Category: Better ways of working (page 2 of 6)

The virtue of rest

This article in The Washington Post is, inevitably, focused on American work culture. However, I think it’s more widely applicable, even if we are a bit more chilled out in Europe.

Many victories of the labor movement were premised on the precise notion that the majority of one’s life shouldn’t be made up of work: It was the socialist Robert Owen who championed the eight-hour workday, coining the slogan “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” For Owen, it was important not only that workers had time to sleep after a hard day’s labor, but also that they had time to pursue their own interests — to enjoy leisure activities, cultivate their own projects, spend time with their families and so forth. After all, a life with nothing but work and sleep is akin to slavery, and not particularly dignified.

Most mornings, I wake up rested and ready for work. Like most people, there are some mornings that I don’t. Unsurprisingly, the mornings when I don’t feel ready for work are those that follow days when I’ve had to do more work-related tasks than usual.

There’s a balance to be struck where it comes to work and rest, but in the United States, values and laws are already slanted drastically in favor of work. I would advise those concerned about Americans’ dignity, freedom and independence to not focus on compelling work for benefits or otherwise trying to marshal people into jobs when what they really need are health care, housing assistance, unemployment benefits and so forth.

I’m reading Utopia for Realists at the moment, which has some excellent suggestions. It presents some startlingly-simple, well-researched ways forward. I think my favourite part is where the author, Rutger Bregman, points out that people who are in need require direct help, rather than complex schemes.

The same goes with our so-called ‘work-life’ balance. What we actually need for a flourishing, healthy society and democracy is more rest. As Alex Pang, author of the book Rest notes, leisure is usually framed these days as a way to get more work done. Instead, we should value it for its own sake.

Source: The Washington Post

Space as a service

This isn’t the most well-written post I’ve read this year, but it does point to a shift that I’ve noticed — perhaps because I work remotely.

Increasingly we are moving to an almost post consumer world where we are less bothered about accumulating more stuff and much more interested in being provided with services, experiences and ephemeral pleasures.

So Uber instead of Cars, Spotify instead of CD’s, Netflix instead of DVD’s: on-demand this, on-demand that. Why bother to own something you seldom use, that becomes out of date rapidly, or that you really cannot afford. Rent it when you need it.

Some might think that these are things ‘Millennials’ do, but if that generation is defined as those born from 1980 onwards then some of those are almost 40 years old. It’s not a trend that’s going away.

When you’re used to paying monthly for software, streaming music and films instead of buying them, and renting accommodation (because you’re priced out of the housing market), then you start thinking differently about the world.

Just as it is now easy to buy almost any Software as a Service, so it will become with real estate. Space, as a Service, is the future of real estate. On demand and where you buy exactly the features, and services, you need, whenever and wherever you are.

Key though is that this extends beyond spaces rented on-demand; regardless of tenure it will become important to be able to also rent or purchase on-demand all the services one might need to make the most of your space, or to enable the most productive use of that space.

So for businesses who employ people who can do most of what they do from anywhere, the problem becomes co-ordination rather than office space. Former Mozilla colleague John O’Duinn makes this point in his upcoming book.

We really do not NEED offices anymore, we really do not NEED shops anymore. In fact we really do not NEED an awful lot of real estate. That is not to say we don’t WANT these spaces, but what we do in them will change.

So companies like WeWork are already huge, and continue to grow rapidly.

So how will all this change supply?

Well you have people who:

  • Prefer services over products
  • Don’t need to go to an office to work
  • Are used to on-demand
  • And are uber connected with vast computing power in their pocket.

The answer, to me, has to be #Space As a Service – space that takes account of these four trends. Space that is specifically designed to allow humans to do what they are good at.

I think this is a hugely exciting time. I’m just hoping that we see a similar revolution around equity, both in terms of diversity within organisations and shared ownership of them.

Source: Antony Slumbers

The résumé is a poor proxy for a human being

I’ve never been a fan of the résumé, or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (CV) as we tend to call them in the UK. How on earth can a couple of sheets of paper ever hope to sum up an individual in all of their complexity? It inevitably leads to the kind of things that end up on LinkedIn profiles: your academic qualifications, job history, and a list of hobbies that don’t make you sound like a loser.

In this (long-ish) article for Quartz, Oliver Staley looks at what Laszlo Bock is up to with his new startup, with a detour through the history of the résumé.

