A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week or so, but life has once again gotten in the way of my more enjoyable activities, as it often does… too often, if you ask me.  But hey, I’m back!  And I have a very important topic to discuss.  Lucky you!

Yes, I thought it was high time I addressed something increasingly pervasive throughout our culture. Many have turned a blind eye, allowing the behavior to go unchecked and spread like wildfire over cubicles across America. Perhaps you yourself have participated in this questionable behavior.

Office supply theft, an apparently growing threat to offices in the contiguous 48 states (Hey! Don’t question my stats!). What draws people to this life of crime? What inspires once upstanding citizens to don sticky fingers (probably using glue they stole from the paper room) and swipe those pencils and pads of “while you were out” paper? What is so enticing about having one’s own stapler at home that leads a person to shed dignity and morals?

If you’re still with me, nodding your head emphatically with the warm rush of vindication washing up your cheeks, you’re probably an office manager, owner, or someone in the higher echelon of office politics. You probably have keys to the oft-revered Office Supply Cabinet.

I get it. As a culture, we have decided that stealing is wrong, even if it is just a sharpie for your son’s science fair presentation. Employees will take anything from generic #2 pencils to fancy pink highlighters, staples (for that stapler they already made off with), to paper products like notebooks and steno pads. Employers have struggled to find ways to eradicate this pestilence, this plague of thievery from their buildings.

Many offices have taken to literally locking the supplies away. Close those cabinets. Bar the doors with adamantium. Sleep well at night knowing that the only way the pencils are leaving the safety of those office corridors is stuffed secretly in someone’s bag, one breakable graphite stick at a time. Whatever you do, keep those tape dispensers and sharpies safe!

Some offices have tried giving out pencils one at a time, like little reward nuggets one would give a pet rat. What happens if you’re taking notes in the middle of a very important meeting (assuming you haven’t upgraded to taking notes on your computer, I know a few of you are still out there) and your pencil breaks? Do you then raise your hand to stop the meeting and ask permission to retrieve another pencil from the cabinet?

I once heard of an office where people were required to trade in their old, used items before getting a new one. Workers would have to run that pencil down to the bitter nub, then find the keeper of the office supplies and graciously ask them to accept the offering. What was that moment of silence like just before they received their new item? Was it heavy with the possibility of a refusal? What then?

Some offices like to implement tier distribution, an arbitrary and political division of funds that relates directly to the quality of supplies. (C-suites get the best chairs, mailroom can have the metal stools). Who determines that budget? More important, how do I get on that committee?

These measures can lead to ridiculous situations like trading and bartering between employees (I’ll give you one half-used roll of tape for that box of mini paper clips). Feeling the forced scarcity of resources, other employees tend to hoard things like colored pens (why does everyone want the red pens!) and star-shaped post-it notes. Labels emblazon everything from calculators to staplers to tape dispensers to “the one good pen” as everyone marks their territory lest the item walk, never to be seen again.

Where does that leave us then? Sneaking around each other’s cubicles, trying to catch a glimpse of what someone is hiding behind their daughter’s framed cheerleading picture? Passing private notes back and forth looking for information on who’s got the line on the white-out?

Is office supply theft truly such a scar on the face of our office culture that supplies need to be held hostage and doled out like runny soup to prisoners (all hail Les Mis)? Or are the measures to protect the supplies really just a power game? Are all offices forced to contend with some variation of a misguided, ridiculously informed, over-committed Dwight Schrute? Should office workers, in retaliation of metered supplies, break those cabinet locks and liberate every stapler and tape dispenser, finding them a new home in a mold of Jell-O? I’m not sure it would be as humorous off-screen, but perhaps it’s worth a try. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be hilarious. Now wait a minute, I know I saw a coupon for Jell-O at the local Piggly Wiggly. Gotta go, I feel a nefarious project coming on!

The New Business Casual

Here in the U.S., we just hit an improbable milestone:  one year in quarantine. For those of us who had to adjust from office life to the work-from-home grind, it wasn’t easy at first. What even is the work day without an office? What about happy hour? What about lunch with my coworkers? What about happy hour? What about those gossip sessions by the water cooler? What about happy hour?

