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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thoughts On Being an Intangible Asset

Chris Brady

My company is moving to a new office building this week, a better location for me, at 15 miles closer to home. My co-workers and I spent the last weeks weeding our offices and cubicles of the non-essential items we have accumulated over the years and packing moving crates with the items that we tell ourselves still matter.

Huge trash bins have been rolling in an out for more than a month taking the paper trash away, and Iron Mountain is making a killing on the paper we are storing until it meets its seven-year expiration.  (Note to self: if Iron Mountain is a public company:  Buy.)

I’ve been fascinated by what has ended up for grabs in the break rooms: an archeological dig of business practice past. It’s clear to me that people in my company have had a hard time giving up on paper as a medium, but this move is nudging them toward the cloud.

Dozens of plastic paper trays are going unclaimed. These used to hold mail or served as a parking lot for folders. Does anybody get mail that matters anymore?  Ninety-five percent of my mail is marketing, and I typically toss it, scanned and barely read in the trash bin in the mail room.  (Sorry marketers, I do the same with e-mail too.)

I saw adding machines with paper and wondered where these had been hiding for the last 50 years since the TI calculator emerged. I stopped myself from claiming an electric typewriter from the pile. It was pure nostalgia, but I knew it would end up in a garage sale at my house, so I just said no. 

Binders in all thicknesses littered the supply rooms, making me believe that these either reproduce when we’re not looking, or that someone had binder salesman for a brother-in-law. When was the last time you thought a binder was a good idea for sharing or retaining information? And do you ever open that binder after you store it on a shelf? I don’t think so. But the romantics packed them into crates to take up shelf space at $x. a square foot in the new site.

As all of this was happening, IT installed Office 365 on my PC. This is Microsoft’s cloud based software, and it means that I won’t need to store stuff on my hard drive; it will be out there in the cloud, accessible from my phone and any computer. I think about the media I have used in my career, from paper, to 5-inch floppy and then 3-inch discs, CD/DVDs, thumb drives, and now the cloud.  What’s next, I wonder, telekinesis? It seems like everything that was once touchable is now just bits of data flying around in a netherworld.

My own work has evolved that way too. As a writer/editor, the brochures, newsletters and advertisements that once were my bread and butter have all become web-based, real-time, with expiration dates. Give me a broadband connection and I can work anywhere. I relate my work to that line on the balance sheet called "intangible assets." But I accept that physical space has value too, for collaboration, for symbolism, and most importantly, for storing binders.

On Monday, I’ll set up my new workspace. I took home ten-year's worth of personal items that had decorated my old office before this move: about a dozen plants and photos, a 10-year collection of tchotchkes and business books. I'm promising myself that I will go low key at this new location: one plant for my health, a few photos of the loves of my life, and my well-thumbed copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style.  All easily packed when I reach my sell-by date.

What do you like about the present world of work?  What do you miss from days past?



  1. First time I had no comments. Sigh.

  2. We're relying on telekinesis...But, I do have a written comment, too. I really like the "work from anywhere" capability of the digital age. That was how I could spend a month in Hawaii and still support myself. I like the ability of making a deadline because I can email my client a PDF (or send it to the cloud) rather than screeching into the Fedex parking lot 5 minutes before closing. I do miss the human interaction, at least the real face time. But I compensate with Facebook and Skype and, soon maybe, Twitter and Snapchat. My dream was being able to take my dog to work with me. Thanks to technology, I am able to do that. Arf!

  3. Thanks for letting me know someone is out there Mary. Me too on working at home with dogs and cats as my co-workers. Nothing like a good lick on the face at break time.

  4. Chris, fingers crossed that my iPad will finally let me comment. Having recently reached my work "sell by date" I can relate. I filled many bins with files to recycle, at work and at home. And, still have too many drawers OD "history" just in case. Squoozing down, as my mom used to call it, feels good, and also brings up a lot of feelings about change and transition. Umm, maybe a topic for a future blog