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    Entries in work (100)

    Tuesday
    Jan132015

    What Will Happen if we Move the Company: The Limits of Data

    Some years back in a prior career (and life) I was running HR technology for a mid-size organization that at the time had maybe 5,000 employees scattered across the country with the largest number located on site at the suburban HQ campus (where I was also located). The HQ was typical of thousands of similar corporate office parks - in an upscale area, close to plenty of shops and services, about one mile from the expressway, and nearby to many desirable towns in which most of the employees lived. In short, it was a perfectly fine place to work close to many perfectly fine places to live.

    But since in modern business things can never stay in place for very long, a new wrinkle was introduced to the organization and its people - the looming likelihood of a corporate relocation from the suburban, grassy office park to a new corporate HQ to be constructed downtown, in the center of the city. The proposed new HQ building would be about 15 miles from the existing HQ, consolidate several locations in the area into one, and come with some amount of state/local tax incentives making the investment seem attractive to company leaders. Additionally, the building would be owned vs. leased, allowing the company to purpose-design the facility according to our specific needs, which, (in theory), would increase overall efficiency and improve productivity. So a win-win all around, right?

    Well as could be expected once news of the potential corporate HQ relocation made the rounds across the employee population, complaints, criticism, and even open discussions of 'time to start looking for a different job' conversations began. Many employees were not at all happy about the possible increase in their commuting time, the need to drive into the 'scary' center city location each day, the lack of easy shopping and other service options nearby, and overall, the change that was being foisted upon them.

    So while we in HR knew (or at least we thought we knew), there would be some HR/talent repercussions if indeed the corporate HQ was relocated, we were kind of at a loss to quantify or predict what these repercussions would be. The best we were able to do, (beyond conversations with some managers about what their teams were saying), was to generate some data about the net change in commuting distance for employees, using a simple and open-source Google maps based tool.

    With that data we were able to show that (as expected), some employees would be adversely impacted in terms of commuting distance and some would actually benefit from the HQ move. But that was about as far as we got with our 'data'.

    What we didn't really dive into (and we could have even with our crude set of technology), was break down these impacts by organization, by function, by 'top' performer level, by 'who is going to be impossible to replace if they leave' criteria.

    What we couldn't do with this data was estimate just how much attrition was indeed likely to occur if the move was executed. We really needed to have an idea, (beyond casual conversations and rumor), who and from what areas we might find ourselves under real pressure due to possible resignations. 

    And finally, we had no real idea what remedial actions we might consider to try and stave off the voluntary and regrettable separations (the level of which we didn't really know).

    We basically looked at our extremely limited data set and said, 'That's interesting. What do we do with it?'

    Why re-tell this old story? Because someone recently asked me what was the difference between data, analytics, and 2015's hot topic, predictive analytics. And when I was trying to come up with a clever answer, (and I never really did), I thought of this story of the corporate relocation.

    We had lots of data - the locations of the current campus and the proposed new HQ. We also had the addresses of all the employees. We had all of their 'HR' data - titles, tenure, salary, department, performance rating, etc.

    We kind of took a stab at some analytics - which groups would be impacted the most, what that might mean for certain important areas, etc. But we didn't really produce much insight from the data.

    But we had nothing in terms of predictive analytics - we really had no idea what was actually going to happen with attrition and performance if the HQ was moved, and we definitely had no ideas or insights as to what to do about any of that. And really that was always going to be really hard to get at - how could we truly predict individual's decisions based on a set of data and an external influence that had never happened before in our company, and consequently any 'predictions' we made could not have been vetted at all against experience or history?

    So that's my story about data, analytics, and predictive analytics and is just one simple example from the field on why this stuff is going to be hard to implement, at least for a little while longer.

    Monday
    Jan122015

    Work is Anywhere: Notes from a Saturday Morning at the Auto Dealer

    Submitting this (brief) dispatch to re-state the obvious: Work has almost nothing to do with place and has less and less to do with time as well.

    I am writing this on Saturday morning from the extremely well-appointed customer service waiting area (can't fairly call this a 'room', it is larger than my first three apartments I think), at my local auto dealer as my sweet ride gets some maintenance/gets a safety recall item fixed.

    A quick look around reveals two wide screen TVs, (one on Fox News, one on ESPN), several sofas and chairs, a massive two-sided fireplace, a cafe area with free coffee, water, soft drinks, cookies, and most importantly for the rest of this story - free and pretty fast Wifi.

    Of course the car dealer waiting area has Wifi. Everyplace has Wifi now. We, many of us anyway, will choose a restaurant or coffee shop simply on the basis of Wifi access itself. So the fact that the auto dealer offers customer wifi is not really a big deal.

    But what is interesting as I look around the room on this Saturday morning (it is about 9:25 AM local time), is what many of the folks waiting here are actually doing.

    I am writing this blog post, (but I am kind of a loser without much going on so maybe I don't count).

