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    Entries in communication (82)

    Friday
    May052017

    CHART OF THE DAY: The Decline of the Landline

    Really interesting data from your pals at the National Center For Health Statistics on the long, slow but seemingly irreversible decline of the home landline phone. Turns out, if you have dropped your landline to go mobile only, you are not all that odd any longer.

    Here's the data and as you constantly demand, some FREE comments from me after the chart.

    Some really interesting data for sure. The key points or takeaways for me:

    1. More folks than not have ditched the home landline. Just over 50% of households are now mobile only. Pretty soon it will be kind of odd and weird to still have a landline. Additionally, more than 70 percent of adults between 25 and 34 were wireless only. 

    2. Being wireless only, as a majority of households are now, means, (as if you didn't know this), that our mobile phones are constantly powered on, are always within reach, and have become probably the most indispensable piece of technology we own. What could you go without with longer, your mobile phone or your car? Or your TV? Or your coffee maker? I might choose the coffee maker, but the car and the TV I would give up. Why not? I can request an Uber with my phone and stream the NBA playoffs on my phone. Once my phone can make coffee, well...

    3. Since the mobile phone is the most important piece of technology most of us use, then gaining 'share' of people's phpne time, no matter of you are in marketing, recruiting, sales, or even HR, is the most impactful thing you can do to advance your agenda. I would posit that at least half, if not more like 75%, of the efforts you are making to reach people should be focused on how you are reaching them on their mobiles. We all know this but when I see data about the usage and penetration rates of mobile technology for HR I am not so sure we are really applying what we know to be true. 

    Anyway, that's it for me. I'm out, have a great weekend!

     

    Saturday
    Apr082017

    Situations where you should mark Emails as "Urgent", ranked

    It's Saturday!

    Woo hoo!

    I woke up this morning to the sun shining, the snow melting, (yes, it was STILL snowing yesterday where I live), the birds chirping, my Liverpool Reds on TV, and not one, but two early morning business emails both marked as "Urgent".

    Since I believe many readers would benefit from a better understanding of when, why, and in what circumstances one should mark an email as "Urgent", I present my unscientific, unresearched, subjective, and COMPLETELY biased breakdown of the situations where you should mark an Email message as "Urgent".

    Here goes....

    10. Never

    9. Never

    8 - 2. - Never

    1. Never

     

    Never mark an email as "urgent".

    If your message is truly urgent, then email isn't the medium to convey that message. Call, or text. Or get off your butt and walk down the hall to my office.  And besides, who are you to decide your problem is really "urgent" to me? Maybe I don't really care. Maybe I have 37 other problems that are more pressing. Maybe that little red flag you just dropped in my Inbox has the opposite effect that you intended, and I shuffle it to the bottom of the 'respond' pile because I just got annoyed.

    And if you are the boss, or CEO, or owner, then you don't have to make your messages as "urgent", if the folks on your team are not reacting to your directives in the way you see as appropriate, then you have a people problem, not an email problem.

    Never mark email as "urgent". Especially on a sunny, springtime Saturday morning.

    Of course you could disagree with these rankings, but of course, you would be wrong.

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday
    Mar212017

    Communication overload

    There has been a proliferation of new communication technologies and services that are/can be used for work purposes in the last several years. Whether it is the newer tools that have seen increased adoption in the workplace like Slack or the just released Microsoft Teams, collaboration technologies that have adopted chat or discussion features like Box or Evernote, and of course the myriad social platforms that are also used for work communication like LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. and the sheer number of places, systems, and tools that a modern professional has to keep up with is pretty daunting at times.

    Oh, and I didn't even mention email, voicemail, and (lord help us, the actual phone). Who knows what tool to use or where to look for, check, or send a new message these days?

    The comic from xkcd below illustrates this problem in a succinct, and clever way, (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through)

    For me, the (sub-optimal) answer has been to mostly ignore the communication tools that I would prefer not to use at all for work reasons, (voicemail, Twitter DMs, Facebook, and most LinkedIn messages). My strategy is that the people trying to connect with me using those media will eventually interpret my non-responsiveness as a signal that they (if they really need to reach me for work reasons), try another method. 

    For what's it worth, some time back I blogged about the preferred ways to contact me for work reasons to try and make it more clear how I would prefer to communicate.

    But the problem with that old list, and with simply ignoring (or shutting off) any of the other popular tools for business communication is that it fails to take into account what the other person would prefer. So taking a blanket approach like I have, (essentially I want everything to be in email, while I am not always great about keeping up with it at times, at least I know where I can find everything), or text (I actually like texting for work a lot, it keeps things short and sweet), keeps me from effectively communicating with people who might like phone calls or who are comfortable using social networks like Twitter or Facebook for work purposes.

