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    Entries in workplace (80)


    After the storm is over

    Millions of people and organizations continue to deal with the after-effects and devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.  From the personal tragedies - a number of incredibly unfortunate deaths, injuries, loss of property, business interruptions; to the larger, more macro items like getting air travel resumed, major city mass transit restored, and determining if indeed the superstorm will effect next week's election, the storm will have a lasting and historical impact.

    For many organizations in the Eastern part of the country, one of the residual effects has been not just damage to facilities, but also and variously, lack of power or other essential services, the inability for many employees to safely commute to the workplace, and the need for many employees to have significantly increased flexibility as they deal with the storm themselves, (take care of their property, stay home with school-age children, etc.). The fallout from the storm will continue for a while certainly, but eventually things usually return to 'normal'. Offices will re-open, the subways will resume running, kids will go back to school, etc., but for now, many organizations are kind of in a odd middle-ground between full operations and complete shutdown. Where possible, employees are being encouraged, sometimes even directed, to work from home, and are also being supported in their efforts to ensure their homes, families, and property are being attended to in this time of crisis.

    In this time of natural disaster, both organizations and employees are being forced to think about work, the workplace, individual needs and responsibilites at home, and the relationships among them very, very differently. And I imagine most organizations, even if they did not have an articulated plan for dealing with a crisis of this magnitude, will eventually emerge in about the same place as they entered. It may take some time to repair damage to facilities, sales might be depressed for a bit as customers have their own issues to deal with, but pretty soon the clean-up will progress to a point where the storm will be behind us, and 'normal' will resume.

    But the larger question I think is whether incidents like the recent storm will have a lasting impact on the way that many organizations think about work, how and where it is done, and the needs of their workforces, not just in crisis, but all year long.  

    This isn't one of those horrible 'What can we learn about work from Hurricane Sandy' articles. Those are dreadful.

    But rather this is just an acknowledgement that in these incredibly trying times for so many people and organizations we can see where necessity has brought out and shone a light on the best attributes of our nature. Whether it was health care professionals going to extraordinary measures to care for their patients, first responders (again) risking their own safety to protect life and property, and the innumerable businesses that have exhibited care, concern, and compassion for their teams - we are left with much to reflect upon.

    Let's hope that after the storm has passed and the roads are clear, that we can take some time to think about how we can best continue to care for and support each other not just when unprecedented disaster strikes, but in the normal, mundane, and largest part of our lives. 

    I hope everyone reading this is safe and warm and can even manage to have a Happy Halloween.



    There's only 14 hours in a day

    You only have 12-14 working hours in an average day to get done what you need to get done, so you better get proficient and diligent about scheduling and time management.

    That is the paraphrased advice I caught from one of the guests on an MSNBC show called 'Your Business', a show about tips, strategies, and advice for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

    It's pretty easy to take that '12-14 hour' assertion and break it down to see if that kind of level of effort and commitment would work in your life of course. It's just a numbers game really.

    Take the midpoint of 'working hours' say - 13

    Give yourself an (optimistic) 6 hours for sleep.

    That's 19 hours accounted for so far. You have 5 hours left, but that still seems like a lot, right?

    Do you physically have to go to an office? If not, you likely on most days, have to go somewhere. Let's be conservative and say 1 hour a day (on average), is spent in transit, and such, more or less not available for 'work', or at least not usually.

    4 hours left. That still feels like plenty.

    There was a really popular book that came out a couple of years back that suggested 4 hours was enough to get a week's worth of work done. I admit to not reading the book and knowing anything about how one might actually successfully pull off that trick, but if someone can figure out how to cram a week's work into 4 hours, then that same amount of time each day has to be plenty for non-working, non-sleeping activities.

    So what would need to be fit into the remaining 4 hours? Well depending on your personal situation, interests, and motivations, you'll need to select however many items you can from the (incomplete) list below:

    1. Eating

    2. Obtaining and/or preparing food and related items to support your need to eat

    3. Personal care and hygiene

    4. (If you have kids) whatever you do each day that passes for parenting

    5. Family/friend social time

    6. Everything else I missed

    Can you fit that all in to 4 hours? Maybe. Again, on average maybe for a while.

    Of course you or someone you take care of might get sick. Your car might break down. Some inconsiderate friend or family member might actually need more than about 45 minutes of your time at a stretch one day. And of course you need time to keep track of and update, (variously), Facebook, LinkedIn, (well that might be 'work'), Twitter, Instagram, Tumbr, Pinterest, etc.

    But the interesting thing to me is not that the guest on the small business focused talk show casually tossed out the 12-14 hours as the standard or expected allotted or expected 'working day', it's that none of the other guests nor the host challenged the assertion in any way. It was a given. It was 'normal'. And while interesting, it certainly isn't surprising, everyone knows, (except maybe the 4-hour work week guy), that small business owners and entrepreneurs have to work longer and harder and give up mostly everything else in their lives for a time in order to get a new venture off the ground.

