Office Gods

I’ve made quite a discovery, of late. I’d always suspected it, of course, but a recent contretemps with my printer confirmed it. Office gods exist. I’m not talking about the individuals who have an inflated view of their own abilities, position or personal charisma, but more the Deities-who-have-oversight-of-all-offices. Those ones.

You’re skeptical? Think back a moment to the last time you had a deadline to meet. There you were, fingers flying over the keyboard, one eye on the clock, one eye on your text and your mind already on the holiday you were rushing to. With one important page to go and three anxious ‘save texts’ within two minutes, the system crashed and locked, leaving you with no paper copy and an arresting message on screen – ‘irreconcilable computer error on the disc’.

What about the time when you were rushing to print out the final copy of an important document. Poised over the printer watching the pages pop out, you found mysterious gaps down the printed pages. You stopped the machine, optimistically jiggled the toner cartridge and tried again with the same result. You were then told that what you had thought was new designer stationery – paper with pale, grey tones throughout – was instead the printer drum unit desperately trying to get your attention.

How was it when you knew, before beginning a-put-important-documents-together-in-binders-exercise, that there were reams of paper, binders and plenty of twine in the cupboard the day before, yet when you began the exercise the next day, half the supplies had vanished, without trace?

Have you found that on occasions such as these, you heard a muffled chuckle, building to a real chortle then thunderous laughter in your ears. Not your colleagues, no. Let me tell you – ‘twas the office Deity, getting their jollies for the day at your expense. Why? Because you failed to notice them, that’s why. You failed to give them regular attention. You failed to give them regular offerings, to keep them on your side.

So what can you do to stop their mischeviousness? Recall the universal principles:

  • if something is going to happen, it will – and only to you
  • tasks will inevitably take twice as long as expected
  • help probably won’t eventuate on the day you request it
  • the unexpected – and more – will undoubtedly happen when you least expect it
  • promises of delivery dates, arrival of technicians, availability of expert practitioners……….are likely to be just that……promises
  • the moment you plan to take leave, urgent tasks with critical deadlines magically appear
  • equipment or systems that work perfectly for others, won’t, for you

With those in mind then, the office gods will be appeased and less inclined towards making their presence felt if you offer them the following gifts:

Offering #1 – Planned maintenance. This may sound dreary but it involves determining a regular maintenance schedule for office equipment. It means reading those helpful manuals that will tell you what needs to be done to avoid problems and how to identify the distress symptoms the equipment will manifest, when its ignored, treated badly, overworked or overloaded. It also means educating staff in the proper use of equipment, the equipment’s distress symptoms and what to do when they first appear. It means identifying, at the outset, the technicians and repair places that can service each piece of equipment. It means allowing for maintenance and equipment replacement in your annual budget.

Offering #2 – Established systems. Not exactly rocket science, but it’s about establishing back up systems for files and documents. It means getting in reputable technicians to install your computer systems and new packages and avoiding the well intentioned, home enthusiast, self-proclaimed computer buff, altogether. It means establishing purchasing systems so you have enough (not too much or too little) stationery and other essential commodities on hand at any one time – and finding good, reliable suppliers.

Offering #3
– Hinderance Removal. This can be enormous fun – looking around your offices and identifying what hinders you in your work – things that if left unchecked, could become problematic. For example, does the existing equipment (phone system, computers, faxes, printers) suit the demand? What other equipment or resources might be required for the workloads, the numbers of staff? What about the current location of equipment – does it help or hinder staff, workflows? Would existing equipment pose any potential hazards? If something could go wrong, what could it be? Hint: ask the staff what they are ‘tolerating’ in the workplace.

Offering #4 – Good planning, resultant action. This means stopping to go faster – spending time preparing for projects or work-in-progress; allowing enough time to do what’s required and allowing time for the unexpected or delays. It means, as far as it’s possible, aiming to have a problem-free zone – by thinking about ‘what ifs’ and what can be done to avoid or minimise each one. It could mean bringing in additional people to cover peak times. It can mean buying in expertise or muscle when you need particular support i.e. reconnecting telephone or computer systems, shifting offices. It requires the realisation that you don’t need to do everything yourself; nor do you do everything with a No. 8 fence wire approach. What’s a better use of your time and a better use for the wire?

As sure as night follows day, problems will befall you if you can’t either identify, or choose to ignore, the early warning signs that your equipment, suppliers, systems or offices may be inadequate, overloaded or underdeveloped. Good planning, maintenance schedules, regular identification and removal of hinderances will help with the smooth running of the office. It will keep the office gods satisified and off your back – hopefully, onto someone elses!

First Published in NZ Business Nov 2000

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