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Doodling in the pool

People ask me if I miss working in an office.

Too quickly, I answer, “No.”

The questioner would clearly like me to express some regret for my decision nearly two years ago to leave the world of everyday office life behind to begin working for myself. Despite the alleged trend for more people to work at home, people still look at us home-workers as crazy, recluse shut-ins. People can’t believe we would prefer working at home.

“Isn’t there something about working in an office you miss?” they ask. “Surely, one thing.”

Not really, I tell them.

This generally terminates a conversation faster than you can say Jack Kevorkian. So even though I count my blessings each day I’m able to work at home, rather than an office, I need to come up with a list of regrets to satisfy others.

So, let’s see. What do I miss?

Completing meaningless tasks on the orders of a demanding boss? Office politics? The long, pointless staff meetings?

OK. That’s it. I miss the long, pointless staff meetings.

I didn’t realize how much I missed them until the other day when I was on the phone to an author whose book I’m editing. As I took notes, my pen wandered to the margins to make little patterns and designs.

Then it hit me: I didn’t know what to doodle. I was suddenly doodle-blocked. I was out of practice.

I used to pass time in boring staff meetings drawing elaborate loops, squiggles, triangles and stick people, occasionally bringing discussions to a halt as co-workers stopped to examine my intricate artwork. Yes, I was once a brash, fearless, brazenly confident squiggler — a cocky doodler, if you will.

But in the past year, with no practice, my doodling skills have diminished so dramatically, I would now characterize them as “doodley-squat.” Working for myself, I don’t have the distractions of staff meetings and am more focused on doing real work, so that I haven’t had time to doodle. 

OK, that’s just a rationalization. The truth is, I haven’t made  time to doodle.

The other thing I miss about working in an office is the NCAA basketball office pool. Without being entered in a pool, watching the 64-team tournament isn’t as interesting. I used to cheer for teams from remote, obscure colleges I didn’t care about simply because I picked them to win in my brackets. Now they just seem like teams from remote, obscure colleges I don’t care about.

While NCAA officials discourage gambling, they must realize the only reason many people are interested in the tournament is that they are gambling. So many people are gambling that the purpose of the tournament seems to be more a means to conduct office pools than a means to determine a basketball champion.

As more people leave the office to work at home, fewer people will be entered in office pools and thus, fewer people will care about the outcome of the tournament. To prevent interest from dropping, the NCAA needs to bring together groups of home-workers and organize tournament pools for them. 

Gradually, NCAA officials should also legitimize and formalize pools in other ways. The current method of conducting office pools is haphazard. There is no formal pool administrator. Some guy just volunteers for the job and does it each year. When that guy leaves, there is uncertainty about whether the pool will continue and there is anxiety this important employee perk could be lost.

Since this is such an important benefit to employees, office pools should be conducted by the employee relations or human resources departments. Details of the corporate office pool plan should be recorded in the employee handbook — toward the front if possible — and should be prominently mentioned during the job offer.

INTERVIEWER: We’ll start you with full medical plan, full dental plan, retirement plan and profit-sharing plan.

INTERVIEWEE: Interesting. But what I’d really like to know about is your NCAA basketball tournament pool plan.

INTERVIEWER: I’m so glad you asked. Our human resources department offers a structured program that pays the top three finishers.

INTERVIEWEE: Hmm. Well, sorry. I’m a winner-takes-all kind of guy myself. I just don’t think this is going to be the right fit. 

Finally, one other thing about the office I miss is the people. This group gradually becomes like family — cheering on your successes, comforting you in your losses and frequently annoying you to the point you don’t feel bad when you take their money after winning the office pool.

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