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Do our communications tools decide our culture?
ALSO: Data - people aren't happy / Start with hmmm
Zoom, Slack, Workplace, Teams: does the messaging software we use change our culture?
A really interesting tangental thought this week. A lot of us have been noticing that one of the challenges of the remote working world is that we lose the breakout discussions after meetings.
Sometimes it was only the gossipy debrief after the meeting that made the meeting worthwhile. The small sub-chats on the way to the loo, or heading out to the lifts. Gathering at a like-minded colleagues desk to compare notes. As I’ve shared before, MIT professor Sandy Pentland feels that these conversations are where the real value of the office lies because these are the conversations that we solve challenges without the boss present.
I was on a call with a group of HR professionals this week and one well placed expert suggested that one thing that they were hearing was that there was a developing difference between firms who are using Zoom and those using Microsoft Teams. Why? Because Teams allows the meeting to immediately split into message groups and sub-groups, or even to restart a call with a subset of people (yes, Google suite does this too - I know that Google people, even though they use the Slides app all day, can never believe something is better than how Google do it - but the execution is substantially better in Teams). Zoom spits us all out of the meeting, and *of course* we can switch to email or Slack and get chatting but it’s a degree of friction that often leads to us not going it.
Maybe Zoom have noticed this, and this is why they are building their own version of Slack. [Surely as Zoom’s market cap ($120B) is currently 9 times Slack’s it would be easier to just acquire them? I know there are very close relations between the two firms, it’s surprising they don’t use the surge in their valuation to do this quickly].
But this notion that our technology infrastructure wiring goes deeper. All of our offices ran on analogue (people) with a technology overlay, now the tech we use is far more definitive to the way our culture is taking shape.
I was truly inspired recently when someone told me that his start-up is a Workplace specialist. Workplace is Facebook’s internal communications tool. It’s literally a walled-garden version of Facebook for companies. And this start-up evangelises the cultural benefits of the supportive team intranet that Workplace represents, and then goes in and manages the implementation of it. I was more than a little blown away. But of course aside from any of our views of Facebook, it begs the immediate question whether Workplace is the best system to install.
Well on the subject of that, this tweet caught my attention.
The article linked is paywalled, sorry, but the story says that the same incentives that reward dramatic, polarising, divisive content on Facebook are now being used interally at Facebook on Workplace.
Hot damn. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm. Earlier this summer I debated (and rejected) setting up my own firm, supporting the selection and implementation of systems like Slack, Basecamp, Tandem or Wrike to energise differentiated and robust workplace cultures at companies. My thinking was that in a time of massive disruption the implementation of comms software goes beyond hygiene and runs into being built on better processors.
We’d go in, do your tech, help fix your culture and away you go. (In truth, firms generally get renowned but clueless consultancy firms to go in and do those things in dead eyed ways and charge millions of pounds, so I thought better of it). But here’s the fundamental question, is something we’re deferring to the Chief Technical Officer going to define our culture without stakeholders ever having a say?
Join the conversation, does your firm use one of these technologies and it is either great or disastrous for your culture/burnout/communication? Tweet your thoughts here or share on LinkedIn (tag me, Bruce Daisley, please so I can see it. I mean, hopefully see it, LinkedIn bemuses and confuses me).
People aren’t happy as we enter Q4
I was fortunate to attend a session this week by Prof. David Halpern from the government’s Behavioural Insights team talking about the impact of the last months on society.
One of the slides he projected was this insight into the public mood in the UK over the last 6 months. On each chart you can see the level for Mar/Apr 2019 and February 2020, alongside the live data for the period from March to August 2020.
(source: from public presentation by David Halpern from ONS data)
What’s the story? Life satisfaction is down, happiness is down from last year, anxiety is up. In the same survey 40% of people said coronavirus was impacting their work.
This thread of tweets seemed to capture what a lot of people are feeling about this lost year.
Halpern cited one other fascinating piece of evidence. Firstly a study by the CIPD into lockdown productivity:
28% employers think that productivity increased
28% think it decreased
37% think it stayed the same
THAT’S CLEAR THEN.
Interestingly one stat did come out of the US this week on productivity. Ben Page, who runs Ipsos MORI - the polling people, says that this is the upside of no commuting and people getting more done each day (the quirk of the data is that salaried people’s working week is calculated to be constant even if they end up working an hour extra per day productivity is said to rise). BTW People in the comments don’t fully agree with him.
I’m always a bit meh on Start with Why, but here’s someone who is 8 notches hotter than me about it: Start with Why is BS
“Zoom is for calling. Slack is for chatting. We’re prescriptive about what people should use” - the boss of Github explains why every company needs a Head of Remote
Anyone intrigued by the above can find the whole (7000 page) Github employee handbook here. For comparisons’ sake, the Old & New Testaments combined at normal font would be 1200 pages. It’s worth skipping to the Communications part if you are in a hurry
Former podcast guest Zeynep Ton is an inspiration. She is convinced that she can make the financial case for better workplace culture - and set herself the goal of improving the life of 10m US workers. Walmart (3rd biggest employer in the world after the US and chinese militaries) came to her and said help fix our work. She’s started the journey - with big pay rises for the workforce
Reid Hastings talking to Ben Horowitz about how Netflix learned to repeatedly reinvent its culture [HEALTH WARNING: billionaires can get carried away with themselves]
“High performance, happy people”: This is an interesting listen. One boss of a Mexican transit firm set making his employees happy was his main objective
A reminder of the latest status on UK lockdown:
Make Work Better is created by Bruce Daisley, workplace culture enthusiast. You can find more about Bruce’s book, podcast and writing at the Eat Sleep Work Repeat website. Let me know if your communication tools are changing your culture (for better or worse!)