    But the truth is almost no one would prefer to use every possible tool in the cartoon above to manage their work communication - it would be maddening if not impossible. And my guess is having to keep up with so many avenues for work communication are contributing to stress, burnout, and the inability to have any separation between work and not-work.

    It is probably a pretty good idea for HR and talent leaders to be cognizant of how workplace communication tools have multiplied and how the associated expectations for employee monitoring and responsiveness have changed as well. 

    Some places do have written, (or at least well-understood but unwritten), expectations for reading and responding to email for example, but I bet not many have similar guidelines or cultural norms for newer tools like Slack, the use of public social networks or apps for workplace messaging, and when (or if), employees can and should use texting for work communication. In small organizations, and in small teams that tend to mostly interact within the team, it is usually something that is pretty easy to work out.

    One quick discussion the manager should have on Day One should go something like this : "We use email for formal stuff and team or company wide announcements, (respond if you have to send a response, and do it within one day unless there are unusual circumstances), Slack for 'real' collaboration conversations, (respond according to the demands and schedules of the project/task), and texting only for brief, and usually essential, or time-sensitive reasons (respond accordingly, you know, like a human)." Don't mention tools like Facebook or WhatsApp if you don't want them used for workplace messaging and then you likely will never have an issue with employees having 17 different Inboxes to monitor every day.

    And finally, if you are starting a new communication with someone you don't work with regularly, you don't know, or is outside your organization, start with the more formal traditional tools first, (email, phone, voicemail), and don't jump to Facebook Messenger or a Twitter DM unless you are sure the person wants to use those tools for work. Not every business contact wants you sliding into their DMs.

    Ok, that's it, I am out. Probably need to take my own medicine know and try and catch up on my email. 

    But don't try leaving me a voicemail, it's full.

    Wednesday
    Jan042017

    UPDATE: New Year, Less After Hours Email?

    Last March I posted about a proposed French law that would make after-hours email and other forms of work-related communication more or less 'ignoreable' for employees. After 6PM on work days, (and on holidays and weekends), French workers could not be compelled to be 'on' and responsive to the bosses 10PM emails or expected to be 'available' via their phones on weekends or on their vacations.

    In March I offered these comments on the proposed email regulations:

    At least here in the USA, the vast majority of advice and strategery around helping folks with trying to achieve a better level of work/life balance seems to recommend moving much more fluidly between work and not-work. Most of the writing on this seems to advocate for allowing workers much more flexibility over their time and schedules so that they can take care of personal things on 'work' time, with the understanding that they are actually 'working' lots of the time they are not technically 'at work'. Since we all have smartphones that connect us to work 24/7, the thinking goes that we would all have better balance and harmony between work and life by trying to blend the two together more seamlessly.

    And I guess that is reasonably decent advice and probably, (by necessity as much as choice), that is what most of us try and do to make sure work and life are both given their due.

    But the proposal from the French labor minister is advocating the exact opposite of what conventional (and US-centric), experts mostly are pushing. The proposed French law would (at least in terms of email), attempt to re-build the traditional and clear divide and separation between work and not-work. If this regulation to pass, and if it is outside of your 'work' time, then feel free to ignore that email. No questions asked. No repercussions. At least in theory.

    But here is the question I want to leave with you: What if the French are right about this and the commonly accepted wisdom and advice about blending work and life is wrong?

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, working all the time?

    What if you truly shut it down at 5PM every day?

    That is some of what I had to say about that regulation back in March. Now to the 'Update' part of the post - it turns out that proposed 'No email after 6PM' law actually did pass, and went into effect in France at the New Year.

    From January 1 onwards, employers having 50 or more employees in France will have to offer their staffs a 'right to disconnect'. From coverage of the new regulation in the Guardian, "Under the new law, companies will be obliged to negotiate with employees to agree on their rights to switch off and ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives."

    If the organization and the employees can't come to an agreement, then the employer must publish a charter or set of rules that explicitly state the demands on, and rights of, employees during non-work hours.

    It is going to be interesting to follow this story to see how it plays out in France, if employers really do follow the edicts of the new regulations, (there are not yet punitive measures in place for employers who do not comply), and if these regulations prove to impact organizational productivity and employee well-being.

    For my part, thinking about this story for the first time since last March when the new law was initially proposed, I don't think my reaction is any different now than it was then.

    What if we'd all be happier, and better engaged, and more able to focus on our work if we were not, you know, expected to be working all the time?

