I work from home these days, and telecommuting has its plusses and minuses, like any work situation. On the whole, i find it suits me very well. Everyone in my department who lives in North America telecommutes, and at one time or another, we've all had technological issues.
When i first became a telecommuter, the company required me to have a standalone phone line for business (check) and a high-speed Internet connection (check). I don't do any business travel, so a plain old phone line and internet connection worked very well for me. I could have wireless capabilities, but i always chose to plug my laptop in, as it's a tad safer from hackers and faster. Since i work with large, confidential documents, this seemed a prudent thing to establish and do.
I've been telecommuting a bit over four years now, which in the world of technology, means light years. We've had a buyout, merger, and two name changes in that space of time, and current thinking is that everyone in the US who telecommutes needs to have a cell phone (mobile) and a mi-fi, which is a portable wireless router. I'm sure the person who decided this was a brilliant idea was thinking of the number of telecommuters who travel much of the time and did not always have access to wi-fi, and i'm also convinced they were thinking of those same travelling employees who were needing to check email and perhaps send a couple documents, and how a three-inch phone screen doesn't really cut it if you need to read a document. Someone also swung a deal with several of the largest wireless providers, so the bean counters were undoubtedly dancing a joyful little jig.
The new policy was rolled out with alacrity, and if you wanted to be an exception, you had to jump through a number of hoops. So, clearly, they wanted all of us to embrace this.
Our department, in our weekly meeting, brought up several concerns we had about this new policy. We routinely work with huge files, would that affect our data plan limits? What about slower upload and download speeds? That might be a chance for corrupted documents? (And here i shuddered as i said it, remembering all too well having to do a bunch of extra work when a telecommuter refused to plug in so every file she touched was corrupted; since i was in the office then, i was the lucky sod who had to fix everything). What if we were in a dead zone? And here, nearly everyone thought i lived in a dead zone. Um, yes and no. I can usually get a signal at my house, but occasionally, when i fire up my now considered ancient cell phone, i get the message that i am roaming because for some reason, the tower that's giving me a signal for the moment, is a tower in Canada. No, i don't know why that is, either, but that's how it is sometimes. Only it doesn't matter to me if i'm roaming with my ancient cell phone, because i hardly ever use it. It allows me to make a phone call, receive a phone call, create and send a text, or receive a text. Fin. Since i spend most of my working day at my computer, in my office, in my home, the designated land line is the best way to get ahold of me, or send me an email to my corporate email address.
My boss takes our list of concerns to her management meeting where they discuss all things managerial, and her boss tells her, in essence, that we are to follow the new policy. Alrighty then.
We have to go with the wireless group contracted by my company, and i fill out the form. I have questions so i call to speak to one of their reps. It's clear that we live on different planets, she on Planet Hip, Young, Cool, and me, Planet of the Fuddy Duddy. She cannot understand that i don't have a company cell phone and have never had one. I have a land line. L-a-n-d-l-i-n-e. If i want to keep the same phone number, which yes, please, i do, i'm unsure how to complete the online form because it's asking for what my current cell phone number is. The answer is, i don't have one, but want to know if my current landline, l-a-n-d-l-i-n-e, number is portable. She assures me it is, and then proceeds to tell me how to fill out the online form. I can hear her eyes rolling and know she's thinking, "Moron," as i point out that it won't let me advance to the next screen if i do as she says. Because my current work number is not a cell phone. But a landline. L-a-n...
And here she interrupts to tell me what i need to do, speaking at 100 words per minute (wpm). Yes, i remember when wpm meant "words per minute" and it was in the days of typewriters when the apostrophe was over the number 8, and to make an exclamation point, one needed to shift and press 8 then backspace and add a period. Such a bitch when i got that typewriter on the day of timed assignments in typing class when we had exclamation points in the copy we needed to type. The number 1 key either had just the 1 on it, or was missing altogether, but it didn't matter, because you could just type a lower case l, and it looked like a number one. See? 1...l....1....l. Who was the wiser? Who indeed, until years later, when i was in banking and a colleague a few years older than myself had all sorts of trouble because she typed the lower case l in a number field. She couldn't understand why things were going all pear-shaped, and looking at the CRT, it looked right. It was only when i saw her try again, and i noticed that she was typing a lowercase l did i see where the problem lay. It didn't look any different from the number 1, but the computer knew the difference somehow, and poor Lillian had to spend a bit of time trying to remember that she needed to find the bloody 1 and then lose her place on the keyboard. I suggested that she learn to use the number pad, which was to the right and different from the adding machine, which had 1 at the top left. The number pad had 1 on the bottom left and 7 on the top left, but that would be an easier mistake for her eye to see and correct than lower case l subbing for the number 1.
