I took a shower on campus this morning because I got stuck in traffic and didn't have enough time to do my work out. Usually I'd still go to the gym just to take a shower but thanks to the recent changes I could just come into work and use the showers in my building. There were a bunch of folks in the locker room and the conversation dwelled on the return of the towels for most of the time I was there. I couldn't help but remember one of my old blog posts entitled On Cost Cutting: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish where I wrote

Recently I found out that we no longer had office supplies on the floor of the building I work in. Now if you need to grab a pen or get a marker after your last one runs out in the middle of a meeting you need to go upstairs. Folks have given me the impression that this is due to the recent cost cutting drive across the company. At first, I couldn't figure out why disrupting people by making them go to another floor for office supplies would cut costs.

Then it hit me. When faced with having to go to another floor to find office supplies the average geek desk jockey will probably say "forget it" and do without. The immediate saving is less office supplies used. But I suspect this is only phase one of the plan. Most people at MSFT believe that on average 50% - 75% of projects and features an employee works on in his career in the b0rg cube never ship. This is all just wasted cash. The best way to nip this is in the bud by preventing people from being able to write down their ideas or whiteboard different ideas with coworkers thus spreading the meme about new projects or features. The amount of money saved by not investing in new money losing ventures like *** and **** would be immense. It all makes a weird kind of sense now.

Of course, the post is tongue-in-check. However a later post where I pointed out that moving office supplies to 'cut costs' was an example used in The Dilbert Principle in a section entitled Companies That Turn On Themselves was not. It sucks when you realize your day job is ripped from the pages of Dilbert. The towel issue was another example of how company can turn on itself. A comment on TDavid's blog by Eric captures the sentiment of many fellow b0rg drones when he writes

Here’s the point on the towels:

1) Health care costs are a huge - and rising - expense for Microsoft. People who are using the towels are exercising - some of them pretty heavily - and are therefore likely to save MS a significant amount of money.
2) There is a serious parking shortage at MS. Some of the people who use the towels are commuting by bicycle, and therefore aren’t taking up a parking space - which has a specific cost per year that you can figure out.

It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to encourage both of those behaviors, and in fact, they have programs specifically designed to encourage such behaviors. But they made a decision that actively discouraged people from these behaviors, for a very measly cost savings.

It’s not that people felt that they *deserved* free towels. It’s that by taking away the towels, management was demonstrating that they weren’t paying attention, because doing so was so clearly against the programs already in place, and clearly not in the company’s self-interest.

I care whether my company has internal coherence in its decisions, and I think that customers and stockholders should also care.

The towel thing was penny wise yet pound foolish. I'm glad that there are two less Dilbert-esque things about my day job. The perks like better cafeteria food and the like are actually less interesting to me than just getting rid of counterproductive practices like The Curve, playing hide & seek with office supplies or removing complimentary towels from on-campus showers.

PS: While looking for the link above, I found one of my old blog posts entitled Post Mortems, Reorganizations and the Dilbert Principle which makes me realize that my blog used to be a lot better two years ago. :)

PPS: For the various folks in the B0rg cube who talk about how much better things are at places like Google, this thread may be of interest to you. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.


 

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 7:25:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So what do these changes mean for the SVC? Are they gonna get cheaper food, towels (do they even how showers?) etc? Personally I'm very interested by the food aspect but nobody has really specificed exactly what is going on? Are they saying it will be cheaper food, more food, ??? What's the news here?
Samuel
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 8:25:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Samuel,
If you read http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/microsoft/archives/103593.asp you'll see the changes include having the cafeteria open for long hours [for folks that work late] and providing food from namebrand restaurants like Wolfgang Puck's.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 2:02:46 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Awesome to hear. Yeah that was one thing I noticed when I visited the SVC. The cafeteria in the afternoon was empty. I sorta liked that since it meant that it was acceptable to go home at somewhat normal hours. I remember the recruiter and I talking about the MS vs. Google approach to food.
Samuel
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