Monday, July 30, 2007

Path of least resistance

Lots has happened, at least it feels that way. It's all probably akin adding a drop to a large bucket of water.

A friend and co-worker decided to move out of SF Bay area to live closer to his family and, mostly, to live in a gorgeous house they can afford to buy there as opposed to a tiny house they
are renting here. I was and still am genuinely happy for him. He was hoping to continue working with us remotely, was told that would not be possible, bought a house anyway, and was told again that his job was here. I have mixed feelings here - I actually agree that it would be close to impossible for him to be productive remotely, and such arrangements have not worked out on in the past, with very few miraculous exceptions. Yet, it would be nice if he was given an opportunity.

I guess the land of opportunities may not be quite as seen on TV. Why would he not be given an opportunity? Well, there is a cost to every opportunity. There is obvious financial cost of having him employed and there is additional cost of a remote person. I don't believe that in our specific case, anything would be saved on not having a office for him. There are other costs, but the one I want to emphasize is the cost of inconvenience of having to tackle a difficult situation. That is the cost that almost every manager wants to avoid. Almost at any cost.

Here is what could have happened: My friend attempts to work remotely and the arrangement proves to be unsuccessful. Even worse, the arrangement may be only marginally successful. And it needs to be brought to an end. Not an easy thing to do. One, this is a situation where a manager must first make a decision that something is not working out, and then the manager must act on that. Trying to repair such a situation is usually a futile energy draining endeavor that can involve many difficult and unpleasant situations. Second, there are rules to follow, and performance related rules are a pain in the neck. Or elsewhere. And, again, they require an enormous amount of work and, again, many unpleasant situations. So any self-respecting manager will follow basic self-preservation instincts and act when the situation is easy. That is, when the situation can easily be painted as black and white. In my friend's case, his job is here and not there. Period.

I used to have a moral issue with such pragmatic self preservationist approach. It did not meet my moral standards. Today, my moral standards have changed - they used to assume that people take care of each other and play nice. And that when one doesn't play nice, you just deal with that in isolation. I was naive, of course, and have paid dearly for that. One needs to appreciate self-preservation instincts, and one must appreciate the depth of people's desire to be comfortable. And all this healthy appreciation does not mean one should not be nice and act with integrity. I think I used to be way too soft. Not a pleasant thing to admit.

In my friend's case, he did not play nice. He tried to push the issue and had his bluff called. End of story. So I can feel for him and root for him as a friend, yet I have to respect and appreciate the decision.

Somehow, this post reads almost childish to me. I was surprised with my disappointment that my friend would not to get to try working remotely. I am also disappointed he would not be around - he is a very good researcher and has been very helpful in the past. Saying that we will miss him is not just a standard empty phrase here. Yet I somehow feel the right move was made.

I wish him well. And he'll quickly find a place that will appreciate his considerable skills and nice personality.

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