The Humane Workplace and Small Business (Or How My Father Made Life Easier For Himself)

google-office-pictures

Where you wish you could work

While reading Andrew Ross’s No Collar – The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs I of course was reminded of the various stories of big-name companies like Google, Facebook, and Pixar who take pride in trying to create a comfortable workplace for their workers. But as I read I began to connect what I was reading with a more personal experience rather than a larger business. I was more-so reminded of my dad’s personal business and how he managed to rework it to not only better suit modern demands but also give his co-workers and himself an easier time at work.

Dads

What work will probably end up looking like

My dad is one of the lucky few in this country to run his own business. He inherited it from his father who had in turn inherited it from his father, and works down in Long Island running a business that sells various jewelry findings nation-wide. While my dad doesn’t bother with the actual production of the findings anymore, he still deals with the shipping and distributing of the findings between states. My dad is a man currently in his 60s, and at one point in his life realized that the way he had been running the company (Which was the way his father taught him how to run it) wasn’t up to par any longer, and had to catch up to the rest. Soon enough he was “in a race to optimize (his) own time against the time of technology” (p 35) to not only benefit his business but also to benefit himself.

Originally my father had studied in computer sciences (Mind you this was back in the 70s where, and he had picked FoxPro of all things as his programming language of choice for work), and wanted to put this skill to work. He went and produced a catalog system for all the findings that he had in-stock, and would update it based on when orders were placed. Despite being fairly primitive, lacking in colors other than blue, yellow and white, the program worked for what he needed it for. Later on he set up various systems that allowed him to view the catalog system from any of his computers (Be it in the office or at home) as well as a way to notify him and his other workers when they would need to order more findings to refill stock. Soon his system was set up so that theoretically he could work from his office at home.

Foxpro

His program looked something like this, but less flashy

And he did just that. While my father took care of the managing side of things for the business, for a while he also took care of the selling of products from time to time, going door to door across the country during the weekdays. Eventually both age and technology caught up to him and he stopped traveling for the business, but in this new digital age he needed a way to advertise his goods still. Of course, this would come in the form of a website for the business as a whole. Well, there was a page for the site at one time, but that was originally just a page listing contact information. It would soon be transformed into your typical modern-day storefront webpage, thanks to the help of a few webpage designers. Aside from the aesthetics sides of the business, he managed to link the store’s order requests and the FoxPro database program together so that one would update with the other, alleviating any need to go and make changes to both separately. Needless to say, my father managed to give himself an excuse to work from home on Fridays, seeing that the only work that has to be done at the office is packing the findings so that they can be shipped out at the end of the day.

While my dad’s family business may not have anything like the cereal bars at Pixar or the Foosball table at Razorfish, he still managed to create a nice environment for himself and his three employees (One of whom is my brother). From my few experiences being there during a regular work day, not much happens and most of the time is spent talking about sports or TV when there isn’t a call for an order to be packed. There admittedly isn’t much room for anything resembling a rec room in the small Long Island office, but the four of them manage between their lunch outings and annual Christmas dinners at a local fishery. There’s enough of a community between the four of them that their job experience is still enjoyable, nonetheless.

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