    That kind of grind, and maybe even worse, comes with the territory. Which is one of the many reasons that small business ownership and entrepreneurship will never be for everyone. Lots of smart, talented, and dedicated folks simply can't or don't choose to sign up for that kind of grind, particularly when they hit a stage in their lives when personal and family obligations increase and become more important, (think kids' school and sports activities, elder care, spouse or partner job transition, and more).

    What's the point?

    I guess that 5 years in to a slowdown-recession-recovery-slowdown cycle that seemingly will go on another 5 years or so, and with so many organizations that have had to fight to survive many of the actual 'survivors' have had a long stretches of time where they've been asked and expected to have the dedication and submit to the lifestyle of the 12-14 hour a day entrepreneur, but usually without any (or many) of the associated benefits.

    The owner and entrepreneur grinds it out because they have a vision, passion, and 'need' to see that vision realized. The W2 wage guy grinds it out usually for different reasons, to fulfill different needs, (almost all of which are financial), and that might be met just as easily somewhere else, and maybe in only 10 hours a day instead of 14.

    I guess I really need an editor because after re-reading this I think I just churned 800 words to re-state the obvious - that leaders and organizations can't really expect the kind of sustained passion and dedication and commitment of an entrepreneur when all you are really offering is a few more dollars and the likelihood that your team members are making incredibly tough choices about what they have to miss each day that many of them never thought they'd have to make.

    How many of your team, or possibly even you yourself, are thinking - 'Hey, I never signed up for this?


    The important thing is not the idea

    A few days ago I re-watched the excellent documentary 'The Pixar Story', a 2007 film that chronicles the origins, the early struggles, and the eventual amazing successes of Pixar Studios.  While in 2012 it may seem obvious that computer generated animation can produce incredible images and lead to fantastic results, (like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, etc.),  that belief was not widely held when Pixar was starting out.  The film does a superb job of profiling the early visionaries and eventual leaders in the computer animation field, namely John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and even everyone's favorite tech titan Steve Jobs, whose investments and belief in Pixar allowed it to survive some tough early years.

    Watching the film again I was struck by the many simple, seemingly obvious yet hard to replicate, work practices and cultural influences that make creating great art and innovating more likely at Pixar than at the typical organization. The open, free-flowing office layout, the relentless focus on creating something even better than the last film, the self-awareness to know that they could not simply rely on their past reputation, that they had to continue to elevate their games in order to continue to succeed in the crowded entertainment space. All of this, combined with a really high talent level across the board, (the film gives the distinct impression that the best talent in computer animation is at Pixar, and thus continues to attract even more talent), help to at least attempt to offer reasons or explanations behind Pixar's story.

    But probably the most telling point raised in the documentary was an observation made by Ed Catmull, who was Pixar's Chief Technology Officer and later became the President of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, on what he felt like was the key factor or 'secret' behind Pixar's success.  Here's the quote from Mr. Catmull:

    "The important thing is not the idea, the important thing is the people its how they work together, who they are that matters most."
    It's not the idea. Or, it's not enough anyway. Sure, someone has to come up with that initial bit of inspiration, like, 'What if the toys came to life when no one is in the room?', but then all you have is just that idea. Nothing, or at least not much else. And while having that great idea is essential, and everything in the process flows from there. Even in an ideas business like Pixar, the idea is never the end its just the beginning, and creating an environment where ideas can find capable, empowered, competitive, and motivated people is the only way you win.

    Which is probably why there are so few companies like Pixar out in the wild - it's pretty easy to generate ideas, it's even easier to poke holes in other people's ideas, but the toughest nut to crack is to create the conditions where good ideas have a chance to emerge and have the potential to actually be improved upon when exposed to the larger community.

    Catch 'The Pixar Story' sometime, I think you will be glad you did.

    We do serve your kind in here: The Robot-Only Workplace

    In the classic 'Cantina' scene from the first Star Wars film, the barkeep barks a testy 'We don't serve their kind in here' to our hero Luke Skywalker, instructing him that he has to leave his trusty droids R2D2 and C3PO outside, as they were not welcome in the bar. Luke complies, as the unwelcome presence of the droids would have certainly added to the trouble he was about to find in the Cantina, which culminated in the legendary and controversial Han Solo - Greedo altercation.

    But this post is not about Star Wars or Droids, it is to highlight yet another interesting development in what some see as an inexorable march towards total robot domination of work and workplaces. Since the economic and manufacturing capability value play for the basic application of robot technologies for work can no longer be argued, the next set of questions are more about the future.  What will the next stage of robot-work and as we will see in the example below, robot-workplaces look like? That's correct, not just robots at work, or robots replacing some of the work that people used to do, but could we see one day entire workplaces, (factories, warehouses, maybe farms), where humans only enter and engage to swap out broken or failed components, or possibly as the clean-up crew to salvage parts once a particular solution or capability is no longer needed.

