Bookmarked The Case for Letting People Work From Home Forever by Jaclyn Greenberg (WIRED)

Do you want happier, productive, more engaged, and more fulfilled employees and coworkers? Well, you should campaign to let them work remotely. Here’s why.

Jaclyn Greenberg makes the case for a permanent move to working from home. She argues that at home we are more productive, it allows for flexibility, and provides more work-life balance. In addition to that, Greenberg argues that office spaces are conducive to social interruptions and office politics.

Regardless of your job or where you live, a commute to the office can take up large portions of the day. The average American commute in 2019 was 27 minutes each way, which adds up to approximately 200 hours per year for a full-time employee. Aside from the actual commute, getting out of the house at a specific time in the morning in an effort to avoid traffic can be stressful. Instead of worrying about rushing to the office on time or needing to leave early for personal obligations, employees are more productive when they work remotely, have fewer sick days, and take less time off.

Cal Newport pushes back on work from home, continuing his exploration of remote work. He suggests the distractions of the home do not create the right environment.

The home is filled with the familiar, and the familiar snares our attention, destabilizing the subtle neuronal dance required to think clearly. When we pass the laundry basket outside our home office (a.k.a. our bedroom), our brain shifts toward a household-chores context, even when we would like to maintain focus on our e-mail, or an upcoming Zoom meeting, or whatever else that needs to get done. This phenomenon is a consequence of the associative nature of our brains. Because the laundry basket is embedded in a thick, stress-inducing matrix of under-attended household tasks, it creates what the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin describes as “a traffic jam of neural nodes trying to get through to consciousness.”

He instead suggests near-home locations. This reminds me of Bill Ferriter marking in McDonalds or John Spencer doing creative work at Starbucks.

In other pieces on remote work, Sean Blanda argues that it becomes about tasks, not times, while Gideon Haigh questions simply reproducing the physical office.

Liked In Defense of Thinking – Study Hacks – Cal Newport (calnewport.com)

There’s a great satisfaction and steadiness in the general application of Hemingway’s advice. We cannot make sense of ourselves or the world around us without putting in the mental cycles necessary to wrestle this frenetic information into useful forms. Thinking — true, hard, energizing thinking — is not yet another healthy activity to add to a long list of such commitments. It’s better understood as a way of life; one that’s become even more radical in an increasingly shallow world.

Bookmarked Slack Is the Right Tool for the Wrong Way to Work by Cal Newport (The New Yorker)

We’re simply not wired to monitor an ongoing stream of unpredictable communication at the same time that we’re trying to also finish actual work. E-mail introduced this problem of communication-driven distraction, but Slack pushed it to a new extreme. We both love and hate Slack because this company built the right tool for the wrong way to work.

Cal Newport continues his discussion about email and productivity tools, taking a dive into the world of Slack, explaining why it is the answer for the wrong problem.
Liked Rethinking the Internet, Again – Study Hacks – Cal Newport (calnewport.com)

The larger point I want to emphasize is that we don’t have to settle for the current configuration of our online existence. There’s nothing inevitable about a setup in which a few mega-companies own all of our data and therefore dictate our digital culture. We can do more than boycotts and legislative threats.

Bookmarked The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done by Cal Newport (The New Yorker)

Cal Newport on the 43 Folders blogger Merlin Mann; the late productivity expert Peter Drucker; the author David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method; and why G.T.D. doesn’t address the anxiety and inefficiency associated with e-mail overload, a phenomenon that knowledge workers experience in the office.

Cal Newport reflects upon the history of productivity hacks, from Druker’s management by objectives to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero, and suggests that individual actions are not enough. As most of us lack the power and control of our processes, we instead require management intervention.

In software development, for example, it’s widely accepted that programmers are most effective when they work on one feature at a time, focussing in a distraction-free sprint until done. It’s conceivable that other knowledge fields might enjoy similar productivity boosts from more intentional assignments of effort. What if you began each morning with a status meeting in which your team confronts its task board? A plan could then be made about which handful of things each person would tackle that day. Instead of individuals feeling besieged and resentful—about the additional tasks that similarly overwhelmed colleagues are flinging their way—they could execute a collaborative plan designed to benefit everyone.

I think the biggest challenge with this is as much about mindset as it is about process. It is interesting to consider this alongside discussions around distributed leadership.

Replied to A Modest Proposal: Deweaponizing Network Effects by Cal Newport (Study Hacks)

In my hypothetical scheme, everyone has a cross-platform universal identifier. Every stable social connection on a given service can be imagined as a labelled edge in a social graph that contains a node for every universal identifier.

The key in this scheme is that these edges are owned by the user and must be easily portable to any service.

