New Tech = A New Definition of Privacy

pavan-trikutam-1660So I got a phonebook in the mail today, opened it up and discovered that it doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore.

I totally get it, it’ll save a zillion trees (which is great), and to be honest I don’t think my daughter has ever used a phone book in her life, but for some reason it made me a little sad.

It contained contact info for schools, an area code map, gov and emergency numbers, information on how landline phones work and business numbers and ads, but no people.

It feels like the end of an era. Or a statement about the future of our society.

That being said, someone being able to access your phone number without your permission has become something that many people very seriously consider an invasion of privacy.

We’re willing to put our entire lives on Facebook and Instagram, but if someone gets our cell phone number and calls without asking personally if they can have it? Creepy.

You can do a white pages search online for anyone with a listed landline number in the country, but we don’t because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Uninvited phone calls have reached the the same emotional trigger as telemarketing or spam mail or email. If someone I haven’t seen since high school where to Google my number and call, I’d be really freaked out. Sending me a Facebook request is a totally normal, socially acceptable move though.

And people add loads of “friends” and followers who are often complete strangers on social media without batting an eye, giving them a street level view of their entire lives and the inner workings of their minds with a click.

I hate talking on the phone. With a deep seated passion. (PTSD from my early days as an emergency support rep getting calls at 4am.) It’s not just me though, a lot of people who grew up in chat rooms seem to prefer texting to talking. And kids who grew up on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Video chat seem to consider talking on the phone a boring waste of time.

I understand it though. When you’re used to having a fully emmersive, multimedia experience while you communicate with people, moving to voice only seems silly.

Originally we spoke out loud and sang songs to pass down stories. Then we figured out some written language and started carving messages into stone and painting on walls. Eventually we had a postal service and telegrams and could write letters and messages and send them all over the world. Then people realized they could use the medium as a way to advertise, and spam mail began. It was annoying, but not considered a huge invasion of privacy—which is interesting becase for most people, the mail was being sent the the physical address of their actual home. The person sending actually knew where they lived.

When the phone hit, it seemed really oldschool to write a letter or send a telegraph. Then telemarketing exploded. Telemarketing seemed more an invasion of privacy, because a person was bringing their voice into your home. Anger toward telemarters started early on and has persisted.

When we moved into the world of email, spam email immediately followed suite. It was highly annoying, but again, not as offensive as unwanted phone calls. (Until people started riddling them with viruses.)

When cell phones hit the the scene, they were considered personal communication devices, to which unwanted calls were considered an huge invasion of privacy (seemingly more than any other communication medium to date), and that sentiment has stood the test of time. Cell phone numbers are considered private information, and breaching that privacy line REALLY upsets people. You take your cell phone with you everywhere you go, it’s kind of the point. Someone highjacking access to your cell phone number, giving them the opportunity to talk to you no matter where you go is just seen as offensive and inappropriate.

Social media and video chat picked up speed and brought us to where we are today, but even now, cell phone numbers are considered very private.

It’s kind of fascinating considering our comfort allowing strangers to see our social media profiles, and message us at any time through those applications. The difference is, we can delete communication apps. At this point cell phones go with us everywhere and cell phone numbers are a fairly permanent companion. It seems that they made us feel TOO accessible.

And now there is an uproar over internet providers being able to sell our browser history to 3rd party companies. (Which I find infuriating.) This is another area that people don’t have personal control over. They can’t delete internet access, because in many areas there is only one provider to choose from. Folks are willing to sign over their history to other companies that use it for ad targeting in order to use their services beause they have the choice to NOT use those services if they don’t want to. This ruling has taken away that choice, much like someone getting your cell phone number. Having access to you anywhere you are, and now having access to anything you do online is just a horrible invasion of privacy. (Which is why call blocking and VPN’s have gained so much traction.)

Pretty soon, we’ll probably just be holograms jumping out of each other’s -whatever future device we come up with next- to chat (personally I’m hoping for Captain Planet style rings, just tossing that out there).

Forms of communication have shifted and will continue to shift throughout history as have our definitions and social constructs around privacy.

So I suppose it’s ok that the phonebook doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore. The important constant is that we, as people, need to feel connected through communication in one form or another. We’re naturally social creatures. People have different preferences for how they enjoy communicating most. You have to give and take a bit since those preferences vary widely across lifestyles and generations.

When it comes to communicating as a society, the medium doesn’t really matter as long as we keep the conversation going.

So what really I’m trying to say is… DON’T CALL ME.

Kidding! Actually I’m not kidding. Talking on the phone is the actual worst. Just shoot me a tweet and let’s chat.

(Until the Captain Planet hallogram rings hit, at which point… you know what to do.) 🌎

Open Office Floor Plans: Fueling Animosity

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I was chatting with a buddy of mine from a mid size software company recently, and he mentioned that they had converted to an open floor plan model a few years ago. Open floor plans are so hot right now that I was really interested in hearing his experience.

