📫 Why Remote Work Shouldn't Be The New Normal

I don't like the new normal. I prefer it to the old normal, but I believe the future should be different still.

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The New Normal?

It's a horrible term. It feels like the current situation we find ourselves in is supposed to be normal. I'm not sure I want to go back to the old standard - there were some pretty crappy things about it - but I also don't want this normal.

I've seen quite a few polls that claim people are happier now. They prefer being at home; more time with the family, less time commuting, less office bullsh*t and, probably, healthier meals (unless you're me, and your wife has baked things almost constantly, and you don't fit into your work clothes anymore!)

Not going into the office has some significant upsides.

I enjoy working from home and all the benefits that brings, but I also miss working in an office. The thing is, there are some excellent reasons to go to the office. Or, at least, go to a place you share with other people. Maybe not daily, but with some regularity.

It's good for your sanity.

😍 You love your family!

Some don't have the luxury of separate spaces to stake out as a work area - like an office, garage or maybe a shed. They'll be working at the kitchen table surrounded by all the distractions that working in a kitchen entails. No separate workspace is even more challenging if you have a partner or kids at home.

Even when I close my office door, I can't lock it. My three-year-old doesn't understand when Daddy is on a call (true story: he once kicked open the office door and announced "DADDY, I HERE!" wearing nothing but a pair of Lightning McQueen sunglasses. Luckily, I had my camera off at the time.) 

While trying to work remotely with a partner and, perhaps, children is a challenge, working remotely when you're by yourself must be an equally, albeit different, tough challenge. Some of my friends and colleagues live alone; some are lucky to have cats. But cats and house plants don't replace actual human interaction. So, while your children are busy wiping jam on your leg while you talk to your boss, spare a thought for colleagues and friends who wish there were someone around to rub jam on their legs.

By the way, you only need to seek the advice of a shrink if your house plants begin talking back. One way conversations are fine, though.

🚪 Serendipity

You've probably heard that there are fewer water cooler moments. This means less serendipity, less spontaneous chat, less light bulb "ah-ha!" moments. Sure, you can zoom someone without booking a meeting, and I've heard of some folks who have a live connection to someone else running continuously, so you're working with someone. Still, I've had many great one-off conversations and ideas that started with a chat in a hallway, or brief sit down over a coffee or lunch.

There are apps for that, of course, but nothing can replace the feeling of the spark when you connect with someone, generate an idea, a way forward, or a gossip.

🎉 Join the party

Humans are social animals. A workplace, for all its faults, is a social place. You might dislike Bob from sales, or struggle to find a parking spot, hate the commute or complain about the undrinkable coffee, but once you're at work, you're automatically part of a rich tapestry of social interaction that feeds some of your most human needs, whether you know it or not.

Also, I don't know about you, but going into the office often led to after-work drinks with colleagues, or ex-colleagues, or other friends groups. It's easier as everyone travelled from all over to work within the same few square miles, so meeting up was often more manageable.

In a remote-first (or only) world, these important social events are missing too.

🔍 Objectified

One of the benefits I often hear (and have espoused myself) about working remotely is that, with the right framework in place, it means you can be adequately measured and your performance judged appropriately. Something like Objectives and Key Results, for example, can help you (and your employees) know what is expected of them and how they can smash their targets.

However, judging someone's performance isn't just about whether or not they hit their targets. As a manager, you want a rounded view of someone - how do they interact with colleagues, you and clients? How do they go about getting work done? If you only ever see the outcome, how can you know the process?

On the flip side, how do you know you're doing the work the best, most efficient way if there's no one to say "Hey, bonehead, why are you doing it that way?"

🤔 What's the answer?

Right now, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. The world is still upside down. I think, though, the answer lies in flexibility. Giving employees the choice of where they work and when. Mandating anything, either remote or office work won't wash anymore.

I know that, in the future, I want a balance. Maybe two, or three days at work, but other days at home. This is the best of both worlds. Of course, if there's a particular reason I need to go in, client meeting, or similar, then I will.