I realized that the young woman from Planet Hip, Young, Cool had finished speaking. I didn't understand what she had said, and after my third try, i just nodded and stammered okay and hung up. The hell with it, i'd get a new bloody cell phone number. I selected what i needed. New bloody phone, recommended provider (at least i could grasp that much of the conversation), and upon receiving the email from the wireless folks, i had to forward it to my manager who had to approve it, then send it back to the wireless folks, so we could get that ball rolling.
My boss had some questions for me. I wanted over 2000 minutes a month. Yes, i told her, my teleconferences at the moment were using at least 240 minutes a week. Our weekly department meeting ran between 30 and 60 minutes a week. She had a 1-on-1 with me each week, where we chatted for a half hour but sometimes an hour, as we do like each other and sometimes we just need a little breather. Another project i'm on just started its bimonthly teleconferences between 30 and 60 minutes depending on the agenda. A group of projects has an overall meeting where we discuss the Big Project at large as well as each individual project within it, and that's another hour a week. So, in a week where all those hit, that was 480 minutes. In a four-week month, that'd be over 1600 minutes. Then there were the phone calls that took place with other team members when working on some projects. These were hit and miss, though lately, lots of hits.
She mentioned that the teleconferences all had toll-free numbers. Yes, i explained, but cell phones don't care about toll-free minutes. They only care about minutes, and a toll-free minute still counts. My boss is a year or two older than i am, so i'm sure she remembers a time where the lower case l could stand in for the number 1. She certainly remembers when calling toll-free meant that you could stay on for as long as you like, and it doesn't matter. "Oh, dear, i need to change the number of minutes on MY request form," she said glumly.
Then there was this Canadian check box i ticked. Yes, sometimes i roam in Canada, i remind her. The girl on Planet Hip, Young, Cool said that wouldn't be a worry. Ditto with ticking the "talk in Canada" check box. I then remind Boss that one of our North American colleagues in our department lives in the Great White North, above the 49th parallel. And, i had had a chat with four other Canadian colleagues earlier in the week about two of the sister projects. No, it didn't cost me anything extra to speak to them with the plan i have now. The plan i have now on my land line (no spelling required as Boss is familiar with the term "land line") has a flat talk rate for all of North America. I can call anyone at any time and talk for as long as i bloody well like. Or talk to no one. The rate is the same. I do get charged when i call anywhere else in the world, though. Which i've done on a few occasions, as we're a worldwide company.
And that brings her to the next question, about ticking the international calling box. I tell her that in our latest Major Divisional Meeting when they talked about our new name and changing around the way we did some things, that we were going to be on the phone much more often with our international colleagues. There was going to be more mingling. I was one of the front runners having to work with the other half of our department in India, and yes, we've had several calls on projects. Based on what we've been told, that looks like it'll happen more often rather than less. If i say No to international calling, i can never call them. There is no "only sometimes" button, it's a bloody analogue selection: International calling, Yes or No. If she'd rather i select No, then okay, although what is Plan B when we need to speak to our Indian colleagues?
She wanted to have a couple days to research this. I was sure she was going to bring up the situation at her managers' meeting, and next day, i felt my ears burning. The day after that, she responded with yes, my request was approved. On the phone, she told me that the company was not saving any money having me go to this plan. I told her i wasn't surprised in the least by that, but as a department, we did voice our concerns, which were effectively pooh-poohed. As someone who almost never takes the easier, softer way, i knew all too well that sometimes the best course of action is to allow the pieces to fall where they may. Where. They. May. Oh, and that i never saw the cost of any of the options i selected. I'm sure the user screens were designed like that on purpose. I assured Boss that i wanted to use my work cell phone for work only. And unlike the business land line i now had, i would switch off my cell phone when i was done work for the day. I was not trying to be truculent here, only letting Boss know that i wasn't going to be attached to the hip with this cell phone. If my business land line rings now, i answer it pretty much whatever time of day it is. Boss rarely calls me late, but should she need to from here on out, she should call my home land line. I always answer that, because the only calls i get on that are people i want to talk to. Imagine that. Oh, and the occasional wrong number.
