The following questions were submitted before the global health crisis — and yet the advice remains the same.
A little orange man can guide you out of this problem
Q: The firm for which I work as a receptionist and administrative assistant is the most civilized place on Earth. People apologize to desks if they accidentally run into them. It’s so quiet that when I once tried to sneak whipped cream into my coffee in the kitchen, someone out in the office said, “Busted!” I’ve lost 40% of my hearing over the years, and they still let me answer the phone. It’s a great place to work, but I do not have enough to do. I’ve organized everything there is to organize; I’ve deleted every obsolete file in a massive cleanup. I’ve cleaned the refrigerator, and I’ve let everyone know I’m available for any task no matter how boring or tedious. I am the only support staff. I want to stay, but I am losing my mind. How can I make this job bearable? — Nancy
A: The bad news: There is a chance you have maxed out your official duties — that you are doing already absolutely everything your boss would like or appreciate your doing.
The good news: The universe tends toward disorder. This is frightening for most people but an exhilarating lifelong challenge for the ultra-organized.
The whipped cream: Google Street View. Back to that in a flash.
Many workplaces enlist someone to staff a front desk not because they are inundated with calls and guests, but because they hope to convey the impression they might be. Having a receptionist suggests to outsiders that a company needs and can afford a receptionist; employees enjoy the actual benefits of a receptionist as a bonus.
With the right attitude, a sullen worker can drag out the most basic task so that it lasts until after lunch, at which point it’s time to begin the hourslong process of getting ready to go home. You, unfortunately, appear to be a considerate and efficient employee.
I will assume your office is currently closed. I hope very much it will reopen safely at some point not horrifically long from now and that your entire cohort of civilized co-workers will return to their quiet business. The first few weeks back will likely be filled with complex administrative and organizational needs. Our mission is to keep you personally occupied once things, touch wood, return to normal.
My friend once ran the headquarters of a large company. Her favorite receptionist was one who, between tasks, silently watched Netflix at her desk. Why was she her favorite? “Because,” my friend said, “it’s annoying to have to keep another employee busy.”
So whatever you do to fill your days cannot create more work for your boss, or your boss’s other employees. It also shouldn’t take you away from the phone for extended periods of time; dollars to doughnuts, you are the only person who isn’t afraid to answer it.
I have another friend (sorry for bragging), whose boring desk job ping-ponged his fragile psyche between misery and mania from the jump. Like your work, his involved a lot of downtime. I will tell you how he filled it, but first, a warning: If you start doing what I am about to describe, you will likely find it hard to stop.
Go to Google Maps on your computer. In the bottom right corner of the screen is a cartoon of a small orange man. Click him and drag him to a location on the map to replace the aerial view with eye-level images of that spot. Clickety-click around. Zoom out and pick a new area. Do this until the workday ends.
You have just lost hours exploring the world via Google Street View.
Google Street View is not exhaustive — Venezuela, for instance, has no coverage — but there are millions of photographed miles to examine. Some websites will generate a random Street View location for you: One click and you’re (haltingly) zooming along a lake in Norway. The service GeoGuessr makes panoramas a game, the object of which is to pinpoint the location on a world map using clues like street signs and environment.
Besides improving your knowledge of geography and killing time, my friend insists, this activity will enrich your world with cultural “color.” What’s that, you say? Budapest? Gosh, I hope so — because now, my friend says, “when someone mentions Budapest,” he has a rough idea of its architecture and topography, having spent hours wandering through the city via interactive photo panoramas.
If and when you tire of the world, ask your boss if you might coordinate a low-burden and/or tax-deductible volunteer opportunity, like a blood drive or a company meal donation to a local food bank or hospital. This will allow you to exercise your organizing muscles while making the company look good. After you’ve done that, reward yourself with several hours of Google Street View.
Incidentally, my friend who spent his work days viewing Earth’s streets from his computer eventually quit his job to backpack across Southeast Asia. Hopefully this option will again be viable in the future.
How can I convince a multinational corporation to hire my dog?
Q: I’ve seen conflicting reports about the pros and cons of dogs at work. What is your take on this topic? — Tim
A: I love dogs, which is why I would never force one to become the most disrespected, despised, wretched creature on God’s earth: a co-worker.
I urge you, particularly if you are feeling lonesome for your work social life, to remember how much you hate your colleagues. You can’t stand them, nor they you, and I have an inbox full of proof. Any time sadness strikes, you must recall that, when you are not forcibly and indefinitely separated from them, these people are a constant irritant. They take off their shoes. They slosh the ice in their cup around and refill it when it melts. (Doesn’t bother me, but some people hate it.) They bring their dogs to work even though their dogs are not well-behaved enough to go to work; if they were, they would already have jobs as professional film and TV dogs, and owners would be getting underfoot at dogs’ workplaces instead of the reverse.
Now that many dog owners are home all day every day, the world’s dogs know no peace. If and when you are able to return to work, please give your dogs a break from you. And legalize bodega cats. (They catch rats.)