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    Entries in communication (87)


    Learn a new word: 'Foldering'

    From the world of 'the lengths people will go to in order to keep their employers, law enforcement, and/or the government from snooping on their digital communications' comes today's Learn a New Word - 'Foldering'.

    Not familiar?

    Neither was I until I saw the term pop up in one of the (many) legal scandals and issues swirling around in the Federal Government lately.

    Here's the definition of 'Foldering' from our pals at Wikipedia:

    Foldering is the practice of communicating via messages saved to the "drafts" folder of an email or other electronic messaging account that is accessible to multiple people.

    Foldering is sometimes described as a digital equivalent to the dead drop.Like the dead drop, it has no usage outside of clandestine communications.

    So you want/need to send someone an email, but want to (try) to make sure that no one but the intended recipient gets their eyes on its contents?

    Well, since we know employers can see your sent emails and so can big tech like Google or Yahoo (once they get an order to turn over data from the Feds), you try this 'Foldering' tactic.

    You set up an email address, create your intended email, but instead of sending the email to your recipient, you save the message as an unsent Draft. You then share the email account's login credentials with your recipient, (hopefully not in an email), and then they simply log in to the account, read the draft message, and then update the draft message (again without sending).

    The two of you then go back and forth updating the message(s) in the Drafts folder instread of actually sending any email - thus the term 'Foldering'. Once the needed information is shared, someone deletes the draft - the idea being that by not ever sending the message it is less likely to be ever discovered by outsiders.

    But the practice of Foldering while not that common, appears to be pretty well-known by Federal authorities who tend to interpret the act itself of indicating some kind of questionable or sketchy behavior. It isn't illegal per se, but it sends a red flag to information security and law enforcement types for sure.

    I don't know if this really has too much of a workplace connection, unless your workplace is, well 'unusual', but it might be something you want to check on with your IT folks once in a while anyway. Maybe your kids too. Except your kids probably don't use email.

    Learn something new every day. Like a new word. Like 'Foldering'.

    Have a great day!


    A chart, like a picture, says more than words do

    Welcome back to the work week (and try not to skip out on too much of what you need to do this week to watch the World Cup). Actually, can we pass a law that makes the World Cup more convenient to my personal time zone? But enough about that.

    Here's what I wanted to share today, an interesting, quick read from the Washington Post on how much more effective charts are when compared to straight text for making sure your audience clearly understands the underlying data surrounding a particular issue.

    Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Exeter recently published some interesting findings, ones that you probably already would have guessed at, around the effectiveness of charts in combating false conclusions or ones that are not supported by the facts.

    To prove this thesis, the researchers took a given issue, say whether or not participants believed that the Earth's temperatures were increasing, and then showed one group a chart containing the relevant climate data, a second group was given a text-only version of the climate data, and a third group was given no additional information at all.

    Here's the chart (naturally), of what the researcher's found happened to the levels of incorrect or non-factual beliefs that were held by each group after seeing the chart, text, or just going with their gut.


    I am sure you noted on the chart that the actual groups of people being tested in this experiment were folks who identified as Republican, but for what I took away from the Post piece and the research itself, that is only a footnote. What really matters here is that among folks holding a particular belief, one that seems to be counter-factual, (or even flat out false), you have a much better chance of getting them to embrace the facts (and change their opinions of those facts), by showing them a chart of the relevant data, not a text-only passage. Doing nothing at all, or just shouting at them, is definitely the most ineffective strategy.

    In the experiment above, using the chart of global temperatures drove the percentage of people holding incorrect beliefs down to 10%, a huge improvement from the text-only or 'nothing' strategies. That's the takeaway from this, don't get caught up in the political topics themselves. T

    his strategy can be used for just about anything in the workplace where there are incorrect beliefs, perceptions, or just a person or a group that has dug their heels into the ground over a particular issue and you can't find a way to make them budge.

    That's your assignment for the week - find one opportunity to send your message and make your point in chart form - don't rely on a simple email or a chat message to convince anyone of anything.

    Ok, I'm out - have a great week!


    The weekend company culture test

    NOTE: I am re-running a piece (with a few light edits) from a couple of years ago about company email culture. I was at an event this past Friday where I overheard a few people talking about this very subject - who in their organization was always emailing them throughout the weekend, and how that practice was really getting under their skin. Enjoy!