Three or so days later, i'm out over lunchtime running errands. I come home to find a small box on my back step, left by a delivery company. I'm sure it's my new cell phone and mi-fi. I'm surprised that i wasn't required to sign for it and am glad as that would have added some delay to this whole thing. The box seems very light for a cell phone and mi-fi unit. I open it to find just the cell phone. Well, perhaps the mi-fi is coming under separate cover, one of my colleagues mentioned that she got her phone one day and the mi-fi a couple days later. Another colleague had her order lost altogether and needed to restart the process.
I stare at the phone. The paperwork is a couple sheets, two with billing info, a prepaid return label if i have problems, a red bifold brochure titled "Getting Started," and a smallish shiny piece of paper telling me to turn on the phone and follow the screen prompts. The inside of the bifold tells me to look at the activation guide. It takes me some time to work out that the smallish, shiny piece of paper IS the activation guide. I press the button. Nothing. I press and hold it down for a few seconds. Still nothing. Oh, of course, dimwit, i think to myself, you need to plug it in and charge it up before you can do anything else. And for the next two days i press the button and nothing. Now i'm starting to panic a little. I was a little late getting my phone and now the bloody thing won't work. I've pressed the stupid button and NOTHING HAPPENS.
I take a deep breath and look again at the unit. There's nothing else that remotely resembles a button. No point in contacting someone at Planet Hip, Young, Cool. I'm sure they're in a different universe altogether by now.
I go to my computer, to google. I know google, and i type in, "How to turn on an i-phone." I can feel a dunce cap most firmly placed on my head as i type. I see an i-phone for dummies link. I open that in a new tab. I see something else telling me to turn on the phone. Okay, say it with me. IF I KNEW HOW TO TURN ON THE BLOODY PHONE I WOULDN'T BE GOOGLING "HOW TO TURN ON AN I-PHONE" NOW WOULD I???? And then i think about the double entendre of "turning on," but sex is the farthest thing from my mind at that moment. And four or so listings down, i see it, "My i-phone doesn't turn on, where's the button?" Bingo. I'm confident this is another long-lost sister of the type lower case l if you want the number 1 club. And i'm sure the person who answered her question is her loving 8-year-old grandson. He doesn't sound sneering at all that she doesn't know the on/off button. No, it's not the round one on the bottom, its the shiny one at the top. A rectangle.
I stare in disbelief. There's a shiny rectangle at the top i push? Oh, yes, wise-8-year-old grandson, if i make sure the apple is right side up and touching my hand as i cradle the phone, i can see the slimmest rectangular bump on the top right. Since when have buttons come to mean rectangular, shiny things? On Planet of the Fuddy Duddy, "button" is a round thing. Let me put this in language you'll understand. Round is the default shape on Planet Fuddy Duddy. If the button be something different from the default shape, more explanation is needed, e.g., "shiny rectangular button," "shiny button," "rectangular button at the top edge of the phone."
I then see other links that talk of how Apple has the battery charged at least a little bit so you can set up your phone right away. Yes. IF YOU KNOW HOW TO TURN IT ON. Which, thanks to wise-8-year-old grandson, i do.
Like magic it switches on, and i can set up and be in business. Only, it needs to know about my internet. Well, my mi-fi still hasn't appeared and...and...and...
omg, what if i can never get back to this screen? You know like Robert Frost's Stopping by a Wood on a Snowy Evening poem where way leads on to way and one never wends his way back? I have no breadcrumbs, and if i crawl out of this electronic rabbit hole, how the hell do i find my way back?