“Resumes are terrible,” says Laszlo Bock, the former head of human resources at Google, where his team received 50,000 resumes a week. “It doesn’t capture the whole person. At best, they tell you what someone has done in the past and not what they’re capable of doing in the future.”

I really dislike résumés, and I’m delighted that I’ve managed to get my last couple of jobs without having to rely on them. I guess that’s a huge benefit of working openly; the web is your résumé.

Resumes force job seekers to contort their work and life history into corporately acceptable versions of their actual selves, to better conform to the employer’s expectation of the ideal candidate. Unusual or idiosyncratic careers complicate resumes. Gaps between jobs need to be accounted for. Skills and abilities learned outside of formal work or education aren’t easily explained. Employers may say they’re looking for job seekers to distinguish themselves, but the resume requires them to shed their distinguishing characteristics.

Unfortunately, Henry Ford’s ‘faster horses‘ rule also applies to résumés. And (cue eye roll) people need to find a way to work in buzzwords like ‘blockchain’.

The resume of the near future will be a document with far more information—and information that is far more useful—than the ones we use now. Farther out, it may not be a resume at all, but rather a digital dossier, perhaps secured on the blockchain (paywall), and uploaded to a global job-pairing engine that is sorting you, and billions of other job seekers, against millions of openings to find the perfect match.

I’m more interested in different approaches, rather than doubling-down on the existing approach, so it’s good to see large multinational companies like Unilever doing away with résumés. They prefer game-like assessments.

Two years ago, the North American division of Unilever—the consumer products giant—stopped asking for resumes for the approximately 150-200 positions it fills from college campuses annually. Instead, it’s relying on a mix of game-like assessments, automated video interviews, and in-person problem solving exercises to winnow down the field of 30,000 applicants.

It all sounds great but, at the end of the day it’s extra unpaid work, and more jumping through hoops.

The games are designed so there are no wrong answers— a weakness in one characteristic, like impulsivity, can reveal strength in another, like efficiency—and pymetrics gives candidates who don’t meet the standards for one position the option to apply for others at the company, or even at other companies. The algorithm matches candidates to the opportunities where they’re most likely to succeed. The goal, Polli says, is to eliminate the “rinse and repeat” process of submitting near identical applications for dozens of jobs, and instead use data science to target the best match of job and employee.

Back to Laszlo Bock, who claims that we should have an algorithmic system that matches people to available positions. I’m guessing he hasn’t read Brave New World.

For the system to work, it would need an understanding of a company’s corporate culture, and how people actually function within its walls—not just what the company says about its culture. And employees and applicants would need to be comfortable handing over their personal data.

For-profit entities wouldn’t be trusted as stewards of such sensitive information. Nor would governments, Bock says, noting that in communist Romania, where he was born, “the government literally had dossiers on every single citizen.”

Ultimately, Bock says, the system should be maintained by a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization. “What I’m imagining, no human being should ever look inside this thing. You shouldn’t need to,” he says.

Hiring people is a social activity. The problem of having too many applicants is a symptom of a broken system. This might sound crazy, but I feel like hierarchical structures and a lack of employee ownership causes some of the issues we see. Then, of course, there’s much wider issues such as neo-colonialism, commodification, and bullshit jobs. But that’s for another post (or two)…

Source: Quartz at Work

How to be super-productive

Not a huge sample size, but this article has studied what makes ‘super-productive’ people tick:

We collected data on over 7,000 people who were rated by their manager on their level of their productivity and 48 specific behaviors. Each person was also rated by an average of 11 other people, including peers, subordinates, and others. We identified the specific behaviors that were correlated with high levels of productivity — the top 10% in our sample — and then performed a factor analysis.

Here’s the list of seven things that came out of the study:

  1. Set stretch goals
  2. Show consistency
  3. Have knowledge and technical expertise
  4. Drive for results
  5. Anticipate and solve problems
  6. Take initiative
  7. Be collaborative

In my experience, you could actually just focus on helping people with three things:

  • Show up
  • Be proactive
  • Collaborate

That’s certainly been my experience of high-performers over my career so far!