Cal, this discussion of users owning their content has me thinking about the #IndieWeb and domain of one’s own. It also has me wonder where this fits with Eli Pariser’s discussion of online parks.
Liked On the Exceptionalism of Books in an Age of Tweets (calnewport.com)

As I elaborated in my podcast, the medium through which you mediate the world matters. An app on your phone can offer you diversion or fleeting catharsis. On the other hand, something more lexicographically substantial  — though perhaps, as Birkert’s students discovered, more difficult to consume — can often offer true progress.

Liked On Running an Office Like a Factory – Study Hacks – Cal Newport (calnewport.com)

This shift from push to pull is just one idea among many that could help make better sense of the chaos that defines modern knowledge work. As I argued recently, the time has come to start seeking these ideas. We can no longer allow the efforts in this sector to unfold as a haphazard cascade of email messages and hastily organized Zoom calls. We need to take seriously not just how much we work, but how this work is organized.

Bookmarked Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed (The New Yorker)

The challenges aren’t just technological. They’re managerial.

Cal Newport looks into some of the history of remote working and unpacks some of the challenges that many are currently facing. One of the challenges is the social aspect to work.

In an age when community-based social ties are increasingly frayed, the office is where many adults interact with other adults. Perhaps, encoded in our genes after millennia of tribal coöperation, there is instinctual excitement at working side by side with others toward a shared goal. An e-mail that reads “Job well done!” is not the same as a smile. These benefits of the office—these subtle affirmations of our humanity—were easy to overlook, until we abruptly found ourselves deprived of them.

In addition to this is the problems associated with communication, collaboration and coordination when working offsite.

In some respects, we may be in an electric-dynamo moment for remote work. In theory, we have the technology we need to make remote work workable. And yet most companies that have tried to graft it onto their existing setups have found only mixed success. In response, many have stuck with what they know. Now the coronavirus pandemic has changed the equation. Whole workplaces have gone remote; steam engines have been outlawed. The question is whether, having been forced to embrace this new technology, we can solve the long-standing problems that have thwarted its adoption in the past.

Remote work is a complex problem. Although it may have many boons, some will still prefer the work-life balance associated with office life.

Remote work is complex, and is no cure-all. Some of the issues that have plagued it for decades are unlikely to be resolved, no matter how many innovations we introduce: there’s probably no way for workplaces to Zoom themselves to the same levels of closeness and cohesion generated in a shared office; mentorship, decision-making, and leadership may simply be harder from a distance. There is also something dystopian about a future in which white-collar workers luxuriate in isolation while everyone else commutes to the crowded places. For others, meanwhile, isolation is the opposite of luxury. There may be many people who will always prefer to work from work.

In some respects, this reminds me of the discussion often made about changing and transforming learning spaces in school. The reality is that for a new space to work it usually involves new practices to go with it. As Matt Esterman suggests,

I’m forming the theory that what most teachers want is a more shiny version of what they have. This is because they are not trained as designers (usually) and are so often hemmed in by the expectations of current reality that they don’t have the time or inclination to think about how things could be different.

Bookmarked ‘Expert Twitter’ Only Goes So Far. Bring Back Blogs (Wired)

To ensure readers get the latest, best information on Covid-19, pandemic experts need to go back to the early days of Web 2.0.

Cal Newport questions the limit of tweets and threads to communicate complex and changing content. He instead calls for a return to blogs to support these conversations.

Twitter was optimized for links and short musings. It’s not well suited for complex discussions or nuanced analyses. As a result, the feeds of these newly emerged pandemic experts are often a messy jumble of re-ups, unrolled threads, and screenshot excerpts of articles. We can do better.

We need to augment social platforms with a surge in capacity of the original Web 2.0 technology that these upstarts so effectively displaced: blogs. We need WordPress-style sites featuring both easy-to-update static pages and chronological posts. These sites could be hosted by institutions with some degree of public trust and a reasonable technology infrastructure, such as universities, medical centers, and think tanks. Some mild gatekeeping could be performed on the experts granted blogs by these institutions, and critically, IT support could be provided so that the experts could start publishing with minimal overhead. If possible, there would be a similar look and feel to these sites hosted at various institutions, providing the sense that they all belong to the same cohesive extended information network.

This touches on something I wrote a few years ago about canonical URLa few years ago about canonical URL, while Chris Aldrich’s recent presentation for the PressEd Conference  provides a useful guide/model.

What is sad and confusing are the people who publish great threads while leaving their WP.com site lying dormant. At the very least, users could copy the unrolled thread and past the content in a space they somewhat manage and have the ability to update?

