open thread – March 29-30, 2024 — Ask a Manager


Yesterday’s thread about office supplies made me want to hear about your workplace hacks. Now that I know 3,000 uses for a binder clip, I want to hear your stories of effective mis-use of office supplies, tools, systems. Bonus points if you managed to unearth and repurpose one of the items discussed yesterday. I’d also love to hear about stupid hacks that became necessary because People Just Won’t.

My examples:

-at an HVAC engineering firm, the engineers, PMs, and techs had a sign-out whiteboard by the door where they were supposed to write where they went. (Sometimes they forgot but since I was sitting right there I was usually able to catch them.) it was one of those things with the little magnetic dots that you’d move over to indicate IN or OUT.

Anyway, we also had two Brother labeling machines. (I’m a little astonished that I didn’t hear more label maker stories yesterday!) At a certain point in the installation, the tech would take one of these to the job site and label things. And it was, apparently, my job to keep track of who had what, because sometimes one tech would have to go get the label maker from the other tech at the other job site or whatever, because we only had two of these.

So I gave them names (neatly labeled with the labeler labels) and put them on the IN/OUT whiteboard. When you took Cheery Littlebottom or Corporal Carrot out to the field, you moved their dot to OUT and put your name. Basically we used the IN/OUT board as a tool checkout sheet, and it worked really well.

Second example:
-small medical office with a satellite office in another town, the satellite was only open two days a week. The satellite was supplied from our office, so when they needed stuff, they’d email me, and I was supposed to put it on a list—my predecessor did a lot of stuff on paper that was then transferred to Excel or whatever, and it was a lot of extra steps, and a lot of different lists, and I had trouble keeping track, and the other person wasn’t comfortable with email and it was medieval except that medieval people had better communication systems. There was also stuff that was needed in that office for the specific appointments each patient had (assistive medical gadgets) and woe betide me if the gadget wasn’t where the patient was. So between me and the office person in the satellite, we worked out a system where we put a repeating fake appointment in the system (it was Practice Navigator) on a day we were closed (like Sunday) and that’s where we would put notes to each other. I had everything in ONE place and it resolved 50% of my problems with that job. (Since the other 50% of my problems were that this was a Small Business Special Hell with bosses who couldn’t manage for shit, I only lasted four months there anyway—I later heard that this was the longest tenure of any of their support personnel. They couldn’t keep people and it actually started to affect their business after a few years.)

Third example (stupid manager hack):
-call center. Call centers famously run on CALL STATS which include things like how much time on and off the phone, and if you were off the phone what were you doing, and idle time. If you’re off the phone for a Reason, you have to file a schedule exception which is then entered by your WFM so that your stats are accurate (for example, if you have a half day off, WFM needs to know that, so that you’re not getting dinged for taking half the usual number of calls on that day. Or if your phone explodes and has to be replaced. Or you had a particularly complex call and had to take an extra five minutes for the documentation. Etc.) At out particular call center, this was accomplished by the agent filling in an Excel sheet with times, reason codes, etc very easy and basic and then at the end of the day you’d email the whole thing to your supervisor who would then kick it to WFM. Somehow, despite the fact that we were a tech company and these were help desk agents, this task was OVERWHELMINGLY COMPLICATED. The pushback we got was astronomical. It got to the point where the supervisors started printing out the form, handing it out to their agents, collecting the handwritten forms and filling out the excel sheet themselves. (Why didn’t they just train the agents to fill in the excel sheet? because they sucked at management.) naturally, the supervisors who were doing this blamed WFM for “all this extra work”.

Fourth example:
I once had to print forms out accessible only from one system, then fax the printouts *back in to ourselves* so they could show up in the other system. We then had to shred the hard copies as it contained PHI. There was apparently no way to transmit this information without going through the physical copy and a physical fax machine. We couldn’t, for example, email a screenshot. We went through reams of paper as tall as me doing this. I got paid for a day’s work though anyway.

I’m sure others here have even better stories, and I want to hear them!



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