🗂 Link: A spot of after-hours business email does you good, apparently

Published in the Computers in Human Behaviour academic journal, the study enumerates no fewer than 72 actions that people apparently take while managing their work emails. We can count five – delete, mark as spam, forward, reply and read but ignore – and can only imagine that reaching the figure of 72 must include crying and rocking in the corner of the office while reading the full contents of one’s inbox.

Source: A spot of after-hours business email does you good, apparently

Link: Strong Opinions Loosely Held Might be the Worst Idea in Tech

On a certain kind of team, where everyone shares that ethos, and there is very little power differential, this can work well. I’ve had the pleasure of working on teams like that, and it is all kinds of fun. When you have a handful of solid engineers that understand each other, and all of them feel free to say “you are wrong about X, that is absolutely insane, and I question your entire family structure if you believe that, clearly Y is the way to go”, and then you all happily grab lunch together (at Linguini’s), that’s a great feeling of camaraderie.

Unfortunately, that ideal is seldom achieved.

Source: Strong Opinions Loosely Held Might be the Worst Idea in Tech

Link: Bulls**t Jobs (Part 1 of ∞)

“It’s too soon to have a good sample size. But it seems to usually work. I think it works because there is nobody at Mr. Smith’s workplace – maybe nobody in the entire world – who cares whether Mr. Smith brings a chair into work. Somebody wrote up a procedure for employees using special chairs, so that they’re not the sort of cowboys who make decisions without procedures. Somebody else feels like they have to enforce it, so that they’re not the sort of rebel who flouts procedures. But nobody cares.”
Original source: Bulls**t Jobs (Part 1 of ∞)

Link: Employees should work on hard things, not easy things

‘For a business to thrive, each employee must ultimately be worth three times their wages to the business. That means if someone is getting paid $60k per year, their worth to the business likely exceeds $180k. People often underestimate what they are worth. One way people, especially more junior employees, underestimate themselves is by failing to spend most of their time on things that are really hard for them to do. All employees (not just entry level employees) should strive to have at least 70% of their time doing things that are really difficult. These are the tasks that require the most thought, rigor, and attention. And these are the tasks that result in the most growth.’

Of course, this assumes a capitalist view of work. Work is there to generate profit, not help people pass the time (find value in being alive) and making sure they have the means to eat and such.
Original source: Employees should work on hard things, not easy things

Link: US wages have been flat, despite growing economy

“The conundrum of stuck wages [for “non-managerial workers”?] has vexed economists for more than a decade, but their underlying assumption had been that as joblessness drops — it’s at 4% now — companies will be forced to push up wages to attract and retain workers. Now that that hasn’t happened, the feeling is beginning to creep in that this is the new normal.”
Original source: US wages have been flat, despite growing economy

Link: The Smart, the Stupid, and the Catastrophically Scary

“Part of me likes being a programmer—because we’re the last job. I can see a future—if we don’t manage to blow ourselves up first—in the robot paradise where people are either robot engineers or programmers, or I guess do marketing. Or maybe bake pies, or smell things? Those are essentially the hardest things for a computer to do. But computers do everything else.”
Original source: The Smart, the Stupid, and the Catastrophically Scary

Link: Gartner Says Employees in Germany Report Lower Discretionary Effort than Global Average

“German employees’ discretionary effort fell below the global industry average, according to the latest worldwide research by Gartner. High employee discretionary effort, which is the willingness to go above and beyond in one’s job, was reported by 12.6 percent of employees in Germany in 1Q18, a nearly four percentage point drop from the previous quarter and below the global average of 15.2 percent.”

Sort of a weird survey, over 22,000 people globally.