Initially The Open Floor Plan Was Awesome

He said that when they initially launched the open floor plan model, it was awesome. They had a giant open space with designers on one side of the room and developers on the other side of the room with ample space between. The designers would get rowdy from time to time, laughing and joking around, but it didn’t phase the developers because they had their quiet peaceful side of the room to work in. All was well in the world. Both teams were more productive than ever.

They had great interdepartmental relationships, folks in both departments worked really well together, and even had great personal relationships. They had lots of happy smiley coworkers all over the place, who enjoyed coming in to the office.

After Time Passed And They Experienced Rapid Growth, The Open Floor Plan Started To Suck

Then the company grew. And grew some more. and grew even more.

All of a sudden, team members were packed in to the room like sardines. The developers were starting to resent the designers for being rowdy while they were trying to code, because the peace keeping buffer zone was gone. The designers were starting to resent the developers because they were complaining about “all of the noise” being made by the design team while they were collaborating, and feeding off of one another’s creative energy by sharing stories about side projects.

Random Side Convos Fuel Design Team Innovation and Creativity 

You’d be surprised how much creativity comes out of regular old conversations and laughter. Some of our design team’s best ideas have come out of random conversation.

“I spent the weekend at my kid’s basketball tournament, he is basically a free throw rockstar. Oh, by the way, did you see this new basketball stat tracking app? The gestures are freaking awesome, let me show you.”

If the random convo about the basketball tourney hadn’t taken place, the discovery of the gestures wouldn’t have happened, and the innovative integration of those gestures in the team’s latest app project wouldn’t have happened either.

Folks can’t be creative and innovative when they are all covered in cones of silence. Design teams require a very different work place culture than developers, one that’s open to constant open collaboration and creativity.

I’m not saying you need a water slide in the middle of the office and daily breaks to hold hands and sing campfire songs, I’m just saying that design teams need an environment in which they can create and innovate and collaborate freely.

Random Side Convos Make Developers Want To Brutally Destroy People

Now the flip side. Developers who are working on on projects in new languages (or intricate projects in languages they can code in their sleep) basically want to murder loud people.

You miss a semi colon because someone distracts you with their obnoxiously loud laughter, and your whole string of code fails. Then you spend an hour trying to figure out why on earth your hours of work crashed and burned.

When you finally do, you’re filled with rage and want to duct tape all of the designers mouths shut, and throw them in a pit of silence for all of eternity.

Rapidly Escalating Resentment = Not Cool

So back to my buddy’s story. Things got worse and worse. The previously happy go lucky, collaborative teams who had great interdepartmental relationships and great personal relationships disintegrated within a matter of months.

Developers were complaining about volume, designers felt like the devs were jealous of their awesome team culture, devs thought the designers were being disrespectful by not following their need for silence, designers thought the devs were being uptight and disrespectful by complaining about their personalities.

The crazy part that was NOTHING HAD CHANGED, other than that the two teams with drastically different team cultures had been smashed into a room that no longer gave them space to work the way they needed to work to be the most productive.

Failed Attempts To Fix Things

The initial solution his company came up with was to tell the dev team to wear noise canceling headphones. The developers expressed feeling that the company didn’t care about them as much as they cared about the designers. They also felt the designers were being disrespectful jerks, and that they should just shut up and act like normal corporate employees and that then everything would be fine. They thought it was stupid that they were being forced to compensate for their coworkers obnoxiousness.

When that didn’t work the company told the design team they could no longer discuss things out loud, it all needed to be done through chat so as not to disturb the dev team. At that point design team expressed feeling like they’d been slapped in the face and then suffocated. They expressed feeling that all of the creative energy had been abruptly sucked out of their workplace. They also felt they were being told that they were unprofessional for working the way they’d been working for years and that their awesome workplace culture had been stripped away.

Angry Resentment Abounds

So in a nutshell, at that point every single member of both teams were angry and frustrated and hated everything. My buddy said that suddenly meetings turned into arena’s for battle. Every team member on both sides went in ready to wage war. Where there used to be easy collaboration folks started digging their heels in and not willingly compromising on anything at all.

The workplace culture completely tanked, and really talented members of both the design team and the dev team started applying for other jobs. And the craziest part was, folks went from genuinely enjoying one another on a personal basis, to glaring at one another across the room and ignoring one another in the break room. Nothing personal had occurred, all of the animosity was stemming from the two teams just having vastly different workspace needs.

So how do you keep this from happening at your company?

The key is to give teams that require different workplace cultures appropriate workspaces to do their thing.

Split Open Office Floor Plans – Provide a Focus Workspace & a Collaborate Workspace

I’m going to label this concept the split open office floor plan. You provide a “Focus” workspace for folks who need silence to accomplish what they need to do. You provide a “Collaborate” workspace for folks who need to chat and laugh and get a little rowdy while they work to achieve maximum levels of productivity and creativity. Give team members the option to bounce between workplaces as needed. Maybe a designer needs a day to focus on a specific solution, and they’re feeling easily distracted instead of fueled by interaction, let them go chill in the focus room. Maybe a dev is ready to tear out hair because of all of the silence, let them go work in the collaborate room.

