Technology to push middle class out of work?

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, has given a stark warning at the World Economic Forum in Davos: that technology is replacing middle class jobs and, further, that it’s not certain that displaced workers will have the right skills to be re-hired. It will be, he says, a “defining” problem for the next two to three decades.

Read more of this post

Measuring Success

We live in a world driven by value. By which I mean money.

Yesterday, I found myself explaining money to my 9-year-old son and this is a practice which I advise all adults to engage in – whether they have 9-year-old children or not (I’m sure girls work just as well, by the way, I just don’t happen to have one of those). Young children, in my experience, don’t understand the obsession with money and I think that we can learn a great deal from them. Read more of this post

Review: Kobo Arc 7

Android tablets can be bought at a whole range of prices, and cost doesn’t always indicate quality. Our youngest boy saved up enough to afford a cheap tablet last summer and we chose a Sumvision Cyclone 10″ device which, as a refurb unit from eBuyer, was superb value at around £85. With this to contrast against our own Nexus 7 devices, we realised that cheap-and-cheerful tablets could be great value. Although the rear camera which our lad wanted is, to my mind, a load of rubbish… he’s happy though!

So for Christmas our eldest of course wanted a tablet, but his requirements were a little different: no need for a rear camera, and actually a 7″ unit might be better for portability.

So the search was on… what 7″ tablet offers good value for money for kids? Enter the Kobo Arc 7. Read more of this post

Honest, informative rating of content… please!

I spend a lot of my time thinking about what makes a business communication system really useful. Sad, but true. There’s one concept that you will see on social tools and websites across the globe: rating.

Usually when viewers are given the opportunity to rate posted content, they are forced into providing either a positive view (thumbs up, +1 etc) vs no view at or. Sometimes there’s also the opportunity to provide a negative view (thumbs down). On the surface, this seems great – the great unwashed masses are given a voice and good “stuff” will be praised whereas bad “stuff” will not.

But there are significant issues.

Firstly, often the rating schema is linked to an entirely different concept – that of “following” either a post or a poster. Conflating these two concepts means that, sometimes, in order to follow future dialogue you’re forced to indicate that you liked the original post. This may not be true!!

Secondly, there are degrees of appreciation which are not covered in a “+”, “-“, “no view” approach. I like my neighbours and love my wife, rather different degrees of “appreciation” here, but social platforms would expect me to “like” them all. Yikes.

Lastly, these systems assume that all opinion is equal. That simply is not true.

I discussed the problems that this causes in social systems in an earlier post, “Bubbling to the top: the Social Media value challenge“.

The solution is clear. The systems need to do three things:

  1. Separate out the concepts of “following” and “rating”.
  2. Allow for positive and negative feedback, on a graded scale.
  3. Promote the feedback of individuals noted for their informed feedback (based, perhaps, on the feedback which they themselves receive?).

The end result is posts that are not marked as “21 people liked this” but, perhaps, as “this post scores 35% based upon viewer feedback”.

Notice that I haven’t covered the thorny, in my view, issue of attribution: that of showing who “liked” or “disliked” the post. I say “thorny” because the feedback which people give is affected by whether that feedback is visible and attributable to them or not. Is an employee going to be highly critical, publicly, of his boss’s post? No, of course not. We all have our jobs to consider. Yet we need feedback to be honest. So perhaps it would be better, in the business environment, to keep those ratings as a amalgamated score and not as individually attributable.

Rating, providing useful feedback in order to help information find its true value and hence find its way to individuals who might value it, is essential to an effective business communications system. A simplistic approach doesn’t work.

Bubbling to the top: the Social Media value challenge

The world is full of social media. People everywhere are trying to get their voices heard in the multiple public and private social media platforms which together form what I glibly refer to as the “babblesphere”. They’re doing it for various reasons: perhaps they want to market products, or themselves; perhaps they want to make or keep in touch with friends; perhaps they want to spread ideas, facts or discussion points which they believe are important or just fun. Whatever the reason, it’s a big world and there’s a lot of babble… so how does content bubble to the top? How does it get wide distribution?

That’s the subject at the heart of the recent post “That Hit Song You Love Was a Total Fluke“, by Tim Sullivan in the Harvard Business Review blog. Read more of this post

Remote Working contributes to employee engagement

Back in June, Gallup put out their “State of the American Workplace Report”, which has belatedly come to my attention in one particular regard: their findings on how remote working affects employee engagement.

First, then, what do Gallup mean by the term “employee engagement”? I’m sure that we all have our own view of what this should mean – individuals actively communicating with their colleagues in order to work as effectively and efficiently as possible, perhaps – but Gallup get their data from surveys and so distilled the essence of the theme down to a set of 12 questions which they know as “Q12”. Those questions are at the back end of this post.

But before getting to them, let’s look at the results.

Working Remotely and Employee Engagement

 

These results highlight that employees who do not work remotely at all are the least engaged segment. I’m not sure how much the rest of the results tell us – we don’t, after all, know what guides each individual who responded in their decision over how much time to spend working remotely. Is it their own choice, or a factor of their role – salespeople being with customers a lot, for instance. What sort of job do people who work remotely all the time do? It might not be a very engaging role, and/or they might not even have an office to travel to, or colleagues to work with.

The encouraging lesson, then, is that working remotely appears to improve employee engagement rather than reducing it. This fits with other reports which have suggested that remote working can actively improve individual efficiency – depending upon how the business caters for it. I have no doubt that giving employees the freedom to work where and when they like, whilst of course still being expected to meet objectives (including good scores from colleague feedback) , empowers individuals and encourages them to work with greater dedication. Trust people, and they will reward that trust.

