Tag Archives: virtual work
I’m not writing to claim that Digital Workplaces are taking the world by storm. They aren’t.
But I am writing to claim that they will be at some point in the future.
One of the debates regarding digital workplaces is about what the term actually means. For the purposes of this discussion I define a digital workplace as a collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to work together wherever and whenever they may be working.
This implies the need to enable effective communication and collaboration and to do so without regard to location; moreover, it also implies the need to support such communication not only between coworkers but in some cases also between workers and customers and partners.
The term has been in use for at least ten years but during most of that time the digital workplace community did not see much growth. In today’s world digital workplaces are still in a formative stage but there are many reasons to believe that they will be taking off in the not too distant future.
The growth of digital workplaces will be driven by the same basic forces that are driving virtual work in general – the explosion of mobile and social media and the ubiquitous availability of the cloud [http://goo.gl/P2GBn, http://goo.gl/bdBv4].
Over the next ten weeks I will be posting thoughts on the power and potential impact of digital workplaces, the challenges they face, and the possibility of combining digital workplaces with other technical advancements to form even more powerful environments.
Specifically, I will be posting a ten-part series that will cover the following topics:
1. What is a digital workplace?
2. Is a digital workplace simply a reskinning of an “intranet?”
3. The power of digital workplaces.
4. The limitations of digital workplaces.
5. The forces driving the adoption of digital workplaces.
6. Why some middle managers HATE digital workplaces.
7. The Achilles Heal of digital workplaces.
8. The value of digital workplaces for global virtual teams.
9. Combining a digital workplace with other advanced technologies.
10. What are the three best digital workplaces available today?
I hope you have a chance to read the posts and I look forward to your comments.
Photo is by Canned Tuna and represents the Curtin University Digital Workplace Vision Jam
Four Dead Kings at Work is a new book where I share my thoughts on how the future will develop.
The key observation is that many of the “truths” that we hold to be self-evident will soon cease to be truths at all.
There are several fundamental forces that are working together to drive these changes. These forces include the continuing globalization and virtualization of the world along with the explosion of mobile devices.
Taken together these forces have driven very rapid social change that impact both our personal and professional lives. One of the most important impacts is the tendency to force those lives to merge which in turn drives decentralization in all aspects of the work environment.
These forces will eventually kill off the “kings” of the current workplace; that is, those basic “truths” that have existed for many years. The future workplace will change dramatically in terms of place, time, decision-making, and the tendency of employees to be associated with a single organization.
As these kings fall new forms of virtual work along with new structures and mechanisms will emerge to take advantage of the new decentralized environment.
Pick up a copy of Four Dead Kings at Work and read a short discussion of how this may all develop (http://goo.gl/w8cjx).
I would love to hear your comments about where you feel it is correct and where it is way off base!
Check out the following video: http://officeinsight.org/?p=2095 .
It’s a “must see” for anyone interested in the future of telework. It’s also one of the things that got me interested in telework in the late 1960s.
Arthur C. Clarke, scientist and author, appeared on BBC’s Horizon program in 1964 to share his vision for how work, and cities, would exist in the future.
It is an amazing video, when viewed from 2013. It’s notable both for how well he envisioned the future and for how the full realization of that future is really still in the future.
The basic concepts he described have come to pass. What hasn’t been realized is the scope. Telework has yet to drive the fundamental change in human society that he envisioned.
The really interesting question is “why not?” There are three big answers to that question:
Telework Transitions to Virtual Work
Telework is an important aspect of the virtualization of work. But telework, as it is usually envisioned, involves an individual who is working from a location outside the traditional office. That is clearly an important aspect of virtual work but it isn’t the whole picture.
Virtual work is the more general concept of people working in a virtual environment, where the defining characteristic is the fact that the parties involved don’t work together face-to-face.
That includes those who telecommute and telework, but it also includes members of global virtual teams that may be working from offices but have little or no opportunity to interact directly with their teammates. They are working virtually, at least relative to many of their key teammates.
The current hot spot of virtual work is the growth of mobile work. With the explosion in mobile devices people around the world are engaging in virtual work for at least part of the day. In that sense almost everyone is a virtual worker at one time or another.
The broader sense of virtual work also includes those aspects that are based on some specific form of work. Telemedicine is simply virtual work where the work involves healthcare and the “parties involved” are doctor and patient instead of coworkers. The same concept applies to various forms of eLearning and virtual training.
