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    Entries in productivity (15)


    The best 'Out of the Office' message might be this one from Germany

    Regular readers (and people who have the occasion to want to get in touch with me) probably know that I have a troubled, difficult, and often non-productive relationship with email. Honestly, email and I should have broken up a long time ago, as clearly it is just not working out for either of us.

    So it is from that point of view that I offer up what I think might be the best (partial) solution to one of the biggest problems with email today for the busy professional - just how much of it piles up when you are away from it for some time, like when you are out on holiday or if you are traveling for business, or even if you just need to turn off the email incoming fire hose for a while and actually do some work.


    Check out what the German automaker Daimler is offering up to its 100,000 or so employees to help stem the tide of email when they are out of the office on holiday. Note: these excerpts are taken from a piece on FT.com, it is free to read but requires registration to get access to the article.


    The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.


    The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can therefore return from their summer vacation to an empty inbox.


    “Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”
    An 'Out of the Office' that not only lets the person know that the intended recipient is actually out, but also deletes the incoming email entirely? 


    Sign me up for that right now!


    Email and the never ending battle to not allow email to sap productivity, destroy morale, and turn into your job instead of a tool you use to help you do your job is likely to continue to be a contentious subject as long as email remains the primary tool for business communication and collaboration.


    And that kind of stinks, because in 2014 when we have robot butlers, self-driving cars, drones that can make package delivery, and digital assistants that can guide us and help us navigate our days that most of us have to stare at and wade through hundreds of seemingly random messages every day before we actually get to 'do' anything.


    I am going to be on vacation/holiday for a few days in a week or so, I wonder if the good people at Daimler would be willing to license out their little 'Out of the Office' auto-delete tool to me.

    I definitely would use it.

    Have a great day! (And if you are waiting for an email from me, be patient a little longer....) 


    REPRISE: PowerPoint for the iPad? Well that's no fun.

    Note: Caught a really interesting article this week on the Unofficial Apple Weblog, titled Microsoft still doesn't get why the iPhone succeeded, which breaks down Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's recent manifesto memo to MSFT employees regarding the tech giant's strategy and direction. Essentially, the author contends that Nadella's focus and emphasis on the device (smartphone, tablet, whatever is coming next, etc.), as a 'work' or productivity device misses the entire reason why people originally flocked to the iPhone and iPad in the first place. Here is a snippet from the piece:

    Consumers primarily buy mobile devices that make their lives easier and more fun, work be damned. Microsoft Office wasn't available on the iPhone until June of 2013. An iPad version wasn't released until four months ago! And guess what, hundreds of millions of consumers bought iPhones and iPads anyhow.

    The longer Microsoft continues to focus on the alleged allure of productivity software, the more it runs the risk of falling into the same trap as RIM, which remained so beholden to the notion of physical keyboards that it completely ignored the mass market to placate its beloved enterprise users. Just as RIM mistakenly believed that physical keyboards could fend off the growing popularity of the iPhone, Microsoft seems to believe that the abstract notion of "productivity" will help them garner more marketshare.

    The underlying problem with this train of thought is that it ignores the fact that the iPhone helped usher in the consumerization of IT, the dynamic where individuals themselves are able to influence the type of mobile devices supported in their work environment.


    Steve here- The entire piece kind of read and felt familiar to me, and a quick look back at the archives here revealed I had kind of written a similar piece back in February of 2012, when early rumors of MS PowerPoint being ported out to the iPad first started making the rounds.  So since it is sometimes fun to look back, and because I think the gist of the argument I made in 2012 still applies today, here is that piece from 2012 in all it's majesty:


    PowerPoint for the iPad? Well that's no fun.

    Lots of chatter in the tech news and blogosphere this week about the possible launch of an iPad version of Microsoft Office.  First the news of the Office for iPad was broken by The Daily, denied, (kind of), by Microsoft, examined in more detail by ZDNet, then reconfirmed on Twitter by a staff member at The Daily. And I am sure there were lots of other takes on the potential release of Office for the iPad, most of which making it seem like it is not a question of if Microsoft will release the iPad version of Office, but rather when the apps will be released.Source - The Daily

    So based on the evidence, and the sort of non-denial denial from Microsoft, let's assume that indeed in the 'coming weeks' there will be a release of MS Office for the iPad. Most of the accounts about this possible new Office version herald this development as a positive one, both for Microsoft, essentially absent to this point in the rapid rise of the tablet ecosystem, and also for the millions of iPad users that now can become 'more productive' now that the ubiquitous Office suite will have a native iPad version.

    But for me, I have to admit I don't feel all that excited about having Excel, Word, or PowerPoint on the iPad. Even assuming that the iPad versions of these workplace stalwarts manage to leverage the best capabilities and usability features that the iPad offers, you are still crunching spreadsheets, writing (boring) documents, and futzing around with another PowerPoint. You know, working. And work, sadly, is often not much fun. And perhaps through no fault of their own, Excel and PowerPoint take a lot of reflected shrapnel for that if you get my meaning.

