Support, virtually…

When you work remotely, especially overseas, long enough your sixth sense for corporate danger becomes heightened. You learn that the “ding” of an incoming email on your blackberry takes on a subtle menace at certain times of the day. Here in Singapore that witching hour is about 7pm… It’s too late locally and  too early back in the home office for it to be anything other than a problem.  To the uninitiated the timing could seem to indicate that the email isn’t actually the harbinger of wasted time and corporate political hell, but instead is just some miscellaneous note that someone forget to send earlier. After all, if it was really important, they would have called, right? … right?

No. Quite the opposite. The absence of a call to accompany that evil evening chime indicates the sender has pulled a classic dump and run. No one sends innocuous emails after hours, because lets face it, no one loves being at the office so much that they are willing to delay the gratification of a post work beer just to send you the latest viral video. Whoever sent the mail was handed something truly awful and has succeeded in removing themselves from the circuit while showing just how hard working they were by taking the time after-hours to respond to the problem by dumping it on someone else.

The real-world example: This little gem which looks innocuous enough at first glance, but has more warning signs than an electric shaver meant for use in the shower. It was brilliantly timed – sent late in the day from the US to colleagues in London in Singapore – it arrived late night for the Brit and in the wee hours of the morning for me, giving the sender maximum time to dodge and avoid having to do any real work himself.

The thread runs something like this (with certain sections redacted or edited to protect the innocent):

Initiator to Initial Target:

Dear Schmuck: I have been tracking pending installations for these systems but I am lacking detailed information.  Would you have the details for the following sites that I have on my list?  I’m looking for the number of XXXX, the XXXXXX type and installation date.  Also, are you aware of any others that are not on my list? (list of installations suggested by Initiator withheld, mostly because he misspelled half of the customer names, mislabeled others, and was clearly on shrooms when he suggested the rest of them)

Kindest regards,

Duck Dodger

And continues in this reply from the Initial Target with cc: to Deflected Targets:

Dear Sneaky Bastard: I am copying the field guys responsible for these deals in EMEA and APJ.  I understand the detail at a high-level, but they stay on top of these daily so they would understand the latest info if a schedule pushed etc.

Sleeping Unwitting Fools, Can you please look at Duck’s email and respond with details on your respective deals?  Also, if you are working any large deals not on the list please add them.

Lovingly,

Nobody’s Schmuck

Like I said, it all seems innocent enough… if you didn’t know better you might just blithely reply not thinking a thing for the troubles you are setting up for yourself. And then the trap is set. You’ve tacitly agreed to be Duck’s bitch going forward on this little project, and you still don’t even know why he was asking. Clearly he wasn’t critical to the project earlier or he would have at least been able to spell a couple of the customer’s names correctly. This reeks of meddling interference and must be stopped immediately!

It is only later after carefully digging around the fringes of this little land mine that it is uncovered that Duck is only interested because one of the first installations he was responsible for went sideways. Now in a fit of ass covering panic he’s been instructed to pull together a list of all open installations and prepare a service plan for them to avoid a repeat of the Hindenberg like disaster he’s made of the first install. Which sounds great until you realize what will actually end up happening. Once he gets his little list and details, figures out how to correctly spell the customer names, and begins to contact these people, he is going to try to avoid the negative impressions the customer had of the first install by dramatically over committing services that aren’t even available in many of the locations. Now who do you suppose is going to be left holding the flaming bag of poop when those commitments come due? Not Duck, that’s for sure… Especially when it is revealed that this service and support is all going to be provided not by sending an expert out to the field, but instead will all be managed “virtually”.

For those not in the know “virtual” anything in the corporate world is the latest buzzword for “i’m not getting off my ass and doing anything”. Virtual office? The work from home employee who has been dispatched to some satellite city not important enough to merit an actual office and some cheap rental furniture. Virtual meetings? A bunch of lazy work from homers (a community in which I proudly declare my membership) using Skype to video chat. Virtual whiteboard? What you get when the work from home sales guy finds out his customer is also working from home. Instead of making the investment in time and gasoline to drive into the customer office for a presentation, they both just use Webex to pretend like they are actually working. Virtual servers? Just means someone in IT was too lazy to rip out that old Xeon processor based relic from ’99 that he is using to host an illegal video swapping application to make room for a new server.  And now, Virtual Service? It basically means giving the minimal support required over the phone because paying a for a tech to go visit a customer has become such a monstrously complicated task with all the new travel policy restrictions in place after the ’08-’09 financial crisis. Is it good for the customer? Who cares! It’s good for the bottom line, and because you’ve managed to attach the word Virtual to it, it sounds snappy and cool.

The sad reality is that the snappy will be the sound of my neck breaking when the customer gets his hands on me, and the cool will the sub-zero reception I get during my next meeting with them.

So back to the email – how to handle this pending time bomb? Through pedantry and obfuscations. I do my best to keep a smile in my heart as I respond nit picking my way through the typographical errors on the list, and the reel off a list of requirements of my own before releasing the core of the information being requested – information which I will only share through a third party application “to ensure that we are all working from the same set of notes”. And voila – the dump and run has backfired, creating more work for dear Duck Dodger.

In the mean time I’ve got to go get my irons cleaned for a trip to the driving range tomorrow afternoon and the grocery delivery is due any minute now, so for now I sign off and wish all the happiest corporate chaos…

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About Mark

Not as grumpy as everyone assumes I am. Consider me optimistically sarcastic.
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