Clarke’s future is much closer to realization now that “everyone is virtual.”
Moving Beyond Virtual Meetings
For many years much of the focus of virtual work has been on the idea of improving virtual meetings.
For those same years the concept of telework assumed that a teleworker was located in some remote office, occasionally connecting with the broader world by way of some telecommunication or virtual meeting. Members of distributed virtual teams have used those some virtual meetings as a way of interconnecting as well.
Today’s virtual environments go far beyond virtual meetings to provide full-time virtual work environments. For example, Flipside Workspace (http://goo.gl/UyjhO) is a 3D virtual workspace that provides full-time virtual offices for their users. Rather than simply providing virtual meeting spaces this approach provides virtual spaces where users will spend the bulk of their work time. This approach allows workers to “drop by” and interact with other workers much as they would in a physical environment.
Virtual work technology needs to capture the essence of humanity
There is one major issue that stands between us and the future that Clarke envisioned in 1964.
Before we can realize that future we need to have virtual work technology that provides virtual interaction that is much closer to the experience of face-to-face interaction. Moreover, that capability needs to be available in a high-quality form on mobile devices available to everyone all the time.
In my experience, any discussion of virtual work will soon lead to someone saying some version of, “but we still need the human interaction that comes only from face-to-face interaction.”
WHY is that face-to-face interaction so important? The key answer is that most human communication is non-verbal, with some studies claiming that up to 93% of communication occurs beyond language. Most virtual systems do no transmit most of that non-verbal communication. Audio meetings provide no non-verbal communication, video conferencing provides some but doesn’t provide the sense of a joint meeting, especially on mobile devices, and 3D workspaces rely on avatars that do not include non-verbal expressions.
Given that situation it isn’t surprising that people feel that it is important to interact in person.
The good news is that we are likely to see a dramatic change in that situation in the next few years.
Developers are taking several different approaches to tackle this problem:
Computer Vision Supports Effective Virtual Work
Existing computer vision technology can be used to track facial expressions in real-time and replicate those expressions on a personalized avatar. Using this approach the participants in a meeting would look into their webcams, much as someone would do on skype, and their facial expressions would appear on their avatars in a 3D virtual workspace. This approach would transmit most of the non-verbal communication associated with facial expressions and would produce an experience that would feel very much like a face-to-face discussion.
Computer vision can also be used to track and reproduce gestures on those same avatars. These gestures, especially in conjunction with facial expressions, account for a large majority of all non-verbal communication.
Gesture Recognition and Virtual Work
There are other technical approaches to reproducing gestures. MYO, an armband device that released just days ago, does an amazing job of tracking hand movements and gestures. It is being introduced as a computer control mechanism but the same approach could be used to capture and replicate gestures on avatars in a virtual space.
Holograms Make Real Progress
I remember when I saw one of the first moving holographic pictures at the MIT Media Lab in the late 1980s. It was small, blurry, jerky, and amazing. Holograms have come a long way since then.
One of the hottest pop stars in Japan is Miku Hatsune. She routinely fills stadiums with tens of thousands of worshipers. That isn’t unusual for pop stars. What is unusual is that Miku is completely virtual. She appears as a hologram on stage. There are other notable examples, including the use of a hologram to bring Tupac, the late rapper, back to life.
Beyond the use in entertainment there is a lot of interest in using holograms to provide rich communication in virtual meetings. In the near-term this technology would likely be applied only for high-end meetings but the costs will probably move down from the stratosphere fairly quickly.
The use of holograms, and other visual technologies, is supported by advancements in display technology. ”3D without glasses” and ultraclear 4K displays were everywhere at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. They are moving forward rapidly.
All of these advancements point to the fact that we are on the cusp of realizing the vision as Clarke laid it out in 1964.
Lastly, there is one tiny nit in his forecast that is off base, and thankfully so. Note that he describes how men will be working in the future. Fortunately, in the world of 2013 the world of work isn’t available only to men.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future as seen from 1964.
Photo by Ell Brown
Marrisa Mayer’s recent edict banning telework and ordering Yahoo employees back to the office has garnered an incredible amount of attention. Comments have gone all the way from informal blogs posts and tweets to articles from major newspapers.
One major newscast in Silicon Valley ran a segment about “things that were supposed to be good ideas but failed.” They listed three items, one of which was telework. [Another was solar energy! ] The inclusion of telework on the list was explicitly tied to the Yahoo announcement.
When I hear all this I really want to say, “Good grief people. Get a grip.”
