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Work Futures Daily - Intermittent Collaboration

Intermittent, not always-on collaboration; Jim Meredith on open offices; Sarah Cooper on working for

Work Futures

November 2 · Issue #1024 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Intermittent, not always-on collaboration; Jim Meredith on open offices; Sarah Cooper on working for yourself v working for a boss; End of job titles?; Is the economy rigged for big companies, and against the little guy? Yes.; Debunking the gig economy

Beacon NY - 2018-11-01 — Woke up to November. Although I haven’t traveled recently, it seems like I’ve been hit by jetlag. Maybe it’s this head cold.
I’m a bit unsettled because I have decided to try using Dropbox Paper as my system of record on various projects. The task features have grown up a great deal, like the Things To Do tab:
Now I have to move all my dangling tasks over, project for project. It’s a good housecleaning. And I have a monster project looming.
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Long Takes
Collaborate on complex problems, but only intermittently | Ethan Bernstein and colleagues present their findings about collaborating on solving complex problems, and it seems that ‘always on’ leads to worse results than ‘intermittently on’.
The researchers formed and studied a number of three-person groups working on a complex problem-solving task (not described by the author) [emphasis mine].
The members of one set of groups never interacted with each other, solving the problem in complete isolation; members of another set constantly interacted, as we do when equipped with always-on technologies; and members of the third set of groups interacted only intermittently.
From prior research, the researchers anticipated that the groups whose members never interacted would be the most creative, coming up with the largest number of unique solutions — including some of the best and some of the worst — and a high level of variation that sprang from their working alone. In short, they expected the isolated individuals to produce a few fantastic solutions but, as a group, a low average quality of solution due to the variation. That proved to be the case.
The researchers also anticipated that the groups whose members constantly interacted would produce a higher average quality of solution, but fail to find the very best solutions as often. In other words, they expected the constantly interacting groups’ solutions to be less variable but at the cost of being more mediocre. That proved to be the case as well.
But here’s where the researchers found something completely new: Groups whose members interacted only intermittently preserved the best of both worlds, rather than succumbing to the worst. These groups had an average quality of solution that was nearly identical to those groups that interacted constantly, yet they preserved enough variation to find some of the best solutions, too.
This runs counter to the modern assumption that 'always on’ is the best modality in group performance. This is the principle that underlies our obsession with tools like work chat, and the application of ideas like 'working out loud’.
And the effect of intermittent interaction changed the way both the lower and higher performers learned. In 'always on’ mode, low performers simply copy from higher performers, and higher performer simply ignored lower performers. But in an intermittent set-up, the lower performers ideas actually helped the higher performers do even better.
The takeaway? Our mode of 'always on’ communication and team interaction diminishes our capacity to solve complex problems well.
Jim Meredith sent email about the open offices piece by Aytekin Tank in Work Futures Daily - Why Women Leave, writing
Re: Open offices
I think the conversation about the workplace needs to be more nuanced. There is so much clutter in the open/closed debate. For example, the Bernstein study that he references has been widely criticized for being a very narrow study (2 companies, short time span, no description of the new office space other than “open,” etc.) yet widely echoed in the design/workplace press as finally justifying the “death of the open office.”
Jot’s use of private shared space for each team is the barest satisfaction in a (perhaps still faulted) concept known as the Activity Based Workplace, which provides a portfolio of spaces where people can go to do specific types of work.
One example is our design for Meritor, which looks like this:
Short Takes
Working for a company vs. Working for yourself | Sarah Cooper is deeply funny. As in, deep and funny at the same time.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is raising an important question about job titles | Are job titles obsolete? Roger Martin thinks we should replace jobs with a ‘portfolio of projects’.
Axios Future - October 31, 2018 | Steve LeVine collates a few recent bits about a small groups of 'Superstar’ companies growing too large. A must read.
Also related: Phillip Longman in Washington Monthly | The Case For Small-Business Collusion reveals 'how America’s anti-monopoly laws got turned against the little guy’ instead of large corporations:
American competition policy is, in short, upside down and inside out. Regulators and courts perversely foster ever-lower levels of competition among ever-larger corporations, allowing them to reap greater profits and share less of them with workers. At the same time, they outlaw forms of cooperation among workers, small business owners, and professionals that have historically served vital economic and social purposes. The effects of this imbalance will only get worse as more and more of us struggle in an increasingly deregulated, de-unionized, monopolized economy that forces contingent workers into tournaments of ruinous competition with one another.
A must read.
Myths of the Gig Economy, Corrected | David Jolley unpacks what’s really going on in the gig economy, including this:
Sixty percent of millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — were not involved in the gig economy at all, and only 24% report earning money from the gig economy.
From the Archives
Work Futures Weekender - Postnational in the Postnormal? | Stowe Boyd 2018-04-08 | The top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030?
Quote of the Day
The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is one who asks the right questions.
| Claude Lévi-Strauss
Crossposted from
It has a perimeter of open offices (light-filled, quiet), a central zone for open team work and conversation around products (exuberant, social), and an in-between zone of office-like spaces, project rooms, meeting spaces, etc.
I think what I mean is that the debate about the modern workplace shouldn’t constantly focus on the binary choice of open versus closed. Many organizations have rather satisfying workspaces by recognizing that open flows, or deep work, or project work or the many other forms of getting stuff done may each best be done in spaces designed for the unique characteristics of those work modes.
Yeah, ok, but employee surveys generally show dissatisfaction with open, and the Bernstein study is not the only source.
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508