Muffled screams and broken dreams: The great corporate time-heist — Part 2: Reconnoitering and shit
Welcome to the first article of our multi-part series affectionately titled Muffled Screams and Broken Dreams: The Great Corporate Time-Heist
Before we get started, we’ve got two declarations to make:
- Our opinions are our own and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else. Ever. Shit, it may not even be our opinion. We could just be talking out of our collective asses.
- If at any point, you think that we’re talking specifically about you during this article series and you’re super pissed off about it, we’re not. Everyone we use and the situations therein are purely fictional. That being said, if this does hit super close to home, know you have our sympathy.
So, now you know what follows is probably going to piss a few people off.
Who are we?
You can see the full blurb at minimallyuseful.com/who-we-are.
Part 2: Reconnoitering and Shit
Here at Minimally Useful Industries, we live our lives by a single unifying mantra: “Be useful — At least a little bit.” We’re always looking into different ways to be at least a little bit useful. Our business model is like experimental jazz. We’ve got some seriously talented people (and some seriously untalented, but well-meaning people) involved in our efforts to be kinda useful. Whether it’s teaching AI how to love or providing primers on how to liberate your time at work — we’re at least working on it with fervor and passion.
Be sure to pop on over to our website and get our business certification. We certify that, at the end of our article series, you’ll be an amazing business strategist. We’ll gladly throw our immense clout and insanely popular brand behind you to certify you on your overwhelming business prowess.
In our previous article, we gave you just a little taste of what’s to come in this series. At the heart of Muffled screams and broken dreams: The great corporate time-heist (introduction here) is the underlying notion that our corporate overlord employers aren’t necessarily holding up their end of the social contract (work for money). Yeah they give you money, but they also continually try to suck more time and productivity out of you while letting wages stagnate. This series is designed as a primer on topics to help prevent yourself from being overly exploited when working a menial corporate job. What follows is going to be adapted from our very poor understanding of SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) Training. This article will serve as the lead-in to the SERE content, but before we get into the bulk of the SERE topics that will help you liberate your time (and get you our sweet certification): we need to build a mental bullshit boundary map.
The Who / What : The Malevolent Business Mindset (MBM)
Know thy enemy.
-Title of Season 2 Episode 17 of the Vampire Diaries.
Let’s talk first about the MBM. It comes in many forms, but it’s largely anything designed to compel you to do more for the workplace without adding any form of meaningful compensation in return. Let’s look at the transactional nature of all your workplace interactions. If someone or something is asking for you to give more to your workplace without providing something more to you — you’ve probably got MBM right there. It could be that lateral promotion, a forever-dangling carrot always out of reach or an inter-office competition to see who can get the most shit done in the least amount of time. The really nefarious piece of this, is that corporations have gotten really good at disguising these time-siphons. They’ve spent a lot of money to find ways to camouflage time-siphons and productivity boosters in the workplace, and they largely use your own mind to provide camouflage.
The agenda of the MBM is driven by a small minority of people within your company who benefit from your increased productivity and the mindset that they force on others to impose their will. It’s important to remember that it’s largely the mindset. There’s only a small subset of people that truly benefit from this violation of the social contract. The vast majority of MBM enablers are the kool-aid drinkers that have been convinced that acting in the best interest of the company is tantamount to acting in their own best interest. Who hasn’t heard something along the lines of, “If the company does great this quarter, we’ll all be rewarded.” You’ll hear this mantra preached from the top underlings to as far down into the weeds as it can be forced. The MBM mindset is pervasive and a real sneaky motherfucker. We’d even be willing to wager that some of us here at MUI haven’t kicked the mindset entirely. Meaning — sometimes, we’re our own enemy despite being woke af.
We’re at the point now, where we’re about to cross the line from quietly ruminating on the topic to engaging the MBM and we think we should add one last clarification. We want to make the distinction absolutely clear between having a resilient mindset in the workplace and being a selfish dickhead. If someone comes up and asks you to help them move over the weekend, don’t ask “What have you done for me lately?” The people you work with (probably) AREN’T your enemy, their pro-corporation workforce-exploitation mindset and those who would directly benefit from that mindset are. Be a rational empathetic human being. Also, just because someone is your boss doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have your interests in mind. There are plenty of examples of good bosses that go out of their way to make sure the people that work for them are treated well. Lastly, we’re not here to defend shitty people — those that don’t keep up their end of the social contract. There is a difference between being taken advantage of and just plain sucking at being a human. Done right, we believe that following our process can help you achieve the same results at work without giving as much of yourself to work. Some may feel this is cheating the company, but we feel that we are merely instructing you on how to perform the work you are expected to do, without allowing yourself to fall prey to the time-siphon landmines that your employer has placed around the workplace. We also feel like we lost some of our concern for companies who violate the employer-employee social contract when they started expecting people to continually do more, for the same compensation, despite prodigious increases in production and profit across the board.
