The new way of working is broken

The “new way of working” where we are all interconnected and all available all of the time doesn’t work.

Companies are adding tools to their ecosystem every year to solve specific problems, and each tool seems to have its own notification and chat system.  Most of these tools are driving towards “real time communication” and this idea has been sold as a great feature, driving faster innovation and greater collaboration.

We already know that multitasking doesn’t work, it may even cause permanent brain damage. But we don’t need to neuroscientists to know that it’s hard to concentrate and deliver quality work when we are interrupted, and most of the tools supposedly delivering the “new way of working” are highly interruptive.

The default setting for our email system includes an icon notification, a pop up and a sound as the default notification. It’s easy enough to change but every so often a reboot will reset it to default. Imagine anyone thinking that a sound notification would be a good idea in an open plan office.

But is “real-time communication” a good idea? In a crisis it might be necessary, but most of the time we’re not working in crisis mode. In a recent Recode Decode interview Jason Fried said

…as a primary method of communication, real-time communication is a bad idea in most workplaces most of the time…People cannot get their work done at work anymore because they’re being constantly interrupted by all these real-time tools.

The constant interruptions break our focus, and it can take more than 20 minutes to recover our concentration. This cannot be good for productivity, every person I know has developed strategies to reduce the interruptions, including;

  • no sound or vibration notifications
  • removing apps with high notification rates from the desktop/homescreen
  • turn off notifications on apps (weirdly this isn’t always possible – even temporarily)
  • close email and any social media tools to allow focus
  • use airplane mode to appear unavailable
  • book appointments in outlook to do focused work – which triggers a “busy status” on skype

But could we also call on tool designers to rethink their notification systems from “push” to “pull”, perhaps they could allow us to schedule mini-breaks from notifications. Could system designers set up notification hubs where we collect the notifications for new work? Or could notifications get really smart and only appear when we’re working on the relevant project?

Imagine how much we would get done in a day without interruptions.

image via pixabay 

Green Washing

Ever seen a product marketed as being good for the environment – in a plastic bottle?

Consumers are looking for sustainable options in their purchasing, and companies follow that trend. Sometimes the change is has an environmental impact, sometimes not. It can be hard to tell. When a company markets their products as sustainable but spends more on marketing than sustainable sources, or produces misleading marketing or packaging, or promotes their product as simply better than alternatives – that’s greenwashing.

Definition

Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.

Some Examples

Starbucks announced last year that they would ban straws and instead introduce a “sippy cup” lid. Turns out that the lids use more plastic than the straws and are unlikely to be better for the environment. But they got good press at the time of the announcement.

TIP: If you’re worried about straws then skip the straw/plastic beaker all together, and opt for a reusable cup. Starbucks and many cafés will make coffee in your reusable cup and may even offer a discount.

Walmart joined the sustainability trend, launching a “go green” sustainability campaign. Given that Walmart customers are price sensitive this was always going to be a challenge, and the report card is mixed. They’ve reduced foodwaste, and increased recycling of plastic. Their efforts to shift to 100% sustainable energy have so far (in more than 10 years) only got to 4% according to the EPA.

TIP: if you’re trying to assess claims look for agency reporting on data, and beware of percentage improvement, a move from 1% sustainable energy to 4% is a 400% improvement.

Coca cola – and other beverage companies – are working on “plant-based” plastics, that will be biodegradable. In some countries these bottles are already on the market, in some cases they’re still as much as 70% plastic, and about 80% of beverage containers still end up in landfill.

TIP: If you’re worried about this source of plastic stop buying drinks in single use plastic. Ask for tap water in restaurants, carry a water bottle from home (assuming you live somewhere with safe water).

In these cases the companies are trying to do something genuine, it’s just not easy to change people’s behaviour or build new resource infrastructure. These are not the worst examples of greenwashing.

Airbus took the skies in 2008 using the slogan “A better environment inside and out” for the Airbus A380, even putting on the planes’ tail. But air transport is a highly polluting industry, putting millions of tons of CO2 into the environment every year. Their argument seems to be that because of the scale of the plane less pollution occurs per kilo transported – true, but in the interests of honesty in marketing perhaps the slogan should be “not quite as bad for the environment as our old planes (which are still flying)”. Hmmm, not so snappy, needs work.

