WFD | Taking Things for Granted

| Aldous Huxley | Moving is in Decline | Swanky Coworking | Job and Hiring Trends | John Hagel | Microtasks | Doordash Sued |

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Beacon NY | 2019–11–21 | I had a strange reaction to a flu shot. It made me fell like… I had the flu. A very bad flu. I was out of commission for 36 hours, basically, and slept through Tuesday.


Quote of the Day

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.

| Aldous Huxley

I try very hard not to.


Frozen in Place: Americans Are Moving at the Lowest Rate on Record | Sabrina Tavernise reports on new Census Bureau data released 2019–11–20, which is a staggering contrast with historical figures:

The United States has long been one of the most mobile countries in the developed world. In the 1950s, about one-fifth of the American population moved each year. When factories would close, workers would move to other parts of the country to find jobs in new ones. Young people flocked to cities and rapidly growing suburbs, where jobs were plentiful and rent was cheap.

But the motivations for moving— better jobs, generally — have diminished.

She takes her time, but finally gets to the work of economist David Autor (that I wrote about in What if Cities Are No Longer the Land of Opportunity for Low-Skilled Workers? and The End of the American Dream?) who showed the urban wage advantage for middle-skilled workers is gone.


They Don’t Call Them Hot Desks for Nothing | Jane Margolies profiles swanky coworking spaces. One trend she touches on in passing is that some have integrated hotels, which I have long advocated, as a peripatetic beast. The Assemblage in NYC has a hotel, although located at a different address. The next time I stay in NYC I will give it a go.

Some hotel chains have incorporated coworking into at least some of their brands, like WOJO in Europe, and Marriott’s Moxy Hotels.


Glassdoor’s Job & Hiring Trends for 2020 | Andrew Chamberlain summarizes a Glassdoor report:

  • AI will get a seat in upper management.

  • 2020 will begin a culture-first decade for employers.

  • Companies will refresh hiring playbooks ahead of a potential recession.

  • Employers will further prioritize diversity and inclusion jobs.

  • Recruiters will adapt as 65+ Baby Boomers become the fastest-growing workforce.

  • More people will find their next job on a mobile device.

  • Brexit will threaten tech hiring in the UK.

  • The 2020 election cycle will unleash companies’ political side.

Re: AI Management:

Who’s the Boss?

Although AI has been adopted in the workplace, there’s one particular role we see ripe for AI advancement in 2020 and beyond: Management. Being a manager today isn’t only about being a leader who wields power and calls the shots in the workplace. It also involves a lot of less glamorous administrative work: Planning, budgeting, communication, and routine performance reporting to senior leadership. These routine aspects of being a people manager today are ripe for takeover by improved AI algorithms in 2020 and beyond.

This takeover of routine management tasks by AI tools is already happening today. Some of the more interesting areas of growing AI use is in real-time coaching and guiding of employees in their work — using big data to monitor employee tasks, give instant feedback to sales and customer service representatives, and make smart recommendations via an algorithm. As AI technology matures in 2020 and beyond, we expect to see many more employers using AI tools to augment these traditional management roles and tasks.

What are some examples of AI tools taking over the routine jobs of managers today? They include:

º UPS delivery’s well-known “telematics” system acts as an on-board AI supervisor for drivers, monitoring fuel use, braking, time away from the driver’s seat, whether they’re following optimal routes through cities, and more. Plus, regular end-of-shift feedback reports to help drivers improve.

º Retail sales productivity app Percolata is a sales optimization tool that assigns work schedules to employees via machine learning, doing a manager’s job of assembling top-performing retail sales crews. It also monitors in-store activity and rank-stacks sales employees based on their real-world productivity.

º Customer support call center app Cogito acts as an AI supervisor for workers, making real-time suggestions to improve customer conversations during calls. It coaches employees to speed up or slow down, makes emotional IQ suggestions, and takes on the middle-manager task of reporting statistics for on-the-job employee performance to upper management.


The AI-Boss Partnership One way we may see employers adapting their workplaces for more use of AI in management is by continuing to flatten their organizational structures. Companies have been flattening out their organizational structures for decades, in an effort to make managers co-equal partners and advocates for workers, rather than the traditional “boss” authority figure. We expect this evolution to accelerate in 2020 and beyond, as companies look for ways to encourage employees and managers alike to view AI systems as tools that help them excel at their jobs — rather than as an overbearing surveillance tool that issues unempathetic digital commands to workers.

So the end of bad bosses is on the horizon. Yay!

Read the whole thing.


Edge Perspectives with John Hagel: The Quest for Capabilities | John Hagel asks for suggestions and ideas for a new research initiative:

Redefining work

This research effort is an extension of our most recent research on the untapped opportunity that all institutions have to redefine work and deliver far more value to their stakeholders and the institution itself. At a high level, we encouraged institutions to move all workers in their organization from work that involves tightly specified and highly standardized tasks to work that involves addressing unseen problems and opportunities to create more value. This move becomes much more feasible now because technology is increasingly demonstrating the capability to take over routine tasks, freeing up worker capacity. This research has generated great interest because it is addressing a white space in the crowded topic of the future of work — a white space that has significant value creation potential.