Hot take: I’m sure employees would be very willing to go “above and beyond” if employers compensation also went “above and beyond.”
Original source: Gartner Says Employees in Germany Report Lower Discretionary Effort than Global Average

Link: Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate

“Mindfulness might be unhelpful for dealing with difficult assignments at work, but it may be exactly what is called for in other contexts. There is no denying that mindfulness can be beneficial, bringing about calm and acceptance. Once you’ve reached a peak level of acceptance, however, you’re not going to be motivated to work harder.”
Original source: Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate

Link: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

‘Whiteboards are a tool used by a certain type of person to “take over” a meeting. Simply going to the board and picking up a pen changes the whole dynamic of meeting ownership, agenda, control and creates a power-dynamic that is pretty hostile to collaboration. The worst part of whiteboards is that some people just don’t have the ego or personality to go to a whiteboard so they will never contribute that way. The real problem is that whatever gets written on a whiteboard can have more weight than what is said by others or than it deserves simply because it was “written”. I’ve seen whole product positioning statements upended because someone stood up at a whiteboard and rearranged the 3×3 and bullied everyone by controlling the board.’

A whole about corporate meetings in the rest of the article.
Original source: Reaching Peak Meeting Efficiency

Link: Write it down

“Whenever someone asks me to do something that I think seems ill-conceived in some way, I ask them to write it down. That’s it. Because writing is high effort. Making sentences is the easy bit, it’s the thinking I want them to do. By considering their request it slows them down. Maybe 30% of the time or something, they come back and say ‘oh, that thing I asked you to do, I’ve had a think and it’s fine, we don’t need to do it’.

“This little method isn’t about doing less. Well, actually it is. It’s about doing less important things instead of important things. It’s not about being obstructive. I certainly don’t ask someone ‘why?’ five times (which is a shortcut to being called a smart-arse in my experience). This is about a light-touch way of asking someone to slow down.”
Original source: Write it down

Link: A 2-Year Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home

“the robust, nearly two-year study showed an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to a full day’s work. Turns out work-from-home employees work a true full-shift (or more) versus being late to the office or leaving early multiple times a week and found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.”
Original source: A 2-Year Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home

Link: For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

“For many women, the disparity in assignments comes back to what we’ve called maternal wall bias — a set of negative assumptions about mothers’ competence and commitment. After having a child, mothers come back to work to find that their best projects and clients have been reassigned to colleagues. In some cases, women report that it takes years to get back to the type of work they were doing before taking maternity leave. As a white female lawyer reported, “I made partner in the shortest time of any female. Things were great. I had my son. I worked part-time during leave and came back in nine weeks. My work was gone. It has taken two years and a change in focus to get back to the level I was at.”
Original source: For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

Link: Re-Hermit

“I can run a lot of windows on my screen, but eventually the screen fills up and I’m doing more clicking than viewing just to see everything that’s going on in my head. Which means that less is going on in my head because I’m doing more clicking than looking. Something like that.”
Original source: Re-Hermit

Link: Why men need more consideration in the women in tech debate

Having to watch the kids is a big problem
For gender imbalance in the workforce. Maybe dads can step the fuck up: “It’s also about asking men to ask for paternity leave. The amount of men that I know that say, well I’m given two weeks and that’s it. They don’t push it, they don’t even have the conversation with their boss. If they don’t step up to also try to equalize it, things won’t change…. I was asked time and time again who’s going to look after my kid. The attention went too far.”

Also: “I’m particularly interested in, and in support of, AbdulJaleel’s comment around seeing more men leaving leadership roles as a way of tackling the gender imbalance.”
Original source: Why men need more consideration in the women in tech debate

Link: Foreign-Born Engineers Dominate Bay Area Tech Jobs

“Nearly three-quarters of Silicon Valley women who work in computer, mathematical, architectural, and engineering occupations were born outside of the U.S., mostly in Asia. That includes nearly 79 percent of those in computer and mathematical professions. The data showed slightly more than 70 percent of men in those professions are foreign born.”
Original source: Foreign-Born Engineers Dominate Bay Area Tech Jobs

Link: Working remotely, 4 years in

Yup, this is the thing: “I think this is actually a really important point to understand about remote work – on the remote teams I’ve been on, the the whole team has adopted a working style where all important team communication happens over Slack / video calls / email. IMO if your team is mostly remote, you’re forced to adopt a remote-first working style.”
Original source: Working remotely, 4 years in

Link: Why Are We Still Talking About the ‘Millennial Problem’ in the Workfor

“All the ‘demands’ millennials have that people think are so outrageous are things everyone wants–work/life balance, recognition when they do a good job, a sense of purpose–this is all stuff managers should be giving to their employees, anyway,” says Michael Greer, a digital marketing consultant who has led employee training and development initiatives for over a decade. “The complaints and demands you’re hearing from your millennial employees are the same ones everyone else is grumbling about where you can’t hear them.”
Original source: Why Are We Still Talking About the ‘Millennial Problem’ in the Workfor

Rule 1: Don’t go to meetings. Rule 2: See rule 1.