The Where: Reconnaissance
I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
-Ancient Indian Proverb and Prolific Pop Song
Corporate reconnaissance starts with an assessment of your environment. To make things a bit more digestible, we’re going to break environment down into three categories: Physical Environment, Psychological Environment and Technological Environment. Through the process of getting to know your environment(s), you will develop a good sense of knowing your boundaries. The whole point of these articles is to be able to maximize the good and minimize the bad, within the acceptable boundaries, and that starts with environment. Let’s build a mental map of the bullshit boundaries. Godspeed.
The physical environment is designed to wage war on your psyche. The lighting, the cubicle layout, that fucking “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” poster on the wall. These things are designed to make you feel the need to work harder or discourage behaviors that might reduce your productivity. Here are some steps to assess your physical environment and how to develop a resilient mindset to physical environment time-siphons:
Immediate Area — Sightlines: Look at the area viewable from a 360 degree swivel of your work area. Try to discern open sightlines to your desk — who can see you or your area? Would any of the people who can see you potentially have a MBM (Malevolent Business Mindset). At this point in training, we think it’s best to assume that everyone has a MBM ( more on this topic later).
Extended Area — Sightlines: For the sake of diligence, we’ll cover two separate approaches to collecting intelligence.
- Bathroom Run / Coffee Run: You’ll want to avoid suspicion, so use times where you’d be normally be getting up from your desk and walking around. While up and walking around, keep an eye on your area. Look at where open sightlines to your work area exist and make mental notes. Be sure to consider people of varying height as well: Would a taller person be able to see your area? Would a shorter one? Take varying paths leaving from and returning to your desk. Build a map in your head of all the sightlines to your area.
- Early Bird Special / Midnight Train to Georgia: This one is a little more invasive, but ultimately harmless. Find a time when the desks that surround yours are empty and show up early (or stay late enough) to sit in the chairs that surround your working area. Be mindful though. Some people go to great lengths to protect their short-walled cubicle fortress. From indescribably sticky desks to fart invested seat cushions that launch a full-on toxic olfactory assault when depressed. We’ve seen it all. Look over to your desk and take note of what you can see. Make sure to note the position of the chair before you sit in it, and be sure to place it back. Additionally, don’t spend too much time in the chair, you don’t want the radiant ass heat that you’ve left in the chair to blow your cover.
“So MUI, why the hell did I just do that?”
Developing a mental map of the sightlines to your work area will allow you to subvert the human element of the MBM (Malevolent Business Mindset) that might be visually monitoring and evaluating your productivity levels. If you believe that you’re being surveilled, you can use tactics to falsify productivity or use methods of obscuring views like cubicle decoration.
Soundscape: Pull those swanky Airpods out of your ears and listen to the world around you. Some noises can be indicators of an impending action. A chair squeak, a grunt or an elevator ding can provide you clues about where people are and where they will be. Also, think about the noises you make. Are there any signals you provide your fellow workers that you’ve arrived at your desk, or signals you’re broadcasting that you’re leaving? You want to provide your fellow co workers with as little auditory information as possible so that you can make quick and effective entrances and exits to minimize the amount of work given to you at the beginning and end of your office onslaught.
Traffic: Look at how traffic moves through your office. Try to see if you can discern a reason for those traffic patterns. Keep all of this information in mind for later lessons, because you can follow traffic patterns to blend in, or use counter-traffic maneuvers to quietly enter and exit work.
The general takeaway with mapping your physical environment and developing a comprehensive mental map of bullshit boundaries is to be observant and leave a small footprint. Understand your environment and how you and your co-workers use it. Eventually, surveying the environment(s) will become as natural as peeing just a little bit more after a healthy bowel movement. Additionally, you’ll become hyper-sensitive to drastic changes in the environment and use these environmental oddities and derivations to signal danger — like the majestic meerkat. It’s important to leave a small footprint because your co-workers could also be conducting pro-MBM reconnaissance / surveillance at the same time to encourage you to be productive beyond the terms of your social contract with your employer.
The psychological environment is a bit more abstract than your physical environment. You should make considerations to social and emotional factors when mapping your psychological environment.