Volkswagen’s emission scandal which came to light in 2015 was possibly the most extreme example of greenwashing to date. Volkswagen not only made false claims about the emissions from their cars, the emissions devices in half a million cars themselves were modified to pass emission tests over a period of forty years. One good outcome, I suspect this scandal led to countries adding legal requirements for ecological claims to companies’ marketing.

Legal?

Probably not, most countries have advertising standards requiring that statements in an ad are verifiable. Some countries  -Australia, Canada, Norway, the US – have including requirements for companies to back their environmental claims with data the advertising standards.

Even so, as a consumer it’s worth keeping a cynical eye on claims of “greener”, “eco-friendly”, “biodegradable”, and “sustainable”.

 

Image via pixabay

Just Stop It: Twitter Notifications

Just Stop it

Having used twitter for many years, on two personal accounts and one work one, I’ve been using it less lately. And there’s a simple reason – the icon is no longer on my phone’s home screen.

Most apps give you a notification count in a little circle on the app,twitter icon six notifications in the image to the right you see that I have six notifications on my twitter account. It tells you that six things have happened on my account since I last looked. It used to be six interactions; new followers, people commenting on my tweets, and retweets. But about two years ago Twitter added notifications about updates and interesting links to its notifications tabs, and I was really quickly overwhelmed. I wasn’t alone. It’s Twitter’s effort to soak up more of your attention and keep you on their platform longer, it hasn’t worked Twitter still lags behind Facebook by miles, with 2.7 minutes a day and 58 minutes a day respectively.

Here’s what twitter says it does:

Here’s what that means, Twitter recommended I’d be interested in tweets from these two gentlemen, you’ll note that I’m not following either of them. Mr Verbruggen’s tweet was in Dutch (I tweet in English) and mentioned him having a shower and a beer. I’m sure Mr Verbruggen is a perfectly nice man, I just don’t know why Twitter thinks I will be interested in his bathing habits. The other tweet was from Henry Winter, a sports writer. I am rubbish about sport, I only care about tennis and maybe the Silver Ferns when they play Australia I’m pretty sure I’ve never tweeted about football.  But Twitter thinks I might be interested in a book about English football?

There seemed to be no way to opt out of this nonsense, and the twitter “recommendations” quickly overwhelmed the genuine interactions.

I got fed up. I moved the Twitter icon off my home screen on my phone, my twitter interaction declined. I once used it every day, It used to be my news feed, I followed people in tech, NGOs, companies I like, people I’d met at conferences and comedians. I barely look at it now except when I make a blog post.

Twitter’s efforts to engage me on the platform have had exactly the opposite effect. I haven’t even added the app to my new phone.

Please Twitter, just stop it.

And would someone please notify me when this is fixed? Thanks.

Creativity at Play #5

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Batteries Not Included

It seems everything has a starter kit. From poker to guitars to video games, if you’re just starting out and you want all the necessary things you’ll need to begin, there’s a starter kit available. Too bad someone couldn’t have left us a creative starter kit when we first started our jobs. It’s time to become that someone. Your challenge is to create a starter kit for your job. Create something to give to anyone starting in your occupation or a starter kit for someone just beginning at your place of employment. Include a “Quick Glance” instruction sheet, something to give them the essential advice to succeed right away. What would you want to have known when you started?

This is a bit more real for me, as I took on a new role in February and I had a new colleague join me in April, which has made me think about what a new person needs to know. Here’s my first pass at a secret guide for a digital team member.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Did this exercise break out the creativity? Yes, it was fun to think about the REAL content you need, as opposed to the usual official HR-approved list. Will I really produce this as a guide? not alone – it could be a fun collaboration project. Going through this and playing with how information is presented has inspired me to think about a project I’m working on a little differently though, we’re creating some SharePoint training, most of it will be connecting to existing Microsoft content, but some is company specific. It might be more fun to present it like this than as a pdf, let’s check with end users first.

