As odd as this may seem, there was a time during my career when I did not have a computer on my desk. I do not know how I functioned without access to email or a virtual calendar to let me know when and where to show up for a meeting. I do recall, when I wanted a break, wandering the corridors of my workplace with my DARPA MIMIC coffee cup in hand, socially engaging my colleagues in hallway conversations. These days when I want a diversion, I deal a hand of Spider Solitaire, conveniently available on my computer.
The workplace model of support resources back then (such as administrative assistants, FAX machines, TWXs and hallway conversations) must have worked for me, as I was with Hughes Aircraft Company for many years. They even provided a reserved parking place with my name painted on the curb – although since Hughes was a hierarchal kind of company, my parking place was assigned many rows back from the premier spots. These days I work from my basement. My wife graciously suggested I could put my name at my stall in the garage if it will make me feel relevant.
Except for the workout outfit I wear, I sometimes feel like that person in the current television commercial: a well dressed executive-looking fellow sitting at a fancy desk exhorting the benefits of using FedEx to a polite delivery driver. Then what appears to be the New York skyline behind him starts opening like a garage door – because it is a garage door – and his wife is outside in a suburban driveway asking him to help with the groceries. Unlike the person in the commercial, I choose such moments to demonstrate to my wife the benefits of working from home. I stop what I am doing when I hear the garage door open and proactively help her carry in the groceries.
I am presently doing some work for a company that needs to identify a program manager, one to take over day-to-day administration of several programs they have for a novel microwave subsystem, supported by the Department of Defense. So, from the comfort of my basement, I have reached out to my LinkedIn “friends” asking if they or someone they know might be interested in taking a look at this position. I remind them I am not a headhunter, just performing a requested service on behalf of my client. I received several helpful replies from unexpected sources. But in these times of job insecurity, I was anticipating a more enthusiastic reaction.
For example, there was one from my former colleague Bill (in the spirit of discretion, not his real name), who piped up 21 days after my request went out. For someone who had gone to great lengths to attend one of my milestone birthday celebrations in Hawaii, and with whom I shared many rounds of golf, I expected a more timely response.
Bill and I were contemporaries at Hughes and on a similar upwardly mobile path. His angle of ascent was steeper than mine, so he got to remain in California while I took advantage of the opportunity to experience winter on the east coast, after Raytheon assimilated Hughes (like the Borg of Star Trek gobbles up alien civilizations).
To his credit, responding to me at least was on his “things to do” list, just not a top priority. In his email reply, he used phrases such as “it has been extremely hectic” and suggested we get together the next time he comes east (although he normally doesn’t stay very long), or words to that effect.
Motivated by feelings of melancholy for being out of touch with former colleagues, I realized that there is just no substitute for physically showing up. In the future, I may consider leaving the confines of my basement and conducting my personal networking in person. In Bill’s case, had I shown up in person, I might have encouraged him to separate himself from his hectic life by inviting him out to the golf course.
I reluctantly admit, today’s technology is enabling, especially since many of us were involved in bringing it to market. Tools such as Skype and GoToMeeting are efficient and useful. But they are no substitute for attending an IMS symposium or travelling to a customer’s facility to get to know them personally, over coffee and conversation. This is the way the world has worked for thousands of years, and no amount of technology innovation will change this human dynamic.
If you happen to know of any program managers looking for an engaging next assignment, I will appreciate your sending them in my direction. I promise I will be very responsive no matter the method they choose to communicate with me. And for those so inclined, I can imagine a round of golf in the mix, after all this snow is gone.