Welcome to the Real World

This is the time of year when college grads hit the pavement looking for that first great job. Remember when you did it? You were full of hope, full of promise. The reality is that companies are slashing jobs, and people are tense — very tense. Instead of worrying about your grade-point averages and your major, learn how to get along in an office setting.

Here is one man’s advice on how to get along in any office, anywhere in the world:

  1. The organizational chart and the real chart. Every office has an organizational chart. It usually bears no resemblance to who actually gets things done. What affects your life more: when the CEO is out of the country or when Jake, the office geek who can fix computers like MacGyver, takes a long lunch? Learn who the really important people are in your company, and be very, very nice to them.

  2. Friday afternoon is not the time for an important meeting. If you have something important to discuss on Friday afternoon, sleep on it. It can probably wait until Monday. The world is divided into morning people and night people, but absolutely nobody is a Friday-afternoon person.

  3. Rock on. I work within eight feet of nine other people. We all respect one another’s airwaves. If you love blasting Mozart but your cube neighbor thinks The Offspring really rock, you’ve got a problem. The solution is simple: Get headphones.

  4. Java and the refrigerator. No, it’s not the next “Star Wars” movie… Do you have a community kitchen in your office? Sure you do. Do you pour yourself some coffee and then leave one-sixteenth of an inch in the bottom of the coffee pot? You know who you are. We had that problem here. We installed highly sensitive motion-detector cameras linked to a special “lazy coffee person” room at the CIA. We caught the offender and had a public flogging. It never happened again. Is this a huge problem in the grand scheme of things? No, but if you’re going to be part of a community, pitch in. Your mother doesn’t clean up after you at work.

  5. Are you a TiMMY? Every office has at least one. It’s an acronym that translates to Too Much Mindless Yakking. TiMMYs can’t wait to tell you every morbid detail of a mole removal or a bridal shower for someone you’ve never met, or to show you 433 pictures of their cat mauling a skein of yarn. Here’s how to tell if you’re a TiMMY: When you approach, do people suddenly get really busy? Do they check to see if the hands on their watches are actually moving? If you suffer from TiMMYitis, please get a hobby. Quickly.

  6. I’ve got a great idea: Let’s have a meeting. I once worked at a company where I had 36 hours per week of scheduled meetings. That is not an exaggerated number to make your jaw drop; it’s the real figure. (Now your jaw can drop.) Here are some quick tips to make meetings more productive:

    • Only invite people who have a direct effect on the topic being discussed. There is a company that makes a Meeting Cost Calculator. The first person enters her salary into the calculator, hits Clear, passes the calculator to the next person, and so on. It calculates the amount of money your little meeting is costing the company. It can be truly shocking.

    • What’s your agenda? Send out an agenda at least one day before the meeting. A lot of times, you’ll realize that you don’t have much to talk about and can accomplish more with casual conversations.

    • Start at a slightly strange time. Do you have that one chronically late person who rushes in 10 minutes late for every meeting? Try starting a meeting at eight minutes after the hour. It’s such a strange starting time that people might pay attention and be there.

    • Dealing with latecomers. Someone is late because of one of the following: The person has legitimate business reasons, or the person is rude. If the latecomer falls into the latter category, you can simply lock the door once the meeting starts. Once he realizes that you’re serious about starting on time, punctuality will increase. Do not reiterate everything if someone comes in late. It’s his problem, not that of everyone who showed up on time. Just tell this person to contact you after the meeting to find out what he missed.

  7. Your personal life is just that: personal. With personal workspace shrinking, it’s very difficult to have a private conversation with a loved one at work. Do us all a favor: Fight over the bills and make kissy noises and other nauseating sounds where nobody else can hear them. It’s hard to not listen to someone’s three-year-engagement breakup over the phone.

  8. Don’t lose touch. Email has made it too easy to be lazy. I’ve even emailed the person who sits next to me because I didn’t want to turn around. I’m as guilty as anyone. Let’s not get too deep into the habit of depersonalizing communication. You can get more work done by talking with people face-to-face than by sending impersonal emails. It’s hard to detect tone and inflections through an email. And, with a conversation, there’s nothing written down!

Being a member of an office is just like being a member of any other community. There are unwritten rules that help us get along better and reduce the tension.

Hey, if you want to hear about my son’s birthday party, drop me a line. I’ve got pictures, and I even saved the Barney cake decoration. Nobody here wants to hear any more about it…

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