Is remote work getting easier because we have collaboration tools?

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Just like that.

The world as we knew it changed almost overnight with pretty much every facet of life impacted by policy changes and closures due to COVID-19.  Businesses are scrambling to make sure employees are enabled to work remotely. Schools are enacting plans to educate students through video and electronic-based assignments. This is all for those fortunate enough to have a job where remote work is viable. Are we ready?

I’ve worked remotely from an office throughout my career with different frequencies from once a week to several times a week. During this time technology has advanced tremendously creating many more possibilities for collaborative workflow. Video and audio connections from a computer are mainstream. Sharing and editing files within a team is possible with simultaneous viewing and editing.  Group calendars are visible to quickly arrange for meetings. Electronic chat sessions are persistent, continuous, and searchable for quickly finding information. As a result, working remotely has become much easier over the years. But there is much more to working from home than technology. 

This is more than a technology enablement exercise. 

There is a large body of work to equip employees and students to work and learn remotely. The good news is we have the tools to do it. But there are behavioral changes needed to succeed with remote work many are not considering. I’ve learned about distance working over the years and created a list of actionable items for maximizing productivity and collaboration. These same actions would work just as well in an academic setting as a business.

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Make it work-life not home-life – Get up, get dressed, and go to a designated space for work. You will accomplish more and with better quality if you work as if you were in an office. This is both for own focus and so others can see you working and not lounging around the house. Look professional and act professionally. 

Use a camera – Make working from a home office feel like you are in a business office by turning on your video camera. My current workgroup has colleagues spread across the US and a couple of other countries. It’s important to me they see my facial expressions, my attitude, and my interest in the workflow of our team. When my colleagues also use their camera, it makes our relationship feel much closer because I can see the same level of engagement from them. Video cameras make distant colleagues feel local.  

Share files don’t pass files- Passing around printed paper is obviously not an option with remote workers. But we also need to get away from the habit of emailing attachments for working collaboration.  Versioning documents, consolidating changes from multiple teammates, and keeping discussion to the latest version is difficult when sending files as attachments. A better approach is to place files in a commonly accessible area and share a link. Work on the file together and screen share. Have everyone accessing the latest file to keep the conversation aligned. Google Docs and Microsoft One Drive are two common examples of this type of collaboration which increases the efficiency of workflow within remote teams.

Chat/Email/Call/Meeting –Chat when you need an immediate response.Email when a response is not urgent. Call when your message is too much to type or when written communication is easily misunderstood. Meet for conversations and group consensus.

Collaboration tools are making remote work more accessible. But distance working is easier when our actions remove distance by treating work as something local. 

Onward and upward!

Interactive Films, Data Mining, and Orson Welles

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Will interactive films find a viewer niche?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix has was released last December as a choose-your-own-adventure film. If you haven’t read about or tried viewing the film, it’s worth your time to consider the implications for future video content delivery and marketing. Bandersnatch is an interactive film. Viewers are periodically presented with options during the film to choose a path for the main character. The remote control for the TV is used to select between the two paths. So while each option is filmed, only one is shown. There is no prescribed ending for the story. In fact, there are numerous paths and multiple possible endings.


I remember reading interactive books during the early 80s. Though I can’t recall the name of the books or the author, I distinctly remember choosing to have the main character in the book drink the sea water while stranded on a raft in a baking sun. The story ended on the next page as the character met his end with dehydration. I had to backup and choose again. I was devastated with the consequences of my choice!

I didn’t really enjoy those books and only ended up reading two of them. Likewise, I found Bandersnatch more of an annoyance than something intriguing and engaging. Maybe it was the story. Maybe the characters. Whatever the reason, I didn’t feel the urge to continue to play the film to explore different options. I made my choices and moved through the film until I hit an ending and was done.

What’s really happening?

Netflix, as with other media content providers, shows viewers suggested selections of film based on an algorithm using meta data of content watched in the past (comedy, science fiction, thriller, etc.). I’ll admit, the Netflix algorithm is pretty good, as I usually don’t have to scroll far before I see a title or subject that I want to know more about and may want to view. When I’ve seen my wife scrolling through her profile the suggested content is completely different based on her past viewing selections.

Which leads me to wonder what more about me is Netflix determining with an interactive film like Bandersnatch? They can learn if I’m more prone to take a risk versus taking the safe choice. They can learn if I’m prone to choosing a path that will promote violence instead of walking away. They can learn if I would choose the blue pill or the red pill…….The choices would become limitless. Netflix is probably mining all the data on choices to make additional and more educated guesses on personalized content. This could lead to a much deeper level of understanding of who I am, my likes, dislikes, and tendencies. How many marketing companies would pay for that data?

Sure, there is angle here that says find a niche film-type that will keep and potentially attract more customers to Netflix subscriptions. But this move really gets Netflix deeper in the heads of the viewer. Personalized content will become richer. It’ll be like my cell phone listening to my conversation and then I see an ad for what I talked about when I open a browser!

Orson Welles replay.