I call Planet Hip, Young, Cool. I'm talking to Amy who sounds about 14, and she checks to see why i haven't gotten my mi-fi yet. She assures me that i can set up my internet connection later. I tell her i'm unsure i can find my way back, and she laughs. Oh, she says, you never ordered a mi-fi. I tell her i did, i selected both it and the phone. After a game of nearly 20 questions, i deduce that in order for me to have ordered the mi-fi successfully, i had to submit a second order. One for the phone, one for the mi-fi. But, they were together on the page, and i selected both. Nope, only one.
I think back to what seems like a light year when i ordered the phone. I didn't remember the Select buttons lighting up or showing me that only one was selected. Well, i'm not going to argue about design, and yes, i guess i should have looked at the screen more closely.....
She gives me instructions and tells me i need to press the rectangular button at the bottom of the screen when i do my mi-fi order.
Rectangular button. Bless you, Amy of the Planet Hip, Young, Cool. When you were laughing and i told you i'm just so 20th century, you understood what i meant, that buttons in my world are circular...
I thank her for her help, and go to the screen to order the mi-fi unit. I'm befuddled after i press on the rectangular button because it's saying i want a new mobile number and mi-fi...
NOOOOO! i tell the screen. I HAVE MY NEW PHONE WITH MY NEW PHONE NUMBER. I *LIKE* my new phone number. It's an easy one to remember. I need just the mi-fi. I try several more times and can't get the screen to understand what i want. I call Planet Hip, Young, Cool once again and am speaking to Danielle. She's got a throaty, soft, black voice. It's the kind of voice that soothes, even if it's delivering bad news. I decide i'm not going to pull any punches with Danielle, she's speaking to a 20th century retard who apparently overthinks everything. I tell her the name of my company, how all telecommuters need to get cell phones and mi-fis, how i didn't know i had to order the mi-fi unit separately when i ordered my i-phone, and now that i'm asking for the mi-fi, it wants to give me new mobile number. But, i don't want a new number. I already have my new i-phone with its new number, and it's an easy number for me.
I hear a smile in her voice as she tells me my new i-phone phone number will stay the same. The mi-fi needs its own phone number.
It does?? i ask incredulously. Because this is miles away from anything i know. I'm just so 20th century, Danielle, i tell her. I didn't know that.
I wouldn't know that if i didn't work here, so don't feel bad.
Oh, Danielle, with that soothing, throaty voice explaining things, i could never feel bad.
And i don't work there, but now that you told me, i know, too. Thanks so much for your help, Danielle. And i mean it. And i know she knows i mean it.
So, i successfully order the mi-fi unit, forward the email to Boss who approves it immediately (we'd talked earlier when i explained i thought i ordered it, i was going to follow up to see what was up).
I now decide i need to learn how to use this i-phone. I call a colleague in my department. I get her voice mail and leave a message. I add her as a contact into my phone. I add Boss's work and home numbers into my phone. I then decide to call my new cell phone so i know what the ringtone sounds like, and to see if i can figure out how to answer it. The ringtone is bland and not very loud. I most likely won't hear it if i'm in the loo. After an age, i find the ringtones and change it so it sounds like an old phone ringing. Yes, that's better. I then have to call Boss about something and use the new phone. After one ring, it stops and there's nothing. What the???? I pull the phone away and look. The call has ended. Dropped call? And then i realize, no, my cheek was too close and pressed the End button. Good Lord. Was this a harbinger of things to come? I call again, taking care to keep my cheek well away from the bottom of the phone. Boss said she wondered who hung up on the first ring just a moment ago. I confess and tell her i'm going to call several colleagues to get the hang of the phone. So, if i cut someone off accidentally, it would be embarrassing perhaps, but not the way it would be with a client. We both laugh and agree.
I call back my other colleague, and we chat about our new phones. She can hear me all right, although i sound a little muffled. I try holding the phone a little differently. Nope, no difference. Yes, i can hear her just fine, she is loud and clear. We both discover that neither of us has ever used a headset, we just cradle the phone when we're on a teleconference if we need to talk and type. Boss has ordered headsets for us, so we'll have to try those on for size, as we won't be able to cradle an i-phone, and here i tell her about cheek-ending the call.