Everything Is Awesome… Seriously, It Worked Wonders In Our Company

You’ll wind up with better products, higher levels of employee workplace culture satisfaction and killer interdepartmental collaboration. I know this for a fact because our company used the split open floor plan model for years, and it worked beautifully. The design team had space to be rowdy, the dev team had space to be silent, and both teams were genuinely happy and productive.

If your company is experiencing rapid growth, keep an eye on your seating arrangements. They can truly make the difference between people loving their jobs and looking forward to going in to work in the morning, and despising their jobs and wanting to strangle folks all day long.

What Happened With My Buddy’s Company? 

I shared our killer split open office layout arrangement with him, and he said he was going to take it back to his senior staff immediately. He didn’t want to lose any more talent to something as silly as a poor seating arrangements. He mentioned that it was going to cost the company a ridiculous amount of money to hire and train replacements for the employees they had lost. It was definitely going to cost far more than rearranging seating in the office would have cost them.

Fix It. 

So did your company convert to an open floor plan when it became hot? At the end of the day your goal should be giving your teams the optimal work environments that they require to achieve the highest level of productivity and success. There’s no reason to let something as small as seating arrangements tank your company’s productivity, workplace culture and employee satisfaction. Fix it and get on with making awesome products.

Slack Completely Changed The Way Our Team Communicates (For The Better!)

Slack

So my VP introduced us to this tool called Slack a few days ago. My first reaction? Greatttt. Another tool I need to keep checking for updates every 3 minutes. 2 days later, I’m absolutely in love with it.

It completely changed the way our team communicates in a matter of 2 days. We’re closer knit, communicating more clearly, and are more productive than ever before. It’s slightly magical. Why, you ask?

1. It’s elegantly designed. 

You can tell that the team that designed it really took their time focusing on the little big details. It’s simple to use and powerful at the same time.

2. Notifications are cleanly executed. 

There are badges in the Mac App, but they are subtle. Instead of things flashing in your face, there’s just a dot. Threads with new comments turn bold. They aren’t obnoxious stress inducing notification signals, they’re lovely.

3. The team conversations are fluid.

Tagging is an option, but it’s like a giant chat window for all members to see. Everything is archived, so there is no fear of missing out on an important interaction if you’re out sick or stuck in a meeting. That being said, rereading our team conversations is hilarious. We could probably create a season long sitcom script just by copy pasting our team chat transcripts.

4. Remote employees become fully immersed in team culture, without any effort. 

Our team has one employee who works remotely 4 days a week.

We’ve switched from Lync (which is absolutely horrible, it crashes every 5 minutes, deletes things, doesn’t send full messages without alerting you, there’s no a character limit warning, it saves conversations in a sketchy manner, I could go on and on) to Slack exclusively, for internal team communication.

Keeping remote employees in the loop with Lync is practically impossible. With Slack, it’s effortless.

5. We now have a permalink to conversing with our VP.

Our VP is incredibly busy, but always takes the time to chat with us and address our questions and concerns. Lync crashing was a stumbling block for clear lines of communication and emails were a stumbling block because he gets about 8734 of those per day. Slack is a direct line with clean communication flow. It’s not something that will disappear or crash and kill a conversation. It lets him reach out to us at any point of the day when he has the opportunity, and gives us the chance to respond as soon as we’re free from meetings/surface for air from our latest projects.

6. There are group conversations, and private conversations, and they all feel permanent. 

When using a normal chat client, or emailing a person, messages seem temporary, and folks tend to say things they wouldn’t say in person. They of course, AREN’T temporary, once you send a message on the net it lives forever, but still the transient feel remains. When you communicate on Slack, you can edit or delete, but it has a more permanent feel, because when you open the screen everything you’ve said previously is still in the window. I find myself thinking before I type, but not in a bad way, in a more organized thought process way. Try it for a few days to understand what I mean.

7. Tools are available, but tucked away in non obtrusive places.

You can hover over a message to display a gear icon that contains the options to delete or edit it. They aren’t in your face, they’re tucked away, which contributes to the fluid, clean feeling of the interface.

8. The ability to split apart channel topics has been mega helpful in assisting us in communicating more clearly.

We have a general tab where we do things like select our team superhero names and avatars (Have I mentioned how much I love my job and my team? Seriously. Best work environment on the planet. Oh, and #TeamIronMan ftw!) We also use that area to toss out ideas and concepts and figure out how to allocate projects. We have an inspiration channel to post awesome new tech we stumble upon, we have a process channel to discuss ways we can improve our work flows, and we have a questions channel where we can post urgent questions that need to be addressed to avoid impediments.

9. You can add media to your conversations with ease. 

You can add links and graphics & you can use threaded commenting to have conversations about the assets you add. It’s simple and lost in one place.

10. Slack replaced 3 other tools, by combining all of their functionality into one. 

We were using Lync for chat, we were using a hidden Facebook group for sharing inspiration and we were using Notable to toss out design feedback. Slack combined all 3 necessities into one elegant space.

I’m officially a huge Slack fan. If you’re looking for a new tool to improve team communication, definitely check it out.