Here’s an idea for Netflix if they want to spring a joke and cause their viewers to panic. On April 1st, release an interactive film and make the screen of the viewer go haywire as if they have been infected with a virus (think phishing). It would be like revisiting the War of the Worlds broadcasts that created the illusion the earth was under attack by aliens. I can see viewers flooding social media and calling Netflix telling them they’ve been hacked!

I expect Netflix to try more interactive films in the future as they learn from each film and fine-tune output and logistics. With more universal stories and a broader audience, they’ll see how easy it is for all us to willingly give over information about ourselves. Happy data mining to the marketers in the room.  

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/kUFSi7  Fork in the Road by Wonderlane via Creative Commons

Scribble Scrabble

Scribble Scrabble?

Two thoughts collided during my self-reflection this week. It started with an article from David Pierce at the Wall Street Journal about handwriting. Pierce explores the effects of the digital world on our penmanship scribble scrabble. He provides a well-framed set of options for getting the written word into electronic format. But Pierce also mentions the positive effects of handwriting on our ability to learn and remember information. When we type on a computer, we are prone to record each word while with writing we will summarize thoughts.

Then I remembered an article I wrote a few years ago about taking pen and paper to meetings rather than laptops. This is my preference because it helps me focus on the meeting rather than distractions of multitasking on my computer. Business meetings would be far more productive if no one was distracted by their laptops!

What insights can we learn from the value of handwritten notes and focused interactions?

Word Play.

I already use a paper notebook to record thoughts and action items throughout the day. While a pad of paper helps  me stay focused at the meeting table, I’m also a keyboard-junkie. I want everything important in electronic format so I can index for searching. I can type faster than I can write and electronic information provides efficiency.

In his article, Pierce discusses taking pictures of hand-written notes and allowing modern technology to recognize the characters for indexing and searching. I love the simplicity of this solution because it removes logistical challenges with writing electronically. It also works for meeting content on whiteboards.

When I write,  I prefer print over cursive. I don’t recall when I made that change, but I remember writing in cursive during high-school to capture notes faster. Print is better for optical character recognition software and gives clarity and precision to my documents. Maybe i’m slower writing print. But it’s legible and precise.

Find time to wrestle with the concepts of note taking, productivity, handwriting if you haven’t already. You might discover some hidden insights about yourself.

Onward and upward!

Alexa, play my podcast

How hard can it be?

This week I wanted to play a podcast through my Amazon Echo Dot. It seemed so simple. I would have Alexa learn a skill for a podcast player and then queue the podcast to play. My preferred podcast player is Google Play Music because that’s where I keep my digital music. But I had forgotten Amazon and Google don’t play together. Silly boys.

Here are the options I found:

  1. Enable a skill on Alexa that plays podcasts. Some of the more well-known providers are iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Stitcher.
  2. Use the Echo Dot as a bluetooth speaker. In this option, the Echo Dot can be paired to another device such as phone or tablet. Then play the podcast on the app installed on the other device.

Pick and go

For option 1, I didn’t want to register a new account. Since I don’t have accounts on iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or Stitcher I chose option 2.

Pairing the Echo Dot to my phone was easy. I turned on bluetooth on my phone and then said “Alex, pair bluetooth”. When I did this the Echo Dot showed as a device that could be paired. The obvious downside to this method is I have to use a second device to play the podcast through the Echo Dot instead of using the Alexa voice commands. I’m OK with that.

One thing to note if you try this. Other family members might not like your podcast content or want to listen at the same time. You might have to move Alexa to a private space. 🙂

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: F. Delventhal via Creative Commons

 

Media subscriptions – Where do you spend your media dollars?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Bloomberg charging for access to their content reminded me digital content providers are competing for my wallet-share. In 2015 I cut the cord with cable/satellite and haven’t regretted it. Now, the digital content I consume for video is based on month-to-month subscriptions. I choose the content valuable to me or that I consider worth paying for. No obligations. Easy. My current list:

Increasingly, news and media providers are also moving to subscription models for their digital content. As the number of subscribers for paper content decreases the media outlets need sources of revenue to sustain themselves. Currently, I don’t pay for online news, data analysis, and opinion articles. I still retrieve news on the internet from ad-only sites, teaser rates, or free allowances. To be fair, I listen to some news on the radio or through a XM satellite subscription. I do enjoy in-depth and good analysis on topics. I just haven’t settled on a favorite to lock-in.

What does that mean for all of us now and in the future? As more providers move toward subscription models, we’ll have to make choices on our media subscriptions to keep our overall spending in-check. How much will brand loyalty influence our decisions?  For me initially, I chose Sling TV as an online streaming provider. After a couple of years I switched to PS Vue based on different in programming packages for live sports. But with Netflix, I haven’t really actively shopped them for alternative providers like Hulu and Amazon.  Have I developed brand loyalty to Netflix? If I pay for a subscription to the New York Times (which I don’t) would I not pay for a subscription to additional online new providers like Bloomberg and the Washington Post?

Where do you spend your media dollar?