Cubicle Chronicles

Once upon a time there was a big bad employer (short-sighted employer who wanted to gut the collective agreement provisions for job security and merit pay — clawbacks which attacked the younger workers and would hobble the employer’s attempt to recruit and retain the best and the brightest).

So what were the knowledge workers to do? They were distributed in various and sundry work places connected by computer-mediated communication. There in lay the key to their resistance.

The knowledge workers replaced “shock and awe” with “share and ask”. They were a clever bunch.

They were going to flood the email system.

Some of the outspoken senior members at the top of their pay scale with nothing to loose commandeered the @allstaff distribution lists and

  • Urged work-life balance through a recipe swap (with lots of posts and debate about ingredients, methods, pictures, results of taste tests, acceptable substitutes) and collectively planned a collection of the best recipes (which led to discussion about printing versus electronic version, etc. etc.).
  • Engaged in minute analysis of geopolitical trends and what scenarios could be expected to emerge in their corner of the globe (lots of true cost accounting and reconciling divergent views of the evidence-base).
  • Competed to see who could sent the biggest spread sheet to the most people; contrived to send a spreadsheet cell by cell in timed bursts.
  • Posted worried messages about viruses that ate vowels.

Some of the more timid members turned off printers, fax machines, scanners and photocopiers — which took a little while to power up again. But no one was ever sure that their print job would still be in the queue.

Info Tech Support was bombarded with requests for pings to servers to check connectivity…

Others hoarded the paper envelopes (now rare) for interoffice mail.

Workers asked that all transactions go manager-to-manager before they hit their desks — they argued there was no other way of ensuring their messages would not be caught up in the new etiquette of reply all and copy more. The slack in the system by which work was accomplished was significantly reduced.

Outside the organisation, allies asked for information about programs, services, policies, directives and asked about access to data. And asked again. Moreover they shared detailed plans and asked for feedback.

The data stream was relentless. And what was the result of this little exercise in signal to noise ratio manipulation? Glee. Empowerment. Sharing. And lots of profound asking about the fragile cultures of the workplace.

Inspired by Alan Liu The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information and John Brunner The Shockwave Rider.

And so for day 339
18.11.2007

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