    I am of (pretty) firm belief you can tell just about everything you need to know about company culture from tracking and analyzing email usage patterns, traffic levels, and response expectations.

    Sure, not all organizations, and certainly not all roles in organizations, are overly reliant on email as their primary communications, collaboration, and general project management tool, but for those that are, and I suspect that would include just about everyone reading this post, your email Inbox is largely a proxy for your 'work' in general.

    Very few initiatives actually get started without first sending an email to someone.

    Progress is communicated and monitored on those tasks in ongoing series of emails.

    Organizational structure and power dynamics are reflected in who you are 'allowed' to email, and who will or will not respond.

    You overall stress level and relative satisfaction with your job can be extrapolated from the point in time condition of your Inbox.

    Finally, you probably leave the office with a warped sense of accomplishment if, at the end of the week, you have successfully triaged all of your incoming messages, sent the necessary replies, and achieved that most elusive of states, so-called 'Inbox Zero'. You pack up shop for the week and head home, (or to Happy Hour).

    And that is when my favorite test of company culture begins, what happened to your Inbox from say, 6:00PM on a Friday up until 6:00AM on Monday. (this is what we used to call the "weekend".)

    As you enjoy whatever it is you enjoy this (past) weekend, think about these few questions:

    Who in your company is (still) sending emails on a Friday night? On Saturday morning? Or on Sunday evening when you are clinging like grim death to your last few precious hours of downtime?

    Who is responding to weekend emails? And no, I am not talking about genuine business or customer emergencies, just 'normal' kinds of things. You know, the kinds of things you worry about on Tuesday.

    Are your management or senior leaders making a habit of tapping away message after message (always "Sent from my iPad") all weekend long while they are ostensibly watching Jr's soccer game?

    Are you checking or at least thinking about checking your work email on Saturday afternoon when, I don't know, you're supposed to have something better to do?

    Finally, when you get one of those weekend emails do you respond? Are you expected to? And if you do are you now "at work?"

    It's odd for the one piece of workplace technology that we all probably use more than any other, that we think about and really try to understand it's usage so little.

    Email is just always there. It is always on. We engage with it constantly.

    But we don't ever think about what it might tell us about the organization, the power dynamics, and most importantly, what it can tell us about the culture of an organization.

    So, were you on email this weekend or were you offline?

    Have a great week.


    Should workers have a 'Right to disconnect?'

    Quick shot for a busy, 'It's almost Spring Break but not quite' Wednesday - another dispatch from the front lines of technology-driven employee burnout, (and potential governmental overreach).

    First spotted from a piece on Fast Company with the headline 'New York workers may soon get the right to stop answering work email after hours' we find that there is some proposed legislation before the New York City Council titled "A Local Law to amend the New York city charter and the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to private employees disconnecting from electronic communications during non-work hours".

    First observation of this proposal? The name doesn't quite roll off the tongue like 'The Affordable Care Act' or 'Prohibition'. Maybe shorten up the name next time?

    But leaving that aside, the details of this proposed regulation/law are what is more interesting. Patterned on successful and similar laws in France and Germany, this proposal would make it illegal for private employers in New York City to require employees to answer work-related electronic communications, (email, texts, work chat messages, etc.), outside of their 'normal' working hours.

    Here's the relevant excerpt from the proposal (for those who appreciate government-speak):

    Disconnecting from work. a. 1. It shall be unlawful for any employer to require an employee to access work-related electronic communications outside of such employee’s usual work hours, not including overtime, except in cases of emergency

    There are some other exceptions from this policy named in the proposal - on-call workers and independent contractors are the two most common - but essentially if enacted, this 'Right to disconnect' would explicitly forbid private employers to require electronic message responses from workers outside of normal working hours. And the proposal also protects workers from retaliation and interference should they choose to exercise this 'Right to disconnect'.

    A couple of quick thoughts on this, then I will let you ponder the wisdom and/or need for such a regulation while you take a few minutes away from your overflowing Inbox:

    1. Note that the proposal isn't entirely clear on what 'in cases of emergency' really means - 'Where is the Penske file? EMERGENCY!!!!', which creates what seems to be a pretty big loophole for employers to walk through.

