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    Entries in communication (88)


    You had me at "Almost no email"

    I had come across a few pieces about the tech company Glitch, (formerly Fog Creek Software, one of the most innovative tech companies of the last two decades), but until recently had never actually explored around their site to try and see what was so unusual and refreshing about their approach to openness and transparency.

    While their Employee Handbook has been the usual focus of articles that talk about just how different Glitch is, I found myself absolutely stunned into silence (and admiration) for this the paragraph below, buried as bullet point number three in a section called 'Working at Glitch'. And here is it: 

    • Almost no email. Most people at Glitch get fewer than a dozen email messages in a week from their coworkers. We use email for especially urgent company-wide alerts, and to work with people at other companies. For ordinary chat, we prefer to use Slack, and for lengthier conversations, we write out our ideas in full and share them for feedback and comment. It's common for people to come to work in the morning at Glitch and have no new emails in their inbox, and Inbox Zero is common enough that nobody even talks about it

    I know, I know what you are saying - our company isn't a small, tech company and we can't operate on just a handful of emails per day. We have too many things going on, too many moving parts, too many people we have to deal with on a regular basis to ever function in the way Glitch seems to function. Besides, if 273 emails not sent just turn into the same number, if not more, pings on Slack, then what is the difference. Fair point.

    But the other fair point I think, and one that is doubled-down on in the next 'Working at Glitch' bullet point titled 'We Respect Working Hours', is that Glitch has seemed to recognize that a barrage or onslaught of electronic messaging that you are expected to remain on top of all day long (and all night and weekend long too), is probably not the best way to create an inspired, engaged, and productive workforce.

    It's so easy to default back to the way we have always done things, the way we are conditioned to do things. I would guess that at least some portion of the team over at Glitch arrived there from some other workplace where 24/7 connection and hundreds of emails per day were the norms. But I would also guess that many of these same people now can't imagine going back to that kind of an environment. Good luck, by the way, cold-calling someone like that and luring them back to the dark side.

    Over time, and especially when things get really busy, I more and more send an email or a text almost begging that we stop emailing each other and just get on the phone. I am not sure all this email is doing us and our workforces the service it once did, back when we really thought for moment or too about sending the email in the first place.

    There are lots of other interesting ideas over at the Glitch careers site. I recommend checking it out. If only to dream 'What if?' for a few moments.

    Have a great day!


    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!