4-Day Workweeks

MSN.com recently reported about a company in New Zealand recently completed a 2-month trial where they moved to a 4-day work week with the same pay. The company reported this was a success in terms of reducing employee stress and increasing their perceived ability to manage work/life balance. Their “performance metrics” cited as measurements of leadership, commitment, stimulation and empowerment all also increased, and the CEO has recommended that they move to a permanent change in schedule.

Several things struck me as interesting about this trial as it was reported.

  1. The company, Perpetual Guardian, manages trusts, wills, and estates, but there were no reported metrics about things like customer satisfaction, volume of work completed, or any quality of work numbers. These are the kind of numbers that I see as more persuasive to an American company.
  2. Employees who grateful for their company work environment, which they see as a gift, not a right, tend to be more accommodating (available for weekend work), and loyal, as well as being willing to ‘go the extra mile’.
  3. When presented with the prospect of moving toward a shorter work week, it strikes me that many employees would be (a) fired up to be more productive, and (b) would certainly report being more personally productive in order to protect that opportunity. I’d love to see the data a year down the road when the new work plan was less of a novelty and more that people might feel entitled to.
  4. One of the things the company did was to allow time for a “planning phase” where employees were taught about ways to be more effective and efficient in the work place. Several employees reported trying out new productivity strategies, to make this work. Strategies like taking advantage of automation, focusing meeting times, staying more on-task and helping each other out more could be part of a new company culture.
  5. One strategy, “combining meal breaks with work tasks” aka working through lunch, I’d argue isn’t actually an improvement in terms of true productivity. I wonder if the company invested in productivity training, or left their managers to figure things out on their own.

I’m excited to hear about any research which shows the benefits of a shorter work week, and more leisure time, so I see this as a promising step in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll continue to see these more progressive nations set an example that might be picked up in the US.



Social Media’s Influence on a Generation

In my search for interesting news, I recently subscribed to The Atlantic after reading some interesting stories like this one about iGen written by Jean M. Twinge which raises some concern about how young people are (or are not) adapting to the constant-on internet.

A few the data graphs in the article are particularly striking – like the sharp spike of loneliness among 8, 10 and 12th graders starting in about 2012, combined with the author’s interviews with these kids reflecting a lack of interest in going out with friends since they have constant Snapchat and other Social Media access to each other. The online community simply doesn’t replace the IRL one.

The author’s tendency to blame the ills of the world on mobile technology is a little bit of a reach. She seems amazed that teens will sleep with the phone on or beside their bed at night. Their phone is being used as an alarm clock. If that alone is all that’s happening it’s hardly something to be concerned about. And some of the graphs, while showing an acceleration post-iPhone, are part of a much longer trend. The tendency for teens to spend less time out without their parents could be an effect of technology, or the rising trend of helicopter parenting. Of course, Twinge packs her conclusions in around plenty of reminders that correlation doesn’t equal causation, while yet trying to write the most impactful headlines and make the boldest statements.

Still, I expect to hear much more from Twinge as the book is published and the book tour begins. Regardless of the cause of increased loneliness and suicide rates especially among girls, this is something to pay attention to.



All-Electric VW Bus Dream

All-Electric VW Bus Model
An AWD All-Electric VW Bus Promised For 2022

I am irrationally enamored with the popular portrayal of the #vanlife movement, a whole subculture of people who have turned their backs on the idea of needing a big house, a yard, and a picket fence in favor of houses on wheels. A growing number of friends live contentedly-enough in their vans, trading space for the freedom to move about, and finding the best each season has to offer in different parts of the country. Even though I know that the life that happens beyond the edges of an Instagram photo isn’t always so rosy, a real part of me longs to join them. But not yet.

A demanding, more than 40 hour/week job, even if full-time remote, sucks up too much time. We own a house that actually makes us money, that we love, in a place that we love. And yet this dream lingers. I mean, look at the promise of this amazing self-driving, fully electric, AWD beauty! Perhaps when she comes online in 2022 I’ll be ready for van life.



Remote Work: Just a paycheck?!

Brian de Haaff wrote an interesting article about remote work myths that I want to come back to again sometime. But a quick notes on things I thought were interesting.

  1. The title of the article is “Would you take an 8 percent pay cut to work from home?” and most of the comments are an answer to this question rather than to the actual content of the piece. (Marketers and content producers take note!) As a side note – my answer since I wouldn’t have accepted my current position if it had required relocation must be yes, since that would effectively have been a 100% pay cut. Right?
  2. Most of the answers seemed to break into two categories – people defending the value of remote work (and, presumably, their paycheck), and people who don’t work from home suggesting that eliminating their time-consuming commute would provide more than 8% of value.
  3. I hadn’t heard that IBM was going back on their remote work policy by bringing everyone in to some random location – a move or quit mandate. Possibly a way to lay people off without laying people off? Or did they find that too many people were taking advantage of the “just a paycheck” mentality?
  4. That “just a paycheck” perception of remote work was a new one to me, and the most interesting part of the actual article. Because someone would actually submit an application that said, I really want to work for you so that I can collect a paycheck from you while working on my side-hustle?!? Are you freaking kidding me?


