The Message Which I Left To My Co-workers Today

Since we are celebrating Black History Month, I wanted to pass along some information about Chicago Neighborhoods. 

During the past year, several co-workers asked me about different Chicago neighborhoods, especially about their safety. I always have an uneasy time answering these questions because “safety” had become a loaded word in general, and especially in Chicago. The reality is more complicated than dichotomy safe/not safe, and for a while, I was thinking about ways to show these complexities in a way that would be easier than reading volumes of history books. 

My older son, who is a contributing reporter for Austin Weekly, has put together a list of articles that talk about different Chicago neighborhoods, their history, stigmas, and much more. 

Let’s talk about neighborhood stigma
Chicago and race: perception, polling, and reality
Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago
Best of the SouthSide
Differential Pathways of Neighborhood Change and Perceived Neighborhood Reputation
The Woodlawn’s future

I am aware that nobody likes clicking the links, especially non-technical ones, but is it challenging to come up with a short essay on a complex topic. I hope you will find these links useful and educational and make this Black History Month more meaningful. 

P.S. I had received a record number of thanks!

P.P.S. Igor, if you will still be able to come up with something more compact, it would be great.

Office Dynamics

Thursday was the first day when we had three people in the office at the same time. By then, I made two more kitchen improvements. First, I plastered the sign “DOES NOT WORK” on the front of the Nespresso Machine. Otherwise, everybody coming to the office for the first time is trying to use it and just waists a pod or two.

Second, I bought a Brita water dispenser. Our water coolers are taped, and initially, our HR purchased bottled water, but it is all gone, and nobody is reordering.

First, I wanted to buy a pitcher, but then I saw that this water dispenser cost the same, and decided that it will be better when there is more than one person in the office. Here is it, and I instructed everybody not to let it dry!

Also, for the first time after six months, I have two meetings next week scheduled with an in-office option. I could not believe my eyes 🙂

Today’s Highlights

This post didn’t get published lat nigh for some reason, so now those are yesterday’s highlights, and more details to come),

There were three people at the same time in the office first time since the office is open.

My manager scheduled our next 1-on-1 for the next week in the meeting room, not on Hangouts.

I went to the Art Institute and saw the new Monet Exhibit.

I went to the Youth Shelter first time since February. And we had dinner and the actual convesation.

It started raining in the afternoon, and my feet are wet, and this also didn’t happen for many months. Because I was not walking in a distance from home for many days, weeks and months.

Office Days

I know that many people are afraid to take public transportation these days. I didn’t take CTA yet, and I can’t judge how safe it is, but I am 100% comfortable taking Metra.

People go to work in the city, maybe, ten percent of those who used to go to the city before the pandemic, but the trains are not ghostly. The schedule is reduced, and when I started to go to the office regularly, I realized that this presents some challenges. One is that I can’t be late for the 7-24 train. It used to be “my” train, and I am glad it survived, but previously I could take 7-51 express if I was late for 7-24, and now there is no such an option (which results in lots of Starbucks breakfasts!). I have to say there is something good in having fewer options, too, because it makes me more organized.

I always thought of myself being very well organized and working from home just fine, but after being forced to work from home for months, it required some effort to get out of the house on time. Through these past months, I felt that I am accomplishing less at home, but only now I realized how much time I am wasting for nothing when I do not have my usual morning checkpoints.
In short – I am happy to be back to commuter train.

That’s how the train car looks like these days. The conductors flip the sears so that it’s always one person per four seats, so I have a luxury to always sit by the window, always having an electric outlet, always facing the direction of travel, and always having room for bags. What am I going to do when it is all over?!

By the way, it is also plenty of parking space at the station these days, so you do not need to rush to be able to park at the convenient spot.

Continue reading “Office Days”

Settling Down in the Office

In the office, all our workstations were rearranged to make sure we were six feet away from each other. I was told that I am by the window facing the City Hall, which made me delighted. However, when I came in, I saw that although I was indeed by the window, the City Hall was behind me 🙂 and I was facing west. I do nor even know why, but that made me extremely uncomfortable, even though there was nobody else in the office. 

Next time my director was in the office, he moved me – I am not by the window anymore, but I am facing East. For a reason not known to me, I feel much better that way. I finally placed all my keepsakes where they should be. I have this set of memorable things that travel with me from one workplace to another and never live in my home. 

