In another ten years’ time Who can say what we’ll find

Looking back is fun. Futurology is exciting too. Let’s mix them in a big pot of pointless predictions!

On Christmas Eve I wrote a follow-up to my 2009 piece, ‘Looking Back 10 Years‘. So, now, if I was going to create a new list, what would I add?

Time to ring in with the new …

Video Conferencing Still Doesn’t Work

I admit it’s highly correlated with my comments on business travel but over the last ten years more and more of the office spaces where I have been working come pre-equipped with video conference facilities in every meeting room. And, almost universally, people find them difficult to use, difficult to hear the other side of the conversation and incompatible with the facilities the people on the other end of the call use. I’ll admit that over the last few years colleagues have become more and more comfortable with the idea of running a meeting where one or more people are on screen but I think that’s due to how easy it is to call family on Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger. The fact that most office systems are incompatible with each other means that all that expensive in-room equipment is often wasted. Currently, I work in a office equipped with Google Meeting but work closely with a company that uses the BlueJeans conference service. And so, only one side can ever use the cameras in the room they are sitting in. I have worked in a company where it worked well but they had spent a lot of money equipping the space and it was still only useful when other people were on the same system. And don’t get me started on people trying to hook-up to share a presentation.  Still, it’s better than those awful conference calls.

Music Has Vanished From The Workplace

Even in the last ten years, I have worked in places where we put music on in the background. Communal music adds atmosphere to the workplace and can create a positive mood. It’s true that, often, you end up with an easy listening sound (we loved Magic in one place I worked) but I find silence quite oppressive. But, thanks to streaming music services everybody now has their own music library on-demand and we all don headphones all day. That has changed the office atmosphere and, I don’t think it’s for the better.

Streaming Is Everywhere

Streaming music has changed the workspace and I predict that streaming television will do the same. The iPlayer maybe 12 years old tomorrow (having launched Christmas Day 2007) and, at home, we may have more choices than ever (Apple TV+ and Britbox have arrived in the last month alone) but outside of the home I think streaming video content will change the workplace. Aside from streamed conferences, streamed training courses and streamed meetings, we will move from the above-mentioned video conferences to connecting offices and home workers via a streamed camera, always connected all day long. And where streaming video comes it is closely followed by addressable TV advertising so, at work or at play, brands will be able to target us more effectively.

Voice Control Is Coming

In the last decade, three new people moved into your house. Alexa, Siri and the one who only responds to the phrase ‘OK Google’. And they want to follow us into the office too. I have been surprised about how easy it has been to shout commands to the box in the corner of the kitchen or to dictate a message into my phone without having to type on the keyboard. I’ve observed the way children have taken to talking to machines without any of the awkward feelings adults have. It’s bound to come to the office at some point very soon although I am not sure, exactly, in what form. But if they could take minutes in a meeting to remind us of our decisions (because in this day and age no human does), it would be a great help.

We Are All Storytellers Now

If one of the big trends of the last decade, that I didn’t really mention in the 2009 piece, involved the rise of the social platforms in our personal (Facebook) and work (LinkedIn) spaces (or both, Twitter) then the rise of the Story format across platforms (and, into messaging apps) is the social trend of the late 2010s. Inevitably, that will come into the workplace in some way. We’ve already seen the arrival of the work chat and social tools (Yammer, Teams, Slack and Workplace) and the visual – and temporary – nature of the Story format will invade the workplace in the next few years. As a company’s marketing team embrace the format for promotion and advertising then it will arrive as a corporate communication tool as well at as team level. A fun picture of your CEO ahead of a board meeting with a flashing ‘yaaasss’ label – it’s bound to happen!

Of course, in many ways, these are fairly minor changes to the way in which we work and the spaces in which we work today. We are undoubtedly going to see more and more automation in all aspects of our lives and, I suspect, we’ve only just started with the impact of ‘Big Data’ on all aspects of our lives. Workplaces, especially in customer-facing spaces, will finish the transition to cashless and all of us will be working in more environmentally friendly ways over the next few years – we have no choice in the latter and, I suspect, the same goes for the former.

As I said at the end of the last one, “If I am lucky enough to remain employed for the next ten years, I wonder what changes will appear?” – hopefully, I will around to update you.

