RIM-Brain: The Office

by Brianna Cochran and Erica Rice

Sometimes as records and information management (RIM) professionals, we become so used to looking for RIM issues at work that we continue to see those issues in our free time. We’ve dubbed this condition “RIM-Brain.” A leisure activity like watching television takes on larger implications as the RIM-Brain takes over. In short, some of the analysts at TSLAC can’t enjoy a movie or TV show without seriously mulling the RIM implications of the story.

Below are a few examples from The Office, viewed through the lens of public records laws in Texas. If you are one of the rare people who have never watched The Office, this fictional sitcom chronicles the daily lives of employees working at the Scranton, PA, branch of the mid-size paper company, Dunder Mifflin.

1. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Garbage bin labelled "Special Filing Cabinet"

Bad records management practices plague characters in The Office from the very first episode, when Michael tells Pam to immediately throw away a meeting agenda his boss faxed him. Michael calls the trash can a “special filing cabinet”. If Dunder Muffin were a local government in the State of Texas, Michael would not be allowed to destroy the official record copy of a meeting agenda before the expiration of its retention period. (You know you have RIM-Brain when you start asking yourself questions like, “Does Dunder Mifflin have an approved corporate records retention schedule?”) Setting aside the illegality of this action, Michael also underestimates the administrative value of this record; he ends up being unprepared for his meeting later in the day, tarnishing the professional reputation of his branch and wasting valuable time and resources.

Even if the meeting agenda Michael threw away was a convenience copy, a meeting agenda for a private meeting between a regional manager and his boss likely contained confidential information and should have been securely destroyed.

Brush up on your disposition knowledge by watching the Disposition 101 webinar.

Pam Beesly reacting in disbelief while being mocked by Michael Scott
Pam demonstrating the appropriate reaction to watching someone destroy a record before the expiration of its retention period

2. “Roy’s Wedding” (Season 9, Episode 2)

When the janitor goes on vacation for a month, the office becomes overrun with trash and rats. This is not great for the active and inactive records being stored in the building.

Pam demonstrating the appropriate reaction to seeing a records storage area overrun with trash

We would recommend that this paper company follow at least the minimum paper records storage standards for local governments in Texas to protect its information assets. Bulletin F requires local governments to store permanent paper records in a manner that “offers protection from fire, water, steam, structural collapse, unauthorized access, theft, and other similar hazards,” and it recommends that local governments have a “pest management program.” To protect against rodent damage, TSLAC recommends performing regular inspections of records storage areas, regularly emptying trash, and prohibiting consumption of food and drink in secure storage areas. Check out our Storage and Preservation of Paper Records webinar for a deep dive into this topic.

3. “New Leads” (Season 6, Episode 20)

When Michael receives expensive sales leads from the corporate office, he hides the leads in various places around the office and with various other non-sales employees, in order to punish the salespeople for their arrogant attitudes. He elects to withhold the leads from the salespeople in order to achieve professional leverage and to avoid rewarding perceived “bad behavior.” Rather than providing open access to the leads as instructed, Michael instead provides clues to the location of the hidden leads. If Michael were familiar with ARMA’s Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles, he would know that he is shirking the Principles of Transparency and Availability.

In violation of the Principle of Transparency, Dunder Mifflin is not practicing records management in an open and verifiable manner. In fact, there does not seem to be any information management documentation available to employees. The Principle of Availability is nowhere to be found in this organization, where employees are not able to access vital information in a timely, efficient, and accurate manner.

Information retrieval should not feel like a treasure hunt!

Jim grimacing while looking at clues on blue index cards.
Jim demonstrating the proper reaction to a company not following the Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles

4. “Branch Wars” (Season 4, Episode 10)

When Michael and Dwight kidnap their colleague Jim to go “prank” a rival branch office, they toss Jim’s cell phone out of the moving car to prevent him from warning anyone. Unfortunately for Jim, that cell phone was the only device he used to store all the photos of his brother’s new baby. If only Jim knew about the LOCKKS approach to vital electronic records management, he would easily be able to download backup copies of the photos onto a replacement device. LOCKKS stands for “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.” To make sure you are able to retrieve original or backup copies of vital records in the event of a disaster, it is best to maintain regular backups in various storage media, preferably in more than one location.

Even though those photos are not company records, we should practice good records management for our personal records too. Think about any records that may be at risk in the event of natural disaster, theft, or intentional destruction.

Use the 3-2-1 Backup Rule to make sure you have adequate backups for your vital records.

Michael, and Dwight pointing at laughing at Jim while driving in a car.
Michael and Dwight rightly berating Jim for only having one copy of his vital records

Let us know in the comments if you have ever felt your “RIM-Brain” being activated while watching The Office or any other show!

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