    The guy at the table next to me is coding, a side project that he is working on outside of his day job (I asked him what he was working on).

    Another guy on one of the sofas is catching up on email (I didn't ask him, but a casual/nosy glance over his shoulder revealed the unmistakably bland user interface that is Outlook).

    A woman has been off and on her phone for the last 20 minutes in deep discussion and negotiation about some kind of insurance contracts with a supplier of her business.

    And a young-ish couple is seated together at another table staring at the same laptop and are engaged in pretty deep conversation. I am not exactly sure what is going on there, but decided to let them be and not get too weird/creepy in the waiting area.

    Almost everyone here seems to be working on something. At the auto dealer waiting room on a Saturday morning. I am not really sure if that is a good or bad thing. I do think it is wonderful and great customer service that the dealer has provided such a welcoming and accommodating environment so people can work. But I also, and maybe this is because I am old enough to recall when waiting at the auto dealer meant 90 minutes of pure hell in a tiny, dirty room with old issues of Car & Driver the only distraction, wonder if this is really healthy.

    I know that I am a little messed up for spending my Saturday mornings blogging.

    But I thought I was the only strange one. There is an entire roomful of folks with me this morning who are, equally, strange.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Jan022015

    REPRISE: Wearable Tech in the Oil Field

    Note: The blog is taking some well-deserved rest for the Holidays (that is code for I am pretty much out of decent ideas, and I doubt most folks are spending their holidays reading blogs anyway), and will be re-running some of best, or at least most interesting posts from 2014. Maybe you missed these the first time around or maybe you didn't really miss them, but either way they are presented for your consideration. Thanks to everyone who stopped by in 2014!

    The below post first ran back in June and features an amazingly cool two-and-a-half minute video showcasing a real world and real workplace application of wearable technology. Wearables like Google Glass might never catch on as a consumer device, but almost certainly will have a big role in all kinds of work applications. I liked this video so much I used it as an example in two or three talks I did in 2014 and it was almost always met with 'Wows' from the audience. Hope you enjoy it if you have not seen it yet.

    Fresh 2015 content resumes next Monday - have a great weekend!

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    VIDEO: Wearable Tech in the Oil Field

    Quick shot for a busy Friday - if you are at all interested in how, where, and for which type of workplace use cases are likely to be impacted by the introduction of wearable technologies like Google Glass, then check out this short video from Wearable Intelligence, a developer of custom applications for industry that can be deployed on the Glass platform (Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

    In the video embedded below, we see how custom apps overlaid on the Glass device, allow field workers to access training information, log status reports, verify safety procedures have been followed and more - all while keeping their hands free to actually get their work done.  

    Really interesting and definitely cool, right?

    Glass and probably eventually other wearable devices are going to become one of the essential tools for the types of field workers that need to simultaneously access and interact with lots of data and content, but also can't have their hands tied up with smartphones or tablets, since they actually have to work with their hands.

    It is early days, but as you can see in the video the possibilities are almost endless.

    And one more thing, I doubt any Glass-hating types would dare to hassle any of these oil field workers that you see in the video for wearing Glass. The irony in all this? Glass and other wearables might end up developing into a real working person's tool as much as a prop for the snobby elites.

    Have a great weekend!

    Wednesday
    Dec312014

    REPRISE: How far would you commute each day for your dream job?

    Note: The blog is taking some well-deserved rest for the next few days (that is code for I am pretty much out of decent ideas, and I doubt most folks are spending their holidays reading blogs anyway), and will be re-running some of best, or at least most interesting posts from 2014. Maybe you missed these the first time around or maybe you didn't really miss them, but either way they are presented for your consideration. Thanks to everyone who stopped by in 2014!

    The below post first ran back in June and was a good example of a non-robot, non-technology, and non-sports type post that for some reason seemed to resonate a little bit. It hit on a normal issue for careers and workplaces - commuting, and the challenges that really long commutes to work can present. The example in the post is pretty extreme, but I think it helps us think about the kinds of 'life' tradeoffs we are willing to make for 'work'.

     Happy New Year's Eve!

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    How far would you commute each day for your dream job? 

    How far would you be willing to commute, (to keep it simple let's assume we are talking about commuting via driving your personal car), in order to work at your dream company/job?

    I have to admit it is not a question I have personally thought about very much these last few years as my 'commute', if you could call it that, has typically been taking a short flight of stairs to my lower-level office/lair/Fortress of Solitude.  But lots of folks, heck still the large majority I think, are making the pretty much daily grind to an office, store, warehouse or whatnot. Despite how much we like to talk about the nature and practice of work and workplaces changing, for most of us 'work' remains a place we physically go to just about every day.

    So how far of a drive is too far?

    I only thought about the question this week after reading a post on the LinkedIn blog titled, Inside Story: LinkedIn’s VP of Mobile on Driving in the Snow, Houzz and Anticipatory Computing. I clicked through to the piece because of the 'Anticipatory Computing' phrase, that just sounded really interesting and cool, but as it turns out the more interesting nugget from the post was about how this VP from LinkedIn (Joff Redfern) had a ridiculous commute his first four years with the company.