So what about those questions? Gallup seem convinced that they are the cutting-edge of scientific research but, to be honest, I’m not convinced. None of the questions appear to address active collaboration, which surely is a mainstay of most office roles? However, as I am certain that I could not provide a better set of questions I will leave this to the professionals.

Q12:

01 I know what is expected of me at work.

02 I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

03 At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

04 In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

05 My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

06 There is someone at work who encourages my development.

07 At work, my opinions seem to count.

08 The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

09 My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

10 I have a best friend at work.

11 In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

12 This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

 

Blog integrity requires thorough policing of comments

I am a natural cynic, so when I see apparently obscure comments in feedback to a blog post I’m naturally suspicious. People on the social media scene do all sorts of things to try to get clicks, we know that, but for those trying to genuinely add value it does rather spoil the show.

And if you’re keen to protect the integrity of your content, then you need to screen comments. Read more of this post

Building Effective Information Systems using Social Tools

Social media systems, tools which enable us to emit little nuggets of information whenever we like, run the risk of being analogous to using a fine-mist spray to fill a water glass at 50 feet. It’s not a terribly good way to get a drink. The trouble is, we all play two roles in the analogy: we are both the spray head and the glass. We emit nuggets of information, we also consume information which other people have emitted. It’s all a bit haphazard and directionless: it needs control in order to be effective.

Let me move away from the analogy and back to social media proper. As a Google+ user, I often send out updates – usually links to blog posts of my own, or to news articles or posts which I’ve found on the Internet which are either interesting in of themselves or else worthy of comment. These sorts of updates go out publicly, and I like to think that there might be a few people out there who would find them useful. If they could find them. And that’s the problem I am trying to highlight in this post: building social media tools which don’t just allow us to emit information, but allow information to find us. Read more of this post

Information

Information. Content. Stuff. There’s a lot of it about.

The challenge in our information-rich society is to try to get information into our brains which adds to our world view – brings us, as individuals or business people, actual value – whilst wasting as little time as possible on valueless or value-poor information.

Traditional information sources are newspapers, magazines, books and TV – as well as verbal interactions with friends and colleagues. These all have different pros and cons. Let’s take newspapers, for example. They are a great way to find out about ‘stuff’ currently going on in the world (or a locality), or at least they seem to be. Actually what they are are curated feeds of, usually, subjective information. You can choose how much subjectivity you want in your “news” by choosing a newspaper which tries to deliver more or less of it. But with the best will in the world, the news you receive in a newspaper will only ever be the news which someone else thinks you want. The stuff that they think that you’ll pay for. Read more of this post

Employment change begins at home

Since the industrial revolution, we’ve seen massive changes in the way our society organises itself around work. The industrial revolution brought intensive, factory-based employment to the masses who previously might have laboured in fields, mines or at home. But there’s since been a gradual decline in factory employment and a remarkable shift, in this country at least, to office-based work. Whilst Britain still manufactures much more “stuff” than we generally admit, manufacturing in the UK is highly automated and labour density therefore very low.

Office work is where it’s at, so it’s hardly a surprise to see large statistics around it. This country (the UK) has around 10 million office workers, according to one source. They take up around 200 million square metres of office space.

That’s a lot.

I have a simple message in this post, and it’s this: lets divorce ourselves from this love-affair with offices. Lets stop making the daily journeys from home to office, wasting our own time and consuming resources we cannot afford to consume. Green campaigners suggest we should ditch our cars and opt for public transport, implicitly supporting the case that offices are needed. But, for many of us, the practical reality is that if our commute is to be as painless as possible there is only one option: a car.

But with my “zero office” option there’s no longer any need to commute. There’s no office to commute to.

Is this radical suggestion pure idiocy? OK, I won’t deny it: getting rid of offices entirely is not likely to happen, now or in the future. People need to get together, physically get together, in order to bond well and create a social atmosphere conducive to maximising effectiveness. But are offices a good place to successfully bond individuals into effective groups? If they are, then why do companies invest money in team-building events, away-days, “off-sites” etc?

I would argue that offices are not generally very conducive either to work or to social engagement. Pubs, restaurants, sports fields, and the great outdoors are excellent for social engagement, but not very conducive to work. A quiet desk at home is extremely conducive to work, but not very socially engaging.

So here’s the plan. Ditch the offices, as far as possible – keep some for people to get together for specific purposes (meetings!). Axe the commute, travel only for specific purposes. Promote home-working, by which I mean government grants for renovations or extensions, company money for home office equipment, clarification and removal of tax rules for home offices.

This will work because we no longer live in the 20th century. The 21st century is a world of communications, a world where people can interact highly effectively even when they are not co-located. Sitting at home, with an effective set of communications tools, you can engage with customers, suppliers and colleagues just as well as you can from an office. You can see people, using video. You can collaborate on documents and presentations, using tools such as Google Apps. You can of course talk to people, instantly, using instant messaging, email and the audio device that simple telephones have evolved into. You can see what people are doing, whether they’re busy, and where they are. Build the right communications environment, and you can save massively on office space costs (rent/purchase, heating, lighting, maintenance) and on commuting costs (massively reducing fuel usage but, perhaps even more importantly, maybe also reducing the car count).

You don’t have to believe in the impact of humanity on our climate to see the sense in saving some of our precious time and resources by getting rid of the daily commute. If we use less fossil fuel then the supply will last longer. Abandoned office space can be re-claimed as housing, which we’re seriously lacking, and the ugliest, leakiest, unwanted offices can be removal entirely.

When we do need to get together, to iron out particular issues as a team or simply to get to know each other better, there are plenty of ways to do that – including in meeting rooms preserved from office buildings.

I really believe that our reliance on an office culture no longer makes sense in our modern world and, worse, contributes massively to costs, financial and environmental, which we simply cannot afford.