Category: Better ways of working (page 1 of 8)

What are ‘internet-era ways of working’?

Tom Loosemore, formerly of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) and Co-op Digital has founded a new organisation that advises governments large public organisations.

That organisation, Public.digital, has defined ‘internet era ways of working’ which, as you’d expect, are fascinating:

  1. Design for user needs, not organisational convenience
  2. Test your riskiest assumptions with actual users
  3. The unit of delivery is the empowered, multidisciplinary team
  4. Do the hard work to make things simple
  5. Staying secure means building for resilience
  6. Recognise the duty of care you have to users, and to the data you hold about them
  7. Start small and optimise for iteration. Iterate, increment and repeat
  8. Make things open; it makes things better
  9. Fund product teams, not projects
  10. Display a bias towards small pieces of technology, loosely joined
  11. Treat data as infrastructure
  12. Digital is not just the online channel

There’s a wealth of information underneath each of these, but I feel like just these top-level points should be put on a good-looking poster in (home) offices everywhere!

The only things I’d add from work smaller, but similar work I’ve done around this are:

  • Make your teams and organisation as diverse as possible
  • Ensure that your data is legible by both humans and machines

But I’m nitpicking. This is great stuff.

Source: Public.digital

An app to close down your workday effectively

In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he talks about the importance of closing down your working day properly, so you can enjoy leisure time. Ovidiu Cherecheș, a developer, has built an web application called Jobs Done! to help with that:

This app is built on Cal Newport’s shutdown ritual concept from his book Deep Work.

The need for a shutdown ritual comes from the following (oversimplified) reasoning:

  1. Deep focus is invaluable for producing great work
  2. We can only sustain deep focus for a limited amount of hours per day
  3. To be able to focus deeply consistently our mind requires rest (ie. complete disconnect from work) between working sessions

It makes sense to me. So here’s how this app works:

You decide it’s time to call it a day.

You are guided through a set of (customizable) steps meant to relieve your mind from work-related thoughts. This often involves formalizing thoughts into tasks and creating a plan for tomorrow. Each step can have one more external links attached.

Then you say a “set phrase” out loud. This step is personal so choose a set phrase you resonate with. Verbalizing your set phrase “provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”

Finally, you’re presented an array of (customizable) pastime activities you could do to disconnect.

I think this is one of those things you use to get into the habit, and then you probably don’t need after that. Worth trying!

Source: Web app / Code

Openness, sharing, and choosing a CC license

The prolific Alan Levine wrote recently about licenses, and how really they’re not the be-all and end-all of sharing openly:

If we just focus on licenses and picking through the morsels of what it does and does not do, IMHO we lose sight of the bigger things about sharing our work and acknowledging the work of others as a form of gratitude, not compliance with rules.

[…]

Share for gratitude, not for rules and license terms.

I absolutely agree. The problem is, though, that people don’t know the basics. For example, sometimes I choose to credit those who share images under a CC0 licenses, sometimes not. Either way, I don’t have to, and not everyone is aware of that.

Which is why I found this infographic (itself CC BY SA 3.0) on Creative Commons licenses particularly useful:

cc-licencse-choo-choo-train

Sources: CogDogBlog / Jöran Muuß-Merholz

 

Is planning just guessing?

Eylan Ezekiel pointed to this post on the Signal v. Noise blog recently on our Slack channel. The CEO of Basecamp, Jason Fried, points out that most business ‘planning’ is simply guesswork:

So next time you’re working on a business plan, call it a business guess. And that financial plan? It’s a financial guess. Strategic planning? Call it with it really is: a strategic guess. 5 year plan? You mean 5 year guess.

There’s nothing wrong with guessing, dreaming, or predicting, but it’s not planning. Planning’s too definite a term for most things. We often use planning when we really mean guessing. And what we call it has a lot to do with how we think about it, do about it, and devote to it. I think companies often over think, over do, and over devote to planning.

I can’t believe that people still even attempt five-year plans. It didn’t work for Stalin; it won’t work for you!