After some thought I’ve decided instead to say, “Overall I think that the response is excessive, and, most of all, is missing the point.”
Think about the following:
What’s the real significance of the Yahoo announcement to the telework community or to companies in general? Nothing.
What should our reaction be? Ignore it.
Why is that?
Is This About Telework? More to This Than Meets the Eye
The first thing to understand is that there is likely a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
To understand what’s really going on you have to think like a CEO.
In spite of the wording of the announcement, all of this may actually have very little to do with telework per se.
I have enormous respect for Marrisa Mayer. She has taken on a tough assignment and has to deal with a huge set of problems.
What can she herself personally DO to resolve the problems? Little or nothing.
A CEO can’t do much of anything directly. A CEO has to accomplish her goals through indirect action. She can send messages, influence thinking, shake up some people while encouraging others, indicate direction, etc.
In short, most of being a CEO is about optics. It’s about doing all you can to encourage and influence people indirectly to move in a desired direction.
Many observers note that part of the problem at Yahoo is that some workers have become complacent and have lost their edge.
If you’re Mayer one of the main things you need to do is shake them up. Send a clear message that you’re serious and that the old days are over. To this last point, one of the main things you need to do is simply ensure that change is in the air. At some level you don’t even care what the change is. You’re just trying to get the organization off of top dead center and get it moving. If are trying to encourage movement the sending “shake up” messages is one of the ways to do it.
That one point may very well explain the announcement.
By the way, a conventional wisdom has already formed in the Valley. The Valley has concluded that the real intent behind the action is to perform a soft layoff. She knows very well that if you tell a bunch of telework people to “get in the office or get out” some percentage will get out. And it won’t break her heart of some of them do. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to shed people that way than it is to do a formal layoff.
Was this just a shot over the bow to make a point and shake things up? Was this just a “soft layoff?” Was it simply an action to start some form of change? It’s tough to really know the answer to those questions. But one thing is for sure, it is very likely that there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. It is likely that this isn’t really just about telework and all the articles posting statistics supporting telework are missing the real issue.
Don’t Generalize – Yahoo is a Special Case
The real risk in this situation is overgeneralization.
No matter what the reality behind the announcement, the fact is that Yahoo is a special case. Yahoo is a great company that has made awesome contributions to society. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen on hard times and some pretty drastic steps have to be taken.
The key point to understand is that they are hardly typical of the state of play in Silicon Valley. After a few decades here I can tell you that telework is an accepted element of life in the Valley. Life here is largely about management by results, whether the managers like it or not. People in the valley tend to be pretty free in terms of work style; basically, they work however they want as long as things are getting done. Now, it shouldn’t be lost that in this process the 60 hour work week is standard and a high percentage of people will be working much more than that. But, still, they tend to work those oppressive hours however they choose.
In short, the general situation is that if one were to make that kind of edict for the Valley overall it would generally simply be ignored. Most people would just keep doing what they are doing. My guess is that most of the people at Yahoo will have exactly the same reaction. In general they will ignore the edict.
The point here is that one company, especially one outlier, does not a trend make. It’s a little early to announce that telework is a failed concept based on one announcement from one company.
Get Real. The Order is Impossible.
The order said basically, “we need to collaborate so all you people who are working from home need to find an office and get in here and work.”
Is that even possible?
The first point is that most large companies in the Valley do not have anywhere close to as many cubes as they have employees. And half the cubes that exist are empty much of the time.
The simple reality is that world has gone mobile. People are working outside the office – whether at home or at Starbucks – whether Yahoo (or anyone else) likes it or not.
Companies are well aware of this and are trimming office expenses as a result. Most companies only have cubes for perhaps 75% of the employees and the trend is downward. I’m working with one large Valley enterprise that is in the process of reconfiguring all their large office buildings. Their standard is to assume that 40% of their employees will be “mobile workers.” This is not unusual. In a few days I’ll be meeting with a large architectural firm to discuss putting in place new major capabilities to be able to help large companies in their efforts to “rightsize” their spaces in light of current reality.
Note that Yahoo is telling workers to “find an office.” The wording implies that it will be a struggle. Good luck on that. The days of assuming that everyone would work from an office are over, and they aren’t coming back.
And second is that part about collaboration. It is entirely true that one of the big issues for any company like Yahoo is the need for teams to collaborate. Those of us who encourage “management by results” tend to ignore the fact that getting those results often involves people working with other people.