I spend the rest of the day doing what i'd call "real work," and before i'm done, i remember that i'm taking my truck for its annual inspection the next day. The dealership where i bought my truck offers free inspection on Fridays. I also need an oil change, which they'll be glad to do. Can they check stuff, as it's still under warranty? Yes, they'll do that. No, no appointment necessary, just drop in between 7:30 and 3:30. The dealership is nearly an hour's drive from home. I decide that now that i have my work cell phone, i can take the truck early. If there's a long wait, no worries, i can dial in for my 10:00 a.m. conference call. I'll simply take my laptop with me and oh, i can use the reminder feature on my phone. I'll type in the telecon phone number and conference ID i need. I don't see a way to create a hard return so can make it more like a list, but that's okay, it's one long line of info that has all i need.
So, this morning, the alarm goes off, and i'm in the middle of a dream. I can't recall the dream now, but it took some time for me to awake fully. By the time i get out of bed, feed the cats, and do my usual morning stuff, i need to get going to the dealership if i want to be on time for my teleconference.
There are two roundabouts between me and the dealership, and at the second one, i select the wrong turn off. I realize it nearly immediately, but it takes a few minutes of driving the wrong direction for me to find a place where i can turn around.
I make the turnaround, get to the dealership with about a minute before i have to get on the phone for the conference call. Oh, Megan, could you please pull out your registration for us? the truck guy is asking. I ruffle through papers and of course can't see it immediately in front of my face. I tell the guy i need to be on a teleconference, and he looks at the papers. It's right on top. Um, okay, thanks.
I'm so proud of myself for having the phone number on the reminder thingy on my phone, it'll be easy enough for me to see the number...
only it can't show the whole reminder, just the first so many characters and then the dreaded ellipsis. What the?? i try touching the screen, please be bigger, maybe if i turn it sideways i can see all of it, and i walk into the Customer Lounge. It's very full, and you can hear a pin drop. This teleconference may require me to say some confidential info. Shit.
I go back outside, walk around to the side of the building where it's quiet, and, still not able to get the ellipsis to go away and give me the rest of the phone number i need. I fire up my laptop. Now, i'm annoyingly late to the call. But it's not my fault! i want to say. Yes, it is, you 20th century retard, i chide myself. What made you think you could shave us so much margin without getting caught out on it?
And here my laptop is finally booted up, i have to play with the touch mouse, which i loathe, but i get the phone number. Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus. I'm kneeling on a grassy slope, furiously dialling the number, actually furiously pressing buttons, yes ROUND buttons, thankful for all those years of 10-key adding machines and number pads at the bank, when i see something land on my laptop keyboard. It's snowing.
I dial the conference code, and i'm in the call. A woman's voice is on the line. It sounds brittle and disapproving. I now close my laptop, being careful not to drop my phone, nor to cradle it because i'll cheek-end the call, and i don't want the snow to melt inside the laptop keyboard, when did i become so poor at multitasking...
"Well, there's no point in wasting everyone's time as we can't discuss anything..." the Female Voice of Disapproval is saying. Oh, dear, i think, best just to dive in and apologise...
"Hello, it's Megan, sorry I'm so late, I've got my new phone, activated yesterday, and i had some, um... technological difficulties." There's a slight pause, but i sense camaraderie, the kind that says, "I feel your pain." Encouraged, i continue, "So, it sounds as if i haven't missed anything? Did anyone have questions for me?"
"No," Female Voice of Disapproval says. Her voice isn't one i recognize. "The client hasn't shown up...AGAIN."
"Oh, dear, that's not very good," i say. Sadly, this isn't the first time this has occurred. I hear others agreeing with me, yes it makes it difficult to do the work, as we have questions about things they need to answer and the answers are not forthcoming.