Social: This process is simply talking to people to get a feel for their sensibilities and general dispositions. Everyone is different, so it will take some probing questions, but in general people like to talk, and commiserate with, other people. Personally, we prefer to have a lot of information coming into conversation, so we try to look at their desk to see if they have indicators to the things they like (cats) and things they dislike (Mondays). Once you’ve gotten a micro sense of everyone’s social leanings, try to thread it all together into a macro view. Specifically, you’re looking for a general disposition on how everyone collectively feels about work and how you’ll fit into that schema. After all of these lessons, you want to seem like you get a lot done without doing much of anything. You want people to value you for your work ethic without actually earning it through hard work. We’ll go into this later, but for now, put on a happy face and try to fit in. Remember: Small Footprint.
Emotional: This one largely overlaps with physical environment elements because there are physical elements designed to elicit a psychological response — goading you into a mindset of increased productivity. However, these could also manifest as policies, cheers (usually call and response), or ambiguous mantras (“Doing better the best way better can”). Think about grade school. Do you remember that star chart where the teacher gave a student a star sticker for being well behaved, reading a book, or just not shitting the bed on a spelling test? Things like that are designed to spark a deep down drive to compete. It tears at your very human nature. You wanted to be the best and you wanted all those other fucks to see it. Well, things like that aren’t just restricted to grade school. They’re all over your work. Psychological booby traps. Sales competitions, newsletters, billboards, the paint on the wall, etc… Shit. Some larger corporations even have their own fucking TV channel. Somehow that Maria Menounos rip-off telling you that “working at X Corporation is great!” gets you to think “well shit, if the news says it, it has to be true.” — further plunging you and your peers into the kool-aid.
To this we say, take an inquisitive mindset about EVERYTHING. Ask yourself why it exists, and what purpose is it serving. Businesses rarely implement anything without an expected gain. Why are there three urinals and not two? Why are the walls blue? Why is there a billboard here featuring employees of the week? Why do they pay your cellphone bill? Taking this mindset allows you to step outside the psychological tractor beam quietly driving you to work more.
The general takeaway regarding the psychological environment is two fold. Try to understand what everyone is thinking and feeling and try to understand what things are put in place to control everyone’s thinking and feeling. Understanding what everyone is thinking and saying furthers the knowledge that you can use to your advantage. Perceiving how you and others are being influenced allows you to further develop your resilient mind and anticipate how others may act when under the control of these psychological booby traps.
Big Brother is watching you. This will probably be the hardest environment to get a feel for since the scope is so far reaching and pervasive. We’re breaking technological environment down into smaller sections: Attendance / Presence, Performance, Productivity, and Access.
Before we get into the breakdown of technical environment, we want to talk to all of you about your work wifi. Get your phone off of it. Of course they’re fucking monitoring it. When your phone is connected to the corporate/guest/employee wifi treat your phone as you would your work computer. The more information you give those with the MBM (Malevolent Business Mindset) the easier it is for them to implement more restrictive systems of control. If you don’t think your company is capable of the scale of monitoring listed below, it’s certainly possible they’re not watching, but it’s best to take a cautious approach until you’re sure. Just because some of the people you’ve met in the IT department are completely inept, doesn’t mean some monitoring isn’t in place.
Attendance / Presence
It’s not just timesheets anymore. In most corporations, almost everything you do on a computer is logged somehow. For example, they can track when you sign in to your computer and whether you’re active in your session. Look at how you log your time. Is your time captured via a “punch card system” where you click a button and it records the time? Do you just manually enter your hours? Do you not have a timesheet system and are simply trusted to do your work? Try to get an understanding of this so that you can discern your flexibility with your attendance. Also, attempt to understand how your attendance (or lack thereof) will affect your coworkers’ perceptions of you. Have you ever heard this phrase from a co-worker, “It’s after 4:30. Aren’t you usually gone by now?” Bonus points if it was asked by someone that doesn’t show up until 9:30.
Somewhat related to attendance, is presence. Most methods for capturing presence of an employee is more monitored than it is captured (like we said above, be sure of your specific scenario). Presence is largely captured by availability indicators via communication methods like email or internal work chat. You know the little green dot beside a person’s name in work chat or email? Some people watch that. It’s probably not their job, but your fellow employees will begin to notice patterns. Some of you will work in small enough offices where falsifying your presence would be moot. However, for those of you in very large corporations, wiggling your mouse before you’re considered “Away” can be a powerful action because it 1) Reduces your observable behavior footprint and 2) If people are monitoring your availability, they will believe you to be more present than you actually are. Remember, you want your coworkers to think highly of you while doing as little work as possible. Most of the time, this involves your coworkers thinking that you are present.
