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Work won’t love you back

10 Mar

Abstract of what is on my mind: work is transactional by nature, excellent connections with coworkers are precious (I am fortunate to have many). Now, the companies that consider their work force “family” puzzle me. This is not exactly the case where I work (or is it?), BUT we are in a setting that is pretty conducive to it, AND after 27 years, this is going to change –in less than a year. SO I really wonder what that change will do to the current equilibrium (I’m pretty sure it’s going to put it to the test).


This stemmed from my browsing The Twitters yesterday. I read Kevin‘s tweet (screenshot and link underneath). He wrote “work won’t love you back.” And as much as I’ve loved the people I’ve worked with, it’s always turned to be correct.

He was quoting another Twitter thread (screenshot and link underneath) where I read “it’s so emotionally damaging when companies self-style their workers as “family”. you can have deep emotional connections with your coworkers, if you’re lucky, but don’t forget that work relationships are fundamentally transactional. i hope your family is not.

Tweet by Kevin pointing out that work won’t love you back
The tweets that Kevin quoted, referring to work as family but also as being a transaction

I don’t consider my workplace to be like family and we aren’t self-styled as such either. But, work is very central in my life: every other week I spend most of my waking time at work (the other week, I am solo parent of a teenager).

Firstly, I am fortunate to have very deep emotional connections with many of my coworkers, a few of which I even regard as father figures, many of which are true models for me, most of which I respect tremendously. Secondly, we have very little turnover. I’ve worked there for over 22 years and many current colleagues were already in the team when I joined. And we welcome newcomers, not as siblings, but with similar care and attention to their success. As though we have a stake in it –and we do, yes. Thirdly, we get together (we used to, pre-COVID at least) every now and then and those occasions are always enjoyable and looked forward to by most. Yes, like any other workplaces, there are difficult people who get along with fewer people or are not interested in making any connections at all. That’s my description of our unusual work environment. In fact, I remember how I described it to my mum a few years into it: like summer camp where you make new great friends and do exciting stuff, but all year-round.

Now, our administrative setup allows us to do our work without a whole lot of competition, without too many frustrations, because we are employed by four different institutions that legally “host” our consortium, and in most of our cases, the people who employ us are not those we take work orders from. I think that makes a world of a difference.


Change is coming. The Hosts arrangement, in place from the start in 1994, has enough drawbacks that for a few years now we have been exploring how to become our own legal entity. This is set to happen on January 1, 2022. When it does, the consortium will have its own bank account, legal and fiduciary obligations, and traditional management powers that we currently do not fully have.

The dynamics are bound to change. While today I (and many others in the team) are moved by the sheer impact our work has on society (HTML –heard of it? CSS, Web accessibility, Internationalization, etc. We are the little known consortium that makes the Web work, for everyone) and the Hosts that employ us provide the best abstraction to shield us from the reality of the transactional nature of work, this is going to hit us in the face like the train crashing Dr. Woodward’s truck in the movie Super 8!

There is a lot on our plates and most of us overwork because it’s really worth it! I remind myself on occasion that work won’t love me back but once we are truly as valuable as our ability to make the company money, I wonder how the care will fare.

Pranking

29 Jan

This week was a good week. I engineered a prank at work that brought much fun and entertainment, and made that week even better. A prank in 3 acts.

Act 1

We use Zoom for our meetings and when I noticed, just as I was leaving at the end of a meeting, that a colleague of mine wasn’t at his desk, I thought I just had missed an opportunity to take a screenshot of his room without him, and later use it as my own background image and see his face as he realized!

So I went back, found his room still empty and quickly took a screenshot. I was in the process of making my window bigger to take a better screenshot when he showed up. Uh oh! “Oh, you were waiting for me to return?,” he asked. I couldn’t quickly enough come up with a good excuse for the probably guilty look on my face, so I just fessed up. Good laugh was had. And see you next time, wink wink!

The next thing I did was to quickly edit out his name from the bottom left part of the screenshot. I saved the photo somewhere I could open it on my iPhone and used the “healing” tool of Snapseed (my favourite —and free— image edition software on smartphone), which basically redraws an area of your choice using its surrounding. Then I adjusted a bit the sharpness and reduced the noise to get the best out of that pretty small screenshot.

Then I tested it as my own Zoom virtual background 👌and gave him a preview.

A glimpse of the result

Act 2

I wrote to everyone-but-him in the team who usually attends our weekly all-hands meeting (which was the next day) and shared my “work” and the context, offering them to join me in escalating the prank, since I had been made.

And it turned out so so much better this way.

Response was high. But then, who isn’t in for a bit of harmless fun? Especially when it’s so easy to set up.

Someone had suggested some particular timing: our colleague usually gets to speak early in the meeting and that was going to be our cue to all switch to our virtual background of his soon-worldwide-office.

Act 3

The meeting started as usual and people, who were a bit more numerous than habitual, kept a very straight face. Our colleague was called to speak and most of the tiles in the gallery instantly changed!

Escalated prank

Everyone yielded to the smiles that had been suppressed and for a few moments none of us heard him. We were too focused on awaiting his reaction. And yet, he continued to talk, unaware, for a few seconds until wrapping up. At the exact moment he briefly paused, hesitated, apparently lost track of his thought and then finished his word, we knew he was finally looking at his screen and he was confused.

