What’s the “new normal” future office?
The major tech companies are taking the lead on what is “safe” for the health of workers and for flattening the curve of the community at large. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon plan for a remote workforce through the summer—and some through the end of the year. The insurance company Nationwide announced a permanent closure of five offices with having those workers become full-time remote, being able to lower costs for expensive office rent.
This is smart, future-planning in the immediate as the idea of “going to the office” has been needing an adjustment for the past 20 years.
A few digital collaboration tools….
Small, intimate pieces of connection and collaboration are more difficult to replicate digitally, but not impossible. Beyond video-conferencing there are opportunities for businesses to incorporate ways of working that will be fully expected by the digital native generations as in and entering the workforce.
To great success, the team I work on incorporated Mural for internal workshops the week prior to the shelter-at-home orders and have been using ever since for brainstorming sessions, presentations and additional workshops. We use Teams (usability isn’t as smooth as Slack and the emojis pain my soul with their ugliness), which tracks conversations, has built-in calling, whiteboarding, document sharing, and more. Additionally, the more engagement of the entire Product team through Confluence and Jira, then the less email I need to flag / remember.
Though with all of that, some corporate management folks will feel we need to get back to the office as soon as possible. This may be based on business needs that cannot be done as well remotely, geography, providing space and fast internet for folks who don’t have privacy or a great connection at their homes, or simply for getting back to a routine.
What needs to be answered so workers feel safe?
To go back to the office it’s important to ensure clear communications to all workers (employees and contractors) and these communications will need to be explicit. To be fair, management has a lot on its mind. Therefore, workers can help by asking the questions about what makes them nervous about coming back into an office so that the details can be thought through and protocols put into place.
Is this worth the costs?
Once protocols have been outlined, then companies need to investigate the added costs versus cutting square footage to save on rent.
Plus, many successful tech companies are working with global, distributed workers so they can hire the best talent and not just local talent. Another opportunity for cost-savings (though businesses should be aware of international cost implications as well as employment laws by state).
To make a safe work environment for office workers, it might be wiser to create floors with additional large collaboration areas for short-term interactions and special meetings versus trying to accommodate full on-site staffing. Face-to-face definitely has benefits yet rather than be a daily requirement (i.e., grind) if someone has to come in once or twice a week for focused sessions it has the potential to greatly increase productivity.
What do you predict?
Curious to know if you agree? What additional questions need to be asked for worker-safety? And which aspects do you see being implemented in 2020, which in 2021 or ‘22, or even later? And what pieces do you think are too burdensome for businesses?
In mid-November, TechFire LA held a panel event on the state of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). As panelist Nathan Burba from the gaming company Survios tried to tease apart the difference between the two, he said that AR co-exists in reality while VR is disconnected from reality. Yet they have overlap.
For those still unsure of the difference, think of AR as Pokemon Go where you’re adding digital interaction into your current space; whereas for VR think of putting on a fancy headset that covers your eyes and immerses you in a fully digital world … and may make you queasy. It was surprising, by the show-of-hands, that well over three-quarters of the room admitted to VR-nausea. As Mindshow’s Gil Baron pointed out, the nausea impacts most people—and first time he tried the Oculus Rift he was queasy for 4 hrs!
As TheWaveVR panelist Nicole St. Jean noted, nausea doesn’t mean there aren’t awesome things happening in the new all-digital world. She described her company’s work as an “interstellar music festival of the future” complete with a virtual dance floor and e-drugs. The majority of the music is electronic dance music (EDM) as it lends itself best to being visual (versus aural and single-stream), plus there are community-run shows nearly every night of the week. Additionally, she predicted that the future will have VR creators and influencers—just like we currently have with YouTube and Instagram.
Gil Baron stressed the creativity and educational aspects of the technology. His company’s ability to let kids (and adults) create animated cartoons using their own bodies and voices helps give reason to the importance of storytelling. To paraphrase his thinking: This is not choose your own adventure but how your being there changes the virtual experience. I interpreted this as the story of George Bailey and "It's a Wonderful Life.") Creativity should be intrinsic to the experience. In response to people being so immersed they forget reality, he responded, “Think about people at a restaurant—they’re all on their phones.” In other words, people are already disconnecting from everyday reality.
