Confessions of a Befuddled Office Dweller
By Alan Resnick
I offer this true story as a cautionary pandemic tale for those of you who are hoping to return to your workplaces in the near future. Brace yourself: the challenges that await you will make D Day look like a stroll in the park.
I went to my office on March 2 for the first time since July 27, 2020, and I’m feeling like I just emerged from a time capsule. After over seven months of checking my work email at least weekly with no activity, my largest client sent me two requests for service last week.
So I decided to go in and get organized and reacclimated. The parking lot was only about 25% full when I arrived in the early afternoon. This was not surprising, as many of the programs and activities my firm, a nonprofit human-services organization, provides remain cancelled or suspended because of the pandemic from March of last year. Other programs are being offered, but via telephone or Zoom, rather than face-to-face. But I conduct vocational assessments, and some of the tests used must still be administered in person.
I took the stairs up to the second floor and saw Rosalind, the receptionist, sitting at the front desk surrounded by a cocoon of plexiglass. I said hello and asked if she had to take my temperature. Rosalind informed me that they no longer use a hand-held thermometer, but rather a temperature scanning station which I had just passed when I entered the reception area. I walked back to the scanning station, stuck out my face toward the screen, and was rewarded with a sea of flashing green lights – 95.6.
I returned to the front desk and asked Rosalind if we needed to go through the health-screening questions that were required back in June and July of last year. She informed me they don’t do that anymore with employees, just with visitors. There is now an app that employees are supposed to access and complete before entering the building. I mentioned that I was unfamiliar with the app and she suggested that I talk to someone about it. I told her I would, thanked her, and mentioned that it was nice to see her again. She did not reciprocate in kind. I’m not sure if she did not hear me through the plexiglass or simply did not remember me, even though my name badge with picture was clearly visible.
The hallways leading to my office were barely lit, the brightest lights emanating from the EXIT signs at the ends of the corridors. There was not one office door open on the way to my office. When I got to the pod where my office is located, I walked around to see if there were any familiar faces. But there were no faces to see. Many of the offices had nameplates of people that I did not know. Only one door was open, that of an IT support person, but his desk was not visible from the hallway. Not exactly the triumphant return I envisioned.
I went into my office, turned on the lights, and fired up my computer. I did not remember my username or password after seven months, so I pulled out my trusty crib sheet to jog my memory. My password was listed, but my username was not. I took my best guess, the first letter of my first name and my complete last name followed by my password. No luck. I tried again, adding the first letter of my middle name. No luck. I gave it one last try, using my full name. My computer still wouldn’t recognize me, so I walked over to the office of the IT support person and stuck my head in the door.
I introduced myself to Brad, a clean-cut twentysomething. On his desk were four monitors and two keyboards, plus a tablet and cell phone. All in all, it appeared that Brad had the resources and capability to shut down the North American power grid if so inclined.
I explained my dilemma, and asked Brad if he could help me. He asked for the username and password that I had tried, ran them through some sort of diagnostic program, and informed me that my information had expired. Brad told me that this happens when users haven’t logged into their computers in more than six months. He was kind enough to enter my username and password back into the system, and told me to come back over if there was still a problem.
First mission accomplished. But another issue quickly emerged. I glanced up and saw that the red light on my telephone was flashing, signaling that I had voicemail. This was a little concerning to me, as I have to admit that I had not called in remotely to check my voice mail in at least five months. Of greater concern was the fact that my old, dated desk phone had been replaced with a very stylish new model.
I looked around my office to see if the installer had left a user guide, but that would have made things too easy. So I went back to my crib sheet for instructions on how to use the old phone system and hoped for the best. I was able to enter the voicemail system just as before. However, I did not remember the four-digit PIN needed to access my personal voice mailbox, and it was not on the crib sheet.
Shit. I briefly considered walking back over to Brad’s office and asking for assistance, but my ego wouldn’t let me. I doubted that I had wowed him with my expertise during our first interaction, and wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of him thinking me even older or more technologically challenged than he initially surmised. So I began rummaging through various file folders until I finally found one with the PIN. After all that work, there was only one voicemail in my box and it was a robocall from November.
I then began the task of inventorying my test materials to see if anything needed to be ordered. There were enough paper-and-pencil tests for at least another seven assessments. Finally, something went as expected. I was hitting my stride.
That feeling of mastery lasted for about five minutes, until I shifted my focus to inventorying our online testing materials. The good news was that there were enough user names and passwords for nine more administrations. The bad news was that they had to be used within one year of purchase, and they had been purchased in January, 2020. It felt like finding a great new recipe requiring a tablespoon of anchovy paste, rummaging through your pantry, and learning that the tube you have expired four years ago.
I picked up the receiver on my stylish new phone and dialed the 800 number for our vendor. After dialing twice and being both times rerouted to a company I was not familiar with, I went to our vendor’s website. I learned that our vendor was now a subsidiary of the company whose phone number I had reached previously. I called again, listened to the entire recorded message, pressed “2” to get to our vendor, and pleaded my case to a customer service representative. Stacey remembered that my company was a longtime customer and agreed to reset the expiration dates on the unused usernames and password.
Because I was feeling a little rusty, I wanted to practice administering the online tests on the iPads we had purchased back in June. I took the first iPad out of the box, turned it on, and was asked to enter the four-digit passcode. Of course, I had absolutely no recollection of what it was and could not find any record of it. But I opened the second box and found a note taped inside the cover listing the passcodes and other necessary background information. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. In the immortal words of Roberto Duran after being flummoxed and frustrated by Sugar Ray Leonard for seven rounds, “No mas.” I decided that I would practice at home, so I stuffed the iPads in my briefcase. At least I could salve my frustration with snacks and Snapple.
There was only one more thing to do before leaving – fill out my time card for the 90 minutes I had worked. I went to our payroll website and smiled when my username and password and immediately appeared on my screen. I hit “Enter” and received an error message indicating that either my username and/or password were incorrect. The same thing happened when I physically entered both my username and password. So I hit the “forgot username or password” button, and was instructed to enter my email address. The following error message appeared on my screen: “There is no employee with this name on the system.” I closed the web site and emailed my supervisor, informing him know that I no longer existed within the company. Let him deal with it.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.