This is a valid issue for telecommuters. Unfortunately, it is a valid issue for their office-bound teammates as well.
The fact is that the “large-team collaboration” problem isn’t solved by getting everyone in a room together. First of all, it’s hard to get 10,000 people in a room together. At best only a small subset of people will really be interacting directly together.
I used to manage a large division of a company that was similar to Yahoo. We were in a large multi-story building in Silicon Valley. I tried very hard to get the people there to interact directly and collaborate more. It was a hopeless task. The reality is that people would almost never walk even to the other end of their own floor. And over time I worked out an informal algorithm for the “acceptable horizontal distance to acceptable vertical distance” ratio. It’s about 10 to 1. The simple version is that people simply refuse to go up a floor or down a floor. Many people would never directly interact with their teammates who were located ten feet above them on the next floor.
All of this is now exacerbated by two factors:
1. Companies are increasingly formed as collections of people from all over the world. Yahoo, like most other companies, operates large virtual global teams. Most of those team members will never interact directly no matter what order the CEO issues. What real difference does it make if I work from home when I spend 70% of my time in conference calls with people in another country?
2. A huge percentage of collaboration is now virtual, even for people who share the same office building. The Yahoo folk may be successful in “finding an office” but even if they do the majority of their interaction with other employees will be virtual. Employees today often use electronic communication to interact – whether it’s email, Yammer, Skype, Lync, blogs, forums, Sharepoint, Webex or any other application. Most importantly, they often use electronic communications to interact with people in the same room, much less the same building.
So, overall of course I disagree with the order but all-in-all I’d say that it has very little significance to the telework world. Virtual work is moving forward and Yahoo can do little to stop that (even if they really do want to).
Mostly, again, I think that using the Yahoo announcement as a lever to declare telework a “good idea that failed” is over the top.
Those are my views, I’d love to hear yours.
Photo by TechCrunch50-2008
I used to be CEO of a company that built 3D virtual workspaces for use in virtual meetings, training, rehearsal and other business applications. As a result of that role I’ve reviewed a host of virtual meeting environments and spent hundreds of hours in meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces.
Recently I discovered Flipside Workspace, a new 3D virtual work environment.
After spending some time in the environment I asked myself if I would choose Flipside if I were a company looking for a virtual meeting environment. After some consideration I realized I was asking the wrong question, or at least was missing much of the point of Flipside.
Having said that, I think that 3D virtual workspaces are very valuable meeting environments, particularly as compared to other options:
3D Virtual Workspaces vs. Other Virtual Meeting Options
The most widely used option for virtual meetings is still audio conferencing. They clearly work, since there are roughly 11 million audio conferences per day just in the US, but they also leave a lot to be desired. How many hours have you spent in teleconferences, staring at a small speaker in the middle of a table while scratchy disembodied voices drifted up from it? It’s often hard to tell who is speaking, voices are often not clear, and it is impossible to include visual information.
There are excellent web conferencing tools available and they provide powerful capabilities beyond simple audio conferencing. The ability to have a shared view of slides, images, and videos provides a much stronger meeting environment.
Video conferencing adds the huge dimension of being able to actually see the participants in the meeting, however, most high-end video conferencing systems only operate in fixed locations and can’t be used in a mobile environment.
Meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces have huge benefits as compared to audio conferences and web conferences. They provide almost all the capabilities of audio or web conferences but they also create a strong sense of presence. (This “sense of presence” may not be immediately obvious but with extended usage it becomes very apparent.) This strong visual environment improves engagement and interaction and helps provide participants with a strong visual memory of the meeting.
Unlike many video conferencing users, virtual meeting participants feel like they are in one room together in much the same way that they would in a physical conference room. The use of avatars leads to much engagement and more human interactions among the participants. This visual participation can reduce unwanted “hidden multitasking.”
3D virtual workspaces also have great potential for adding capabilities that make them much more powerful than face-to-face meetings or video conferences. Some of these can be very simple. For example, given the graphical nature of the environment it’s possible to add labels to participants that display personal profile information when clicked. On the more sophisticated end, importing 3D graphical objects improves communication and collaboration regarding physical products.
In the near future we are likely to see language translation inserted into a virtual meeting environment and real-time translation can’t be too far off. Automated virtual assistants will be attending the virtual meetings of the future and automated transcription services will provide records of all the conversations.