Another beep is heard on the line. Someone from the client's company has joined the call. But, she's just filling in for The Person We Really Need to Speak to, as said Person is on holiday all this week and next. This is news to all of us. Stand-in apologises for arriving so late, she got stuck on another call that ran late. So, the others who are completely disgusted and prompt tell the stand-in the things they needed to discuss. They're not sure if Stand-in can help, however. Stand-in admits she's not so sure she can, either, but she'd be glad to try. After a few minutes, where they've succinctly laid out their questions, Stand-in says she's not able to help. No one appears surprised. I then ask Stand-in some questions i have that need to be answered, unsure if she'll be able to help me, either, but mine concern the project itself as opposed to a process question that the others have asked. No, Stand-in doesn't have the answers i need, although she can take those back to The Person We Really Need to Speak to, as they're good questions and ones that most clearly need to be answered. She sounds relieved that they are project questions, and i, not wanting my other colleagues who were prompt to take what she said the wrong way (as i could feel her relief in my asking normal project things as opposed to arcane process matters) say that i'd appreciate if she could convey all of our questions and concerns so that we can do all we can to keep the project moving along. And here, my prompt colleagues chime in and say yes, that would be very helpful. Stand-in then realizes how what she said could have been taken the wrong way, and insists that yes, she'll pass along everything.
I take a moment to look around. I'm kneeling on frozen ground, it's snowing more heavily now, my coat is still unzipped, my hand holding my phone is cold, and i look up at the grey sky. Somehow, i don't think this is the image of the 21st century worker. I stand up slowly, as we all wish one another a happy thanksgiving. Well, for those of us in the US. For everyone else, have a good end-of-the week next week, it'll undoubtedly be more quiet with everyone in the US off for two days, eating turkey and what have you. There are laughs all around, although i don't join in.
The call is ended, and i make my way around the building to go back to the Customer Lounge. An older man, who watched me walk out with my phone in hand and now sees me returning from my call stares hard at me. I don't think he's an employee of the dealership, perhaps he finds the Customer Lounge a bit claustrophobic with so many people in that little room, and it's very warm in there.
After my truck is ready, i ask the cashier where a particular Chinese restaurant is. When i first moved here, i had to take my car into a sister dealership for a part replacement that was under warranty, and when i mentioned i was hungry for lunch, could they recommend some place, the shuttle driver told me about an excellent Chinese take-out place. I could call and by the time he was done his paperwork, he'd take me there. Okay, so i called, and he was right. The food was excellent. I had programmed the number into my ancient cell phone, which wasn't ancient then. I had never deleted the number but never tried finding the place on my own.
The cashier didn't know, but looked in the phone book. It was on B*** avenue. That was on the other side of the city, but she couldn't give me anymore direction than that. Oh, well, then never mind, i said, and thanked her. I wondered why she didn't just call it up on her computer, and then smiled. She's another sister from the lower case l standing in for number 1 club.
I got into my truck and took a moment to collect myself. I was going to make use of the free car wash, and that's the second time it's snowed when i've used the car wash, i thought, when i looked again at my phone. Not my ancient cell phone that had the Chinese take-out number, but my work i-phone. I had said yes to the maps feature. I had forgotten my atlas in the car and meant to buy a second one for the truck but hadn't gotten round to it.
Several minutes later, after fat fingers typed in B*** avenue that was 12 states over from where i lived, i managed to get the right B*** avenue in the correct state. Emboldened by this success, i went the whole hog and typed in the name of the Chinese take-out restaurant. Yes, it showed me right where it was. It wasn't that far away, just 2 miles from the interstate, and yes i was very near the interstate.
I was thankful to that Grade 4 teacher who'd taught our class how to read maps. As i sat in the car wash, i could already taste the yummy chicken and broccoli. After exiting the car wash, and reattaching the truck's antenna, i turned right at the stop light and in two miles, i'd be looking for the route sign i needed so i could make the turn and find the place...
Two miles had me in a different town. This place didn't look familiar at all, and at a long red light, i looked down at my i-phone. Oh, there was a green pulsing light. Why, that was me! But wait, if that be my truck, then, then, then...i'm going the wrong way. Yes, i can read maps, but the whole orient one's self first eludes me at times. sigh. I turn around, and in the turnaround spot, i check again. Yes most definitely the wrong way. I see my mistake immediately and then study the map for a few minutes.
I come to the roundabout that gave me trouble before and apparently, it's happened again. But, the trusty i-phone map shows me where i am, and i see easily how i can just go up two blocks and turn right. Like magic, i'm at the other roundabout, and i'm clear about which way i need to go. I arrive at the Chinese take-out place. Not quite a work-related use of my work cell phone. But, hell, a gal's gotta eat.
I celebrate with chicken and broccoli served with pork fried rice.
It's a brave, new world.