The reason I’m particularly receptive to this at the moment is that I need to be thinking what happens after we launch the first version of MoodleNet. I could make confident assertions, but actually I don’t know. It depends on the feedback we get from users!

I’m always a little suspicious of people who come across like they’ve got it all figured out. Life is messy. This post respects that.

Source: Signal v. Noise

Seven coaching questions

Eylan Ezekiel shared this article in the Slack channel we hang out in most days. It’s a useful set of questions for when you’re in a coaching situation — which could be in sports, at work, when teaching, or even parenting:

  1. “What’s on your mind?”
  2. “And what else?”
  3. “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
  4. “What do you want?”
  5. “How can I help?”
  6. “If you say yes to this, what must you say no to?”
  7. “What was most useful or most valuable here for you?”

Source: Huffington Post

Why desk jobs are exhausting

Sitting, apparently, is the new smoking. That’s one of the reasons I bought a standing desk, meaning that most days, I’m working while upright. Knowledge work, however, whether sitting or standing is tiring.

Why is that? This article reports on a study that may have an answer.

Here’s the topline result: There was no correlation between the amount of physical work the nurses did and their feelings of fatigue. “In some people, physical activity is fatiguing,” Derek Johnston, the Aberdeen University psychologist who led the study, says. “But in other people, it is energizing.” The study also found that the nurses’ subjective sense of how demanding their job was of them was not correlated with fatigue either.

Instead, they found this small correlation: The nurses who were least likely to feel fatigued from their work also felt the most in control of their work, and the most rewarded for it. These feelings may have boosted their motivation, which may have boosted their perception of having energy.

Source: Vox

Airbnb wants to give out shares to its superhosts

Note: I’m testing shorter, more to-the-point updates, alongside the regular ones. Let me know what you think in the comments!


Airbnb sent a letter to the SEC asking for the regulator to permit offering equity to hosts. Airbnb primarily supported changes to Securities Act Rule 701 that would allow offering shares to gig economy workers, not just investors and staff. CEO Brian Chesky characterized it as vital to rewarding the company’s supporters.

[…]

This isn’t the first time a gig-oriented online service has petitioned the SEC. Uber met with the Commission more than once to ask about the possibility. Airbnb is pushing for a direct policy change, however, where Uber was more interested in how it could offer shares under the existing framework.

Source: Engadget

(Educational) consulting for the uninitiated

Noah Geisel, who I know from the world of Open Badges, has written a great post on how to be an educational consultant. I’ve got some advice of my own to add to his, but I’ll let him set the scene:

I get several messages each month from people — usually teachers — reaching out for an informational interview to learn about what options exist to be an education consultant. I’ve had the conversation enough times now that I’m sharing out this quick primer of what normally gets discussed. Maybe it’ll save you the cup of coffee you were going to buy me or help you come prepared to our coffee with novel questions that really make me think.

In my experience, people in employment who have never been their own boss are always interested at the prospect of becoming a freelancer or consultant. This is particularly the case with jobs like teaching that are endless time and energy pits.

Like Noah, the first thing I’d do is try and get underneath the desire to do something different. Why is that? I think he does this brilliantly by asking whether potential consultants are running towards, or running away, from something:

Which way are you running? This is the most important question. Are you running to a new opportunity or are you running away from your current situation? The people I know who are successful and happy doing this work definitely ran to it. The work is just too hard to be anything other than what you want (or even NEED) to be doing. I can’t speak for others but my own experience is that this path is a calling, not an escape pod.

I can only speak about my own experience, but once the Open Badges work went outside of Mozilla, and I’d pretty much done all I could with the Web Literacy work, it was time for me to move into consultancy. It was the logical step, both because I was ready for it, but also because people were asking if I was available.

If no-one’s asking if you can help them out with something that you already specialise in, then it’s going to be long, hard struggle to be seen as an expert, get gigs, and pay your mortgage. However, if you do decide to make the leap, I like the way Noah demarcates the types of consultancy you can do:

  1. Join forces with a known legacy brand
  2. Apply for a posted position
  3. Independent Consultant: hometown hero variety
  4. Independent Consultant: free agent variety

The first two of these are employment by a different name. The third might go well for a few months, but you’re likely to quickly run out of clients, unless you lock them into a multi-year contract. Realistically, you need to go for the fourth option.