There are other benefits that may be less obvious. One of the things that I observed by attending many virtual meetings is that people who were naturally recessive came out much more strongly in meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces. They are much more assertive than they ever were in any other form of meeting, including face-to-face meetings. It seems that they were much more willing to step forward when acting behind the “security” of an avatar. 3D virtual workspaces are very valuable for the billions of business people who live in cultures that discourage contact between men and women. They also hold great promise for bringing more disabled people into the workforce as well as for supporting continued employment for retiring baby boomers.
Addressing the Fundamental Issues in Virtual Work
Flipside can definitely support strong meetings. They have resolved some of the primary technical issues that plagued 3D virtual workspaces in the past. For example, most systems of the past required high-end graphics systems to execute properly and required large downloads and installs to begin operation. They were also limited to desktop environments. Flipside operates in a browser, does not require heavy downloads, is easy to use, and is mobile.
But back to my statement that I was wrong to think of Flipside as a meeting environment.
What I missed in my first analysis is that Flipside is much, much more than a meeting system.
Rather, it begins to address the most fundamental issues that have plagued virtual work forever. Companies today are moving toward environments where much more of their workforce is virtual – whether from telework or mobile work. Studies have shown that even though knowledge workers still have cubes those cubes often don’t have knowledge workers. The majority of such cubes are vacant most of the time [http://goo.gl/PtWVj].
Companies around the globe are racing to reconfigure their physical spaces to emphasize shared common areas and hoteling cubes. More and more employees are doing at least a significant part of their work at home or on the go.
This evolution creates a number of well-known problems. Those who are working from home feel disconnected from their colleagues at work and they lose a sense of the office social environment. Studies have shown that even those who remain full time in offices still feel a loss of social interaction because so many of their companions are working outside the office [ http://goo.gl/EzlCQ]
Creating “common work areas” and dropping individual cubes may make for efficient building utilization but it creates huge problems for individual workers. I recently participated in just such a transition for an enterprise company. I spent several hours talking to an employee who was distraught about the transition. I pointed out that he was rarely in his cube since he spends most of his time in a hardware lab so I wasn’t sure why losing the cube was SUCH a big issue. His answer was pretty simple: ”Now I won’t have anywhere to hang my daughter’s picture.”
Issues associated with a loss of a sense of personal space and community participation are huge issues that companies must face as they seek to reconfigure both their work areas and their operational environments.
Those issues are the real reason there’s a Flipside Workspace.
Passive Perpetual Presence
Email and telephone are still the most widely used telework tools, which is telling in regard to what is lacking with most online communication tools. Why are email and telephone so popular? Of course, the obvious answer is they are familiar and easy to use. But the less obvious answer is they are perpetual and personal. “This is MY phone number and MY email address”. It’s a way to be found, a way to be contacted, and a way to be connected at all times with minimal effort or invasiveness. It’s passive presence. And it is perpetual presence. Those connections are always out there. And they are yours, and yours alone.
Flipside is a virtual office environment, not a virtual meeting room. Each person in flipside can have their own permanent office which they occupy for the entire workday. There are conference rooms for large meetings, but any given worker will spend much of their day in their virtual office.
Given this approach, Flipside Workspace provides the passive perpetual presence that is lacking with other forms of online meeting choices. It is the place where mobile workers can “hang their hats” and be found without having to continuously set up meetings, or hangouts, or calls. It is the home base where workers can direct their colleagues and clients – “I’m in MY Flipside Workspace office 8-5”. As a result, it is common to see workers who are simply sitting and chatting together in an office, much as they would a physical office.
This passive perpetual presence is rich in passive communications and visual cues that just aren’t present in email, telephone, web conferences, or even video conferences. In Flipside, employees can visually see if the person they are trying to reach is available. They can see if the worker is busy conversing with someone else. Their presence is observable, so a visitor can easily be included (or not) in an already ongoing conversation. All of this provides an environment that is much more like a normal physical office environment.
Improved Online Experiences
Now back to that discussion about meetings.
Much of the problem that exists with online meetings isn’t about the technology that power the meetings, it’s about the lack of a surrounding environment and about the behavior of the meeting organizers and participants. In Flipside, the goal is to mimic the experience of working in an office. A meeting in an office doesn’t start when the moderator takes the microphone, it starts before that…choosing your seat, saying “hi” to other participants, engaging with participants before the meeting starts and strengthening those professional relationships.