Coffee is for coders.

Whether you’re doing waterfall, DevOps, PRINCE, SAFe, PMBOK, ITIL, or whatever process and certification-scheme you like, chances are you’re not using your time wisely. I’d estimate that most of the immediate, short-term benefit organizations get from switching to cloud native is simply because they’re now actually, truly following a process which both focuses your efforts on creating customer value (useful software that helps customers out, making them keep paying or pay you more) and managing your time wisely. This is like the first 10–20 pounds you lose on any diet: that just happens because you’re actually doing something where before you were doing nothing.

Less developer meetings, more pairing up

When it comes to time management, eliminating meetings is the easiest, biggest productivity booster you can do. Start with developers. They should be doing actual work (probably “coding”) 5–6 hours a day and go to only a handful of meetings a week. If the daily stand-up isn’t getting them all the information they need for the day, look to improve the information flow or limit it to just what’s needed.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, pairing up developers (and other staff, it turns out) will increase productivity as well. When they pair, developers are better synced up on most knowledge they need, learning how all parts of the system work with a built in tutor in their pair. Keeping up to speed like this means the developers have still less meetings to go to, those ones where they learn about the new pagination framework that Kris made. Pairing helps with more than just knowledge maintenance. While it feels like there’s a “halving” of developers by pairing them up, as one of the original pair programming studies put it: “the defect removal savings should more than offset the development cost increase.” Pairs in studies over the past 20+ years have consistently written higher quality code and written it faster than solo coders.

Coupled with the product mindset to software that involves the whole team in the process from start to end, they’ll be up to speed on the use cases and customers. And, by putting small batches in place, the amount of up-front study needed (requiring meetings) will be reduced to bite-sized chunks.

It takes a long time to digest 300 pages

We’re going to need a lot more coffee to get through this requirements meeting.

The requirements process is a notorious source of wasteful meetings. This is especially true when companies are still doing big, up-front analysis to front-end agile development teams.

For example, at a large health insurance company, the product owner at first worked with business analysts, QA managers, and operations managers to get developers synced up and working. The product owner quickly realized that most of the content in the conversations was not actually needed, or was overkill. With some corporate slickness, the product owner removed the developers from this meeting-loop, and essentially /dev/null’ed the input that wasn’t needed.

Assign this story to management

Staff can try to reduce the amount of meetings they go to (and start practices like pairing), but, to be effective, managers have the responsibility to make it happen. At Allstate, managers would put “meetings” on developers calendars that said “Don’t go to meetings.” When you read results like Allstate going from 20% productivity to 90% productivity, you can see how effective eliminating meetings, along with all their other improvements, can be on an organization.

If you feel like developers must go to a meeting, first ask how you can eliminate that need. Second, track it like any other feature in the release, accounting for the time and cost of it. Make the costs of the miserable visible.

This concept of attending less meetings isn’t just for developers,The same productivity outcomes can be achieved to QA, the product owners, operations, and everyone else. Once you’ve done this, you’ll likely find having a balanced team easier and possible. Of course, once you have everyone on a balanced team, following this principle is easier.Reducing the time your staff spends in meetings and, instead, increasing the time they spend coding, designing, and doing actual product management (like talking with end users!) get you the obvious benefits of increasing productivity by 4x-5x.

If you feel you cannot do this, at least track the time you’re losing/using on meetings. A good rule of thumb is that context switching (going from one task to another) takes about 30 minutes. So, an hour long meeting will actually take out 2 hours of an employee’s time. To get ahold of how you’re choosing to spend your time, in reality, track these as tasks somehow, perhaps even adding in stories for “the big, important meeting.” And then, when you’re project tracking make sure you actually want to spend your organization’s time this way. If you do: great, you’re getting what you want! More than likely, spending time doing anything by creating and shipping customer value isn’t something you want to keep doing.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest that paying attention to time spent in meetings is even something that needs to be uttered. In my experience, management may feel like meetings are good, helpful, and not too onerous. After all, meetings are a major tool for managers to come to learn how their businesses are performing, discuss growth and optimization options, and reach decisions. Meetings are the whiteboards and IDEs of managers. Management needs to look beyond the utility meetings give them, and realize that for most everyone else, meetings are a waste of time.

