Friday, February 11, 2005

Structured Work Environment

I heard this term a few days ago. Evidently, it means a work environment with a lot of rules and restrictions (kind of like the one Norman proposed, I believe, last week). You know, the usual – strict hours, dress code. In fact, the place that I’ve been told about has a few of its own rules thrown in – no eating at your desk, no cell phones. This puzzles me. I mean, I probably wouldn’t want, say, a brain surgeon eating while he works, but this is a programming job we’re talking about! What's wrong with some innocent grazing while you're pounding on your keyboard?

To be honest, I’ve always been intrigued by different workplace rules. The interesting part is watching people find a way around them. I once worked at a place that had the “no eating at your desk” rule. Everybody was sneaking munchies out of their desk drawers and chewing on them frantically while sort of bending their heads low over their desks, as though deep in thought. I ruined my clothes once trying to eat a tomato from under my desk.

My first job in Russia had strict hours and punchcards. You had to punch in at 8:00AM and punch out at 5:12 PM. If you came in at 8:01, you got written up. You could, however, go out for lunch without having to punch in or out. You probably already see where I’m going with this. People used to give themselves an entire day off by walking out of the office at lunch break, going home, and coming back in after lunch on the next day. And they still had perfect attendance on paper. Another thing I remember about this job is that we had a curling iron in the office. Everybody would race into the building at eight, and spend the next hour doing their hair. That job has really undermined my faith in strict work hours.

I interviewed for a job at a large company once. That was in early ’00, when the norm for your typical IT department was a pool table in the lobby and a supply of beer in the fridge. The company that I interviewed for, however, had a “structured work environment”. I talked to the manager first. He assured me that it was no big deal, “try to dress nicely, try to come on time, no pressure”. Then he walked out and sent his senior programmer in to interview me, and apparently the programmer hadn’t been properly instructed, because he started spilling the beans right away. It was hysterical.

“Well, you probably know that we have a dress code. I’m not sure what the women are supposed to wear. For us guys, it’s a suit and a tie and a white shirt.

“Well, you probably know that we have strict hours. This means that you have to walk through the door at 8:00. If you come in at 8:01, you get stares”.

Thank you, dude – and I apologize for not remembering your name. I could have taken that job if it wasn’t for you!

On top of it, as I was leaving, I got into a conversation with the man at the front desk and he told me about the office premises being a non-smoking environment.

“We here have it easy,” he said, “at another company that I worked for, you couldn’t even go outside for a cigarette. If you came back and they smelled smoke on you, you could get fired”.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about the mysterious other company and the person whose job was to smell people as they were coming into the building. Do you need to have a strong sense of smell in order to get that job? What’s the job title? Are you supposed to just sniff in the general direction of a person as he or she walks by, or are you allowed to pull them over and smell them, dog-like? What if you have a cold and your nose is stuffed? Should I apply for this job when I no longer have the brainpower to write code? So many questions, so few answers.

Are there any strange, uncalled-for workplace rules that you’d like to share? Something from your old job or maybe something that your friends told you about? Don’t tell me about your current job, I don’t want to know (hey, I’m looking out for you here). Feel free to leave a comment here for my collection. Maybe one day I’ll start my own company and see what happens if I put all those rules in place! Now wouldn’t that be funny?

The Goldie has spoken at 5:34 PM

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