Mischief managed!

He was not expecting that, to our delight! Hearing his heartfelt laugh was such a reward. Another bonus was seeing a number of colleagues who usually don’t start their video in meetings. I enjoyed immensely seeing a whole room of smiling people.

The weirdest first day of vacation

22 Oct
Memoji: hmmm, weird

“Yes, I’ll be working a bit on the project while I’m off because I really dig it!”

Me, massively underestimating “a bit”
In this write-up, I’m attempting the epistolary narrative style that I remember enjoying from Stephen Chbosky’s excellent novel “The perks of being a wallflower”

Dear diary, I slept in this morning \o/, got up and drank two or three cups of espresso while I lazily browsed social media and played a few games on my smartphone. I did yoga a bit before noon, showered, and got ready for the rest of my first day of vacation.

I ate a light lunch standing up in the kitchen as I was transplanting the ferns I collected last Sunday near the lake.

As I pondered which subject I was going to draw later in the day as part of Inktober, I also pondered the oddity of my Apple Watch not recongnising as “stood” the good chunk of the previous hour that I had spent, well… standing. I certainly had been “moving a little” on the account of transplanting ferns not being the kind of activity you can engage in by being immobile.

A quick time-check led me to my desk. I had just enough time to publish a press release.

Memoji: type, type, type

I drank more espresso, took the dog out for a walk and by then I had a pretty good idea what I was going to draw. I returned to my desk again for a one-hour meeting that lasted three hours /o\ That’s the first massive underestimation of how much time to block for that project (the W3C website redesign).

My brother showed up during my call (much earlier than I anticipated) and as he didn’t have his keys he tried to FaceTime me. I rejected the call, texted him that I was in a meeting, but he responded by texting me that he was outside. So I ran downstairs to let him in, ran back up and continued with my colleagues.

The doorbell rang not too long after. I apologised to my colleagues and ran downstairs and outside to pick up a delivery that I expected tomorrow. I dropped the unopened package on the dining table and as I headed back upstairs to my computer, I smiled at my brother. By then he was taking all the space on the sofa, which was fine because the cat doesn’t like the sofa that much.

My valiant colleagues and I had been at it for what seemed like days, and I was sheepishly aware that each of them had other fish to fry, and yet nobody else was better positioned than them/us to do what we needed to do. Time was passing and it was food o’clock in all of our time zones.

Memoji; Ooops!

We were done. Rather suddenly —It was the strangest thing! It seemed only moments before that we had gone through two thirds of the exercise and I was agonising (out of shame because I was getting way more of their time than was bargained for, and because my brother was waiting on me downstairs.) The completion of our task took us all by surprise! As I quickly thankologised profusely to them, one of my colleagues quipped that he was almost late for second breakfast, another enquired how many breakfasts there were and whether several lunches followed and how many, and the third colleague really looked like he wanted to put on more work! So my finger lunged for the Zoom button that ended the meeting for all.

It was 8 o’clock. I was thinking that working the equivalent of a half-day during my vacation wasn’t too bad from the point of view of my employer, and I wondered if I had missed the time before which I could still go back on how many days I was really taking.

Memoji: Heh!

My brother wanted me to try a particular wine that he likes very much. Opening my package made me happy: my favourite fragrance arrived in two versions: regular and “body mist.” My brother’s wine was very good, he’s right. We sipped it and ate guacamole and chips while the oven heated. I made a nice dinner that didn’t take long to prepare, and we both enjoyed it.

Soon enough we were on the sofa, me drinking espresso and him drinking tea; each talking to each other with interest, him about why some stuff changed at his workplace and me suggesting further areas of optimisation (he will at least explore one idea.) I stood up a few times and “moved a little”, as commanded by my smart watch. He doesn’t mind, he doesn’t think I’m weird.

I grabbed my art book, pencil and ink pen a bit before 11 o’clock. Today’s Inktober prompt is “sleep” and I was going to draw a newborn sleeping next to his daddy’s chest. My brother commented that the photo I used as reference was too detailed, and he may be right, but I had a good feeling about it and told him I was trying a minute or two before giving up. My feeling was indeed very good, and my brother was surprised when I was finished, because I finished earlier than he anticipated, and the drawing was pretty good.

Eventually, my brother left. It was 2 am. We had spent a lovely evening together. It had been a nice break from work but I was keen on finishing where I left off, out of duty because of the timeline that was agreed on.

The time tracker on my computer started logging a new day at 5 am. I was done right after 6. Whew! This was the second massive underestimation of how much time to block for that project. But now the people we work with can do their part and hopefully we will all meet the deadline in two days.

Memoji: Wheee!

As I stood at my window, sipping espresso and watching the sky going from really dark to some sort of hesitant but unmistakable glow, I observed that had I not missed the time before which I could go back on how much holiday I was really taking, it’s a whole day of vacation I could have written off.

A bitter pill to swallow

24 Jun

I was prepared for a meeting where hearing a man saying the same things I said would suffice (and it may have), but I wasn’t prepared to hear that in spite of being the project manager, I would need to be trained if I were to act as interface with new people. Like I haven’t been interfacing so far, and a particular group would need a different kind of interfacing? So I’ve been wearing my cranky pants for a couple of days. There’s a dent in my motivation and mostly I’ve been feeling worthless since.

sad faced person at desk but not working
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