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Sour Milk And Travelling

February 2, 2015

I sat down at my desk and could immediately smell it. Sour milk. Just a hint. I knew without looking where it was coming from.

I took a deep breath and opened the mini-fridge under my desk. The plastic half gallon was bloated to the point of exploding. Very carefully I put the jug into a plastic grocery bag and tied the top. Then, just to be sure, I bagged it again and gently placed it in my office garbage.

So, what happened? Travel happened. I was back from a week in Kentucky, or it might have been Virginia, the trips have started to blur together. But, even with being gone a week, the milk shouldn’t have gone bad that fast.

But, things happen with you are out of the office. And something happened.

Lately I’ve been out of my office more than in. It got me thinking about the tasks that are critical to do when you are in the office.


First, there is no substitute for being seen. I’ve always tried to be a manager that focused on results, not on metrics. I tend to believe that if you can get the job done, I don’t care how or when you do it. But, not everyone is like me. And sometimes I’m not even like me.

Many times I have a question, a very specific question and there’s a single person who has the answer. If that person is not at their desk I have to decide, “Is my question important enough to put in email?” Often it’s not. That employee, or coworker just lost an opportunity to build credibility.

My company uses Microsoft Lync for instant messaging. And of course, we all have cell phones, but if you think about your interactions with coworkers, much of the commonality you share is built from the non-work topics you discuss.

Who are you rooting for in the big game?

Did you see the Game of Thrones finale?

How’d your son’s baseball game go?

These are not questions you are going to put into email. When you gone, you lose them. If, like me, you travel a lot, when you are in the office, seek for these opportunities to be “present.”

Accomplish Tasks
Another advantage of being in the office, is that you often have immediate access to critical coworkers. Admit it, we’ve all dodged an email, or let a call go to voicemail. It adds hours and days to the amount of time it takes to accomplish tasks. If I need something immediately, I will walk down the hall, or down the stairs to the engineering team. It’s really hard to ignore someone when they sit on your desk with an “I can wait here all day” look on their face.

Now, it’s important to be courteous, of course, and don’t “shoulder tap” because you are too lazy to follow process. But, if you’ve had a helpdesk ticket stuck in someone’s queue for a week, showing up in person often gets your request added attention. And if you are talking to engineers or programmers, bringing food helps.

Status Updates
Another advantage to physically being in the room is it’s easier to give status updates, especially if they are negative. I recently found myself waiting at the baggage carousal next to our Chief Technology Officer.

Dale, I’m Rodney Bliss.

Rodney, good to meet you in person. You coming back from Richmond?

Yeah, the launch this week. The WORM device install didn’t go the way we hoped.

Why didn’t you have a redundant device when you launched?

That was not a comfortable question. It was a really important question because it highlighted a business decision I’d made, a calculated risk that didn’t pay off. However, I also had his undivided attention. I was able in about 90 seconds to explain why we’d failed and the logic that went into it. And it was so much better than an email. He asked follow up questions and I answered them.

I once had an employee who really screwed up an assignment right before going away for two weeks of training. When he got back, I pulled him aside,

You knew we were struggling to fix the problem you caused. Why didn’t you call, or email or something?

I was afraid of losing my job.

Well, hiding isn’t going to help.

Traveling can be a boost to your career, but rememeber if you travel a lot, you need to maximize your time in the office, and that doesn’t just mean get a handle on your email.

And my issue with the sour milk? While I was gone the cleaning crew unplugged my refrigerator.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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  1. Hi Rodney,

    Why would your cleaning staff unplug your fridge? Were they trying to save on the electricity?

    In any case, this is a nice post – I guess that’s why Marissa Mayer is asking her team to work from the office, and is banning all work-from-home activities.

    • Normally, it wouldn’t require them to unplug anything. But we also had a hearing issue and they brought in electric heaters. I’m guessing they were worried about blowing a circuit with all the electric space heaters.

      I never did get a clear reason. I now empty my fridge before a trip.

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