For more on improving software in your organization check out my 49 pages in a fancy PDF on the topic.

Link: The Problem With Courting Amazon

‘The question of whether, or how much, incentives actually spark a community’s economic growth is still unsettled. That’s partly because coming to any bottom-line answer is extremely difficult given all the possible variables in any scenario. “The overall conclusion is that effectiveness is there,” says Peter Fisher, a professor emeritus at the University of Iowa and the research director of the nonprofit Iowa Policy Project. “But it’s pretty small, and small enough that incentives end up being a very costly strategy.” In his opinion, far too many state and city boosters indiscriminately spray financial giveaway packages, which ends up costing them more than it should.’
Original source: The Problem With Courting Amazon

Link: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

While I don’t disagree with this kind of ASTOUNDING FINDING, what it usually means that in addition to engineering, it turns out you need these other skills. I sure STEM is necessary, but not sufficient to be a good nerd in corporate America:

“among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”
Original source: The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

Link: Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?

‘between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.’

More:

‘To them, finding an antidepressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place.’
Link to original

Link: Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Win – and Neither Did His Campaign

“During that first month, Walsh’s disbelief and even fear about what was happening in the White House moved her to think about quitting. Every day after that became a countdown toward the moment she knew she wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. To Walsh, the proud political pro, the chaos, the rivalries, and the president’s own lack of focus were simply incomprehensible. In early March, not long before she left, she confronted Kushner with a simple request. “Just give me the three things the president wants to focus on,” she demanded. “What are the three priorities of this White House?”

It was the most basic question imaginable — one that any qualified presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer.

“Yes,” he said to Walsh. “We should probably have that conversation.””

** Managing is complex, but starts with some pretty simple tasks.
Link to original

Link: Diversity in Tech Remains Elusive Due to Racism, Lack of Representation and Cultural Differences

‘As a self-proclaimed Black “nerd” and active social media user, Moore also cites cultural differences as one of the main reasons tech companies don’t hire more people from underrepresented minorities groups. She herself remembers laughing awkwardly alongside white college peers and classmates to jokes she didn’t necessarily find funny due to cultural differences in social cues and communications styles: “If you weren’t friends with a Black woman in your class partly because there were no Black women in your class or partly because your interests, maybe her interests aren’t the same, if you’re not even friends with those people, you’re definitely not going to start a business with those people. You’re not going to think about those people when you’re creating your technology.”’

Link

Creativity: not much needed at your job

Capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and also difficult to automate. The amount of time that workers spend on activities requiring these capabilities, though, appears to be surprisingly low. Just 4 percent of the work activities across the US economy require creativity at a median human level of performance. Similarly, only 29 percent of work activities require a median human level of performance in sensing emotion.

Four fundamentals of workplace automation

Thinking wrong about knowledge workers screws up their productivity

…or: “Knowledge work is a lot more like cloud than traditional IT.”

Of course, it is most certainly not in the interest of knowledge workers to go to their bosses and declare that they have “spare capacity.” At best, they might then be judged in performance reviews as having an easy job and being not very productive. At worst, the bosses might decide that these employees could be cut. Thus it is to every knowledge worker’s benefit to look busy all the time. There is always a report to write, a memo to generate, a consultation to run, a new idea to explore. And it is in support of this perceived survival imperative that the second driver of productivity—knowledge transfer—gets perverted.

The rest of the piece is good stuff. Notice how much of the thinking follows the same pattern of opex vs. capex thinking of cloud, and the somewhat similar notions of continuous delivery. I’d also add that if you follow a small batch (smaller amounts of work delivered more frequently, rather than big projects delivered once), you’re given more opportunity to re-allocate your “knowledge workers” to different projects. As the author points out, this means you have to rejigger how HR/roles and responsibilities work; staff policies don’t currently favor moving people from project to project like you see in (management) consulting.