They came from different people, at different times and under different circumstances, but now, they all mean something for me. 

The bear – to be strong and resilient, the blue hippo – to laugh and to relax, the old plaster cobra – the keeper of my love, Buddha – to stay calm no matter what. And friends and chocolate – there is nothing I can add to what it says:)

Also, on Thursday, I finally found my office coffee mug! I could not find it and kept thinking that I took it home, then I could not find it at home, and looked everywhere in the office… It turned out it was in the washing machine! And then I remembered that it was me who started the washing machine “last time,” when we were leaving the office before what we thought then was just a two-week thing. And when our HR was making the office ready for reopening, she didn’t check the washing machine! And there were still glasses in, and it was still showing “running.” 

Now everything is finally in the right places! Where it should be 🙂

How Is It Being In the Office

So far, went I come to the office, I am either alone, or there is one more person there. People are asking me “how is the office,” and I am saying I like being back. It’s not like I less productive at home, but when I am coming to the office, it helps me to separate work and non-work, so that it won’t be one endless workday.

Also, when I am in the city, I can meet Igor for lunch, and I can walk the streets of Chicago, which I missed a lot during these months!

There is no food in the kitchen
And the nespresso machine stopped working, so I bought another percolator for work
Continue reading “How Is It Being In the Office”


Yesterday, one of my direct reports put a resignation notice, and I am upset – you can’t even imagine how. He is leaving for personal reasons, nothing against the company or me. But I am more upset than I thought I would be because I just got one more person on the team, and just onboarded him. With holidays in between, I only had about a week of normal life. Only for about a week, I felt like I have all the team members on place, and it will be normal work, not overworking.
Now we are back again to the job posting, interviewing, possibly waiting for visa transfer, onboarding, and God knows what else. And meanwhile, all of us have more work to do. Three years and nine months of working understaffed.

Chick Tech Chicago Meetup. RealTalk: Workplace Harassment

I attended this meetup in September, during this crazy week before I left for Helsinki. And although it has been a while, I still want to write about it. Interestingly, just before that, I completed a mandatory harassment training, so everything was pretty fresh. This was the first time I completed such training for managers, which gave me a new perspective.

The meetup agenda said:

In this discussion, we will be diving into a tough topic. Workplace harassment can be very difficult to handle and highly unexpected. We’ll learn from our speakers on real-life examples in which you can navigate situations and how to maintain your own communication through a very difficult situation.

Cassi Hansen, VP of People Operations at Nerdery
Debbie Pickus, Founder and CEO of Team Fireball Inc.
Laura Khalil, Executive Coach at Force of Badassery

I would describe this more like a panel because as you can see from this description, the speakers were the subject matter experts. Each of them had a lot to offer in terms of how to fight harassment at the workplace. We were going through many real-life examples, many of which sounded very much alike to the ones presented in my training.

One of the topics which came up was the question of how women, who are sexually harassed at work can find their allies, how they can stand for themselves when the source of harassment is somebody in the authoritative position.

My thoughts were going in a little bit different direction since the same training reminded me that there are many kinds of harassment, and one in particular, which bothers me a lot.

Then I decided to tell my story.

Once at one of my previous jobs, a co-worker stopped by and asked whether we could talk in private. When we were behind the closed doors, she procced with saying she is a messenger of other folks. Although I do not like characterizing people by their national origin, it is important for the story. She was a green card holder, and the other folks on behalf of whom she was speaking were from the same country of origin, but they were alien workers, holding the work visas.

She proceeded with the long list of complaints about their manager, who treated them poorly, was mean to them, was presenting their results as his own, and so on. Knowing the situation, I had no reason not to believe. But then my coworker said: they are afraid they will be fired and will have to leave the country. They are afraid to go to HR. And even if you will go and tell HR what’s going on, if HR calls on them, they will deny everything because they are afraid of retaliation. I asked – then what do you want me to do? She said: please go and talk to our director! Maybe he will be able to do something.

I knew that it would be impossible to do something without HR, but I went to my director anyways. His response was as I’ve expected: there is no way around HR.

This happened many years ago, but I still do not know what’s a good way to resolve such a situation. And when I shared this story with the meeup, nobody had a good answer…