If you’ve been used to a job where you do lots of different things, such as teaching, the temptation is going to be to offer lots of different services. The trouble with that, of course, is that people find it difficult to know what you’re selling.

You are wise to avoid attempting to be all things to all people. Focus on a strength that gives you a competitive advantage and go hard; if you fail, you’ll want to know that wasn’t because you didn’t put enough into it.

One of the best things I’ve ever done is to set up a co-operative with friends and former colleagues. We have an associated Slack channel for both member discussions (private) and discourse with trusted colleagues and acquaintances. Meeting regularly, and doing work with these guys not only gives us flexibility, but access to a wider range of expertise than I could provide on my own.

As Noah says, it’s great to earn a bit of money on the side, but that’s very different to deciding that your going to rely on products you can sell and services you can provide for your income. I did it successfully for three years, before deciding to take my current four day per week position with Moodle, and work with the co-op on the side.

Finally, one thing that might help is to see your life as have ‘seasons’. I think too many people see their professional life as some kind of ladder which they need to climb. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s always nice to be well-paid (and I’ve never earned more than when I was consulting full-time) but there’s other things that are valuable in life: colleagues, security, and benefits such as a pension and healthcare, to name but a few.

Source: Verses

(Related: a post I wrote of my experiences after two years of full-time consultancy)

6 things that the best jobs have in common

Look at the following list and answer honestly the extent to which your current role, either as an employee or freelancer, matches up:

  1. Work that is engaging
  2. Work that benefits other people
  3. Work that you’re good at (and feel valued for)
  4. Flexibility in how and where you work
  5. A lack of major negatives (e.g. long commute, unpredictable working hours)
  6. The chance for meaningful collaboration

I would wager that very few people could claim to be enjoying all six. I’m pretty close in my current position, I reckon, but of course it’s easy to quickly forget how privileged I am.

It’s easier to see how remote positions fulfil points #4 and #5 than being employed in a particular place to work certain hours. On the other hand, the second part of #3 and #6 can be difficult remotely.

My advice? Focus on on #1 and #2 as they’re perhaps the most difficult to engineer. As an employee, look for interesting jobs with companies that have a pro-social mission. And if you’re a freelancer, once you’re financially secure, seek out gigs with similar.

Source: Fast Company


Image by WOCinTech Chat used under a CC BY license

Burnout-prevention rules

I’ve used quite a bit of Ben Werdmuller‘s software over the years. He co-founded Elgg, which I used for some of my postgraduate work, and Known, which a few of us experimented with for blogging a few years ago.

Ben’s always been an entrepreneur and is currently working on blockchain technologies after working for an early stage VC company. He’s a thoughtful human being and writes about technology and the humans who create it, and in this post bemoans the macho work culture endemic in tech:

It’s not normal. Eight years into working in America, I’m still getting used to the macho culture around vacations. I had previously lived in a country where 28 days per year is the minimum that employers can legally provide; taking time off is just considered a part of life. The US is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee any vacation at all (the others are Tonga, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands). It’s telling that American workers often respond to this simple fact with disbelief. How does anything get done?! Well, it turns out that a lot gets done when people aren’t burned out or chained to their desks.

Ben comes up with some ‘rules’:

  1. Take a real lunch hour
  2. Take short breaks and get a change of scenery
  3. Go home
  4. Rotate being on call — and automate as much as possible
  5. Always know when your next vacation is
  6. Employers: provide Time Off In Lieu (or pay for overtime)
  7. Trust
  8. Track and impose norms with structure
  9. Take responsibility for each other’s well being

All solid ideas, but only nine rules? I feel like there’s a tenth one missing:

10. Connect with a wider purpose

After all, if you don’t know the point of what you’re working for, then you’ll be lacking motivation no matter how many (or few) hours you work.

Source: Ben Werdmuller