Couple this with the “you need to constantly be coming up with new businesses” pressure from Transient Advantage, and you have good operating theory.

All the taboos about working at home

Working at home, with a family, is a challenge, as this nice overview piece at The Register goes over. You think you’re trading all those interruptions from co-workers talking about the sportsball or just complaining about the daily grind, but you’re actually trading in for a different set of co-workers, your family. And their requests for your attention are harder to stonewall than chatty cube-mates.

And then there’s the whole “out of site, out of mind” effect with management at work. I’ve worked at home on and off (mostly at home) over the past decade and it has it’s challenges. I lead a public enough work-life, along with remote working aware folks, that Management forgetting about me rarely comes up. However, as my kids have grown up and there’s, consequently, more going on at home, figuring out how to shut-out my family is a constant challenge. You see, that’s the taboo part! “Shut-out” – you could say “manage” or all sorts of things, but if you follow the maker/manager mentality that most individual contributor (non-managers) knowledge workers must, you have to shut people (“distractions”) out.

Achieving flow considered a luxury

On the other hand, this “flow” is a luxury us privileged folks have been experiencing for a long time:

What I didn’t know at the time was that this is what time is like for most women: fragmented, interrupted by child care and housework. Whatever leisure time they have is often devoted to what others want to do – particularly the kids – and making sure everyone else is happy doing it. Often women are so preoccupied by all the other stuff that needs doing – worrying about the carpool, whether there’s anything in the fridge to cook for dinner – that the time itself is what sociologists call “contaminated.”

I came to learn that women have never had a history or culture of leisure. (Unless you were a nun, one researcher later told me.) That from the dawn of humanity, high status men, removed from the drudge work of life, have enjoyed long, uninterrupted hours of leisure. And in that time, they created art, philosophy, literature, they made scientific discoveries and sank into what psychologists call the peak human experience of flow.

Women aren’t expected to flow.

It’s like there’s a maker/manager/mother time management paradigm. (Speaking of that privilege: here I am, with time to type this very post.)

Context switch like Nietzsche

What I’ve been doing is tying to reprogram my mind to think in slices of time fragments and to gorge on 60 minute time spans when they come up. I recall learning that one of the reasons Nietzsche wrote so many aphorisms was because he didn’t have time to write longer pieces; his chronic sickness conditions (whatever they were) gave him little “flow” time.

When I shifted to work at Dell and was on the road the at 451 Research, I was similarly afflicted with fragmented time (at Dell, you’d be in meetings all day because that’s how things ran). I remember one time when I was 451 Research I’d been trying to finish a piece on SUSE and was walking down a ponderously long casino hallway: I just stopped, pulled out my laptop, and started typing for about ten minutes. Finding those little slices that adds up to a full 90 to 120 minutes is hard…but, at least with non-programming knowledge work, you can get over the tax of context switcthing enough to make it worth it.

However, this is all within a large context: the computer. All of that partial attention swapping on the Internet over these years has helpfed warp my brain to work in fragments, but now I need to train my mind to swap between computer and “real life.” So far, it’s slow going.

Resisting the shut-out

All of this on the other hand, I really value working from home. I enjoy seeing my kids and wife all day long (so much more so than all those random run-ins with people in the office). I like being in my own environment, being able to eat at home, and on those rare occasions when I’m in a boring, useless, but obligatory meeting, doing something more useful with my time as I listen in. I have one of the better situations I’ve ever had at work right now: everyone on my team, including my boss, is remote. This means we all know the drill, use the tools, and coordinate.

As my wife is fond of telling me, I should just lock my office door more, which is true. The other part that you, as a remote worker, have to program your brain for is: you’re going to be interrupted while you’re in “flow” a lot. Just accept it. In the office there’s plenty of fire-alarms, going to lunch, people stopping by your desk, and so on. We can’t all be on the flat food diet. My other bit of advice is to take advantage of being at home and a flexible work schedule to do more with your family. If you’re like me, you travel a fair amount as well. So just as I have to gobble up every long span of time greedily, when I’m home and have the chance to do things with family, I try to.