Many years ago, I ran a ROWE trial at an SEM company I worked at. It went well (while I was there - once I left? Not so much :( ). One of the interesting things I discovered during this trial was that some people didn't want to work anywhere except in the office. Some lived with large families and couldn't get any work done; others lived by themselves and needed human interaction. 

Remote work doesn't work for some people.

And that's OK. We need to be flexible.

📪End Post

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Behavioural Interviews And The STAR Method

Interviewing candidates is hard - how do you know you're making the right decision? Behavioural questions are the best way to understand whether someone will shine at your company.

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Behavioural Interviews And The STAR Method

I don't know about you, but I've always had the best results when I use behavioural questions during an interview. There was a time, years ago, when it was all the rage to ask ridiculous questions such as:

  • How much does a Boeing 747 weigh?

  • Why are utility hole covers round?

  • If you had to choose between flight or invisibility, what superpower would you choose?

Not only are these annoying and pointless, but they also do not tell you whether the person sat in front of you is going to be any good at their job. After all, if they don't know how to weigh a Boeing 747, I'm sure they could learn and whether or not they could learn that is what you want to know.

What is a behavioural question?

Behavioural questions usually start with "Tell me about a time when ...". You're asking the candidate to describe something that happened and how they dealt with it. There's some decent science which says this kind of interview, done right, will give you the best results. But how can you, as an interview, ensure you're asking the right questions and getting the responses you need to make a decision?

Asking the right questions.

Some vanilla questions will work for almost every job:

  • Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision. How did that work out?

  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss, what did you do?

  • Tell me about a time something went very wrong, what did you do to recover?

On top of that, you may want to ask questions specific to your industry:

  • Retail: Tell me about a time you dealt with a demanding customer.

  • Tech: Tell me about a time you disagreed with the software architect, how did you approach this?

  • Engineering: Tell me about a time you found a problem with some plans. What did you do?

(Note: these questions might suck - make your own!)

The worst thing you can do (and, this has happened to me) is ask each question, write down the answer and ask the next question. The best interviews are conversations, so keep the conversation going with followup questions. If you can't think of any, use these:

  • "That's interesting, what did you do next?"

  • "What did she say?"

  • "How did that affect the x?"

  • "What would you have done differently if you had another opportunity?"

Prepping the candidate for the interview

You don't want to send the questions to the candidate before the interview - that's like sending them the answers to a test. You can let them know you'll be asking them questions about their previous experience and that, the best way to answer these questions is with the S.T.A.R method.

  • Situation: Tell us of a situation you were in, give us some context and some details.

  • Task: Describe what your contribution or responsibility was in this situation:

  • Action: Tell us what you did.

  • Result: Tell us how it worked out.

If they're a decent candidate, this will prompt them first to google what behavioural interview questions are and secondly, come up with a few past experiences to cover the common questions above.

Things to watch out for

Being in an interview where the candidate struggles to come up with any situations is awkward and unforgettable. Remember, not everyone will have dealt with a demanding customer or had a disagreement with their boss.

Have more questions ready to go than you've got time to ask, so there's a better chance of being able to fill the time with useful conversation.

You're also going to want to be on the lookout for, ahem, made-up stuff. Candidates will often think that a made-up or exaggerated answer is better than saying "That's never happened to me.". To be clear at the start, if they haven't experienced that kind of situation, it's fine to say so, we'll ask another question.

Conclusion

You probably shouldn't rely solely on behavioural interviews. You'll need to know whether your coder can code and your designer can design. The behavioural interview is there to help you understand _fit_. Yeah, I know, it's an amorphous and unquantifiable metric, but knowing how a candidate reacts in various situations will help you see whether they're right for you, which team they might go in and get a feel for those soft-skills you know they'll need.

From the channel

Some interesting things from the Slack group

End #post

Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received.

Remember, if there's something, in particular, you'd like to see in here, then let me know. I enjoyed putting together this issue, so any other topic you'd benefit from hearing about would be great.

Also, I enjoy getting the questions from you people-people as an occasional Q&A email, so if anything is chafing, or you need some advice, hit me up mike@hashtagpeople.co.uk.