    People love their iPads because they are fun, (assuming you can mentally set aside how they are actually manufactured, but that is another story), they provide an amazing user experience, and mostly what you do with them either isn't work, or doesn't feel like work. It just seems cool, hip, easy. Not words we often associate with work. Especially when work takes the form of spreadsheets and slide decks.

    So when MS Office for the iPad comes out will I rush to load it up? Probably not. But I imagine I will eventually succumb, as the allure and utility of being able to tweak that presentation file on the iPad when sitting in the airport will prove too tempting and seem too necessary. It's work right? Need to get 'er done whenever and wherever.

    I just hope I won't have to drop Angry Birds to make room for Excel. Because that would really stink. 

    Have a great weekend!


    A Smarter Office

    No. I'm not talking about a better desk chair, a standing/walking desk, or some kind of modern hybrid open office with a jungle gym or a trampoline or a ping-pong table, I am talking about that workplace institution known as Microsoft Office.

    Since at least as far back as I can  remember, (sadly, a long time), Microsoft Office and its components have been a necessary evil in every job that I've had, and probably most of the ones you've had too. Sure, in any given job the mix might change - you might have been an Excel jockey in one role, then spent literally hundreds of hours managing Word documents in another, and maybe ended up learning the finer points of PowerPoint after that.  And while the Office suite is certainly powerful and capable, the tools allowed you to get work done, they never really seemed to help you get work done, if that makes sense. Not to mention the ages and ages of hours spent searching for Office files, on hard drives, on shared drives, in email attachments and so on.

    In many ways the Microsoft Office applications were (and are) overly powerful - we very rarely call upon their advanced capabilities, heck, their basic capabilities are usually good enough for what we have to do. And we also have the benefit of familiarity with them. I would hate to be a novice MS Word or PowerPoint user today. 

    But since in many organizations, almost all work gets done, (or is documented) in an Office application, (and even some non-Office but still Microsoft applications like Exchange, Sharepoint or Yammer, (remember them?)), the folks at Microsoft have kind of quietly begun thinking about ways that these tools, and their ubiquity in many enterprises can become more than just information storage mechanisms and evolve into something smarter.

    A few weeks ago I wrote about a new tech term called CALO - a Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, and speculated that CALO would be the next important acronym in HR and workplace technology. Well it seems like the folks working on Microsoft Office are with me on that, (or really, I am with them), on this concept of CALO as evidenced by a project that was announced back in March, but I just heard about this past week, something called Oslo.Microsoft Oslo

    What is Oslo? 

    Check this excerpt from a blog post in March on the Office blog announcing the concept:

    Next-generation search and discovery – let information find you

    The goal for Oslo was not just to reimagine search, but to help people get their work done in a quicker, more informed, and even delightful manner. After all, your job isn’t just to “search.” You use search as a tool to get your actual job done. This more ambitious goal drove us to ask how we could remove the information silos that exist across applications, better support information discovery, and enable teams to work together as a network. The result is not just a search solution, but a new way of working – proactive, transformational, and delightful. Oslo is the first in a new breed of intelligent and social work experiences.

    Rather than list an exhaustive set of features, let’s see how Oslo transforms the world of work.

    Oslo is proactive and personalized for you

    If you are like me, your days at work are packed: several hours of scheduled meetings, lots of emails waiting to be read and responded to, and usually a lot of folks who need to talk about urgent issues. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Sound familiar?

    Oslo can bring moments of peace to those hectic days. It cuts through the noise by showing you what you need to know today, and even what’s likely to be important in the near future. You can see information trending that is associated with what you are working on, and the people within your work network. The information is delivered in a way that is easy to consume and quick to scan.

    With Oslo, you don’t have to change anything about the way you work. Through the Office Graph, Oslo is automatically populated with activities you already do every day, such as which documents you share, which people you meet with, and which documents you read. There are private activities, like what documents you viewed, and public activities, like the people you follow in Yammer. Private activities always stay private.

    It might be a little hard from that brief description to grasp at the real capability (even in its early stages) of a tool like Oslo, but if you break it down what Microsoft is attempting to do is a classic CALO example.

    Oslo is going to 'learn' about you, based on the documents you create, share, and on which you collaborate, the people you email and attend meetings with, the characteristics of those people, the things you search for, the Yammer groups you visit, and the like. Oslo will present information and documents to you based on these signals and importantly, before you had to search for them. And finally, Oslo will help make work more about collaborating with the people you work with, and less about the documents you are working on.

    If that still sounds a little cryptic, but you are still interested in this, take some time this week and watch the demo video below, (Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through), that provides some good examples and explanations of Oslo's intent. 


    If you watch the video you will get a better feel for where Microsoft is heading with Oslo. It's being Beta-tested right now with select customers and should be available to the general public by the end of 2014.

    I give props to Microsoft on what they are building with this technology - if they can make working with Office files easy and even fun then they are my heroes.