Location Independence and Other Words

I’m slowly learning the vocabulary of people who don’t go into an office every day. Remote Worker. Digital Nomad. Digital Expat. Van Life. Slow Travel. WWOOFER. And then there is my new favorite, Location Independence. There’s a whole verbal world in here that I was formerly oblivious to.

A Remote Worker is simply someone who doesn’t work from the office. “I work remote” can mean that you work from home just up the street, or in a rented shared workspace because you want the comradery of an office, but the people you work with aren’t close by. You can do this a few days a week, or a few days a month. It just means that you don’t see your co-workers every single day, but it doesn’t imply that you travel.

A Digital Nomad on the other hand, is someone who takes advantage of the remote work situation to move around. There are a couple of different ways to approach this, and it depends a little on the work that you do. Some people travel constantly for work anyway – photographers, travel bloggers, riggers, outdoor education instructors – and so it makes sense to cut ties to a home base and just travel full time. The #vanlife community would fall into this group, spending a week here, and a week there. Maybe it’s someone who is on an extended road trip, but managing to find time to do a bit of freelance work, or managing an online business as they go. So far, my favorite bloggers in this space are Tamara & Chris, who have been traveling in their mini-van, Red Delicious, since 2013. I love all the travel and lifestyle tips on their site, and their positive, enthusiastic but never saccharine or sugar-coated perspective on what that lifestyle involves.

If the stress of constant travel becomes a bit too much, you might instead choose to engage in “slow travel”. Slow travel involves choosing a spot, and deciding to stay put for at least a few months – maybe a year. The first slow travelers I’ve come across were Jacob and Esther who spend a year in each city they live in, exploring the best the location has to offer, and not letting themselves become complacent, because if you only have 365 days to explore a place, you can’t rest on your laurels.  You have to get out there and do it. These guys are a great resource for adventure trips.

Nora Dunn is more spontaneous in her style of travel, though I think she also falls under the label of slow traveler. Nora is also a travel/lifestyle writer, former financial planner and future shaman (probably), but makes her way around the world depending on what opportunities arise. She’s a wealth of information on things like how to find accommodations for free – via house-sitting, care-taking gigs, or by WWOOFING. Even Google isn’t sure if this acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers On Organic Farms, but the idea is that you trade a bit of labor in exchange for a place to stay. There are Organic Farms all over the world you can work at.

Then, there is the Digital Expat, who takes advantage of being free to live wherever she wants to in order to settle down in some other country. I recently browsed a forum where someone said he wanted to be a Digital Nomad, but he didn’t really like travel all that much. He just wanted to get out of his country. That guy was promptly labeled a Digital Expat and booted from the Nomad forum.

The thing that all these people have in common, in my mind at least, is that they are location independent. Thanks to the digital age, there are many paths to being free of location tyranny. Video conferencing, screen sharing, email, chat, and the good old telephone, has made communication easy enough, ubiquitous enough, that you can still be in touch with a team of people regardless of where you work. But, then what you do with that freedom? There are so many options!

Happy Valentines Day

I won’t do anything particularly special today with my special someone. But un-special includes extra long morning cuddles, having a delicious meal cooked for me, a wonderful and slightly sneaky few hours at the local ski area (in the middle of a work day), and lots of hugs, kisses and being told I’m loved.

I am so grateful that every day is Valentines Day.

Entrance into Meditation – Josh Waitzken

What is the purpose of meditation?

The discipline teaches you to clear your mind, to develop discipline and focus. I always thought about it as enhancing my quality of life. Josh Waitzken uses it to train people to achieve high performance.

Of course, when you think about it, the connection is clear. And the tie between martial arts and meditation has always been overt. But have you really considered the power of mindfulness to lower your heart rate quickly during physical recovery, monitor your agitation and responses to aggression, or to think strategically in high pressure situations?

When Josh became a high-level performance trainer, he started trying to get his clients to try meditation. These powerhouse finance guys just rolled their eyes. But then, he started with physical performance.

He’d have them warm up, and then start cycling between heart rates of 170 and 140, asking his clients to focus on their breathing to get their heart rate down faster. Only once they were in tune with that – to the connection between their minds and their bodies – would he introduce the idea of meditation.

Josh is clearly an amazing guy with a lifetime of learning to deal with pressure and perform at a high level.

The chess prodigy who inspired Searching For Bobby Fisher (a movie which gets a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, by the way, if you’re looking for something to watch), he started learning chess at age 6, was beating chess masters by age 10, and was an International Master by age 16.

Although he hasn’t played chess competitively since 1999, he’s been busy with other incredible lifetime accomplishments. For example, he has many US national medals and a World Championship medal in Tai Chi Push Hands, and has a black belt in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s also an author of two books, “Attacking Chess: Aggressive Strategies, Inside Moves from the U.S. Junior Chess Champion (1995)” and somewhat more recently ” The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” (2008).

He’s also a proponent of the Wim Hoff method (even though a technical error almost got him killed while practicing it) and a guest on one my my favorite podcasts out there – The Tim Ferriss Show. You can catch Josh’s full interview there with many more interesting observations on everything from performance to parenting.