Source: Harvard Business Review (via Ian O’Byrne)

Ryan Holiday’s 13 daily life-changing habits

Articles like this are usually clickbait with two or three useful bits of advice that you’ve already read elsewhere, coupled with some other random things to pad it out. That’s not the case with Ryan Holiday’s post, which lists:

  1. Prepare for the hours ahead
  2. Go for a walk
  3. Do the deep work
  4. Do a kindness
  5. Read. Read. Read.
  6. Find true quiet
  7. Make time for strenuous exercise
  8. Think about death
  9. Seize the alive time
  10. Say thanks — to the good and bad
  11. Put the day up for review
  12. Find a way to connect to something big
  13. Get eight hours of sleep

I’m doing pretty well on all of these at the moment, except perhaps number eleven. I used to ‘call myself into the office‘ each month. Perhaps I should start doing that again?

 

Source: Thought Catalog

Valuing and signalling your skills

When I rocked up to the MoodleMoot in Miami back in November last year, I ran a workshop that involved human spectrograms, post-it notes, and participatory activities. Although I work in tech and my current role is effectively a product manager for Moodle, I still see myself primarily as an educator.

This, however, was a surprise for some people who didn’t know me very well before I joined Moodle. As one person put it, “I didn’t know you had that in your toolbox”. The same was true at Mozilla; some people there just saw me as a quasi-academic working on web literacy stuff.

Given this, I was particularly interested in a post from Steve Blank which outlined why he enjoys working with startup-like organisations rather than large, established companies:

It never crossed my mind that I gravitated to startups because I thought more of my abilities than the value a large company would put on them. At least not consciously. But that’s the conclusion of a provocative research paper, Asymmetric Information and Entrepreneurship, that explains a new theory of why some people choose to be entrepreneurs. The authors’ conclusion — Entrepreneurs think they are better than their resumes show and realize they can make more money by going it alone.And in most cases, they are right.

If you stop and think for a moment, it’s entirely obvious that you know your skills, interests, and knowledge better than anyone who hires you for a specific role. Ordinarily, they’re interested in the version of you that fits the job description, rather than you as a holistic human being.

The paper that Blank cites covers research which followed 12,686 people over 30+ years. It comes up with seven main findings, but the most interesting thing for me (given my work on badges) is the following:

If the authors are right, the way we signal ability (resumes listing education and work history) is not only a poor predictor of success, but has implications for existing companies, startups, education, and public policy that require further thought and research.

It’s perhaps a little simplistic as a binary, but Blank cites a 1970s paper that uses ‘lemons’ and ‘cherries’ as a metaphors to compare workers:

Lemons Versus Cherries. The most provocative conclusion in the paper is that asymmetric information about ability leads existing companies to employ only “lemons,” relatively unproductive workers. The talented and more productive choose entrepreneurship. (Asymmetric Information is when one party has more or better information than the other.) In this case the entrepreneurs know something potential employers don’t – that nowhere on their resume does it show resiliency, curiosity, agility, resourcefulness, pattern recognition, tenacity and having a passion for products.

This implication, that entrepreneurs are, in fact, “cherries” contrasts with a large body of literature in social science, which says that the entrepreneurs are the “lemons”— those who cannot find, cannot hold, or cannot stand “real jobs.”

My main takeaway from this isn’t necessarily that entrepreneurship is always the best option, but that we’re really bad at signalling abilities and finding the right people to work with. I’m convinced that using digital credentials can improve that, but only if we use them in transformational ways, rather than replicate the status quo.

Source: Steve Blank

Deciding what to do next

This post by Daniel Gross, partner in a well-known startup accelerator is written for an audience of people in tech looking to build their next company. However, I think there’s more widely-applicable takeaways from it.

Gross mentions the following:

  1. If you want to make something grand, don’t start with grand ambitions
  2. Focus on the repeat offenders
  3. Tell your friends what you’re doing
  4. Make sure you enjoy thinking about it
  5. Get in the habit of simplifying
  6. Validate your market
  7. Launch uncomfortably quickly

To explain and unpack, point two is getting at those things that you think about every so often, those things you’re curious about. Points six and seven are, of course, focused on putting products in a marketplace, but I think there’s a way to think about this from a different perspective.

Take someone who’s looking for the next thing to do. Perhaps they’re dissatisfied with their current line of work, and so want to pursue opportunities in a different sector. It’s useful for them to look at what’s ‘normal’ (for example, teachers and lawyers work long hours). Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s worth just getting started. Go and do something to set yourself on the road.

If there’s anything you remember from the post, let it be these two words: perpetual motion. Just Do It. Make little steps every day. One day that’ll add up to the next Google, Apple or Facebook.

…or, indeed, a role that you much prefer to the one you’re performing now!

