Pimp My Ride, Office-Style

For those of you who don’t know, “Pimp My Ride” is a show on MTV where people submit pictures and videos of their absolutely beaten, run-down, totally-failing-vehicle-inspection cars. Xzibit, a celebrity and rapper, takes their cars to this awesome auto shop where they give the car a complete makeover. A new paint job, new rims, speakers, seats, engine, audio system, chocolate fountain…

But anyways, I was looking at my surroundings and thinking, if Xzibit were to come to my office and change a few things, what would he do?

I realize that my office has its way of doing things that are simply Japanese. Some things are done because it is just “the way things are done.” This is just a collection of my thoughts of what would happen if we could make a few changes. ^^


What if everyone used Microsoft Office Outlook?

When I worked at UT, everyone (even temps) used Office Outlook. I became used to this because email between team members and people in other departments was suddenly easy! We used our Outlook calendars to schedule meetings, let each other know when we were going to be busy or out of the office… If anyone needed to know where I was, they simply had to open up my shared Outlook calendar on their computer. Easy. Simple.


Here is how they do it in my office.

Everyone has their work email addresses and they use some program to check it. It may even be web-based, but I can’t say for sure because I don’t get a work address (even though I will be here for 2 years).

Every Wednesday we have to turn in a “travel report” if we are traveling anywhere the next week. So if it is Wednesday and I have school visits on Monday and Thursday of the following week, I have to submit a hard-copy record of this to the section manager. The section manager goes through everyone’s travel schedules, approves them, and then gives them to the office clerk.

The clerk then compiles everyone’s schedules onto a list with the day, person, location and time. This takes her quite a bit of time to get this sheet together, maybe even a whole day. I usually receive this list on Monday or Tuesday.

And at the end of every month, I also receive the monthly schedule. These are all hard-copy pieces of paper that sit on my desk for a couple weeks and then get thrown away. I have no idea why I need to submit a weekly travel report if they already have my entire schedule for the month.

It would be awesome to all use Office Outlook to know when and where my colleagues would be. People are all about PCs here, so Office Outlook seems like the logical choice. By doing this, we would stop wasting so much paper every week/month by handing out hard-copy schedules to every single office member (20+ people).

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all could just turn on our computers and know where anyone was with a few simple clicks instead of shuffling through papers or flipping through planners?


What if they started accepting PDFs instead of snail mail?

Because I am an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) who is based in an office, all schools must fill out a formal request form for my visit at the beginning of each school term. They snail-mail this formal request to my office and my supervisor adds it to my term schedule.

And then a week before the actual visit, they must snail-mail a packet of papers including my class schedule and lesson plans. This letter must be formally received by the “Paperwork Division” and THEN… (this is the part that really gets me) These papers are clipped onto a clipboard, which must circle around everyone’s desks. All members of the Education Division must read the details of my school visit and stamp that they have read it with their personal seal. All ten people must do this before the original papers are photocopied and the photocopy is then “released” to me.

I have heard of some teachers at other schools who refuse to use email. They only fax and snail-mail. Some teachers at some of my schools don’t even have a computer at their desk (they use the community computer in the teacher’s room). If my office accepted PDFs and stored them on our shared drive, it would save schools money on postage and envelopes.

What if schools could just email a PDF to the person in charge of receiving the documents? At one of my previous jobs, we stored our invoices as PDFs on the shared company drive. They were so easy to look up and find if needed. Now I have to store all of my school visit documents in a huge binder on my desk. Not quite as easy to look up. I wish I had a document scanner so I could scan them all and have digital copies.


What if they installed ceiling fans?

When I arrived in Aomori in July, it was so hot. And humid. The humidity felt on par with Houston, Texas. I was rather surprised to find out that my office did not use air conditioning, only floor fans. You don’t need air conditioning except during the summer months because Aomori is so far north, but during those summer months… It is pretty darn hot.  We use floor fans to circulate the air, but most of the time these just blow my papers/hair around and make my eyes dry.

We are in Japan.  Our office space is limited. Floor fans with their cords just take up precious room. Wouldn’t ceiling fans would do a great deal to circulate the air and save space. However, I can understand not using them, since they are an extra hazard in case of earthquakes. Just something to think about, though.


What if they used ergonomics in the office?

Okay, so maybe this isn’t directly related to efficiency, but… ergonomics is definitely important in the workplace. And if you work at a computer desk all day long, you are doing tons of damage to your body if you do not have the correct set-up. RSIs (repetitive strain injuries), eye strain, carpal tunnel, back pain, neck pain… The list could go on. And if you are injured, you can’t really be productive, now can you?

I had a bout with repetitive strain injury (from a mouse) last year when I had my IT job. I was on the computer all day at work and I started to get some unbearable pain in my right wrist, forearm, and hand. I reported this to my manager and he suggested I rest it, even telling me to go home when the pain became acute. He then offered to buy me a wrist rest and a keyboard tray for under my desk. They even asked if I needed to call Worker’s Comp to report my injury. Needless to say, the response from my manager was fantastic and I was able to recover. Even now I use a wrist rest at work.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if Japan has heard of the word “ergonomics”. Well, maybe they have… but it is just not considered in my office or any other office I have visited. If you’ll look at this picture, you will see that everyone sits at the same exact style of desk with laptops. Everyone has more or less the same chairs.


In terms of ergonomics, there are several things wrong with everyone’s seating arrangements. First off, everyone looks down or hunches over to see their computer screen. The taller you are, the more you have to look down to see your screen. This puts terrible strain on your neck because you inevitably end up looking down for hours at a time. In addition, your shoulders are in an improper position because of the level of the laptop keyboard. Cue shoulder strain and tightness.

My supervisor has had terrible trouble with his lower back lately and he had to buy a cushion for his chair. He took time off to go to the doctor about it and was back at work the next day. It is kind of a band-aid to the situation as he sometimes hobbles/limps around the office when he is in pain. It is hard to watch him wince and twist in his chair as sitting is often quite painful for him.

I have also modified my own seating arrangement by opting for an older chair (that nobody wanted) without armrests so that I could scoot my chair closer to the desk (otherwise, the armrests get in the way). I bought a lumbar support and am using my wrist rest. It is still not ideal though, as I still have a lot of shoulder and neck tightness. Ouch.

I have the feeling that if I told my bosses that my desk/seating arrangement wasn’t working out, they would look at me and be like, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

I don’t know when, if ever, ergonomics will be an issue in offices like mine. They expect everyone, of different heights and weights (from 5’1” to 6’ tall) to use the same-sized desk, chair, and laptop. But no one around here seems to complain, so I guess they just live with it and go to the doctor if it hurts.


That’s just about all I can think of for now. I just find the differences between American offices and Japanese offices fascinating!


One Comment to “Pimp My Ride, Office-Style”

  1. I had a stiff neck when I got through reading this!
    It,s amazing the differences that you find in the
    the different countries. You can write a book!11

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