During the meeting, the experience includes seeing who is speaking and speaking up to clarify ideas or words. All of these behaviors are extremely difficult to mimic with existing virtual meeting technology, both because of the limitations of the technology itself and because they are designed to simply conduct meetings and don’t provide for a larger office environment.
Professionally Oriented Community
Isolation is a commonly cited problem for those working from home. In a physical office there are people around that you can bump into and ask quick questions. Flipside Workspace provides a combination of passive perpetual presence and community
. This combination recreates the experience of working in an office and eliminates those feelings of isolation while still maintaining the flexibility that
virtual work affords.
A company based in Flipside could have a receptionist who greets visitors during “office hours”, individual offices for workers, and the use of public spaces to invite casual interactions. All of this contributes to making the Flipside users feel like they belong and that they have a presence among their virtual peers.
All of this also allows companies to maintain a key corporate culture even as they transition to a hybrid of physical and virtual operation.
Here Come the Millennials
Whether you call them Millennials or GenY’s they are coming on strong and they have a natural affinity for virtual environments. One of the things that I found most striking about watching users in 3D virtual workspaces is how strongly their reactions were associated with their demographic age group. Older workers, who did not grow up with video games and Massively Multiplayer Online Games, sometimes struggled with the whole idea of avatars and resisted the idea of having to move them around. Younger workers would pick up the interface in a matter of a few minutes simply because it was similar to what they had always known.
As those workers move up to dominate the workplace they will insist on the ability to work virtually and they will be expecting a Flipside-like environment to support it.
Flipside Workspace is pretty cool. I recommend giving it a try.
[Thanks to Flipside Workspace for the photos. Just for the record, I have no association with the company.]
The internet has been a mixed blessing for health care professionals.
It’s improved health care in innumerable ways, from simplifying appointment procedures to turbocharging telemedicine, but it’s also introduced new challenges for health care providers.
Many of today’s healthcare providers feel that the internet has become a de facto second opinion for virtually every case. If your neighbor happens to be a family physician ask her if she has noticed that the internet seems to be encroaching on doctor-patient relationships. You’re likely to get a smile and a nod. Or perhaps a grimace and a nod. She is likely to be very familiar with the pattern where a patient enters the examination room with a wad of internet printouts tucked under his right arm.
Internet-Based Self-Diagnosis Changes the Doctor-Patient Relationship
While many doctors accept the fact that the internet is the de facto second opinion the realty is that in many cases this isn’t quite true. On the contrary, since as many as 77% of patents reach for the internet for medical information before opening the doctor’s door, in some cases it could be said that it’s the doctor who’s really the second opinion (http://goo.gl/vAmTM)!
The fact that SO many people use the internet in this way creates serious problems for professionals and patients alike. It can take considerable time for a doctor to disabuse a patient who has come pre-armed with an internet-brewed diagnosis. There is also a growing tendency toward cybercondria - people incorrectly concluding that they have serious medical conditions based on reading information from the internet (http://goo.gl/dkirH). Given that typing “flu-like symptoms” into Google returns almost 20 million results its easy to see how there could be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
A Mild Form of Extortion
It’s not surprising that many doctors find this situation to be pretty annoying. Most people don’t savor the prospect of having a critic permanently peering over their right shoulder, set to pounce on any statement that they question. Most people would find it particularly distasteful if this uninvited guest were generally incompetent and often misinformed.
In some cases patients may use the threat of a second option as a mild form of extortion: ”Give me some antibiotics for my cold or I will have to get a second opinion.” Given the flavor of the internet “de facto second opinion” it can feel like a similar form of “extortion” even if that really isn’t the intent. This is especially true when a patient goes to the internet AFTER she sees her doctor.
At a bare minimum this type of interaction can feel disrespectful and unnecessarily challenging.
Doctors Aren’t Alone
This type of interaction may be most common in the medical community but the truth is that doctors are hardly alone in this situation.
Educators also find that some “problem parents” search the internet for information to be used to challenge the teacher, sometimes almost to the point of bullying.
Twenty years ago an enterprise could announce an annual raise pool along with data regarding the “industry comparables” with little fear of that data being challenged. Today the data regarding that “industry standard” is likely to be challenged by ten employees with internet-based data in a matter of hours.
Architects of yesteryear could propose a concept layout with little fear of fundamental challenge from their customers. Those same architects today might well see ten internet-sourced competing “ideas” in an hour.
Dentists who declare that “those teeth can’t be straightened” are likely to see a pile of teeth-straightening printouts in a heartbeat.
