Chapter 9—Apparent Horizon
President Tom Blasingame discusses the pros and cons of working from home, being mindful of people’s time in meetings, and recent studies that highlight the effect of excessive email, meetings, and presentations on productivity.
The definition of apparent horizon: the plane or line where the earth or water and sky seem to meet.
If you do nothing, you get nothing.
You get a lot of advice in this job. A former SPE President told me that these columns should never be about “where we (presidents) went and what we did last month; nobody’s interested in that.” While I have tried to abide by that rule, I can tell you that this past month was an extraordinarily full month, all from the computer screen, of course. I have dealt with the widest possible spectra of SPE membership from freshman students to geriatrics, like myself. It has been both exhausting and inspiring to see and feel the creativity and labor of our SPE members.
As unsolicited advice, if you are looking for inspiration, then I encourage you to talk to those who have lost their jobs or even their businesses. I have dealt with several in both groups during the past month.
Listen carefully to them. These colleagues look forward to when they can again contribute to our industry and they have that unique never-say-quit attitude that defines our industry. If you want to understand the word “resilience,” just listen. They are truly inspiring.
Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.
Frankly, I spend almost all of my time for SPE just as Seneca suggests. The modern interpretation of this is that “the harder I work, the luckier I get” (attributed to the golfer Arnold Palmer). Specifically, I am looking for that “apparent horizon” where SPE can best serve its members in a fashion that presents a multitude of significant opportunities. In short, we are getting prepared to be lucky.
Life could be wonderful if people would leave you alone.
The Year(s) of Living Virtually
In a recent panel I was involved in, I confess I did not expect (nor hope) to be the one to get the question “Is work-from-home here to stay?”, but I did. I thought I should share my views so you can taunt me with how wrong I am or could be. The obvious answer is yes. The efficiency and effectiveness of work-from-home (or remote working) is well documented, and probably to no one’s surprise, people are working an average of 2 or more extra hours/day when working from home.
The positives of work-from-home are obvious. Professionals can work very well with less supervision than anyone might have thought possible before the COVID pandemic. Occasional, or minimal commuting, provides a generally better home life and better time management, and there are exceptional (potential) cost savings from less commuting, travel, etc.
There are also negatives for work-from-home. The really bad news is that we probably don’t need as many management personnel. There is significant meeting overload. A rule of thumb is that for 80% of the people, 80% of the meeting time is wasted time. Historically people must be seen in order to be seen as relevant. The presumption being that if one is not seen, then they are not working.
Not everyone can or will want to work from home. All of us need direct personal interaction of some sort, and realistically there are essential roles that require people to be on-site, as well as companies that have a business model that just is not conducive to work-from-home. In addition, we have serious challenges in the work-from-home concept when it comes to creating new work relationships and in mentoring. Despite the allure of virtual happy hours, you are still sitting at home with a drink in your hand while actually talking to your dog or cat, or possibly, your kids.
While I am not an authority on email, I probably could be. Recent studies found that the average person (whomever that is) spends at least 3 hours/day on business email and more than 2 hours/day on personal email. Thirteen percent of respondents in one study admit to working their business email from bed. The simple answer is that we must minimize email, meetings, presentations, etc. and maximize productivity. In short, work-from-home has led to more work hours for everyone, but less work results for many.
SPE and You
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
“How can I help?” I get this question often, sometimes those exact words, and sometimes in the form of a request such as “I would like to help with xyz.” Regardless of the approach, I can assure you that I take the offer and commitment to serve seriously, and if my email increases to 18–20 hours a day, so be it. My job is to make sure you can do your job. I would also mention that I am truly blessed to have the input and service of so many of our SPE members, every one of whom just wants to make sure they can contribute to the mission and future of SPE. I never tire of being grateful for their service and commitment to SPE.
As a minor update, I can confirm that as an organization, SPE remains strong in terms of its operations and delivery of service to members. We are like the post office. Regardless of circumstances, we will not be deterred from our appointed duties. Also like the post office, we must have operational funds, and the Board of Directors is working hard with the SPE Executive Staff to ensure that we restart in-person events as quickly and as effectively as conditions permit. As I mentioned, in this job you get plenty of advice, and recently one of my former students engaged with me to extoll the need and urgency to return to the in-person conference experience as soon as possible. “Former students” is Texas A&M code for alumni, but in fact, this person really was my student. I can assure everyone that in-person events are our highest priority in terms of our operational objectives, but we cannot and will not sacrifice safety nor prudence in doing so.
SPE was fortunate to be very strong financially when the pandemic began and has been able to weather the storm reasonably well by relying on our financial reserves (our rainy-day fund), as well as a significant Paycheck Protection Program loan/grant. This program originated from the US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. We expect to start holding in-person events again soon, but it will be some time until SPE conferences, workshops, and other events, and the revenue that comes with them, are truly back to normal. Throughout this difficult time, we have maintained a consistent level of service to our members. As we come out of the pandemic, we will continue to use what we have learned about delivering programs virtually to provide the services our members need.
Some members have asked, “What is the status of SPE’s Strategic Plan for the next 5 years?” This is an evergreen exercise for the Board of Directors; we update the SPE Strategic Plan every 4–5 years. I have decided to take a deliberate approach, sort of like deciding what activities to pursue depending on the weather. I can assure you that my vision and that of the Board of Directors is bold. We must remain the preeminent technical resource for the petroleum industry, and we must evolve in terms of content generation (publications and virtual content) and in our missions of service to the industry and the public. I will be working with my successor, Dr. Kamel Ben-Naceur, and the Board of Directors to establish a new SPE Strategic Plan in the coming months. I ask for your patience, and I sincerely welcome any and all input.
(A Cajun word meaning “a little something extra”)
Don’t sleep too much. If you sleep three hours less each night for a year, you will have an extra month and a half to succeed in.
This month I thought we could have some casual learning (i.e., fun) based on the career-long experiences of others. Let’s consider the “10 Big Career Mistakes” given by Steve Leeds, consulting geologist, in a recent LinkedIn post. This material is reproduced with Leeds’ consent, and the words in parentheses are mine, not his.
10 Big Career Mistakes
- Failing to make your boss look good
- Failing to network
- Poor wardrobe decisions (Sorry, is that one only for geologists?)
- Failing to improve (Only submit your best work!)
- Ignoring warning signs (Industry, company, boss ... )
- Being unreliable (Keep a very high “say and do” ratio)
- Gossiping (Negative comments always come back to haunt you)
- Arriving late and leaving early (Colleagues know who pulls their weight)
- Staying at a job you dislike (Adapt, accept, or leave—period)
- Chasing money. (Money is an outcome, not the sole objective)
As always, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any feedback.