PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A VIDEO CONFERENCE ADMINISTRATOR
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A VIDEO CONFERENCE ADMINISTRATOR
I was getting requests for a conference happening on the 24th. I had at least three requests for a conference that were all happening at the same time. Since the requests sounded like a continuation of a conversation that I had not heard the beginning nor the end of, I thought: “I bet this is the same conference! I will find out who is really in charge of this one!”
I discover the identity of Miss Organizer, the central person arranging the meeting, and I called her. She seemed very nice, I told her that I was the video conference administrator, and that everything would go fine. She seemed pleased.
In fact, she was so pleased, that she sent out an email to everyone saying that she had talked with me, and that the video conference was in good hands.
I was pleased.
But after the fiasco meeting with the new CEO, he sent out an email to everyone–apparently attorneys like to produce lots of documents–saying that video conferencing was incredibly unreliable, and should not be used for anything important. He mentioned me personally, asking who my manager was, and said that the Chief of Staff should be in charge of making sure this whole video conference idiocy worked, because it probably wouldn’t.
This hurt. Video conferencing should not be used for anything IMPORTANT! Well, I wasn’t forcing anyone to use it, but I always did my very best to make it work for them when they asked for it.
In the meantime, I had found out what was wrong with NY. A major cable, sending network to the whole building, had been damaged. ALL of the network was impaired.
And I had called little miss assistant right after the call and said as politely as I could muster, “WHY THE HELL IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY DID YOU NOT GIVE ME THE 800 NUMBER BEFOREHAND SO THAT I COULD DIAL IN?”
That’s a paraphrase.
She was very apologetic, told me that ten minutes after the start of the call some guy had asked for an 800 number. She had to quickly create one and send it out to all the other people already in the call.
Well. He sounded like a rude, thoughtless, last-minute person. That was typical. What can you do? I let her off the hook, and got back to my business.
But before I can get very far, the Chief of Staff comes steaming around the corner of my cube. “I need to talk to you right now,” she said.
I go to her office, ready to explain. “It’s really unfortunate that this conference went badly.” I told her about the network cable, and about not having the 800 number.
“Well, everyone else had the number!”
My jaw dropped. “I asked the assistant for the number three times!”
“Well, everyone else had it. Maybe you didn’t ask the right questions.”
My jaw hit the floor. What other question would be the right question?!?
“Well this meeting on the 24th had better go perfectly. It has been made clear to me that my continued employment here is on the line. We need to have a meeting about this with everyone tomorrow to talk about what we are going to do.”
“What will we do if NY can’t get its network back online? Do we need some document from the phone company saying the line is damaged?”
“Oh the attorneys won’t look at it. They will just say we are making excuses.”
Making excuses!? What are we supposed to do, go knit them some optical fiber so that they can have their precious video connection?
It was hard to pay attention after the didn’t-ask-the-right-question and the making-excuses arguments. What gall! How unfair! How mean and irrational!
I went back to my cube to prod the NY phone company about fixing the cable, but I was steaming!
Steaming, steaming, all afternoon, all night and all next morning. I do not like to be unfairly accused. I was practically ready to find new employment.
I read Dilbert to make myself feel better, and then I griped to my co-worker. She said, “You don’t have to take that! Don’t let her get away with saying you did something wrong when you didn’t!”
Yeah! I can take back the night! Just say no, stand up for myself etc.
I felt all better and empowered. Hmph! I’m doing the best I can, and better than most.
All right then. Back to the conference of the 24th. Got to get NY working again. That is where the speaker is. After a million phone calls back and forth, the phone company finally gets them online, thank God.
We had the meeting with the Chief of Staff and everyone, deciding on a procedure. In fact, it was a procedure we already had from before I came around.
1. All sites will do an hour-long test run of the call the day before.
2. All sites will do a three hour test run of the call before the conference starts.
3. All sites will set up for the call an hour before the call is supposed to start, and leave it on for the whole call.
4. All sites will have a person waiting outside the conference room on standby.
Wow. That’s quite a strict set up. We had one telecom guy who had been in NY for two weeks already, and the COS asked him to stay another day to babysit the conference. He said okay. My other co-worker was sent to another site. I was going to be here in LA.