Across professions and around the world the internet is being used as a basis for assembling data that is used to challenge expert opinion and assertions.
Challenges Ultimately Drive Collaboration
Many professionals find this trend to be pretty disturbing but there are aspects that can be very positive. The ultimate impact of this trend is that it forces a more collaborative approach to decisions making and problem solving. It also has the effect of involving patients, customers, clients, partners, and the community more in decisions by encouraging experts to provide more information and to explain the basis for their decisions.
For example, in a paper that advises doctors on how to manage the prevalence of misinformation from the internet Dr. Hunderford advises his fellow doctors to, “Produce white papers for patients to read before entering into any discussions with them explaining what you do and why” (http://goo.gl/L3IX7). Many researchers have concluded that, “the Internet offers far-reaching potential to engage patients more fully as partners in medical decision-making and in their course of treatment (http://goo.gl/VCqGV).
Beyond these indirect forms of increased collaboration the internet also increases opportunities for direct and explicit collaboration. For example, telemedicine applications allow doctors to collaborate together on specific cases and allow expert specialists to assist general practitioners located in rural areas where specialists are few and far between.
Similar approaches are used in various e-learning systems and other virtual work applications. All of them result in more client involvement in decision-making processes and in clients having a better understanding of the decisions that are made and the conclusions that are reached.
In a nutshell, internet-based “extortion”, although annoying, is valuable in that it forces more discussion and interaction.
The general trend toward a more collaborative form of decision-making culminates in the growing concept of crowdsourcing. This concept, introduced in 2006 (http://goo.gl/6bMn0) involves the “outsourcing” of tasks or other goals to a group for resolution. Specific variants of crowdsourcing are based on specific applications. For example, crowdsourced design (http://goo.gl/LaC0H) employs the crowd to make design decisions and crowdfunding using a crowd to raise money.
All of these trends have the effect of shifting the control of key decisions from a single decision maker to a more collaborative body and they tend to include the client, customer, or patient more in the decision-making process.
One thing they do not do is change reality. If a patient has lung cancer then they have lung cancer, regardless of what the crowd thinks about it.
The impact of crowdsourcing and other internet-based moves to more collaborative solutions doesn’t change reality; rather they help those impacted by the decisions better understand the basis of the decisions and help ensure that the best decisions are reached.
Several recent articles have been critical of telecommuting, some claiming that it increases work hours and damages work-life balance while others claim that it makes workers fat and damages the environment.
One widely quoted paper is The Hard Truth About Telecommuting (http://goo.gl/QGmhd). It sets out to answer several questions regarding the effectiveness of telecommuting, including the following: “Can telecommuting live up to its promise as an effective work-family policy that helps employees meet their nonwork responsibilities?”
Eventually the paper concludes that not only does telecommuting, “not unequivocally helpful in reducing work-family conflicts” it also claims that, “telecommuting appears to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours.”
The Times of India ran an article titled Telecommuting Ruins Your Work-Life Balance (http://goo.gl/d53tS) that concludes that telecommuting is an “electronic sweatshop” and that “many employees who telecommute occasionally end up doing far more work than before their emancipation.” This article also notes that telecommuting can cause employees to gain weight and that it adds to the total number of miles driven.
Another paper titled Telecommuting ups work hours, UT study finds (http://goo.gl/9xzlM), claims that telecommuting, “blurs the boundary between work and home.”
There have been a number of other recent articles that warn readers in one way or another to, “avoid the trap of telecommuting.”
The conclusions drawn by these articles are in serious error largely due to a failure to understand WHY employees value telecommuting and a failure to clearly distinguish between different forms of virtual work:
1. Telecommuting isn’t about avoiding work
There is an amazing tendency to assume that telecommuting employees will do everything possible to avoid work. The Mayor of London famously implied that Londoners are sloths and referred to telecommuting as a “skiver’s paradise” (http://wp.me/p2nZ8P-cS). A whole body of work concentrates on how to ensure the telecommuters are really working and the Times article focuses on how telecommuting make it difficult for managers to determine if their employees are really working.
These discussions provide no evidence that telecommuting employees are motived by a desire to avoid work. One thing that most telecommuters do want to avoid is the commute. Even if it is true that telecommuting employees work more hours it isn’t necessarily valid to refer to that situation as a trap; many employees would gladly work more hours just to avoid the commute.
