people on 45A, and to make way for us they were being moved to 44A. There were already people on 44A, and we understood that those people were moving to 44B. There were already people on 44B, and they would have to move to make room for the new folks, so they were moved to 43A.

Yes: we were moved to make way for the people who were moved to make way for the people who were moving to make way for the people who were moving to make way for us. Did I mention the rumor mill suggested these moves cost MMBC $700 apiece?

Remembering all the problems that happened in the last move, I decided to check out my new office and make a punch list in advance. I found that, a day before the scheduled move, the new office was still occupied. A quick conversation with the current tenant revealed that a) the office was in great shape, and had an ample light, air, water, and structure, and b) my 45A coworker hadn't been notified he'd be moving. I suggested that he check with his management chain on the details. He assured me that it wouldn't be a big deal, since he really just had his laptop to be moved. Then I went back downstairs, packed up my things, and went home to hope for the best.

When I returned to the office the following Monday, all of my stuff was in the new office (good), as was a bunch of stuff that wasn't mine (bad), including the other guy's laptop docking station and his Hawaiian shirt. The filing cabinets were filled with papers and office supplies. Two overhead bins were locked, and no key was available. One filing cabinet had a key broken off in the lock.

I called facilities, and they agreed to send someone to remove the computer. The rest was this other guy's problem. The next day, I sent him e-mail asking him to retrieve his things; he said he'd be back in the office the next day, and would take care of it then. In the afternoon the following day (Wednesday), I returned from a meeting to find the Hawaiian shirt missing. The filing cabinets were still full. I wrote him some more e-mail.

Perhaps I should have been more specific. I wrote, "Did you get everything you needed?" and then left the office. I was out Thursday and Friday, and got his "Sure did" response the following Monday.

The filing cabinets were still full. If you are reading this and getting that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, good for you. If not, it means I really have to work on my foreshadowing skills.

I let the rest of the week go by without unpacking my boxes: where would it all go? But I resolved that the following week I would go through all the papers, and handle them according to MultiMegaBiggaCorp, Inc. Document Retention policies. Monday and Tuesday were busy, but Wednesday morning, I opened up the first filing cabinet and began to review the contents.

First, the office supplies: there were seven (7!!!) staplers (but no staples) and two tape dispensers (but no tape). Both went back to the common supply closet. Then there were manuals from 1996 for software that had been defunct since 2003. In fact, this accounted for almost everything in the drawer aside from a few photos of a house I didn't recognize, a CD, two 3.5" floppy disks, a half-eaten package of rice cakes, a coffee mug filled with change, and three different sets of hands-free "earbud" devices for cellular phones, along with other trinkets, chachkes, and assorted knick-knackery.

Much of it went in the trash. The papers all went in the shredder bin. I left the change, and a few other items, and resolved to splurge at the vending machines later in the day. All that remained were the mysterious contents of two overhead bins, which had been locked for more than two weeks. It was time to call facilities. When I did, they said they'd send someone right up to unlock them.

An hour later, a man arrived at my door. He looked confused. I asked him if he was here to unlock the overhead bins, and he stared at me for a moment.

Then he asked, "Where's all my stuff?"

That's when it hit me: my new office had not one, but two former occupants; one of which had only a laptop and a Hawaiian shirt, but the other had cabinets and bins full of papers, office supplies, and bric-a-brac. The guy I had met hadn't said anything about this, but clearly his office-mate had been on vacation (and in the U.S., 2-week vacations are not common). It would later occur to me to look up these people in the MMBC Enterprise Phone Book, where I would discover that they both worked for the same person, the manager who hadn't told his people they were moving (probably because he himself had not been told) and who then did not (or was not able to) look after all the stuff belonging to the guy who worked for him, and was on vacation during the move, and had returned after more than two weeks away and was now standing in front of me, blinking, and asking,

"Where's all my stuff?"

I swallowed and said, "You're going to hate me. I threw it out."

Of course I had to inform my management that I had thrown out someone else's stuff, and then I had to inform MMBC Facilities of what had happened. I have not heard back from either of the former two occupants of my office, but two weeks later, I received an envelope from Facilities. Inside was a ticket good for a free meal at the MMBC Cafeteria, with a yellow sticky-note thanking me for my "patience during the recent move." There was a cute smiley-face drawn on the lower right-hand corner of the note. As a finishing touch, I discovered that the mail room had misspelled my first name. I usually spell it S-C-O-T-T. They spelled it G-E-O-R-G-E.

Upper management is now talking about a re-organization plan. I can't wait to see my new office!

9 comments:

  1. Mrs. B said...

    Holy crap.

    7:13 PM  

  2. Matt said...

    Abandon ship.

    1:15 PM  

  3. Raphael Alexander said...

    God this post is frikkin sweet!

    6:43 PM  

  4. Anonymous said...

    Hilarious, but sadly familiar....

    6:58 AM  

  5. Tina said...

    At least you *have* a mailbox. The rest of us who moved to the same floor at the same time were not quite so lucky, although it's not like I ever get any mail other than the MMBC (I like that!) newsletter thing (which rarely if ever has anything about our part of the company) and the gym calendar.

    10:16 AM  

  6. Meghan said...

    haha - I so needed a good laugh. That did the job :)

    12:09 PM  

  7. The Maharaja said...

    Best Post Ever!

    12:58 PM  

  8. Mrs. B said...

    We need some kind of blogging hall of fame.

    6:38 PM  

  9. Rob said...

    That was fantastic. Tell George next time he should remember to fill out his Form 27(stroke)B.

    1:25 PM  

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