Facebook’s Fall from Grace

Following the attack at a mosque in Christchurch in which 50 people were murdered, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on Facebook to do better;

“They are the publisher, not just the postman. It cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”

She has a point, during the shooting in Christchurch the shooter live streamed his rampage through two mosques. I have seen a couple of screen grabs from the video and the images look like a very graphic shooter game. We now know that the first man to see him at the first mosque greeted him with the words “Welcome, Brother” and presumably this greeting was recorded on the live stream. It’s now illegal to publish the video stream in New Zealand, and the article where I saw these images has been taken down. To give Facebook credit once the New Zealand police alerted them I understand their Global Escalations Teams worked to remove instances of the live stream from their platform. But technically, under US law, they cannot be held responsible in court.

The video may still be out there, I’m not interested in seeing it but when researching for this article I found an interesting autocomplete in a google search, and it seems the effort to remove the video was not perfect.

In the Easter shootings across Sri Lanka which had a significantly higher death toll, their government worked quickly to block social media, and continue to circumscribe citizens’ use of social media. It’s not the first time the Sri Lankan government have blocked social media due to concerns about the spread of extremism via social media sadly.

How is this possible?

Social media platforms have benefited from a piece of US law, section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act which says;

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”

It’s an important part of maintaining free speech on the internet and it means I’m not liable for comments someone leaves on this blog, and nor is WordPress. The EFF explains in more detail.

More scandal

This isn’t the only issue Facebook has been faced with, last year they admitted to a security breach that may have affected 90 million accounts.

There are also growing concerns about health impacts as research piles up about the harmful impact of social media, particularly on children. There’s also evidence that anti-vaccination activists are targeting ads to people likely to be wavering on the vaccination question, and the number of Measles outbreaks keeps growing.

More famously their algorithms have undermined democracy in at least two countries. This is via the link to Cambridge Analytica, here’s how that worked as explained by journalist Carole Cadwalladr;

With all this scandal, how is the company doing?

Well. Facebook is doing well.

Revenue continues to grow, user numbers continue to grow. User numbers have apparently levelled off slightly in the US and in Europe, but it’s not clear that this is due to scandals.

Facebook currently makes more than 1.6 million USD per employee, 98% of their revenue is from advertising (2018 annual figures).  Which begs the question of just who the customer is. Remember that they don’t pay for any of the content placed on Facebook – in contrast to, say, a glossy magazine like Vogue which at least provides some content to dilute the advertisements. So we, the users are the content providers and our attention is the commodity sold to advertisers.

Regulation Required

It seems this isn’t a problem that the free market can solve. We’re now living with a platform that is with us 24/7, pulls together a global community of almost half the world’s population, and holds data on our every move – and tends to seek more data rather than less. One way that Facebook has grown is by acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp, and the company is now so rich that it can buy any competitor thus stifling innovation. Governments have seen the impact on their country – in Sri Lanka, in New Zealand with devastating effects – and in their elections. During the campaigning to appeal the 8th amendment in Ireland Facebook banned all ads that were funded from outside Ireland, showing that it is possible to contain the damage of foreign influence. The EU put the GDPR legislation in place, in an attempt to protect citizens against the power that Facebook and other social media companies have accrued, in response Facebook moved millions of accounts from Irish servers to US servers – out of the reach of EU legislation.

The US is also stepping up, with the FTC investigating Facebook’s use of personal data and a hefty 5 billion USD fine looming over the company. Even that might not be enough, there’s a bipartisan call for tougher protections on consumer privacy.

I started writing this post in December, it’s been re-written more than any other post I’ve ever made, but every time I thought I was ready to hit publish something else happened. I nearly delayed again to analyse the information coming out of F8 and more analysis on the appearance of a change in Facebook’s policy on privacy, there’s a pretty good analysis on the Vergecast – they’re not convinced and nor am I.

Image via pixabay

Drinking from the Firehose

“How’s the new role? Are you just drinking from the firehose?” asked my colleague yesterday.

It seemed a new and peculiarly American phrase to me but I knew exactly what she meant and the answer was an exhausted “yes”.

What does that mean?

Wiktionary gives a very simple definition

  1. (idiomatic) To be overwhelmed (with work, information, etc.); to be inundated with an uncapped, unfiltered amount

And it seems the term has been around for more than a decade, as it was picked up in a nicely nuanced way in this 2006 blog post.