(thanks to Abba for the title)

Looking Back on Looking Back

We’re playing the nostalgia game again. This time looking back to the last look back.

Life is full of repeating moments, isn’t it? This morning I got up at the usual (weekday) time. I went to the station, tapped-in and got on a train. Pretty much the same as every other working day this year. But somethings repeat themselves on a lesser frequency. Say, once a decade.

I wrote these words on Christmas Eve 2009:

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. Today is the last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade.

curnow.org, 24 December 2009

As I haven’t written very much on this site in 2019, I thought I’d look back at my comments from the end of the last decade and see if they still ring true to me and my experience working in the last ten years. And, next week, I want to see if I can come up with any new observations on workplace trends that may see us through until 2029.

First, out with the old …

Internet Access Is Ubiquitous In The Workplace

The first one is not really worth discussing: almost every job has been impacted by the internet and not just those who work in offices. Is there an industry in 2019 that is not, somehow, connected? And who would have predicted that I’d be walking around with access to 25GB of mobile data every month. Also, how do I end up using most of it?

Digital Connectivity Hasn’t Cut Travel

I stand by the comments that travel has not been cut; I probably travelled more for work in the second half of the decade than I did in the first. The planes were marginally more energy efficient – but not that much more comfortable – but that ubiquitous connectivity I mentioned isn’t ubiquitous in the sky, thankfully. Nobody really needs to answer emails 35,000 feet up in the air, but when you do it is kind-of fun.

Business Travel Still Sucks

Even when I wrote those words ten years ago, I had a disclaimer: “But, as long as you know it sucks, then it’s still a great deal of fun”. And, as I travelled more for work I really did enjoy it more. My general travel mood was improved by my self-imposed rule that 4am starts should be avoided at all costs and – at the very least – travel to arrive the evening before you need to start rather than on the day itself, even for short distances. For work, this decade, I travelled further than I ever had done before for a business meeting (11,400 miles) to Auckland, New Zealand where I really did have to avoid traveling all that way for just one meeting.

Constant Connections Means No Off Time

We have even less downtime that we did. Who’s answering Slack messages at 10pm? Now, that is a sentence that would not have been written ten years ago but the development of more of these productivity tools has meant we can answer questions everywhere. If you’re in the right job that can be empowering but, anecdotally, I know people who feel their employers abuse it. So, nothing changes here and maybe improved connectivity has made it worse. Still, it’s acceptable to use emojis in work messages now.

Companies Haven’t Embraced Remote Working Opportunities

Of all the items on my 2009 list, this is probably the one that had changed the most. I think many more companies are embracing some kind of flexible working even if it’s not totally remote. I did spend about 18 months working from home in the last decade and I thought I would enjoy it but, in the end, I didn’t. I found it isolating and – at times – quite lonely. When the staff of my local Starbucks started to become my only connection to other people during the working day I knew it was time to find an office again. In doing so, I ended up working in some incredible offices spaces for people who were less concerned about the 9-to-5 than getting the job done (although they all adored instant messages and so my previous point stands). I think many workplaces have improved over the past ten years: I learned that stand-up desks are one of the most productivity-enhancing improvements for office-based workers but I also learned that almost no companies want to pay for them. A desk that could be raised really did work for me when I access to one. Maybe I should talk to my current boss (but maybe a raise of the pay type is a better first ask in a new decade).

So, I think my big five from ten years ago have more-or-less continued and have become workplace norms. Perhaps they were already quite well embedded in the way we had been working by the time I wrote that piece. I didn’t talk about the rise of the social platforms in our personal lives and the impact they would have on our professional lives but they did impact working life and I think there’s a lot more to come on that.

I’m going to save my thoughts on trends of the last ten years until after Christmas. I won’t be working on Friday but it is, officially, a working day so I’ll aim for then. They say you should always tease your audience, don’t they?

In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

Presentation Porn

A post called Presentation Porn has left me wondering if the use of the word porn in the title will mean it gets more views than any of the other posts. But it isn’t pornographic so you don’t have to ban the page or anything like that.

