IM in the Workplace: Tool of Productivity or Tool of Distraction?

Instant Messaging… When it first entered the online universe all those years ago, back in the early days of AOL and whatnot, it was hailed as the best thing ever. Indeed, it provided a great new way to have spontaneous, real-time conversations with friends and family across the country and even across the globe. The early IM tools would pave the way for later messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and even basic texting on cellphones. These are great tools for personal communications.

Somewhere along the line, though, the earlier modes of IM got updated and re-marketed to businesses as productivity tools in apps such as Lync, Skype, Jabber, etc. They were given new functionality such as desktop sharing, video conferencing, Exchange Server integration, etc. No more dealing with the “huge” delays of email; now you can get that coworker’s attention instantly!!

Instantly… No matter what that coworker is doing, no matter who else they might be talking to or working on, you can immediately grab their attention away to focus on YOU.

Honestly, I see both sides of this coin. At my workplace we use Skype (formerly Lync), and it is incredibly useful for collaborating with remote coworkers (and in today’s increasingly spread out and remote workforce, that ability is very important), conducting meetings, etc. I personally work with people in the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Southeast, and it really enables true collaboration.

All that said, there’s a flip side to that coin, which I alluded to in the paragraph before last: no matter what you’re doing, you can be interrupted by whomever wants your attention right now. Your concentration can be broken at any time just like that. Yes, most (if not all) of these modern messaging tools have a “do not disturb” option you can employ, but many companies frown on very much use of this, as they want you available. I find this can be very annoying! When you’re in the middle of coding a routine or writing a report, the last thing you need is someone breaking in, saying, “Ryan, I need this RIGHT NOW! Drop everything!!” Think back 10 years when they might have to rely on email instead, and perhaps you didn’t get to their request for an hour… Did our companies crumble? No! So why do we insist on this new paradigm in today’s workplace; why are we willing to pull our workers out of their most productive states? Is that really beneficial?

Now, I have to admit to being guilty of being on the flip side of that myself. Of course, I’ve also been plenty guilty of IM’ing someone to deal with a problem RIGHT NOW. It’s easy to slip into that space when it becomes the corporate culture. So what’s the solution? Maybe there isn’t one and I just need to vent… ;-) Or, perhaps we need to reserve these tools for what I consider their highest, best use: collaborative meetings. They’re definitely invaluable for that, so giving them up entirely would be foolish. Perhaps companies need to discourage the willy-nilly interruptions they’re often used for, though.

What are your thoughts? Do you use these tools in your workplace? If so, how are they used and what do you like/dislike about them?


Building a skill set...

Just a real quick note - here's a fairly timely post from the New York Times, given my recent post about career diversification. Even when staying focused on a single career, it can be important to develop many seemingly disparate skills in order to make that career as successful as possible, whether working for yourself or for "the man."  Some good insight here.

Enjoy the read. 

Cheers,  R

Universal Basic Income

Above is an interesting video about the concept of Universal Basic Income (if you’re not familiar with the concept, I’ll leave you to Google that yourself), and the inherent problems with the existing debate. I think the application of UBI is inevitable, that it’s just a matter of how or when. The reason for that, as this gentleman points out early in his talk, is that our increasing technological advances keep displacing more and more jobs; as new ideas create more and more wealth, they do so while requiring less and less manpower. At some point, unless we want the majority of the population destitute and living on the streets, we’ll have to implement UBI to prevent that.

The problem with the current “debates”, as Mr. Pistono points out, is that we’re not debating the correct things, and/or we’re arguing apples to oranges with each other. What we need to discuss is: how do we pay for it, exactly how do we implement it, what will be the likely benefits, etc.? Then, we need to conduct a limited study to determine actual feasibility, figure out what tweaks we need to make, etc. As he shows in his talk, we do have some data from other nations that have implemented this on a smaller scale and that shows positive benefits; however, we need to test this in countries closer to our own to see how those benefits manifest in our own cultures.

Anyway, I found it an interesting speech, and I like that he’s telling us to look at the more practical questions. We need to get past ideological talking points and look at the practicality of this. I truly think it’s inevitable given our rate of technological progress, so let’s start doing the proper homework to prepare for it, or at least to see if it’s something we can do; and if not, figure out what we’re going to do instead. Because the current capitalistic labor model isn’t going to hold long-term…



Piggybacking off my last post, I thought I’d expound a little more on the idea of picking one career for our entire lives. This really does seem kinda crazy to me, that we still do this, especially given how our professional lives seem to be growing longer and longer (people living longer, putting off retirement longer, etc.).

I’m a photographer; not by trade, but I am avid hobbyist, and I have done it semi-professionally on the side in the past. When I was first really getting serious about the craft and hooking up with other aspiring photographers to learn, teach, go on photo expeditions together, etc.; one recurring theme I encountered was that many of them dreamt of shaking off their current careers as engineers, accountants, office admins, etc., and embarking on a new career as a professional photographer. Now, of course, many of them would never end up actually doing this for a variety of reasons ($$ being a big one, realistic skill level being another), but it was impressive how many of them had this desire. This told me not just how passionate they were about their newfound love of photography, but how dispassionate they had become about their existing career fields. They were tired of it, but going through the motions because that’s all they knew and that’s what paid the bills.