Well, I learned pretty quickly that I am just fine in my PJs all day. To be honest, I wonder why we don’t just go ahead and embrace the future and make pajamas the new business casual? When we hop on those Zoom meetings, we know damn well our coworkers are not in fact wearing pants. They threw on a shirt and the rest of the so-called outfit be damned.  Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. At this point, are we even sitting at our desks all day? Probably not. So, why don’t we get rid of the office altogether and work from home in our robes forever?

During the last year, a lot of businesses realized they could do just fine – or even better, without the office setting. Working remotely was always a good business model, it’s just that now the corporate powers that be are starting to appreciate it.  Working from home keeps employees happy and happy employees are loyal employees, and loyal employees are long-term employees. Allowing folks to work from home reduces overhead, ensures talent longevity (a cost savings in itself), and it’s surprisingly productive. Though, maybe not all that surprising after all.  Offices can be inefficient, productivity-killers, especially with old-school managers and their outdated management styles at the helm.

Maybe too, as the talent, we’re starting to realize we don’t have to tolerate the daily grind. Were you afraid to apply for that job across the country before? Well, now not only can you apply, but you might not even have to move. Working remotely has made workplaces more inclusive, and they can hire from anywhere. You’re also going to save a bunch of money if you continue to work remotely. No more commuting, buying business clothes or going out to lunch every day. No more ‘happy hour’ with those coworkers you hate, either. Okay, well, maybe we’ll keep the happy hour.

In the before times, many people spent at least an hour commuting to and from work. Not to mention getting up early to get ready to go into the office and face other human beings all day, every freakin’ day.  Spending less time preparing for and getting to the workplace gives us more time to do the actual work. And at the end of the day, it gives us more down time.

When you’re working remotely, your office can be anywhere. You can decorate it however you want, and when things become safe again, you can pack up those pajamas and hit the road for some travel without taking any time off. The world is your office when you’re working from home!

If you’re chomping at the bit to get back into the office, good for you. Working from home definitely isn’t for everyone.  For those of us who have embraced a life of robes and slippers with no commute, we hope work from home is here to stay.

An Open Letter

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Office Compatriots,

It’s been some time since I’ve delved into the riskier side of the fashion scene. Unfortunately, today was the day I decided to wade into the shallow end of the fashion faux pas kiddie pool. Oh, who am I kidding, I took a dive into the deep end.  It could be argued that I’m rebelling against the establishment.  A coup against good taste, one might say. But no. It was more just a dim moment of a girl, standing in front of a closet, desperately trying to find something clean to wear.

You see, I’ve forgotten that my *ahem* ample thighs and corduroy don’t mix and, together, they become quite symphonic. Though not in a good way, say like Pentatonix.  I wish. The only item of clothing I can think of that might be noisier would be an outfit fashioned entirely of SunChips bags. (I mean, honestly, have you tried opening a SunChips bag on the sly?  Not gonna happen.) But alas, all I have are my corduroys … and thighs.

And for someone who hates drawing attention to oneself, well, you can perhaps see my dilemma – and shame.  On a side note, the heat generated from the friction of these corduroy pants rubbing against my Rubenesque thighs could very well be the solution to the world’s renewable energy needs. I’ll have to study this further – or in other words, examine the rash at home later. For in addition to sketchy fashion decisions, there is a definite lack of talcum powder.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that unless I stand motionless in one corner of my office all day (à la Blair Witch) and never move (which is sort of creepy unless you’re really really into uber-eccentric performance art), I will be creating the sort of noise that slowly drives people insane. You know what I mean. Like hearing your child trying to slurp up the last bit of milkshake through a straw… over and over and over. You just want to yell… “It’s GONE! FFS!”  But you don’t. Because it’s your child. And that would be wrong. I’m hoping you have the same patience with me today. I may not be a child, but I do sometimes make the same bad decisions that result in a similarly irritating noise. **waving at my outfit**

I would offer noise-cancelling headphones, but those are hard to come by right now, because, you know, Christmas.  And COVID. Tech products remain elusive at best. The Sharper Image is sold out.  I checked.

Instead, all I can offer are my apologies and beg for your indulgence. Have no fear – that loud “VOOP VOOP VOOP VOOP” isn’t indicative of something terribly wrong with the heating system. Nor is it a ginormous itchy dog scuttling along the corridor… dragging his you know what.

It’s just me. In my corduroys.