Overall, the panelists were interested in the social experience (music, games, narrative) that the technologies brought forth, which aligns to their industries: music, animated film, and gaming. Yet they agree the technology for VR isn’t there yet—at least not to go mass consumption. Mr. Burba mentioned it being still very far away as it doesn’t have the fidelity of real life, while Mr. Baron nuanced it a bit more by saying that VR is currently “just good enough” to be used, yet not fully there; however, the human brain fills in much of the experience to mimic elements we might already know what the sensory load is like, such as riding an elevator. And Ms. St. Jean noted that on her platform the maximum number of attendees is around 700, yet at a real-life music festival, there could be 100,000 attendees—and that’s the goal!
Once the tech is more there for building better experiences along with better hardware, then it will become more of the everyday. Yet as Mr. Burber summarized, for narrative storytelling film is much better and that VR is the medium of life. It’s great for learning because if you can do it in real-life, then you can do it in VR. Participants should go into it less like they’re going to the movies and more like they’re going on a trip. Thus, normalization of the VR experience will help people understand what’s possible and re-calibrate consumer expectations.
Well, it’s the last time it will be known as Big Data Day since, well, everything is turning into big big big data. Hence forward, DataCon LA! This year’s theme aligns with much of the industry in Los Angeles: Media & Entertainment.
During the morning keynotes, Diego Saenz from Accenture spoke about how businesses will need to understand that AI is not an add-on to the architecture—it needs to be at the center. Once there is a data-centric architecture, then other aspects of the company's culture needs to follow. For example, start with data modeling and machine learning (ML), THEN go to your Salesforce app. Or in Agile development by changing the simple words of “user stories” to “data stories,” it can help the team better think about the data they want to get and analyze, then develop accordingly. This does not discount the need for a user-centric experience; however, it helps build for tomorrow’s users as well as today’s.
My two favorite sessions of the day were both on the ML track. First, Ebraheem Fontaine, the Director of Data Science at Edmunds, spoke about creating ways to better connect to customers. For dealers using the Edmunds’ Car Code tool, the goal was to better classify what customers were requesting via text messages. By utilizing topic modeling, they could begin to bucket topics and word groups so that messages would be sent to the appropriate team.
Meanwhile Miguel Campo, the SVP of Data Science & Analytics at 20th Century Fox, showed how their work is helping them make predictions on what and how customers will react to a movie. Their models already show recommendations on different ways to edit and test movie trailers, plus they recently used the model on the Hugh Jackman film “The Greatest Showman.”
The thing that struck me about this is how exciting it will be to create stories that the audience wants to embrace! In my years of writing, the consistent refrain from mentors and teachers is that you need to write your own story. Yet imagine if the ML editorial guidance pushes writers to having deeper engagement with an audience. And as such, the story is one that the audience feels more deeply for characters and more fulfilled by the experience. That there will more opportunity of moments for human understanding and learning about others and ourselves.
At the end of the day, that’s what’s most exciting about the world of data—this feedback loop we can have from it is an opportunity for greater aptitude to know who we are, what we want, and how we might become our best selves.
Pioneering multimedia artist Laurie Anderson labeled herself this way as it provided freedom to work in a variety of mediums—music, painting, technology, performance, and film.
In her new show All the Things I Lost in the Flood, she wryly noted that today everyone is a multimedia artist. This show is both a retrospective of the scraps that make up her catalogue as well as a hard look at the grief that comes with losing much of her life’s work, during the floods of Hurricane Sandy as well as losing her husband Lou Reed about a year later.
Since earning recognition in the 1970s she has been creating art that intersects music, video, and technology. It’s startling, in reviewing the remnants of her career, to see how forward she was with using computers in her storytelling. What struck me as interesting is how her lens as an artist was not much different than listening to what Vint Cerf, a founding father of the internet, had to say about the last 50 years of technology. These technologically-supported tales have been going on for decades*.
From masking her voice to sound like an impressionist doing Stephen Hawking to her early ‘80s mustachioed clone of herself who would handle the work while she was busy self-promoting all of the awesomeness that, of course, was her work. It’s as though Laurie Anderson was commenting on the Kardashian-selfie-culture before it existed.
As technologically moves forward, she mentioned how some of her work, such as the CD-ROM Puppet Motel** is no longer playable. This brings up that even though so many of her materials were lost to the brackish water of the Hudson River estuary, it may not matter how we hold on to these things. What’s left seems to only be what we can hold inside our phones.
The last time I saw Laurie Anderson was her show The End of the Moon, it was the early aughts and based on her time as the first (and it turns out now, “the only”) artist-in-residence for NASA. Much like that show, her stage was a simple: a chair, a musical area, and front-and-center emcee of stories. Yet the barebones set is inviting as though perhaps this is what her living room is like.