Performance systems are designed to have you set goals and track your steps towards achieving them — which, in itself isn’t awful. However, it’s likely the goals you’re tracking aren’t actually your goals they are your employer’s goals for you. They make you come up with your goals to provide you a better sense of ownership of their goals for you. Unfortunately for the common worker, performance trackers are tied to compensation. So, understand what your workplace wants to see here. Ideally, the goals you create will be simple to achieve or something that you’ve already achieved and just neglected to record. Your workplace will tell you to make the goal specific. Try finding a good balance where you barely satisfy the specificity requirement while making it general enough that you could stretch the meaning to encompass any achievement. If your performance reviews involve a self assessment piece, give yourself high marks, but be sure to make a few observations of “some things you can work on”. Keep in mind that when negotiating, you don’t start by telling the other side the maximum you’d pay for something. By starting with high marks, you hope that you will increase the reviewers opinion of you, rather than giving them a low point to start with. Also, when creating a goal, a strong strategy is to take something generic and say you want to get more efficient at it:
Ex: I believe that I have growth opportunities in the area of closing out projects (sales, tickets, etc… put whatever fits here) with greater fervor and efficiency.
The example doesn’t mean anything, but it makes you look like you have a desire to improve.
A lot of these productivity trackers are tied in with timecard software. On a macro level the company wants to know how much time you and your fellow co-workers spend on doing things, so that they can forecast how much time you’ll be spending on them in the future. The company believes that they can use this information to further streamline productivity and make you do more work in the same amount of time for the same amount of money. There’s an additional perk to tracking this for the company on a micro level — the company can look at who is using their time most productively. The products and nature of tracking and forecasting is so varied, that it would be hard to formalize a generic strategy, but I would suggest learning the tool that tracks this time, and, if possible, get an idea of what is being tracked, who is monitoring it, and where that information is kept and presented. A good place to start would be speaking to a Project Manager or a Business Analyst, because they are all about that shit.
Think of this like the digital version of physical environment. You want to understand what you can and cannot access. Test the boundaries without breaching them. Typically, companies go for least-privilege rules, meaning that your access privileges are at the lowest amount that you need to do your job. We mention access because this is a monitored aspect of the technological environment and you want to leave a small footprint. Browsing in incognito mode or clearing cookies won’t help you circumvent monitoring because the company will be monitoring this at a level beyond your browser. Don’t make too much noise browsing websites that might be flagging your account to the people in charge. We’ll go into detail later on how to do meaningful and rewarding things for yourself at work in a later article. The key here is just to know that you’re being monitored, and that every time you go out of bounds, the rule-makers get smarter.
The general takeaway for the technological environment is more of a warning than anything else. You are being monitored and that data is being evaluated to make you work harder in the same amount of time for the same amount of money. Do enough that you aren’t an outlier, but also leave yourself enough room so that you aren’t strangled by the tech. Technology is typically added as a friend of the MBM (Malevolent Business Mindset), but that doesn’t mean you can make it your friend too. It can’t change its mind or feel empathy — so be wary. However, the company inherently trusts the technology for that exact reason. Developing a knowledge of these technologies and how the business utilizes it will allow you to see the cracks that you can exploit to continue doing less and preserving more of yourself.
The Human Element
Finally, we’re going to talk about your coworkers. In the endeavor of building a resilient mind and working within the boundaries to work less and preserve more of yourself, you’ll find that the process is easier with allies. But, it’s important to know your allies, their motivations, and the potential for them to fall prey to the MBM (Malevolent Business Mindset). We’ll let you figure out the social divinations of your peers’ thoughts on work. We’ll leave you with a nugget of advice that we received once long ago: “Just because people bitch about work, doesn’t mean they hate work. They may just like to bitch.” It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it hopefully gets the point across. Choose your allies in this fight wisely.
Get to know your coworkers. Make sure that you listen and watch more than you speak. The more you can discern about them, their dispositions, and how much of the MBM kool-aid they’ve chugged — the greater and more comprehensive your mental bullshit boundary map becomes.
In this article, we’ve outlined the development of your mental bullshit boundary map of your corporate environment that will serve as your north star throughout the corporate SERE process.This concludes Bullshit Boundary (Pre-SERE) article in our series (Muffled screams and broken dreams: The great corporate time-heist) towards professional certification. If you’re interested in getting the cert, head on over to www.minimallyuseful.com. In the next article, we’re going to delve into the “S” in SERE — Survival.
Thanks for sticking with us up to this point.