The Chief of Staff wanted backup plans and contingencies covered. “We won’t use the sound that is part of the video conference! We should mute all the video conference equipment, and only use the phone for the sound!”
Yes. Okay. Whatever you want. It will look weird and sound bad, but it will probably be more stable. Whatever makes you feel secure.
Every time the Chief of Staff sees me, she says, “You’re gonna help me keep my job, aren’t you?”
She sees me several times a day.
But at least she wasn’t making random and irrational accusations about my competency.
I chose to smile and say, “Everything will work fine.”
But this is making me doubt the sky is blue, already. I am thinking and thinking about every single part of the conference. I started thinking about the phone conference. What did I know about it? What would I do if it went wrong?
They would blame me anyway.
So I had to do some archeological work and find out whom to call about our telephone conference service. We uncovered her number in a Mesozoic stratum of post-it notes and I gave her a call.
What a nice woman! She was so sympathetic and helpful. We talked for forever, really, and she told me all kinds of things. She said, “You know, if you want, you can have a higher level of service on your conference call. You could have an operator assistant on the line to help callers with any problem and improve sound issues, etc.”
Well! That sounded nice. But the conference was only 2 days away, and I wasn’t sure that a change at such a short notice was a good idea. But maybe I should let the meeting organizer decide.
I was supposed to call her anyway. We had determined, in that first friendly phone call, before all the uppity-mucks got involved, that we should speak again 2 days before the conference. I called her at my pre-arranged phone appointment–she wasn’t there. I left a message on her cell phone.
Now the later it got, the harder it would be to make a change. I really needed a confirmation of whether it was a go or not. I figured I should at least schedule the call and get the proper 800 number in case Miss Organizer called back and wanted the number. Just as I was finishing up with the nice conference woman, getting the number, etc, the Chief of Staff appears at my cube.
She is foaming at the mouth and having a seizure. Metaphorically. “I need to speak with you in THE NEXT TEN MINUTES! It’s VERY IMPORTANT!”
I almost have a seizure just looking at her, but before I can say anything (Remember, I’m still on the phone) she tears off to her office.
I quickly hand up with my new conferencing friend, and run to her office.
“Miss Organizer just called me about changing the 800 number! WHAT IS GOING ON!?!?”
Oh. Well, I explained to her very quickly, as calmly as I could, that I had called the conference service to see what could be done to have a good call, they had told me about this higher level of service they could offer. I thought that, in pursuit of her staying employed, I would call Miss Organizer and ask her if she wanted to do this. I understood that it was not desirable to change the 800 number at the late date, so I wanted to talk it over with her.
The COS visibly calms down and begins reassuring me that she is not mad at me. As I watch her in fear and wonder she says, “Don’t worry. I am not angry with you. Believe me, you would know if I were.”
This does not calm my fears.
We called Miss Organizer and have a big conference about what this was all about.
Miss Organizer seemed very calm when she was talking with both of us. “What do you think? What do you think we ought to try and do?” The COS was pretty adamant with her, saying NO forcefully to changing the number.
Miss Organizer brought up something else unrelated. “I think San Francisco might want to join in. But I think they really don’t want to. I think they might just want to go on the phone.”
I said, “Yes, I think they should just join on the phone, especially if they are not certain about being part of the video conference.”
I settled THAT, at least. Taking charge, follow the example of the Chief of Staff. She told me afterwards, “Miss Organizer is a very insecure person. She never wants to make a decision.”
Time is drawing closer, and we are going to have to begin the first of our tests. Miss Organizer has promised to be there to let us know things about where people will be sitting, etc., so we can mike them properly.
I’m sitting in my video room, and our connections are up. All sites have the staff in place, everything is fine. But where is Miss Organizer? It’s been a half hour; she should be here to confirm that everything is how she wants it.
I have to chase her down. She appears finally, 45 minutes late. This time, she seems as shy and uncertain as a 12-year-old meeting her great aunts for the first time. “Oh, this seems nice. Is that how this is going to go? I think it will be okay.”
I ask her some direct questions about where the speaker will be, and where the camera should be, how she wants the room set up. “Umm…I think this is fine. What do you think?”
I refrained from saying what I was thinking: “Who made you in charge?”