Cultivating capabilities

One of the questions that we encountered when we shared our perspective on redefining work was: what do workers need to pursue this new form of work? This has led us to develop a contrarian view regarding another topic that is running rampant in future of work discussions. Everyone is talking about the need for re-skilling workers. The unstated assumption behind this discussion is that, if we don’t reduce the workforce as routine tasks get taken over by machines, we need to re-skill them so that they can move into other parts of the institution and perform a different set of tightly specified and highly standardized tasks.

We’ve come to believe that there’s another missed opportunity: to expand our horizons beyond skills and to focus in addition on human capabilities.

He goes on to frame his ‘ask’:

  • What does everyone think about the distinction between skills and capabilities?

  • Is it a useful distinction?

  • What needs to be clarified?

  • What do you disagree with, or where would you need more evidence to be convinced?

  • Are there examples of institutions that are tracking capabilities within their workforce?

  • How are they measuring capabilities?

  • Are they seeking to measure the impact of capabilities on performance?

  • Are there examples of institutions that are actively seeking to cultivate capabilities within their workforce, especially their frontline workers, and not just their managers and top executives?

  • What are they doing to cultivate capabilities?

  • How much of the effort involves programs designed to do this and how much of the effort focuses on simply creating work environments that encourage workers to exercise their capabilities more actively in their day to day jobs?

  • Are they explicitly measuring the rate of capability cultivation?

  • Are there examples of institutions that are explicitly seeking to find candidates with certain capabilities in their recruiting programs?

  • If so, how are they assessing capabilities among their candidates?

I look forward to seeing what emerges.


Microtasks Might Be the Future of White-Collar Work | Clive Thompson digs into a new work hack concocted by Microsoft researcher Jaime Teevan: microtasks stuck into people’s Facebook feeds, to entice them to improve a line in a report, or some other fragment of work:

Instead of lecturing people about mindfulness and staying focused, what if you engineered work to fit into fractured moments?

Microproductivity emerged in part as an evolutionary response to everyone’s number one complaint about office life: interruptions. It takes 25 minutes to truly resume a task we’ve been distracted from, on average. Even still, our attention shifts across our computer screen every 47 seconds, as research by Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at UC Irvine, has found. And with each interruption we often lose context. When we come back, we tend to forget what the heck we were doing.

Jaime Teevan of Microsoft Research tells me she thought about this problem because whenever “you take a break … you go off into some rathole on social media.” She wondered if she could co-opt the fragmented nature of screen life. Instead of incessantly lecturing people about mindfulness and staying focused, what if you engineered work to fit into those fractured moments? “You have to meet people where they are,” Teevan says.

The Facebook experiment worked so well that Microsoft now plans to put microtasks into Word itself. As you’re working, you will be able to identify small bits that need doing — like finding a fact or finishing off a paragraph — and flag them with an @ symbol. Then Word pushes them out as emails to yourself (or to a colleague, if you’ve pinged them with an @), each message containing one task, which can be completed right inside the email itself. Once it’s done, Microsoft inserts the edit back into the Word doc — no cut-and-paste necessary, even if a colleague completes the work.

Email is already “just a bunch of microtasks,” as Rob Howard, Microsoft’s general manager for Office 365, tells me. The company has just made it explicit and tethered those tasks to your macro work.


Many of our digital tools are, in precisely this way, Janus-faced. And with productivity, Americans typically veer back and forth. Half the time we’re Walt Whitman, loafing around on Twitter. The other half we’re Puritans, attacking our to-do lists with moral fire. Microtasks manage to live in both worlds. They might be, ironically, a creature perfectly suited to our times.

I love Clive Thompson. He can find poetry in the mundane.


DoorDash sued by DC attorney general, claiming it pocketed workers’ tips | Lauren Feiner

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine brought charges against DoorDash on Tuesday, accusing the company of pocketing tips meant for workers and misleading customers about where their money was going.

Racine is seeking to recover millions of dollars in tip money customers paid through DoorDash over two years under its previous model, which the attorney general’s office called “deceptive.”


The charges follow an investigation Racine’s office launched in March which found DoorDash used customers’ tips to offset the company’s payments to workers. A report from Recode at the time explained that DoorDash offers its delivery workers a guaranteed amount they will be paid for an order before accepting, but later subsidizes that amount with tips customers pay through the app. Rather than serve as a bonus for workers, the report said, customer tips went to DoorDash to offset workers’ base pay.


DoorDash is not the only gig economy company that has faced backlash for its tipping policies. An NBC News report in February said Instacart used a similar practice to subsidize worker pay with tips up to the guaranteed $10 per-job minimum. The company changed its policy after a petition from workers.

The gig economy is illegal, increasingly.


Meaningful versus Meaningless | People make their own meaning, but organizations and leaders can make our work meaningless | Stowe Boyd

New Jersey Says Uber Must Pay Up | Uber must pay $649 million in unpaid employment taxes and interest | Stowe Boyd

Tasks as Infrastructure | Microsoft’s Business Operating System Is Coming Into Focus

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