If you work in an office, sooner or later, you will experience at least one thing that happens in the movie “Office Space.” Unfortunately, I’ve experienced several in my career. This is just one of them.
Back in 2000 I took a job with a software startup that relocated us to Chicago. It seemed like a good idea…at the time. Within a month of moving and starting, I was told the company was moving to the Bay Area. Ironically, it’s where they had just moved us from. There was an insincere offer to relo us back, but we weren’t up for another cross-country move. Instead, I got a six month package and paid to stick around to help with the transition.
The board replaced the CEO I reported to with someone who lived in San Francisco, and didn’t want to move. Let’s call her Sharon, as I don’t remember her name. She figured it was a good idea to just fire most of the people in Chicago and start over with a skeleton crew out west.
Sharon arrived with her new exec team of former consultants, not technologists. They knew nothing about the product, but it didn’t matter to them.
The next few days were spent trapped in a conference room being told how valuable we were to the company despite knowing our days were numbered. The product was way behind and customers were getting antsy. They patronized us, because they needed someone to deliver the sanitized, bad news they were about to concoct.
They spent hours torturing ideas into an explanation of why the product wasn’t technically late. They reached consensus on a story with just enough plausible deniability. They turned to me and said, “what do you think, can you deliver that?” I nodded and replied, “I can do sincere.” I could tell by their awkward chuckles they didn’t know whether they were in on the joke, or the butt of it.
We broke for lunch. When I came back, Jeff, the old CEO said I wasn’t needed for the rest of the meeting. Relieved, I went back to my desk and surfed the Internet.
The next morning I came in early and Jeff called me into his office. He asked, “what was that all about yesterday?!” I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture and asked what in the hell did he expect. By now, I was angry and raising my voice. I didn’t just move 2000 miles to be someone’s stooge. I’ll be stuck here doing their dirty work, and they’ll be in California. Fuck those guys.
On the way to my office, I noticed Sharon’s goons were already in. They had to have heard everything I said. Jeff’s door was open.
They came into my office, and started asking what kinds of things I like to do acting like they didn’t hear anything. I told them I like doing what I was hired for, leading product design. They told me someone else will be doing that job, as if they were relieving me of a burden. They were worried, I might get bored with nothing to do.
I knew they were hoping to extract some value out of the 6 months severance they were stuck having to pay me. I reminded them, technically I don’t have to do anything to get paid out. So that’s what I did. After 2 days of showing up at the office to do nothing, they told me to just stop showing up.
I don’t know exactly when, but within a year of the whole ordeal, they were out of business like many of the other startups of that era.