    2. If you have to resort to making a rule, whether a piece of legislation, or just a company-wide 'No E-mail Thursday' policy, then it is pretty likely you have some kind of a problem with email and electronic communication overload. A law might not make sense, but it seems apparent that carrying on with things as they are, and with employees drowning in messages, texts, and emails isn't going to be sustainable forever.

    3. It's at least worth pondering a few questions: What would our organization do if this law did apply to our employees? How would we communicate, organize, collaborate, and manage differently? Does our organization really rely on almost 24/7 electronic access and availability of our people? And if so, what does this do to them?

    Do I think such a 'Euro-style' kind of proposal would actually pass into law anywhere in the US?

    Not really.

    But the way we tend to recoil or even mock these kinds of proposals that even if ill-considered have at their core the well-intentioned goal of giving workers more balance, time to re-charge, and time to not be thinking about work, also suggests that we are probably contributing to the problem too.

    I once blogged, (it was so long ago, I can't find the link, but trust me I did), that you could learn everything you needed to know about an organization's work culture by examining six months worth of weekend email traffic.

    Who is sending them (weekend email), who are they sent to, who is responding, and how quickly would reveal tons of information about the culture.

    Have a few extra minutes soon? Ask your IT group to give you some stats on weekend email usage. I bet it would be interesting...

    Have a great day!


    Please don't follow this email advice

    I don't know why I still keep the Inc. site in my feed reader, (remember feed readers?), because about 80% of the articles are inane '5 Ways to Crush XYZ process' or 'Celebrity ABC in one sentence gave us a master class in leadership'. Awful. 

    So it was with a kind of hate read perspective that I clicked through my Feedly link to this latest gem from Inc. - A study of 386 million emails says this is a perfect time to send an email'. As I mentioned, I clicked ready to hate the piece, and hate it I did.

    Here are the four pieces of Email advice which drive increases in email open and reply rates that Inc. gleaned from a study of 386 million emails sent by the provider Yeswar. I will list each of the four, and because you demand no less, provide my thoughts one by one.

    1. Open with a short, direct informal greeting. 'Hey' seems to work best

    SMB - Short and informal seems fine to me. But I don't like 'Hey' unless it is with someone you have a fairly deep work history with. I know this is quibbling, but can we go with 'Hi' instead? And never, ever lead with 'Greetings'.

    2. End with gratitude. The three word phrase 'Thanks in advance' had the highest response rate.

    SMB - I am pretty sure 'Thanks' would do. I actually prefer the slightly more formal 'Thank you' as it also feels more personal at the same time. And the 'Advance' part also feels a little like you are trying to guilt me into doing something - responding, taking some action, etc. Again, I know I am quibbling here. But it is my blog, so so there.

    3. Save your important emails for the weekend, if possible, when there is less competition 

    SMB - Now you have gone and done it Inc. You have ticked me off. Your advice to get more attention and get noticed is to pile in to the days when most folks are taking a sanity break from the incessant demands of email. Sure, the data may tell you this is the right thing to do in order to get a few percentage points increase in open rates, but is that worth infringing on most people's days off? Does anyone really want to read even more email on the weekend?

    4. If you can swing it, send emails between 6AM and 7AM, or else around 8PM

    SMB - Assuming they still mean to send said emails on thw weekend, to me, it doesn't really matter what time on the weekend you hit 'send'. For most folks, weekend emails are just going to accumulate into a mass of 'unread' stuff that you have to wade through on Monday morning, (or I suppose, on Sunday night, if this data can be trusted). 

    A few year ago someone advised me to send 'important' work-related emails, at least to people who are tough to get to respond to messages, on Sunday nights, for the same kinds of reasons that were pointed out in the Inc. piece. While the advice, at least according to this data, might be good, I didn't follow it back then, and I am not following it now. 

    I just don't want to be the person who hits you up with an email.at 7PM on a Sunday night, a time where for most of us we are taking a little break, spending time with friends or family, working on our own projects, or even just zoning out with some Netflix. I just don't want to assume that my message is valuable enough to infringe upon 'your' time. Your Executive Time even.

    Ok, that's it, I am out. Time to have a look at the unread email that came in over the weekend. I will admit to not checking it over the weekend. Take that, Inc.

    Have a great week!