Please God, All I Want Is A Phone. Any Phone.

I completely lost it today.

I want to be able to make a phone call from our office. I can’t. It’s not a big thing really, but it’s driven me crazy, eating away at me little by little for half a year. I actually think I’ve gone a little over the edge. Like the guys with the printer in Office Space.

A blogger doesn’t need much to be productive. Give her a computer, a phone and a quiet place to work and she’s going to exhibit classic nesting behaviors, settle into a contented and productive zen and make a ton of content. TechCrunch, though, has been plagued with Internet and phone issues, and our office is a ghost town because of it. Writers stay home to get work done. It’s a boiling the frog issue that’s built up slowly over time so we don’t really notice how ridiculous it is, but today was the day I broke.

This is really an internal TechCrunch/AOL issue. But I can’t actually resolve it, and ranting here is probably the only way to move forward. To try to find peace and go on with my life.

You see, I need to make a few phone calls, and I can’t.

We’ve always had mobile phone issues in the office, and trying to use them means missed calls, dropped calls, and a just general failure to have actual conversations. We have a couple of office lines but they’re always tied up by the sales team or whatever. Writers often end up using Skype or some other PC-based VoIP product to make their calls. Mostly they stay home and work.

Maybe six or seven months ago I made a pretty simple request – a phone line at the office that I can use and tie to Google Voice so anyone calling my mobile number can get through. It was a broad request with few conditions. A VoIP line would do. As would a traditional copper line. a dedicated geostationary orbit satellite. Whatever. I just wanted a small gadget that I could pick up, hit a few buttons and then speak with another human being somewhere else on the planet. I could then use the information gathered in that phone call to write a blog post. AOL can put up ads next to that blog post and receive revenue in exchange. In other words, I wanted to conduct business.

I made a request. It was decided that a copper line was best. At some point the line was installed and I was notified on my arrival to the office. I responded that I needed a phone to plug into the wall to be able to use the phone line. Maybe three months had gone by at this point. My next trip down from Seattle there was still no phone, there was some confusion over my request. Since I’m a roll up my sleaves kind of guy I bypassed the red tape and I ordered one on Amazon myself for delivery to our office. My next trip down there was the phone but my request that someone plug it into the wall to test the line and charge the handset had been lost. So no phone that day (and I was really excited about it that time too). But I plugged the phone in and charged it overnight, excited that the next day I’d be using it.

The next day I tried to make a phone call. It made outbound calls but inbound didn’t work (meaning it couldn’t be linked to Google Voice). Some business across town was receiving those calls. I put in a request to have someone look into this and resolve the issue. Meanwhile I worked from my hotel where my cell phone had access.

Next trip to San Francisco. This trip. The phone makes inbound and outbound calls, but it’s now tied to our other TechCrunch phone lines and all inbound calls ring that phone number too. I spent my morning yesterday talking to a food delivery person waiting out front and a few people who wanted to talk to the sales team. Then I stopped answering.

Today I dramatically drew a line in the sand. I WILL HAVE A PHONE, I declared to a mostly empty office, or I will leave the office and work from home. I will return once that phone works. And not before.

I noted that telephones have been a fairly straightforward technology for more than a hundred years, and that making a firm decision to have one wasn’t an outlandish demand. I’ve also now sent an email to a variety of AOL executives with my demand for a phone. They’re probably bemused, and a little concerned for my mental health.

This is, of course, just a rant. But it’s something all businesses need to be mindful of. Details matter. Endless cycles of bureaucracy and inattention can hurt an otherwise healthy business. And one other thing comes to mind, something a mentor told me a long time ago. “I’m lazy,” he said, “So I do things right the first time.”

P.S. In part two of this post I’m going to talk about how we all complained that we had almost no Internet access at the office for months, and how much time was spent complaining internally and to our provider. I finally stopped asking for it to be fixed and one day just did a basic check of our networking equipment. I found that we had three wifi routers. Two were stacked together on the floor beneath a table at the far end of our office. One was behind a metal door in a small room. Just a few short weeks later we had rewired things and placed those routers within shouting distance of the people who were using them. That was a small victory, but one I’m particularly proud of.