Another aspect of small office work is that the environment is subject to the boss’s whims. I imagine in a layered corporate structure, with many managers, supervisor behavior is constrained by what the company is willing to tolerate. Though not what it once was, Oversight and accountability will work against (though not prevent) megalomaniac and sociopathic tendencies. I might be entirely wrong, but I know that in a small office environment, there is very little to keep the boss (particularly when the boss is also the owner/president) from transforming the company into a purgatory reflective of their personality. That is not to say that all small office bosses are little Hitlers. Rather, what they like or don’t like is often reflected in the work environment, for better or for worse. I think, in the grand scheme of things, I lucked out. My boss was super intelligent, witty, and ultimately committed to doing the right thing for his employees.
Even so, learning the ins and outs of your boss’s quirks and/or traits is a necessity. You must discover what you can talk to them about and what to avoid. For example, I learned very quickly to avoid anything smacked of hyperbole, as that was the equivalent of lying. However, I also learned to appreciate an off-center sense of humor, which I share. Finding commonalities with people is key to getting along with them. You will always have differences with people, but don’t let that dominate. You might share a hobby, have similar family structures, or common interests. Of course, there are topics to avoid throwing out there – like politics, religion, and extremely personal information. The other aspect to avoid is cliques (probably less of an issue in the small office than large) and the malignancy of egocentric sociopaths. I have witnessed folks who felt the rules didn’t apply to them and tried to recruit others to be the same way. That is a train wreck waiting to happen.
I’m certain that other folks have found that much of what they learned in college didn’t translate well into the work environment, at least initially. My background in computer science was a lot more theory than application, which didn’t help when I first started working with the computers in the office. However, being curious and willing to stretch myself intellectually helped the transition. Later, as I got into working on reports, particularly those that talked about computer technology, the theory information I learned in school had a lot of applicability. Virtually everything I learned had use at some level, though sometimes I had to stretch to find it.
I could go on and on about what I did in my full-time career, but I won’t. I want to touch on another pitfall of a small business career: sometimes, the job doesn’t end, but the company does. Sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me. The company I worked for had a few contracts to provide support to various agencies (all within the government). When all those contracts stayed fully funded and stable, everyone had plenty of work, and the company remained flush with cash. The problem is that when the dynamics change, the wiggle room and flexibility a small business has becomes a liability. The company began shedding contracts when the Iraq war and resulting insurgency began devouring more and more of the government’s spending. Mega-sized corporations swept in to gobble up available funds, particularly those earmarked for research and development (R&D). That is where the trouble began, not that the corporate vultures weren’t already circling, but they certainly got more aggressive.
Money vanished into the maw of two wars; immediate needs clearly outweighed doing anything that wouldn’t see the battlefield in 15 to 20 years. DoD got out of the business of inventing and switched to using technology, trying desperately to find something to stop legs and arms from being blown off in Iraq. All this was noble and worthwhile but short-sighted and unsustainable for a military dedicated to using advanced technology to allow our smaller military to be superior to our enemies.
If that sounds like gobbly-gook, then I apologize. But the long story short is that money meant for research, the pot of money that kept Orion going, was disappearing into a sinkhole. And before long, the money was gone. And with it went the future of Orion. Curiously though, the contract I worked on did not disappear, but it could not sustain the rest of the company. So, as I watched, the company switched to 60 percent pay (including myself), and within the year, the money from the other contracts that kept the company viable ran out. In March of 2011, Orion closed its doors, and everyone, including me, was let go.
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