Why am I drinking from the firehose?

I took on a new role in February, it’s more global, more strategic, and more fun. I’m now part of a US-based team, none of whom have met me. However I still have some projects to complete from my former EU-based role as I haven’t been replaced. So in the mornings I focus on the EU projects, and the afternoon I switch to the US projects, my agenda is getting crowded and my day is a bit stretched.

It’s cutting into my writing time – but it is temporary. I will be writing more regularly from June onwards as one of my projects finishes sometime in May. In the meantime, back to that firehose.

 

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Creativity at Play #3

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Can Anyone Direct Me to the Perfume Aisle?

If there is any one retail outlet more intimidating than the local giant home improvement warehouse hardware mecca, point it out, please. You can get lost just locating a shopping cart. One thing is certain: the target audience of these emporiums is heavily male. Now imagine you are asked to consult on a new brand of uber-spacious hardware paradise, this one targeting women. List at least twenty ideas to make the local oversized hardware warehouse appeal to a female demographic

Three Stories

I live in the Netherlands, and I can speak enough Dutch to manage most forms of shopping. Some years ago I went into the local hardware store, I knew exactly what I wanted, only I didn’t know what it was called because growing up I could just wander into my Dad’s workshop and pick up whatever tool or supply I needed. So I didn’t have the right vocabulary to even look stuff up in Dutch, I had to draw the thing I wanted, much to amusement of the sales guy. I wasn’t intimidated, but I have never felt so aware of “secret men’s business” as I did in that moment.

I was at a conference about branding and marketing, and the keynote speaker summed up marketing to women as “pink it and shrink it”.

Decades ago when I was deciding what to study an engineering recruiter pointed out that women who sew their own clothes, as I do, should be good at engineering since they’re already thinking about how to make flat surfaces (fabric) into three dimensional shapes (clothes).

I tell these stories to show that I recognise the male-bias in hardware stores, but I don’t want to solve it by the sexist cop-out of painting everything pink, and I think women have existing skills that make them capable of undertaking DIY projects.

My List

  1. Hire women. I was tempted to just repeat this 20 times. I don’t go to hardware stores all that often but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a woman working in one.
  2. Provide a creche, and a supervised playground. For a large emporium this is just good business, women will stay longer and buy more.
  3. Develop a visual glossary, a bit like the old “Point it” books for travellers, to help women find the tools and supplies they’re looking for without having to know all the specific vocabulary.
  4. Use the visual glossary on signs alongside words to make specific tools more recognizable.
  5. An app based on the visual glossary from which I can create a shopping list before I come to the store so that I can research and check what I want.
  6. A range of tool sizes – it’s much easier to swing a hammer that’s the right size for your hands.
  7. Offer DIY kits with step by step instructions, think IKEA and make it simple and visual.
  8. Offer beginner’s classes for specific build projects eg; “build a bookshelf in a day” and let these classes have a social element. Women who are into craft often enjoy crafting together.
  9. Provide tools and supplies for advanced projects – don’t assume all women are beginners
  10. Promote women-based DIY businesses to customers.
  11. Offer trade discounts to women working in DIY comparable to other mega-hardware stores.
  12. Create a community online where your customers can talk about their projects and share their progress and results, refer to ravelry.com for examples.
  13. Train all your staff that women are becoming experts in DIY. If a man and a woman are shopping together, don’t assume that it’s the man doing the project and speak only to him.
  14. Trolleys that are ergonomically fit for women to use.
  15. Hire women experts to demonstrate how tools work, how to complete projects.
  16. Profile successful customer projects on your site/app.
  17. Carry a range of work clothes that fit women, from gloves to overalls, with lots of pockets. Have a range of colours – not all pink.
  18. Keep shelving at a reasonable height, adjust shelves so that 80% of women can reach them.
  19. Hire women. It’s worth repeating.
  20. Good coffee.

This was easier than I expected, perhaps because I’ve been reading reviews of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez about how the world is often built from a male perspective and the impact on women ranges from inconvenient (public toilets) to dangerous (medical diagnostics). As psychologists would say, I was slightly primed for this task.

It was still a fun and creative, but something else occurred to me, many of these steps would just be good for business.