Kindly be patient with this week’s Cubiclenama. I am writing this column on a plane from Delhi to Bangalore. Therefore there is very little elbow room, my infra-dig laptop hardly fits on the tray table in front of me, and so I have to type very slowly indeed. Please read patiently.
Also not helping my cause is the lady sitting next to me. The Malayali matron might look harmless, given the way she is thoroughly enjoying Zanjeer, which is playing on the in-flight entertainment system, and laughing along at all the wrong places.
But in fact she is secretly grabbing looks at my laptop. And I am pretty sure she is reading what I am typing. I am being crippled by the performance anxiety. Now, if the woman does not laugh out loud occasionally or nod with solemn profound enlightenment, I am going to rapidly lose confidence in this column.
Indeed, I often wonder how people can do their jobs under open, constant scrutiny. Like chefs who work in open kitchens or sushi bars. Want to make journalists choke while they are working? Go stand behind them, peer over their shoulders while they type, and then gently say things such as “That is a different angle...” or “I hope you have the proof for this...” or the worst of the lot: “This is a very early first draft only no?”
(The woman hasn’t laughed even a little bit so far. Damn!)
And all this contemplation over lack of privacy in the workplace, and aircraft, brings us to the central theme of this week’s column: people who actually get office work done at airports and on planes. I very much want to be one of those people.
Ever since I have started working for a living, I have wanted to have a job that requires me to look busy at airports. I want to be one of those who carry tiny laptops, or elaborate smartphones, and then spend hours in airport lounges processing spreadsheets, replying to emails or even attending conference calls.
You often see the type in advertisements for business hotels, magazines and private wealth-management services. Sharp suit, sexy gadgetry, not a hair out of place, and decisiveness. Always the decisiveness. They triumphantly hit the enter button on their laptops in a crowded hotel lobby, and voila, some bizarre imaginary artificial intelligence operating system says: “Congratulations! You have now completed the acquisition! You stud muffin!” They then return to their hotel rooms or eat supari.
(The woman looks very upset. Surely because Amitabh Bachchan has just been framed for corruption. Can’t be the column.)
I sometimes use the BlackBerry to get rid of office email backlog. Not only does this give you a heightened sense of importance, but it also saves time. When you have a computer within reach, you tend to get needlessly verbose in emails. And use terms such as Dear, Regards and Sincerely, which mean nothing in the modern workplace.
When all you should be saying is “yes”, “no”, “cheque is in the mail”, “god promise cheque is in the mail”, and so on.
A bonus is that when clients see the signature line “Sent via mobile email from my top-of-the-line 3G-ready BlackBerry bought in New York”, they also feel that you are giving them top priority.
But the laptops at the airport bit I can never achieve. First of all, I am stupendously distracted at such places. How do you get any work done at all at these new airports with their TV screens, foot massaging machines and fried-chicken outlets?
And even if I could somehow focus, I would be wary of people watching over my shoulder and spying on my work.
Just this morning I saw a very professional-looking fellow clicking through a massive multi-coloured spreadsheet in full view of a lounge full of people. How do you develop such nonchalance?
Before I go, as my flight will begin descent shortly, I will leave you with two stories I was told of extreme mobile working as committed by some management consultants.
The first was a guy who was intent on making a presentation to a client, even though he was stuck on a plane. So he uses one of those onboard phones you can dial with a credit card, connects it to his laptop, creates a dial-up connection, emails the presentation to the client, and then uses a webcam to talk to him through it. For around three hours. In the middle of the night. On a plane.
The second story is simpler, but more hardcore. A group of suits, thanks to a precise travel desk, is scattered all over the plane in the worst possible way. With a critical presentation to be made as soon as they land, they spend hours running around the plane pow-wowing. Till the cabin crew ask them to stop.
Can they be deterred? Not a chance. The enterprising fellows manage to switch on the Wi-Fi on their laptops and hook up all their computers into a wireless network. So that they can now share folders and information without walking around. On a plane.
Are you a road warrior? What is the most desperate thing you’ve done to get work completed? Send email.
Meanwhile, let me tickle this woman subtly. To achieve closure.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org