    Seem crazy? Well, some technical leaders at none other than social-networking leader Facebook are already thinking about this, envisioning the Data Center of the future, (you know where all the hardware sits that makes up 'The Cloud'), might be one where we hardly ever see an actual person. From a recent piece on ZDNet:

    "I've always envisioned what could we do with a datacentre if humans never needed to go into the datacentre," (Facebook VP of Hardware Design) Frank Frankovsky says. "What would a datacentre look like if it wasn't classified as a working space? What if it looked more like a Costco warehouse?"

    (Facebook) hopes its ability to manage its infrastructure mostly via software could cut the amount of time people spend on the IT floor of the datacentre — eventually, it might be possible to have no one there at all, Frankovsky says. This holds a number of intriguing possibilities for datacentres.

    If people did not need to go into a datacentre, then you could deploy devices floor to ceiling and run them at a much higher heat, allowing the processors inside them to perform more efficiently, Frankovsky says.

    Looking further ahead, the datacentre could be treated as a "degrade and replace" model, Frankovsky says. "Essentially, you fill up a datacentre, put it into production and weld the door shut." If a company did this, it would only need to send someone into the facility every six months to perform processor upgrade and swap out failed storage, he says.

    Realistically, or perhaps unrealistically depending on your general level of pessimism/optimism, the kinds of robotic, computer, and server technology changes needed to support this kind of 'no humans inside' data center is perhaps a decade away, maybe less. But there seems to be little doubt that increased robot and automated technology and less human interaction with the technology in these workplaces is likely. If you have a 10-year old kid that you have any influence over, I recommend having him/her start preparing for a a future where 'gets along well with robots' is going to be a key professional competency.

    Let's just hope when the skeleton crew of people show up at the door of the data center to perform their twice-a-year inspections and maintenance that the robot in charge will be a little more friendly to the people than the Cantina bartender was to R2 and C3PO.

    Happy Monday!


    It's still a mad, mad, mad, world

    Fresh off yesterday's take showing how one local automotive dealership, not really the kind of business that pops to mind when thinking about diversity and inclusion, is bucking that trend and embracing the important role women employees have in their business, comes an interesting and eye-opening tale from the world of advertising, that paints quite a different, and damning picture on that industry's hiring practices and climate.

    I call your attention to what is an absolute must-read, particularly in light of the recent re-kindling of the 'Can Women Have it All?' debate, is a piece called 'Confessions of a Female Ad Exec',  (Note : there is some definite Adult content in the piece, if you are easily offended, then don't bother clicking through), published on the Digiday site. Originally published as an anonymous, (and edited) piece, and later re-issued under the byline of Colleen DeCourcy, CEO of Socialistic, a social media technology, content, and design studio, the piece contains some really honest and raw reflections of Ms. DeCourcy's experience climbing the ranks of the Advertising industry. 

    Why are the upper echelons of the Ad industry still so the same, still not reflecting the changing world and workplace overall? From the Digiday piece:

    The sacred question agency execs are answering with their hires is, “Are you like us?” The affirmative answer if they hire is, yes. It might not even be done consciously, but hires and promotions are often done on this basis. (By the way, that can apply beyond women to black/Jewish/gay/handicapped/patently JNF — Just Not Funny.)

    But beyond arcane, foolish, and either subtly or overtly discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, Ms. DeCourcy also offers up an admission of sorts, that perhaps she too had some kind of role to play as well, as both victim and unlikely participant. Again from the piece:

    An issue that’s rarely addressed is how many women in advertising don’t help each other out. What is it that drives a select group of women to actively not support other women? I have been a victim of it, and subsequently I resist working with “those kinds” of women. Sadly, since it’s impossible to see through a smart woman’s tightly controlled veil of camaraderie, I’ve grown irrationally afraid of all women at work, and I’ve missed the opportunity to work with the great ones.

    But maybe it’s not the women who are at fault here. Maybe the fact that there are so few of us in the boardrooms leads us to assume there’s only room for a certain number.

    But more truthfully, the reality for women my age is that you had to sever the sisterhood ties so hard and so early in order to run with the boys that you just don’t know how to get back home again. I’m just a tourist in the land of women now. I’m not fully of the culture.

    There's more to the piece than I grabbed to use here, and I hope you read it all, (and again, only if you are not going to be offended by some language and frank descriptions of inappropriate workplace talk), and let it sink in a little bit.

    For me, the takeaways are many, but one that stands out is that employees, even C-suite execs, are real people too. Their stories are always unique, often complex, and almost never what you, as the person wondering 'Why?' or 'Why not?', would expect.

    It's still a mad, mad world out there. And while yesterday's post about the 'We are all happy together' auto dealer paints a really bright and positive picture, today's piece reminds us that we really don't and often can't know what lies beneath that surface.