She continues to push the uses of technology to tell stories that gently take us a step further toward the subject and request we see and hear from new vantage points. Her “Habeas Corpus” show at the Armory in 2015 focused on imprisonment—specifically the imprisonment of former Guantanamo inmate Mohammed el Gharani who had been held from age 12 to 21. She created a larger-than-life sculpture of a him sitting in a chair (think: Lincoln Memorial). Then, as he’s not allowed in the U.S., she projected a live video feed of him sitting in a studio in West Africa and wrapped the image on this extra-large three-dimensional sculptural form of his body. From halfway around the world, he was required to sit still to align to the sculpture. It’s own reenactment of a type of prison.
Although the show was not fully cohesive, it’s organization was more like the (now antiquated) “box photos”—the collection of pictures that weren’t gorgeous enough to put into a formal photo album, yet still sentimental enough to hang on to and pull out every now and then. These are the off-kilter shots that add tone and shade to fill in the moment. In that way, Laurie Anderson provides us an an entertaining, historical examination of where we’ve been while always looking at where we’re going. It's like capturing fireflies as these are the moment betweens thought and expression.
* Last month I saw an on-stage interview of Vint Cerf at event hosted by Google (Los Angeles) and conducted by Reddit’s Chris Slowe. Along with a historical look, this chat included predictions for where technology is heading.
**At the risk of dating myself, I remember Puppet Motel from a class I took in 1995. Back then, CD ROMs were the movies of the future!
In the tech industry, as the men significantly outnumber the women, many companies are looking to become more diverse and create inclusive environments. Although the stats are improving, compared to the #metoo Hollywood firestorm of 2017, it feels like it’s occurring at a glacial pace.
This week’s Women in Tech breakfast panel are the type of important events for providing women a space to realize they’re not alone and that there are role models. Held at General Assembly in Santa Monica, the panel featured:
Here are some refreshing takes on how to approach networking, negotiations, mentorships, and amplifying your (or other’s) ideas.
Network All the Time
All the panelists agreed it’s important to network and stay in touch even when—in fact, especially when—you don’t need something. When people are in need, it’s easy to see and can be off-putting. Also, remember when you reach out to someone, such as in a cold email, that these are still people, so don’t be scared and provide personal context. This can be as simple as providing a compliment about someone’s portfolio work or what they said at a conference … you may not get a response, yet it will help make your name familiar.
Additionally, not everyone is comfortable in a traditional meet-n-greet format, so make sure to find networks events that suit you. For example a Ladies of UX hiking meet up or a circle group with Lean In Los Angeles.
Show Me the Money
Turns out that women often undersell their skill sets. One audience attendee, who is a tech recruiter, pointed out that by working with a recruiter, it’s possible to get a more accurate picture on the salary range. She gave the example of helping a woman who had been making $80,000, yet the recruiter knew that the typical salary for the role was $140,000.
To help with this, the panel suggested pushing the financial negotiations to the end of the interview process because at each step the organization is further investing and buying into you. Then negotiate on all the elements: title, more salary, a signing bonus, an educational stipend, or all of the above.
All of the panelists and some of the audience members strongly recommended applying to roles in which you do not have all of the qualifications. Their advice, if you hit 50–75% of the qualifications, then put in your resume. There’s two reasons for this, first is that men do this and don’t feel a need to check every box, and second is that good managers want to hire people who will stay in the role for a while so they will need to grow and master the position.
Once you start a new role, remember to be excited and hungry. By stretching for a role a bit out of your depth, it will provide many opportunities to try and learn new things.
Get Two Seats at the Table
When working in a competitive environment, become a role model who ensures that along with a seat for yourself, there’s an additional seat for a colleague. Sometimes this might mean going to your boss to say that “Person XX and myself need to be a part of that meeting/brainstorm/event.” By continuing to do this, you start to show and model a collaborative, inclusive behavior.
Additionally, the panelist mentioned thinking of mentorship beyond the traditional senior-junior roles and looking for peer mentors. Along with the helping to build a meaningful business network, it offers the opportunity to soundboard similar situations and solutions faced at your current career-level.
Be a Bullhorn — For Others and Yourself
An audience member working in the gaming industry commented on how many of her UX ideas were stolen by male counterparts. The panel was unanimous in its advice: have a colleague amplify that it was your idea or, if there’s no one around to do this, then ensure to amplify for yourself.
For example, say that yesterday you or a colleague were telling Thomas some ideas and the next day he promotes the ideas as his own. Rather than call him out directly, pivot the approach to “That’s great, I’m glad we’re on the same page. This is exactly what I was talking about yesterday.” Or if it was specifically someone else’s idea, “... This is exactly what Maryellen was talking about yesterday.”