Ever read 43 Folders? Right up there on the front page it says “43 Folders is Merlin Mann’s site about personal productivity” and it carries lots of tips to make you better at stuff. Not better at the high jump or getting to the next level on Donkey Kong but better at stuff like remembering to cancel the papers when you are going on holiday and dealing with the 75,000 emails generated at work over a weekend while you’re sleeping. 43 folders can help you get over procrastination and clear your clutter (like Dawna Walter but without the Crusher). If I was pretending to be down with the kids then I’d say it’s cool which would only go to prove that I never was ‘down with the kids’. But it is a great site.

I digress.

I was sat at work last week, feeling tired one lunch break after ploughing through however many hundred emails were in my inbox that morning thinking that, like Nat West, there must be another way (see reference to free stuff here) when I weave my wandering web way to 43 Folder’s inbox zero pages. I think the uber cool refer to it as izero (or is it i-zero?) but we’ve established I am not uber anything.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and it proves you are a smart cookie who can jump ahead in a story like this one. You’re thinking that I read inbox zero and got my inbox to zero right then and there while eating a Coronation Chicken bap and a caramel square. Admit it, that’s what you were thinking was next. And I don’t want to spoil your opinion of yourself so, yeah, I did that (and I was eating that). It’s neat (see, down with the kids) but anybody can do it if you hit delete and pretend the server must have crashed on that important email from your boss.

It’s not the point. The point is also not that I sat and hit the delete key several hundred times while watching Merlin’s Inbox Zero presentation (yeah, right, like I don’t know about shift-delete) and felt good about myself. If you want to achieve the Zen like state of inbox zero (sorry, izero) then watch the video. Merlin is presenting to, what I imagine to be, some brainy people at Googleplex and I am not sure if they are taking it in or not. I imagined the really brainy folks would have asked more questions than they did. Not sure what that says about them. Probably says there were eating a Coronation Chicken bap and a caramel square (which, I gather, are free at the ‘plex).

And now to the key point some 460 or so words into this little piece (don’t count the words, I edited a bit and so that number, while once real, now resembles something I made up). Merlin’s presentation is great. Really good. But it’s not just good because it helps you get to an i0 state (i0, I just thought of that). No, I mean it’s a really good presentation.

I should write about my presentations. I think I will. But not now because I am talking about Merlin’s presentation (if I use only his first name it’s like we hang together, right? I’m way cool). It’s a done properly (his presentation, not the hanging). The slides are illustrations and there are more pictures than words (pictures are good for recall, apparently). He doesn’t use the slides as a safety net in case something is forgotten. No, they illuminate and reinforce his points. They are there as visual support. I mean that his slides are not his presentation. What he says is the presentation. The slides are, if you will, the side slide show. Useful, entertaining but not the star attraction.

This really shouldn’t be such a revelation but it’s an almighty, lightening strike of a revelation. I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. Hell, I’ve given hundreds of presentations and few, so very few, are like this. By which I mean most are rubbish (including some, although not all, of mine). It jumped off the screen at me.

I got so wrapped up in it that I had people standing around wondering what I was watching and how I could be so attentive and engaged by a video on the web. So, go watch it. It’s presentation porn, if you will (although you’ll learn more and there’s much less grunting).

Links for 25 March 2006

Links from 25th March 2006 featuring doing what you love.

My Delicious link today is a piece by Paul Graham on doing what you love. Is it possible?

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

Dreams of the Downsized

Today I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

I went to see a client this morning: nothing too unusual in that fact. It was a client I have worked with over several years – the internet arm of a well-known organisation. Again, nothing too exceptional. Nice chat, coffee and new product overview (from my part). As I had not seen them for a while, I thought it would be nice to go back. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great to see people there. What was sad were the changes that have happened to the online group over the last year. Gone are the product managers, most developers and many of the other staff. They are now much, much smaller than they were.

Again, nothing to unusual in this but today it struck me as sad. The ideas and the passion, the desire to make something happen and be part of it that all those people had – gone. How many people in so-called new media industries have been through it (some, several times)? I have been through the cut-back mill as people around me are “downsized” in order to allow companies to survive. Yet, today – I think – was the first day the scale of it struck me. I can’t really explain it and I am not sure that I want to try but today I think I understood how the internet was built up and how it failed to deliver on those dreams for many people.

The “why” of it all is a different story for a different day. Today is about the good people who have moved on. Hopefully, they’re doing better.