    Have a great Wednesday. Have fun poring through the 19 emails that came for you last night. Unless you were up at 11PM replying to them already.

    Wednesday
    Dec282016

    VACATION REWIND: Dunbar is the reason all social networks eventually become horrible

    NOTE: I am out of pocket more or less until the New Year, so I thought I would re-air a few pieces that I liked from earlier this year for folks who may have missed them the first time. Hope you are having a great holiday season and a Happy New Year!

    From March - Dunbar is the reason all social networks eventually become horrible

    In this week's episode of 'As the social networks turn', many big users and brands that are active on Instagram are in collective freak out mode about the (Facebook owned), social network's announced plans to change user feeds from the classic 'reverse chronological' order to some kind of an algorithmic feed designed to show users the posts they are likely to be most interested in seeing and engaging with at the top of the feed.

    The reasoning behind these changes are laid out on the Instagram blog post announcing the shift:

    You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.

    To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

    The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

    If Instagram is right, and people miss 70% of the posts from the accounts that they have choosen to follow, there can only be a couple of possible reasons why this is the case.

    1. People just don't spend that much time on Instagram. They check it now and again, look through a few pictures on their feed, and get back to whatever else it was they were supposed to be doing. They don't make it a point to make sure they have seen everything. (FYI - this would be me in terms of Instagram. I follow 119 'accounts' on Instagram. This is important to mention for reasons that will be more clear later in the post). I do check Instagram every day (or close to every day), but there is no way I see every photo that the 119 accounts I follow have posted. 

    2. The recent, and pretty dramatic, increase in ads and sponsored posts on Instagram has turned people off and they are using and engaging with content less and less, thus driving a more significant 'miss' percentage of their feeds. This increase in ads has definitely been noticeable lately, and while I know that Instagram needs to pay the bills, I also know that with social networks, almost no one signed up to see the latest artsy pic from Bank of America. More ads --> a worse user experience --> less time spent on the platform --> more posts missed.

    3. (And the real one I am most interested in). Many if not most users have decided to follow far, far too many users/accounts than they can reasonably keep up with. As I mentioned at the top, I follow 119 accounts, well below Dunbar's estimate of the number of social relationships that a person can reasonably carry on and I still can't (and really could not try for very long), to stay on top of this level of accounts on Instagram. This is not even considering for the moment the time commitment of all the other networks that a person today must have some type of presence on. A quick look through about five people I follow shows crazy numbers of accounts they are following, 500, 800, in one case over 1,200 accounts. You could live on Instagram all day and not be able to keep up with the feeds of 1,200 users. Instagram sees this situation, and will attempt to show this person (at least at the top of their feed), the 20 or 40 or whatever number of posts and accounts they follow, in order to try and improve the overall experience.

    So the better question is not 'Why is it impossible to follow and engage with 1,200 friends on Instagram, (or any other platform), but rather 'What would drive someone to even click the 'follow' button 1,200 times in the first place?

    Dunbar's research and the 'Dunbar number' have been well known and repeatedly proved out over a pretty long time. We know no matter how many people we follow on Instagram or Facebook or wherever, that we will only interact meaningfully if at all with a very small percentage of those people we follow. Probably even less than Dunbar's number of 150 I would bet.

    So why do we do it? Why do we try? How can it make sense to have 1,500 friends on Facebook?

    I think there is only one reason.

    It's because every online/social network starts as a site or community to connect with real friends and family. And then once the platform begins to grow, even more people join. And when even more people join still more people join, (and your teenagers flee to the next new network, but that is a different issue). But at some point (close to when the network starts accepting ads and sponsored posts), the tenor of the entire conversation around the network begins to shift into a commercial one.

    Brands and company accounts are set up and they try and act like people. People amass even larger following and then try to act like brands. For both the brands (and many of the people), it becomes all about maintaining business prospects and business relationships and much, much less about sharing details of your lives with your (less than 150) networks of people that you actually know.

    That's the only reason I can think of while you or me or anyone keeps following more and more people, beyond the ones you actually know and socialize with. They might be business contacts, they may just work in your company or industry - doesn't matter, you can't not follow them if it means missing out on a business opportunity.

    There are two essential truths about every popular social network.

    1. Once you join, your kids will think it is less cool

    2. Eventually, it will become all about business. Just about all anyway.

    Instagram is moving to an algorithmic feed because it has finally reached the point where the use/purpose of the platform is primarily commercial, and we should have known this was coming the minute we thought following 529 people was a good idea.

    Dunbar strikes again.