Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Observations from a Geezer in Management

Over the last few years, International business travel has become less fun, and in my opinion the parties responsible for this are Microsoft, Apple, and the other leading edge technology companies.

Time was when travel was an opportunity for business people to go incognito for a short while, at least while in transit to and from the destination meetings. For myself, anyway (since I have a strong contemplative nature that borders on the ani-social) a business trip offered a refreshing opportunity to go off the grid for a little while and temporarily drop the responsibility of bossing people around. There used to be a nice element of anonymity to business travel that made it a freeing experience for me, and undoubtedly for the people who have to work with me daily.

But these days there is really no such thing as being off-the-grid for most business travelers, and connectedness in the blu-tooth era is now so ingrained that there is virtually no difference between sitting in your own office with underlings 20 feet away and managing them from the back row of a sales conference 4,000 miles away in London.  We have already had two live-meeting video  teleconferences with the home office that are virtually indistinguishable from meetings held in person. Except for the time difference, there’s now not much difference between meetings where everybody sits in the room at the same time, and those where the attendees are in three separate continents.

More’s the pity. This kind of business culture might be good for business in the immediate sense: don’t all managers reward those people who slavishly  put in more hours than the job requires?  But I don’t think it’s particularly good for people and likely not really good for business in the longer term. My staff could undoubtedly use some relief from my constant participation, just as I could use a break from my own boss’s micromanagement.  Americans work a hell of a lot, and the impact of this obsession is not better results. We’d be better off, I think, if our business leaders used their weekends to get way from work and recharge with the goal of doing better work in fewer hours, and if they encouraged others to do likewise  More hours only rarely lead to more genuine productivity, after all. But like most good modern people in the private business world today,  I answered emails at 10:30 last night, and at 5:00 am  this morning.

For this entire morning I’ve been directing employees from afar via computer, signing contracts and approvals, and otherwise making myself a huge pest to staff members who, I imagine, were looking for a break from my meddling while I was gone. My email browser can tell me, in an instant, which of the employees are using their computers at any given moment. If I was being really diligent, I would be making some notes on which employees seem to be slacking off today.  Alas, in the modern business environment, the cat is never away, and the mice don’t get to play all that much.

I have told people, though, that I will be truly off the grid early next week when I travel north of London to visit another geezer (our esteemed and grumpy Professor) and his lovely wife.  Secretly, I hope the home office has some fun in those days when I’m not in touch, and perhaps take an extended lunch or two and leaves a little early if spring starts early in Minneapolis. I have to pretend to be sternly disapproving of this behavior, but quietly, it makes me smile with subversive approval.