2. Work-life balance isn’t all about total hours worked
The Hard Truth paper’s claim that telewoking is, “not unequivocally helpful in reducing work-family conflicts” is based on the observation that teleworking increases the total number of hours worked. They also state that to be effective in terms of improving work-life balance telecommuting must be, “instrumental in substituting hours at home for hours onsite.”
This misses the point that work-life balance can often be improved by providing flexibility in work hours even if the total number of work hours increase. A working parent might feel that their life was far more balanced if telecommuting gave them the opportunity to be available to pick up their children, even if doing so required them to work some additional time. Other employees might welcome the opportunity to go see a movie in the afternoon, even if they end up working a greater number of total hours during the evening.
3. Blurring work boundaries isn’t really the result of telecommuting -
The UT article explicitly states a point that is at least implied in the other articles, namely that telecommuting “blurs the boundary between work and home.”
This point raises what is becoming a major issue and shows every sign of being a trend that will have a large and potentially very negative impact on work-life balanced in the future.
As I noted in a previous post(http://wp.me/p2nZ8P-rf), it is absolutely true that the boundaries between work life and home life are blurring. In fact, in many cases they have all but disappeared. In the US many workers are working off and on for the entire day and also engaging in personal activity off and on all day. Many people check their cell phones as soon as they wake up and just before they go to sleep. In most cases they are checking both work and personal email in a blended stream. 50% of Americans say they check work email in bed and 75% admit that they check it while in the bathroom.
While it is true that this has the potential to wreak havoc on work-life balance it isn’t true that it is primarily the result of telecommuting. The issue of blending of work and life is a general issue that affects large segments of the population overall. Most of the people involved in that trend are not telecommuting – at least as telecommuting is normally defined.
There are certainly issues and concerns relative to telecommuting but for most potential participants it is not a trap and in many cases it can play a key role in improving work-life balance. Most of all, employee need to have the flexibility to choose that open when they want to as long as it is appropriate for the type of job being considered.
A new i-Phone based heart monitor introduced by AliveCor demonstrates how much the healthcare world will be rocked by telemedicine and mhealth devices.
The AliveCor Heart Monitor (http://goo.gl/6ONsr) is an amazing device that operates with an iPhone to provide an ECG recorder that fits in a pocket. According to the company’s site the device will record an accurate single-channel rate and rhythm assessment in a matter of seconds.
The device is currently cleared for sale only to US licensed medical professionals, but I assume the intent is to put it in the hands of consumers. Specifically, the site states the following:
The device is not currently available for pre-sale to patients and consumers.
We will have more information available for patients and consumers in January.
It’s when the device reaches the consumer market that it becomes really interesting.
This kind of device could be priceless to me as a non-medical professional in that it has the potential to bring some level of clarity to what are now giant black holes in my own decision making process.
Let’s think about the current real-world situation. If I’m out golfing or sailing and I begin to feel chest pain what am I REALLY supposed to do? I’ve read those how to tell if you are having a heart attack sites.
They include phrases like “chest pain” and “lightheartedness.” The problem, as a practical matter, is that I have no way of determining whether the kind of chest pain that I’m experiencing is the kind that the rule writer had in mind. Maybe my lightheartedness is simply from fear of a heart attack. Or maybe it isn’t. Should I just forget it? Or should I be hoping for an ambulance. Or it really such an urgent crisis that I should be hoping the hear the sound of a helicopter?
The fact is that is that I really have no way of knowing and no clear way of deciding.
The advice that is given most often is that if there is any doubt call 911. That’s certainly good, conservative advice but following it results in a huge number of unnecessary emergency room visits. ”Unresolved chest pain” is one of the most common reasons for an ER visit and a high percentage of those are not really required (http://goo.gl/UzmRe). This results in huge costs and wasted time on the part of both patient and the care provider.
This type of device has the potential to bring real data to the decision process – and to does so when I’m out on the golf course. For the first time I might get an expert eye on my data long before I reached the ER – and when I am making that critical decision as to whether I should go.
While this is interesting as it relates to the specifics of this device it’s also interesting in that it indicates the extent to which telehealth, and in particular mhealth, are changing our everyday lives. Just this one device has the potential to make a significant improvement in the lives of millions of people. As other similar devices are developed they will impact the lives of billions.
It is also a great example of telehealth that isn’t about making rural life better. One of the recurring themes of telehealth is that it can be instrumental in improving health care for rural residents. This device is an example of how mhealth devices can benefit the population in general by providing medical care that goes with them wherever they go.
I think this is a brilliant device and it’s an example of great things to come.