I Could Be A Ninja

What does it say about a company that they will let you be an ‘official’ rockstar superhero ninja evangelist? The WSJ talks about these new dynamic job titles almost as a strategic move, as if upgrading the same job from “data analyist” to “data wrangler” is just a way to entice people into the same old role – as if any company could do it.

But my company doesn’t have any ninjas or rockstars on our payroll. We have a long list of pre-approved job titles and descriptions that are carefully hierarchical so that everyone can tell where they are in the pecking order. It’s neat. Tidy. Organized. And if I wanted to hire a marketing evangelist or communication ninja, that would imply significant paperwork and delay in the hiring process while the powers-that-be decided if that was appropriate for our brand. Because we are a serious and respectable company with a large team of HR professionals, any of whom might look askance at a PR Rockstar job title.

A company that has these creative and fun job titles has enough people who value fun, let’s call it a culture of fun, to push job titles like this through the red tape, or they have so little red tape that one or two people excited by whimsy can make change happen. Either way, isn’t that a company that would be exciting to work for?

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Travel Writing – or Just Living?

Who would know better about what it takes to be an interesting and well-received travel writer than National Geographic? They put together a list of things that aspiring travel writers should consider during their travels. As I read it, I thought these were great tips for navigating your way through life on a daily basis.

#1 Assignment: Even if you aren’t on assignment for Nat Geo, you can give yourself a task or challenge to propel your journey. This puts you on a quest, and quests are excellent foundations for stories.

#2. Ask a million questions: Learn about the place you’re in. “It’s not necessarily expertise that separates a travel writer’s trip from your own. It’s urgency, an appetite for discovery, and an absolute necessity for answers.”

#3 Hire a Guide. They know the coolest places that you might not find on your own, and become an excellent resource for questions about the location. Even if you’re at home, there are parts of your town that others might know better. Find those people. Hang out with them.

#4. Find places where you can engage, and “go local”. Wander off the maps, step into locals pubs, take a class, or accomplish everyday tasks like getting a haircut or going to church. Isn’t this what we all do day to day in our own lives? It’s the attention to what is happening that is heightened when we travel.

#5. Walk. Travel slowly and eschew convenience for opportunities to stop and interact as much as possible.

#6. Get coffee. and while you’re there, try to strike up conversations. Apps and social sharing platforms like Traveling Spoon, Couch Surfing and Meetup can help open the doors to things that are going on in the region.

#7. Take Notes. Collect things. Take pictures. There is so much going on, collecting things you can sift through later in a quiet moment can inspire new ideas or suggest a shape to your experiences.

#8 Take a Break. Don’t forget to sit still for a while. It’s a good opportunity to be still and just absorb what is around you. If you really must plan every moment, consider finding a place for sunrise and sunset and being still while you watch.

#9. Embrace Change and feel free to scrap plans when something better/more interesting comes up. Have a plan to provide initial structure, but be flexible.

#10 Let go of your emotional baggage, and strive to be in the moment while traveling. As George Stone writes in the article, “Don’t compare, don’t anticipate, don’t vacillate, don’t cogitate. Simply embrace the present possibility of having an enlightening experience that reveals something you didn’t know about the world – or about yourself.”

Repair Cafe

The closest Repair Cafe to home is 4 hours away – so that isn’t going to work for me, but it’s encouraging to learn that people are getting together to learn how to fix things in this culture of planned obsolescence and a legal necessity for “right to repair legislation“.

For myself, the reminder that these things can/should be done is the most important thing. For example, I would love to know how to darn socks. And maybe I can’t make it to an in-person gathering, but I could probably learn how to do it on YouTube. So, thanks for bringing the idea into my attention, CityLab!

 

 

 

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.

 

The Floundering Myth of Open Offices

The idea behind the open office trend is that having all your colleagues in one big room fosters collaboration. I imagine building the spaces is less expensive as well. Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing about how poorly this works for people who need to have a distraction-free environment, like some of the software developers that these spaces were initially designed for.

Just today I read about yet another nail in the open office coffin. Cal Newport’s email newsletter advocating deep work referenced an interesting study performed by researchers Bernstein and Tubman at the Harvard Business School showing that employees spent 72% less time in face-to-face interactions, sent 56% more email and 67% more IMs after being moved to an open office space.

The study sampled 152 employees across two companies and found similar results in both cases. It’s remarkable that in-person communication actually went down when switching to open offices – the opposite effect of what people had predicted. The researchers speculate that this is a reaction to a lack of privacy – that people might look around, see that someone is at their desk, and choose to send an email or IM rather than walking over to say hello. It will be interesting to hear how these initial observations are extended. Maybe there is a sweet spot in terms of group size, or the amount of personal space each worker has, or the layout of the desks in the open office.

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.

 

 

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?