An hour into the test, when it should be concluded, she says, “I think we might want to have San Francisco be part of the video call. I mean, I think they said something about it. But maybe they would like to join in.”
Telecom is a black and white environment. Yes or no: “Do you want me to bring San Francisco into the call?”
“Yeah, if you could, I mean…That would probably be a good idea.”
I mute my microphone so she doesn’t hear my exasperation, and I start to “probably” call San Francisco so they can “maybe” join the conference.
Oh. Need I even say it? All participating sites on the West Coast will have to be at work at 6 a.m. to set up for this meeting. Yes, SF is on the West Coast. I’m having to call after business hours to tell staff to be at work 6 a.m. the next day.
Convenience for the staff was never a consideration.
So, we get the very good-natured SF support guy in the room, things are testing fine. He’s gulping back any complaints and saying that he will be there at 6 a.m.
It’s an hour and a half into the test. Miss Organizer says, “Oh, I think SF doesn’t need to be in the call. I think they said they’d rather listen in. Let’s not do them, okay?”
“Okay,” I say, ready to agree to anything. Let’s give them what they want. They can easily come in on the phone conference. We will NOT have SF included in the video call.
But there is one last little thing on Miss Organizer’s mind. “Are we gonna go through with this video conference? I don’t want to take the responsibility of making the final decision.”
Well, no one is shocked by that squirm out of a direct responsibility.
“I will take that responsibility,” I say. “The test went flawlessly, we can go ahead with the call.”
“Okay…” she says, in a trailing voice.
As I am leaving, I notice something. Normally, there are two doors to this conference room. Today, there are two empty doorways. Where are the doors?
I’ll have to find out.
But first, I go down to see the Chief of Staff, because I fear for her blood pressure. I wanted to tell her that everything went well. She’s not in her office, so I go make arrangements for someone else to cover the OTHER video conferences happening the next day. Amazingly, the entire firm did not stop to prostrate themselves in honor of this conference.
On the way back, the Chief of Staff snatches me out of the hall: “Quick!” she says. “I need to know how the test went. Miss Organizer has called me to make the final decision about whether to go ahead with the video conference.”
Didn’t I see this same patch of water go under the bridge earlier?
“The test was flawless, “ I say.
“That’s all I need to know.”
Back at my cube, I remember the missing doors. I call around and discover that they have been removed for refinishing. They will not be back for a week.
I am tired. What should I do? There is nothing to be done, the doors are gone and we can’t bring them back. But I must tell the Chief of Staff, because if it were a problem and I didn’t tell her, who knows what would happen.
I peek around her door with trepidation. She sees me: “What do you need?”
“Um…You know the conference room for the meeting tomorrow?”
She looks expectant.
“The doors are gone. Both of them have been taken to be refinished.”
She just stared at me in shock for a moment. Then she laid her head on the desk and muffled peals of laughter burst out.
“That is really something that I cannot do anything about,” she gasps in between her shrieks. Both of us just laugh. Of all the ridiculous things!
I finally make it to my bus at the end of the day, but my cell phone rings. It’s San Francisco. “Hey, the managing partner really wants to know if he can be part of the video conference. Only, he doesn’t want the other sites to see him. He wants to see them, though. Can we do that?”
“No, we can’t do that.”
No, no no! We can’t do that, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. Because you are rude and you are very tardy in asking, and you are inconsiderate of the people you are asking help from. Also, because we haven’t put your site through the arbitrary and meaningless set of tests that make all the ignorant people who are in charge feel better about it being stable.
“Are you sure? Because they really want it.”
It was four staticky and desperate phone conversations later, at 8 p.m. in my home that we finally determined San Francisco really wanted to be in the video call, and that we really would let them.
I debated whether I would be remiss by not calling the Chief of Staff and Miss Organizer and letting them know about this change. Then I put it out of my mind. There is a point when enough is enough.
I had to be awake at 4:30 a.m. so I went to bed.
I dreamed that my bus didn’t come, and that I had to drive to work to get to the meeting on time. I got lost, and as I was running in between the skyscrapers, I realized I wasn’t dressed for work, and that I would have to go back to my car to get the right clothes. I was working out in my head how long it would take me to do that, and how I could make it to the office in enough time, but I still wasn’t sure where the building was at, and where I was.