    How ridiculous? Check this Q and A from the piece:

    Q: What’s not on your LinkedIn Profile?

    A: During my first four years at LinkedIn, I had one of the longest commutes. I lived in Lake Tahoe, California, but worked out of headquarters in Mountain View, California. It’s about 250 miles each way, so I put over 110,000 miles on my car. That’s the equivalent of driving around the world more than four times. It gave me lots of time to think and one of the benefits is that I’m pretty awesome at driving in the snow. 

    Did I read that correctly? 250 miles each way to get to the office? Even taking into account the fact that there was probably no way Mr. Redfern was making a 500 mile round trip every single work day, even still, just a couple of times a week that kind of a grind will be almost impossible to sustain.

    How someone could manage a commute that crazy, and not go insane is kind of an interesting question I think, and you could substitute '500 mile commute' with, 'Has to work 18-hour days for a year in order to ship our first product'. I think there are at least three key elements you'd have to have in place in order to make it work:

    1. The work itself has to be an ideal (for you) combination of challenge/excitement/opportunity/reward that will set you up perfectly for the next 10-15 years of your career such that you simply have to bite the bullet and devote yourself to that work for a year or two (or four).

    2. You either have to have just about zero responsibilities outside of work (no spouse/significant other/kids/dog etc.) that might either literally starve (in the case of a dog) or be starved for attention (every other person in your life), since you are working all of the time. Or, you have someone in your life who has decided that they will take care of everything outside of work for you while you are working all of the time. I suspect it would be really tough for anyone to pull off a regular 500 mile commute if they had a spouse, a couple of kids maybe, at home that they actually wanted to see awake once in a while.

    3.  You have to be (reasonably) healthy before taking on such a grind. The combination of working crazy long hours and a long commute will start to break you down physically (and likely mentally too). You will eventually start eating poorly, not getting enough exercise, definitely not enough sleep and that combination starts to take a toll. If you are not set up to reasonably handle that kind of physical punishment you are more likely to end up in an ER somewhere than accepting a fat bonus check or a bunch of stock options for your hard work. Everyone can handle a long day or two or maybe five, but keep stacking them up, week after week and month after month? Good luck with that.

    So how far are you willing to commute for your dream job?

    Monday
    Dec082014

    Permanent Availability

    Good Monday morning!

    Let me ask you something, and be honest - Did you check your work email over the weekend? Tap out any quick messages or replies from your smartphone while you were out shopping or at the football game or 'spending time with family?'

    I bet you did.

    Everyone does it seems these days.

    This is not a brand new story, but it popped up again over the weekend - Germany Examines Ban on Employees Checking Work Email at Home, a review of some potential legislation to effectively eliminate most 'off-hours' Emails in that country. The country's Labor Minister Andrea Nahles says that it is "indisputable that there is a connection between permanent availability and psychological diseases." 

    Love that line. 

    It sounds a little far-fetched, but even the idea that some combination of workaholism, unhealthy workplace culture and expectations, and enabled by technology that leads to this notion of 'permanent availability' could lead to psychological diseases is at least fascinating.

    And some German companies like Volkswagen, at least partially driven by work contracts and labor rules are adopting the 'no Email after hours' policies. So whether it becomes a government forced mandate or an employer-driven initiative (and possibly something that is collectively bargained), it seems there is at least some traction developing in Germany for a ban or at least a significant restriction on after-hours work communications.

    Let's jump back across the pond to the USA, where those two conditions, some kind of a ban on after-hours email via legislation, or individual company/labor contract agreements to effect the same, are very unlikely. 

    So then, why should we Americans care or even think about this?

    Well for two reasons I think.

    One, regardless of where you are from, if there is some validity to Labor Minister Nahles' claim that email addiction can lead to psychological diseases, then we 'always on' American worker types are even more in jeopardy of falling victim to burnout, stress, depression, and such.

    And two, as HR and business leaders, it probably is time to think about the workplace effects of this new 'permanent availability' with respect to productivity, engagement, retention, and overall performance. Are we really getting the best or most optimal performance, (and working towards being a great/super/amazing/classy place to work), if we have as an organization effectively expanded everyone's working hours to, essentially, all of the time?

    Some time back I postulated that you could discover everything about a company's culture by examining one weekend's worth of corporate email traffic.

    How much email volume is there on the weekend? Who is driving that? How are the response rates and times, particularly when upper management is sending emails out to subordinates? 

    That kind of thing.

    I think if you believe that doing great HR is really about helping organizations perform at their best, that you should be paying attention to what is going on with these 'banning after-hours email' issues. Because even if you know that these bans will never take effect in the US, the reasons that they are even being considered are pretty important, and universal.

    Have a great week!