Work Futures Daily | A Sense of Place

| Women Running Food Businesses | Self-driving Scooters | Universal Child Care | Work From Anywhere | AI Grunt Work | Daniel Denning | David Sax | GigaOm |

source: James Lee

Beacon NY — 2019–08–19 | I’ve spent a week on Shelter Island visiting with family friends. It’s hard to leave, but by the time you read this, I will have packed, boarded the ferries (yes, two ferries), and turned northwest to home.


Today’s newsletter title is taken from the David Sax excerpt in the Elsewhere section, below, and also inspired by Shelter Island.


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Momofuku’s Secret Sauce: A 30-Year-Old C.E.O. | All about Marguerite Zabar Mariscal, who is CEO of Momofuku, by Elizabeth Dunn. A great tale that includes the secret trend of many restaurant businesses: women are running them.


China’s Ninebot unveils scooters that drive themselves to charging stations | Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh report:

Segway-Ninebot Group, a Beijing-based electric scooter maker, on Friday unveiled a scooter that can return itself to charging stations without a driver, a potential boon for the burgeoning scooter-sharing industry.

And the heavy costs of people collecting scooters and carting them back to charging stations will rapidly fall. Could be one of the first cases of autonomous vehicles putting people out of work.


Why the U.S. Has Long Resisted Universal Child Care | Claire Cain Miller examines the basic question: is childcare a public good? Because if it is, we should make it accessible to all.

Most Americans say it’s not ideal for a child to be raised by two working parents. Yet in two-thirds of American families, both parents work.

This disconnect between ideals and reality helps explain why the United States has been so resistant to universal public child care. Even as child care is setting up to be an issue in the presidential campaign, a more basic question has recently resurfaced: whether mothers should work in the first place.

In many ways, it has already been settled: 93 percent of fathers and 72 percent of mothers with children at home are in the labor force. It helps the economy when women work, research shows, and it’s often economically beneficial for their families, too — 40 percent of women are their families’ breadwinners. Significant evidence demonstrates that when there’s high-quality, affordable, easy-to-find child care, more women work.

Some form of early childhood care and learning is part of the campaign platform of most of the Democratic presidential candidates. President Trump has not supported universal child care, but has bolstered existing child care policies, including approving a record increase to the Child Care and Development Fund for low-income families and a child tax credit increase.

Perhaps going onto a war footing to combat climate change might lead to universal child care in the US.

The only time the United States had something close to universal public child care was during World War II, when in 1941 the Lanham Act directed federal funding to high-quality, government-run child care centers so women of all incomes could work as part of the war effort. But lawmakers were careful to say that it was an emergency measure, and that the centers would not become permanent. (The children who went to these centers, particularly from low-income families, performed better educationally and economically throughout their lives, compared with children who were too young to be eligible for the care, research found.)

Universal child care had strong bipartisan support when it was proposed in the Comprehensive Childhood Development Act of 1972, but President Richard Nixon vetoed it over its “family-weakening implications.”

Since then, the government has provided some child care assistance to low-income families. There is also a child care tax credit for working parents. But half of Americans live in places where there is no licensed child care provider or where there are three times as many children as child care slots. Child care costs a typical family about a third of its income. Just 10 percent of providers are considered to be high quality. At the same time, work for many Americans has become more inflexible and time intensive, and part-time or flexible jobs can be hard to find.

The result is a divided system, in which good child care is accessible only to affluent families, and many mothers in the United States can’t afford to work, said Taryn Morrissey, who teaches public policy at American University and was an adviser to the Obama administration on its early-learning initiative. “Instead of investing in a tool we know would help inequality,” she said, “we’re exacerbating it.”


Is It Time to Let Employees Work from Anywhere? | Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Barbara Z. Larson, and Cirrus Foroughi pose a question, and the answer is ‘yes’ [emphasis mine]:

In a working paper currently under review, we studied the effects of a work-from-anywhere program initiated in 2012 among patent examiners at the U.S. Patent & Trade Office (USPTO). We analyzed productivity data for patent examiners (highly educated and specialized professionals) who switched from work-from-home work conditions to the WFA program.

Our results indicate that examiners’ work output increased by 4.4% after transition to WFA, with no significant increase in rework (re-writing of patent decisions upon appeal from inventors). Supplemental analysis also showed that patent quality (as measured by examiner-added citations) did not deteriorate . The 4.4% productivity increase represents up to $1.3 billion of annual value added to the U.S. economy, based on the average economic activity generated per additional patent granted. (While not the focus of our study, we also found a correlation between working from home and increased productivity relative to working in the office, consistent with the findings of the earlier study.)

In supplementary analyses, we also found that examiners transitioning to WFA relocated, on average, to locations with significantly lower costs of living, representing an effective increase in real salary for these employees, with no increased cost to the organization.

Interestingly, examiners who had been on the job longer (that is, those closer to retirement) were more likely to move to the “retirement-friendly” coastal areas of Florida than their lower-tenured peers. While this correlational finding is not predictive, it suggests that granting employees the ability to work from anywhere could yield some career-extending benefits to both employees and the organization, by encouraging valued senior employees to remain in the productive workforce longer.


Employers who allow employees to work remotely should grant these employees true autonomy and flexibility, rather than trying to micromanage their remote work. Our results comparing WFH and WFA employees indicate that granting greater autonomy can actually enhance employee productivity.

My bet is that the great majority of companies will continue to ignore these findings and others like them, despite the win-win involved.


Before an A.I. system can learn, someone has to label the data supplied to it. | The human grunt work behind the rise of AI — interesting stuff by Cade Metz.

Quote of the Day

Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.

| Daniel Denning, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness


The Pain of Losing a Local Record Store | David Sax expresses the pain of losing a favorite store or restaurant — in his case a used record shop — and how it is linked to ‘sense of place’:

My relationships with the staff at June Records were forged over their recommendations: Julia’s suggestion of Jennifer Castle’s dreamy “Pink City,” Raf’s assurance that even my children would dig William Onyeabor’s minimal Nigerian disco and Andrew’s recent pick of an obscure Brazilian acid psych record that’s become the instant soundtrack of my summer. Sure, you can get help and suggestions shopping for music at an Urban Outfitters, but it’s not the same, because what I built at June over the years of transactions was something deeper: a sense of place.

No place stays the same forever, and few of us want to live somewhere that is frozen in amber, where entrepreneurs cannot take a chance with their ideas and open a business. We seek the new, and the novel, and welcome improvements in our neighborhoods with open arms. But we also need places to anchor us. Novelty is wonderful, but only when balanced with the familiar. And when those familiar businesses close, for whatever reason, our reaction also occurs on a human scale. A sigh of resignation. A flood of memories. And sometimes, if you truly loved the place, a sadness so genuine it can trigger tears.


A few new posts at GigaOm’s open research publication on Medium:

Brief | Workona, A Chrome Workspace Manager | Stowe Boyd | Shouldn’t tab management be integrated with file sync-and-share? Yes. I want Workona-style tab management in Dropbox, please.

Brief | Taskade, a new ‘work processing’ app | Stowe Boyd | A promising start, but there’s a lot yet to implement in Taskade.


originally published on Work Futures on Medium.