Source: Daniel Gross

Multiple income streams

Right now, I’m splitting my time between being employed (four days per week with Moodle), my consultancy and the co-op which I co-founded (one day per week combined). In other words, I have more than one income stream, as this article suggests:

Having multiple income streams can come in handy if one income stream dries up. After two years in business, I’ve learned that you’ll always have peaks and valleys. Sometimes everyone is paying you, and sometimes your lead pipeline can look barren. I started a marketing and PR agency and spent that first year working my startup muscles: planning, strategizing, defining markets. If I hit a slow month, I kept working those same exercises. While it helped grow my business, I sometimes needed an intellectual rest day.

People who have only ever been employed (which was me until three years ago!) wonder about the insecurity of consulting. But the truth is that every occupation these days is precarious — it’s just hidden if you’re employed.

This is a short article, but it’s useful as both a call-to-action and to reinforce existing practices:

Developing a secondary income stream is easier than you may think. Think about how you like to spend your off hours and research potential markets. Maybe you’re really good at explaining something that is a difficult concept for other people–create a course on an on-demand training site like Udemy or Skillshare.

In general, we think more people are paying attention to us than they actually are. Your first endeavour doesn’t have to set the world on fire, be a smash hit, or a bestseller. The important thing is to get out there and provide something that people want.

Through volunteering, putting myself out there, and developing my network, I haven’t had to apply for a job since 2010. Also, with my consultancy, it’s all inbound stuff. Some call it luck but, as Thomas Edison is quoted as saying:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

I’d add that knowledge work doesn’t look like work. But that’s a whole other post.

Source: Inc.

Absentee leadership

Leadership is a funny thing. There’s lots written about it, but, at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships.

I’ve worked for some great leaders, and some shitty managers. This Harvard Business Review article describes the usual three ways those in positions of power get things wrong:

The key derailment characteristics of bad managers are well documented and fall into three broad behavioral categories: (1) “moving away behaviors,” which create distance from others through hyper-emotionality, diminished communication, and skepticism that erodes trust; (2) “moving against behaviors,” which overpower and manipulate people while aggrandizing the self; and (3) “moving toward behaviors,” which include being ingratiating, overly conforming, and reluctant to take chances or stand up for one’s team.

But there’s another, potentially even worse, category:

Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. They were promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. Absentee leadership resembles the concept of rent-seeking in economics — taking value out of an organization without putting value in. As such, they represent a special case of laissez-faire leadership, but one that is distinguished by its destructiveness.

The problem with absentee leaders, as the article explains, is that they rarely get weeded out. There’s always more pressing problems to deal with. So the people who report to them exist in a professional feedback vacuum.

The chances are good, however, that your organization is unaware of its absentee leaders, because they specialize in flying under the radar by not doing anything that attracts attention. Nonetheless, the adhesiveness of their negative impact may be slowly harming the company.

If leadership is about relationships, then the worst leaders are those who show poor emotional intelligence, don’t invest in building trust, and provide little constructive feedback. If you’re in a position of leadership, it’s worth thinking about this from the point of view of others who interact with you on a regular basis…

Source: Harvard Business Review

The ‘1, 2, 3’ approach to organising your working day

I subscribe to the free version of Stowe Boyd’s Work Futures newsletter. He’s jumped around platforms a bit when I think he’d be better off charging a smaller amount for a larger audience on Patreon.

Boyd’s latest post talks about how he approaches his work, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

I basically employ three styles of work journaling:

  1. On a daily basis, I plan and track my work with the ‘1, 2, 3′ technique.
  2. On a weekly basis, I plan and track using the ‘must, should, might’ technique.
  3. On ‘agenda’ projects, I plan and track using the ‘do, do, do’ technique. I use the term ‘agenda’ to distinguish with the short-range calendar orientation of daily and weekly projects. This will make more sense, later on.

Breaking down that ‘1, 2, 3’ technique, he notes that (like me) he’s realised there’s only a certain amount you can sustainably get done in one day:

Specifically, I have learned that I can do the following:

  1. One major activity, such as working for a few hours on client research, or writing for a few hours. This is the ‘1′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  2. Two medium sized activities, like a 45 minute phone call, or doing an hour-long webinar. This is the ‘2′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
  3. Three short activities, taking less than 45 minutes. This is the ‘3′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.

I’m not sure how many hours per day Boyd works, but I bet it varies. What I like about this approach is that having a ‘major activity’ that you check off each day makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. A day full of short and medium-sized activities feels somewhat wasted.

Source: Work Futures