Corporate Key to Success #2: Entrance and Navigation

(This is the second in a series of posts on Corporate Orientation.)

Upon entering your shiny new corporate office building, you’ll immediately notice a couple of things.  First, your hopes will be dashed by the decal on the front door informing you that bombs and guns are not allowed in the building.

No one covered this during the interview process.

There are a number of ways to lead in a given environment, but much like most Americans, you’ve gained the lion’s share of your knowledge by watching television, movies, and movies on television.  You know instinctively that whipping around a gun pretty much gets you whatever you want, and that if this doesn’t work, you can always go the bomb route.  (Coincidentally, your most successful pick up line in college also involved “dropping a bomb,” so it’s always had a proven track record for you.)  Suddenly you’re told that you’ll have neither of these things available to you.

After pausing for a very long moment, you’ll notice the second surprise:  that stairs are nearly obsolete.  There are various reasons for this, which I’ll get to in a moment, but in today’s world, you actually have to go on something of a treasure hunt to find a usable stairwell.  When you do, it’s like discovering your own tropical island—except for the scents of ancient coffee spills and past employee breakdowns.  And if you do manage to find the stairs and take them up a few floors, you’ll really frighten people when you open the door at your destination.

No one expects to see someone suddenly emerge from a door that they long believed to be a closet.

Now, how have stairs become obsolete?  The answer is semi-obvious: because stairs are like kryptonite for a corporate employee.  With countless meetings and cubicle conversations as your professional lifeblood, you’re going to need every once of wind that your lungs contain, and if you’ve ever seen a fire drill in a corporate office, you’ll know that sending employees down stairs depletes more oxygen than a kitchen fire in space.  It’s gotten so bad that I can guarantee it will only be a year or two before you see little oxygen panels in corporate stairwells—the same kind that you see on airplanes.

At any rate, we’re a little off track here:  the point is to prepare you for the reality you’ll face in your new job, and that reality exists in the form of corporate elevators.  Elevators that you’ll ride with your fellow employees for years to come.

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll know that crazy shit can happen on an elevator.  You get in, and everything seems fine.  You ride up one floor, the door opens, and suddenly you’re looking at The Last Person You Would Ever Want to See in This Moment.  At that point, there is really no way to avoid the situation, so that person gets on and the doors shut.

The next five minutes are excruciating.

I know what you thinking:  it’s impossible for elevator rides to last five minutes unless you’re either: 1) experiencing serious mechanical failures, or 2) you’re in Inception.  But it happens.  Time seems to tilt on its axis, and you’re paralyzed in limbo with The Last Person You Would Ever Want to See in This Moment.  There are awkward pauses.  You glance at the mirror on the side of the elevator, trying to check things out discretely, and you freeze when you see the other person doing the same thing.  You say, “Hi, how are you?”, engaging your automated greeting system, and the other person responds in kind.  You pray that he or she doesn’t answer truthfully, because you don’t want to spend the next four and a half minutes of this elevator ride pretending to be sympathetic.

Sooner or later, it ends, and between this and the parking deck adventure, you’re truly in mental anguish.

Most of the time, however, you can breathe easily (as long as you don’t suffer from claustrophobia).  You’re in a small, portable room full of strangers, and to make the ride successful you only have to abide by a handful of rules:

  • Remain equidistant at all times.  If you failed high school geometry, you’re in a bit of trouble here—I’d recommend a handy cheat sheet.  Essentially, though, you want to make sure that the maximum amount of space exists between every single person in the elevator (this is most obvious when there are four people, and all of them are huddled in each corner like the poor soul at the end of The Blair Witch Project).
  • Don’t make eye contact.  Stare at the back of the elevator door, stare at your Blackberry, stare at your watch…do anything but look at another person.  Fortunately, this is made easier by the fact that it takes a double breach to cause a transgression.
  • Due to the enormous upswing in after-hours corporate office raids (you’d be surprised how well motivational posters sell on the black market), make sure you know your super-secret elevator code if you’re in the office at odds hours.  There is a great side to this, though:  if you enter your code correctly, you feel like you’ve just saved the princess in Super Mario Brothers.

If you can do these things, and outlast a potential personality conflict for five minutes, then you’re off to a terrific start.