Replied to Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us? (The New Yorker)

As a technology enthusiast, I’m a believer in the IndieWeb movement and think it will play an important role in the future of the Internet. For the exhausted majority of social-media users, however, the appeal of the proverbial quiet bench might outweigh the lure of a better Facebook. In this vision of the future, there will be many more social-media platforms but far fewer people spending significant time on any of them. Social media has reshaped our culture, and this has convinced us that it is fundamentally appealing. Strip away its most manipulative elements, though, and we may find that it’s less rewarding than it seems.

Cal, you have provided an interesting take on the IndieWeb. I must admit I am always mindful and sometimes sceptical about it being the solution for all. As you touch upon, some may simply choose to retreat to the idyllic life.

The only problem I have with this is that it frames the IndieWeb as a response to a specific problem, that is social media. Personally, I see it as a reimagining of blogging and online interaction, as much as it is a solution to social media. As Ben Werdmuller highlights, POSSEing to social media sites has its limits.

One of the things that I value about my IndieWeb site is a record of my interactions. I think that reclaiming this information provides the foundation for even richer explorations.

This framing of social media was something I was left questioning after watching your TED Talk.

Replied to On the Utility Fallacy – Study Hacks – Cal Newport (calnewport.com)

The point too often missed in a cooly instrumentalist understanding of technology is that we don’t use these tools in a vacuum; we instead participate in complicated social systems that can careen in unforeseen directions when powerful new technological forces are introduced. Features are important, but they’re not the whole story.

I think that the problem of utility comes back to the idea that technology is a system. I liked how Ian Guest captured this in his these on Twitter, especially where he ‘interviewed’ the non-human actors.
Bookmarked Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes (GQ)

The computer scientist on his new book “Digital Minimalism,” why workplaces may go email-free, and why the tech backlash is about to go mainstream.

In this interview with Cal Newport, he compares social media with fast food arguing that we are moving into a period of time when we will develop named philosophies to define our practices. For Newport, Digital Minimalism is one such philosphoy.

Digital minimalism is a clear philosophy: you figure out what’s valuable to you. For each of these things you say, “What’s the best way I need to use technology to support that value?” And then you happily miss out on everything else. It’s about additively building up a digital life from scratch to be very specifically, intentionally designed to make your life much better.

This is in contrast to digital maximalism.

[Maximalism] arose in the 1990s. The basic idea is that technological innovations can bring value and convenience into your life. So, you assess new technological tools with respect to what value or convenience it can bring into your life. And if you can find one, then the conclusion is, “If I can afford it, I should probably have this.” It just looks at the positives. And it’s view is “more is better than less,” because more things that bring you benefits means more total benefits. This is what maximalism is: “If there’s something that brings value, you should get it.”

Newport argues that regulation will not curb social media and that we instead need to understand that we do not really need them.

I’m a skeptic on a lot of privacy legislation, just because I’m a computer scientist who knows it’s very, very hard to even get a sensible definition of what privacy means. So, I personally don’t see the regulatory arena as being what’s gonna save us here. I think what’s gonna save us is this idea that we don’t need the giant walled garden platforms to attract the value of the internet. We would be fine if Facebook went away.

In a separate post, Newport makes the case for blogging and owning your own domain a possible response.

Slow social media and escaping the walled factories of industrial social media are two ways to step toward a more authentic social internet experience. They’re not, however, the only ways. As with my last post on this subject, I’m more interested in sparking new ways of thinking about your digital life than I am in providing you the definitive road map.

via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked Opinion | Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This (nytimes.com)

Practically speaking, to be a minimalist smartphone user means that you deploy this device for a small number of features that do things you value (and that the phone does particularly well), and then outside of these activities, put it away. This approach dethrones this gadget from a position of constant companion down to a luxury object, like a fancy bike or a high-end blender, that gives you great pleasure when you use it but doesn’t dominate your entire day.

Cal Newport argues that the Steve Jobs’ initial vision for the iPhone was never meant to be a new form of existence where the digital encroached upon the analogue. He therefore calls for a return to the early minimalist days from early on. This is similar to Jake Knapp’s efforts to regain his attention by removing apps and notifications from his smartphone. I still have concerns about the analogue and digital divide and what that actually means. I also think the request for responsibility ignores the systematic concerns associated with smartphones.
Bookmarked On Blogs in the Social Media Age – Study Hacks – Cal Newport by Cal Newport (calnewport.com)

As any serious blog consumer can attest, a carefully curated blog feed, covering niches that matter to your life, can provide substantially more value than the collectivist ping-ponging of likes and memes that make up so much of social media interaction.

This is a useful reflection on the difference between blogging and social media. It was something that I think was left ambiguous from Newport’s TED Talk.