Friday, June 06, 2003

They paved Paradise and put up a "No Parking" sign

To quote Joni Mitchell (or the Black Crowes now, I suppose): "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." I can't believe that I ever complained about restrictive policies or things that kept me from getting my job done when I worked at a small company. That was paradise, from a freedom to do my job point of view, compared to large company life. I already mentioned the total lockdown of my desktop, the filtering of "dangerous" Internet sites (profiles.yahoo.com? Watch out!), and the strictly enforced conformity. But did I mention that, unless the computer was ordered by IT, built by the IT-approved vendor, and installed by an IT tech, it's not allowed on the network at all? This in a company where -- by my scientific technique of walking around and looking at the color of everyone's badges -- an estimated 20% of staff are contractors.

My consulting company issued me a laptop, for which I will be eternally grateful. It's brand new, really shiny, and three times faster than the antique sitting under my desk at work. After three years of exclusively using a laptop, my level of efficiency is pretty tightly tied to the mobility of my computer. I use it to take notes in meetings (of which there are many here), I break up the monotony of my environment by moving around when I work, and I can work at home. I would say that it is the single most effective productivity tool in my work life.

The thing is, security policy prevents me from getting network access of any kind with my laptop at the office. This places my wonderful productivity tool on an electronic island, so that the only way I can use it to communicate with my fellow worker bees is to take it home and send email from there. It's a 45-minute drive home, so that kind of negates the benefit, you know? It's hard to sit in a meeting taking notes, impressing everyone with my technological savvy, then say, "OK, I'll get those to you by 9:00 tonight!" It's kind of like sending email by telegraph.

Which brings me back to Joni Mitchell. In my old office, people complained bitterly (and are still complaining) about replacing open-source email and calendaring tools with Microsoft Exchange, about being "forced" to use Outlook if they wanted to schedule a meeting easily on the new system. They argued that their productivity would drop by 5% or more if it took them a second longer to read each email. But they still have the freedom to choose to use any email client they want, if they are willing to figure out how to make it work with Exchange. They'll even get help from their IT guys if they need it, even though their email client isn't officially supported. They're still walking around with their laptops on a wireless network that extends to the patio out back and the courtyard in the middle of the building, assuming it's ever sunny enough to use them.

When I worked in my small company, I agreed that everyone should have the freedom to choose the tools that worked best for them, as long as they adhered to some sort of standard that the IT group could support. I still do. But to anyone who complains that they can't get their job done because Opera 1.0 doesn't work with the company intranet, I say, take a look around. I'm looking at what used to be Paradise, and now it's a big blacktop covered with "No Parking," "Tow Zone," and "Visitor Parking Only" signs, and I'm still trying to figure out what they did with my car.

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