Keep the Conversation Going
Although most of these issues pertain to women advocating on their own behalf in a male culture (salary, ideas, etc.), the panelists are making suggestions that will help all businesses foster great work environments. It’s important to continue the dialogue so that management teams can foster these work practices, yet it’s equally important to remember that none of this is about an us-vs-them gender environment. These are cultural shifts that take time, education, and continued practice to manifest and transform organizations. So it’s important to remember that everyone is on the same team trying to make great products.
In Mark Hurst’s latest post he joins the chorus to get off of Facebook—those also singing this hymn are billionaires Brian Acton who sold What’s App to Facebook as well as tech bad boy Elon Musk. Yet, it’s easier to say “delete” than it is to help guide Facebook to a better solution. The truth is that if everyone deletes Facebook it won’t change much since humans will still crave social media and simply sign up for the next “it” app.
The most shocking thing in all that’s come to light is that people don’t realize they are, essentially, data—and that their data has been sold.
Full stop: how have people, referred to as “users,” missed this point? We’re not even humans!
Some might feel they gave away too much personal information just to see what a high school friend had for dinner. Yet the psychographics that can be pulled from the data are the same ones marketers have been using for decades—only now with more details. Older advertising and marketing folks might remember the days when print content provided customer profiles so as to better improve the ads contained within the magazine or newspaper. Additionally, customer personas in interaction design hark back to the 1990s, an invention that uses real-world, aggregated data to imagine the different types of people who purchase a product or service.
And so Facebook, like its print predecessors, sold us out to advertisers … and to everyone else. Yet this is the same deal all of us have made with all of the tech companies—I bet money on the fact that some of your Amazon purchases and Google search terms are more intimate than your Facebook posts! How do you think that data is packaged and sold?
In this digital age, the goal is to create highly customized experiences for people. Think of retail shopping providing suggestions for cute sweaters or trendy jeans. When it works well, then love is in the air and the dollars flow. Yet when people feel as though they’re pawns in the deep state big data only-for-billionaires conspiracy, well, it sucks.
For the most part, society has enjoyed more than its hated the Faustian bargain of giving away their Likes and personal details in exchange for entertainment, productivity, and connectedness.
Now, am I saying that Facebook should shrug off ownership for what happened in the election or what happened with Cambridge Analytica? No. In fact, since those who work for Facebook engage in the same real-world culture that we do, we need the company to lead the way on what to do with all of this collected data. They need to ensure they do more than turn off the spigot to third-party agencies, since then Facebook could simply provide anonymized and/or aggregate data collection that is sold to the highest bidder.
From anyone I’ve ever met who works at (or has worked at) Facebook, they mostly have positive things to say and feel their mission is benevolent. My viewpoint is that this is an exciting opportunity for Facebook because the issue of data has been coming to a head—Mark Zuckerberg is, simply, the one who has first been caught in the headwind. As everything becomes decentralized, including how the storage of data, who is brave enough to imagine how to tame it and ensure it’s a people-first experience? As Facebook is one of the most people-centric platforms of the era. This is a moment for the company to lead and let the other tech companies learn from and perhaps draft off of the tracks Facebook makes. It will not be easy as the data-tentacles are innumerable. Yet someone has say, “we will change this algorithm not for more ‘screen time,’ but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Some ideas, bring forward more control into the Settings, above and beyond Privacy, so that people decide what they want to see. There should be more options than Top Stories and Most Recent—maybe Favorite Friends, Verified News (I know it didn’t test well, but maybe that’s beside the point)—with the latter requiring manual choice each time one looks at the app. I bring up this latter setting because Most Recent is the easiest way to see the people I disagree with in my feed so that I don’t see the same echo chamber of voices. I want more of that because then there’s an opportunity for conversation instead of division.
Another idea, what about Facebook taking a stand for decency. It’s a moving target and changes with the times, yet on the whole most cultures through the centuries have taken a stand against pedophilia and have morally condemned it. This is why it’s the aberration and not the norm. It’s also why doxing, though I disagree with the method, is effective against white supremacists.
Facebook can help all of us stand together against bullying and for polite decorum. The platform has connected two billion people. I reunited with my long-lost Aunt, Uncle, and cousins thanks to this app. So, Mark Hurst is correct in that a good experience, in fact the best experience, comes from treating people well, yet if we’re all here in the same digital location, why say, “I quit”?
How about we say #fixfacebook?