    Have a great week!


    People, Process, and Productivity Killers

    Last week an interesting piece called '5 Ways Process is Killing Your Productivity', ran on Fast Company, a look and take on how overly rigid productivity systems, (like Six Sigma or TQM), can potentially have a detrimental effect on organization productivity and potential for innovation. As someone that has always balked or at least held a cynical point of view when productivity systems based in traditional manufacturing models were attempted in non-manufacturing environments, I thought the piece raised some excellent arguments, particularly when we think about the application of soft or people processes inside organizations, whether for performance management, development, or even for methods of collaboration.

    I won't re-cast the author's entire point of view here, I'd recommend reading the full piece on Fast Company, but I do want to pull out the five productivity reducing ways that over-reliance on process methodology can have on performance and productivity, and ask you to think about them in the context of your organization and your initiatives, challenges, and opportunities as a talent or human resources professional.

    1. Empowering with permission, but not action

    HR example: Tell employees 'they own their career development', but offer no support at all, (time off, funding, guidance, suggestions), as to how they might pursue development opportunities

    2. Focus on process instead of people

    HR example: Did all the mid-year performance reviews get done? 100% in? Success!

    3. Overdependence on meetings

    HR example: Actually this is not limited to HR, most organizations still rely on the formal meeting, with way more than necessary attendees, to move along projects and initiatives. Just look at it this way, how do you typical react when a meeting suddenly gets cancelled? If you are like most, you revel in the 'found' hour or two back in your day. Meeting cancellation is like a mini-Christmas.

    4. Lack of (clear) vision

    HR example: Sort of a larger point to try and cover here, but certainly you can relate to being buried in the process or function of people management, legally required and self-imposed, that we simply miss or fail to articulate, (and then act upon), a bigger vision for how we can enable people to succeed and execute business strategy. This is the 'in the weeds' feeling you might be experiencing since it is Monday. But does it really ever go away?

    5. Management acts as judge, not jury

    HR example: Obviously, earned or just unfairly ascribed, the position of HR as police or judge has a long and not easily remedied place in many organizations. HR can't and shouldn't always be an advocate for the individual employee at the expense of the needs of the organization, but when the function is viewed as simply punitive, or even just indifferent, the chances for HR to effect meaningful and positive impact on people is certainly diminished.

    I think one of the essential conflicts that arise in interpersonal relationships is the conflict between people that prefer or need strict rules and order, and the more free-spirited folk that see rules and strictures at best as more like broad guidelines, and at worst as mandates set by people that lack their own creativity and vision and can be safely ignored.  Or said differently, between people that have to clean all the dinner dishes before bed and those that are happy to let them sit in the sink overnight. Both are 'right' of course, which leads to many of these kinds of 'process vs. freedom' kinds of arguments. 

    What do you think?

    Have processes or set-in-stone rules you may have imposed in your organization helped?

    Have they allowed people the room they need for creativity and innovation?

    Do they keep you in the role of HR police far too much?

    Happy Monday!



    Stop Doing Stupid Things

    In the 1990's when the corporate 'reengineering' craze was at its height, the giant multi-national corporation that I was working for at the time had bought into all the promises and wonderfulness that reengineering would bring to the massive, bureaucratic organization.

    As part of our ongoing journey towards better understanding and improved efficiency, the company organized a seminar and brought in a few guest speakers, experts on reengineering to address and rally the troops, and to share their wisdom on the process so that all of us minions, (I was definitely a minion at that time) could benefit.

    As the first Mr. Expert (I wish I could remember his name) took the microphone he glanced at his watch and casually remarked that he was not sure why the event organizers had given him a 90 minute slot for his speech and for Q&A, as he did not have really all that much to say.

    He said the following:

    The secret to reengineering, and the only thing you need to remember is this - Stop Doing Stupid Things.

    That was it. 

    He knew, correctly, that in our giant organization you did not have to look very hard or far to find 'stupid' things we were doing every day.  Find a 'stupid' thing (and they are obvious and easy to spot) and simply stop doing it.

    Passing paper around endlessly, calling meetings and inviting dozens of people so as not to 'offend' anyone left out, creating report after report displaying essentially the same information in slightly different ways were just some of the fundamentally stupid things that my corporate finance group engaged in every day.

    I know what you are saying, that was ages ago, now we have so much better workplace tools and technologies that make us all more productive and efficient.  We can share information and collaborate in ways that the old reengineering expert would never have dreamed about. We are all smarter, and better educated. 

    We can't possibly being doing as many stupid things as in the past can we?  I mean with increased global competition and relentless pressure on sales and profits, if we were doing stupid things we'd be out of business by now, right?


    As 2010 nears, I think it makes sense to take a more honest look at some of your processes, normal ways of getting things done, and things like standing meetings and such.  Take a few minutes to ask a simple question - Is this good, or is it stupid?

    And if it is stupid, toss it in the trash.  If you get hassled, tell them I said it was ok.


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