Is this what we want in a workforce - a batch of workers that are experts, but hate their work and are only continuing to do it for the paycheck? Is that we want for ourselves as people - to trudge off to jobs we hate every day? It seems to me that our system is skewed, that we need to rethink how we educate and train people at early ages. We need some sort of more multi-disciplinary approach that would allow people to move between different career fields more easily, and perhaps even encourage doing so, so that people don’t burn out and end up leaving their careers entirely.

Now, of course, many people do remain passionate about their chosen career field through their entire professional, working lives; I’m not suggesting this is a one-size-fits-all problem or approach. All I’m suggesting is that we need to rethink how we educate and guide people early on, so that for those who do reach a breaking point, we’ve made it an easier slide to another profession, thus keeping the people happy and productive, and the employers and society flush with talent.


p.s. I know I could have made this a better piece with links to well-sourced studies and such, but as I only had about 15-20 minutes to kill on writing this, you just get a straight-up opinion piece. ;-)

Youth, the Big Decisions, and the "Midlife Crisis"

I know I usually just post about photo and outdoor stuff here, but I need to shift gears here for a bit, write about some other stuff that’s been on my mind lately. To that end…

Youthful Decisions, Mid-life Effects
Not far back, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, the kind where you talk about stuff you’re going through, stuff other friends/family/coworkers are going though, etc. Being men in our mid-40’s, it centers around a lot of the typical mid-life stuff: work stuff, marriage/relationship issues, various life goals achieved or missed, etc. As I was reflecting back on this conversation, I came to a conclusion…

It’s insane how many life-long decisions we make when we’re still young and stupid! Think about it: marriage, career, kids, perhaps place of residence - how many of these decisions are we making that we tie ourselves to for our ENTIRE LIVES when we’re in our early twenties, when we’re essentially still adolescents?

Many of the marriages that dissolve these days are happening at the mid-life stage and beyond, when couples get into their 40’s or even 50’s. Sometimes it’s because of a dramatic event like infidelity, but often it’s just because the couple “grew apart”. When many of these couples had made the decision to get married back when they were college-age, is it really surprising? How many of us are the same people at 40+ that we were at 20 or 25? Hell, looking at myself, I hardly recognize the guy I was back at the age when I got married. People grow and change; sometimes this growth/change for each member of the marriage happens in a complementary way so that the couple actually grows stronger, but what happens when they grow in divergent ways? Is it surprising that the splits happen then? So then, why do we make it so easy for people at such early ages enter into a legally binding contract that is meant to last FOR LIFE? Then, when it doesn’t work out, we make it incredibly hard to get out of. It seems crazy.

Career choice is another interesting area where we make a seemingly lifelong decision when we’re incredibly young. Is it really expected that we should only have a professional passion for ONE THING for the entirely of our working lives? And that we should really know with certainty what that lifelong passion will be at 22? Now, one can ostensibly change careers at any point during their lives, but let’s admit that it’s not easy, particularly the further along the you get, and especially if you get established in a field that you’re experienced in and pays you well. Money doesn’t equal interest or passion, though. I love tacos, but I wouldn’t want to have tacos for dinner EVERY night for the rest of my life. We make such a decision about our work lives, though, and then we act incredulous when someone complains about their “great career” when they’re seemingly at the height of it: “How can they be burned out? They have everything!” (“they’ve got tacos!”)

I don’t think this issue is quite as prevalent as others, but it definitely comes up for many, and it’s usually tied to the other two issues I mentioned above. Often people have to make a choice on where they live very early on in adulthood, usually tied to the choices they made related to marriage or career, or perhaps just to be close to other family. Then they get tied into a mortgage… Later, perhaps they think, “this place doesn’t work for me anymore,” but then they’re stuck because their employer requires them to stay at their current location, or the spouse doesn’t want to move, etc. Again, tied to the choices of youth…

So the question is, why do we setup our society this way? Why do we suggest to everyone that they should lay out the plan for their entire life at 22, and if they deviate from that, there’s something wrong with them? “How dare you not still be in love with that person you committed to at 22, even though you’re both completely different now?” “No, don’t change careers after 20 years! You’re all set! So stick to that profession that you’re no longer interested in, because you should still be passionate about the same things you were at 22!” Etc., etc…. Does it not seem a bit ridiculous? It’s no wonder so many people have what’s commonly, dismissively referred to as a “mid-life crisis”. It’s no fucking mystery what’s happening with these people: they’re finding themselves stuck in these decisions they made when they were essentially still kids. Maybe the marriage doesn’t work for them anymore, but now they’ve got the kids, mortgage, etc., so it’s not so easy to get out. Maybe they’ve lost all interest in their career, but it pays the salary to support the kids, mortgage, etc. Is it any wonder they feel trapped?

Now, I’m not suggesting any of these things is a problem for all. As I said early on, many people get married young and grow together stronger throughout their marriages, more in love at 80 than they were at 20. Likewise, some people face retirement at 65 and still can’t imagine giving up the careers they’ve been working for over 40 years. However, all I’m suggesting is that, when they don’t, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised or demonize them. People can change a lot over the course of becoming fully realized adults, and if those changes require a change of course, why try to stop it?