In the meantime, tell your friends about the email and the slack channel: http://hashtagpeople.co.uk/.

How To Set Useful Goals That Actually Mean Something

#PP15 An example in OKRs

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OKRs - what are they?

Objectives and Key Results - they're a way to set measurable goals for your teams and your people. Google, Netflix and plenty of other big names use them. Andy Grove created them; you can see more about the origin here:

John Doerr of Google then brought the philosophy to Google in the late 90s and, after that, it took off as an alternative to top-down goal setting.

An example

Recently, I was invited to help turn a set of aspirational regional goals and a purpose into something that country-wide division could action.

The goals were very broad and didn't have any metrics assigned to them, typical corporate mumbo jumbo about increasing margin or being more diverse etc. They didn't resonate with most of the employees as they were too big and hand-wavey.

Someone asked, "How does this spreadsheet I'm wrangling with help me achieve that purpose?" It's true; often people cannot see how the daily work their doing is helping the company achieve its purpose.

That's where OKRs come in. They cascade.

Objectives

So, we started by turning the regional goals, purpose and mission into something t bit more actionable. For example, "Build a culture of wellbeing. Encourage development and growth." became "Make our division the place to be for the growth and wellbeing of our people."

We also converted the strategy statement into a rambling aspiration to an actionable strategy. "We are a great, connected team of smart, happy people delivering the best ideas for tomorrow … blah blah snore" became "Deliver ideas for tomorrow, boldly engage with our market, deliver profitable growth and celebrate our success." much snappier and actionable.

Once we'd massage the regional messages, we were then able to brainstorm the Objectives and Key Results. I invited a bunch of senior leaders to a workshop and, for each of the goals asked:

"What BHAI (big hairy audacious ideas) do we have for achieving these goals?"

There are some rules for coming up with these ideas;

  • No measurements - these objectives should be qualitative.

  • GO BIG - we want something aspirational.

  • No BAU - they shouldn't contain words like "maintain". They have to be about growth.

  • They should be exciting and memorable.

We then voted on the objectives, so we'd have a minimum of two.

This whole exercise was really hard. When the folks are used to the day-to-day putting out fires and managing by numbers, coming up with visions for the future is difficult.

Key Results

Once we had our objectives, we brainstormed again for key results. A key result is defined as "A quantitative, measurable outcome that describes the impact you'll have on your objective."

I found the best way to think of these was to imagine what the world would look like when you achieve your objectives. What kind of markers or results would you expect to have to say "Yes, we succeeded with that objective".

The other rule, as it's essential for measuring, is that it has to be on a scale. No binary measures, no yes/no answers.

  • Right: Shipping feature X will increase conversion from the shopping cart by 10%

  • Wrong: Ship feature X.

This means you can score your KR (key result) on a scale of 0 -1. In the above example, getting a 10% conversion increase should be considered a MONUMENTAL MAGNIFICIENT success. If it's easy to achieve, your KR is too easy. Getting a 7.5% conversion would be considered a good result. 5% an acceptable result. Each objective should have between three and five KRs. You can then roll them up to score the objectives.

Result

The outcome was a set of OKRs that the senior team knew spoke directly to the regional goals, purpose and strategy. They knew they would be able to translate these Objectives and measurable results into something their respective teams could get behind. Something that individual employees can link to their day-to-day work. This link provides a purpose, and we know what Dan Pink thinks about purpose.

Next, I intend to run similar sessions with each senior leader and the senior folks in their team to make some more specific OKRs that suit those particular teams. As I said, OKRs can cascade from the top to the very bottom; they even work for individual goals. When you go this far, they become super powerful. Each employee can step back from their work and say "It this thing I'm working on helping me achieve my OKRs?" and, if the answer is no, it's likely not helping the company achieve its purpose either.

Anyway, give them a try if you haven't got a framework in place, or you're not happy with the framework of your existing goals. You can start small, with a single team, or a division like I did and grow it from there. It'll take one or two quarters for it to bed in, but they're compelling ways of measuring progress towards aspirational goals.

Drop me a line if you'd like any help.

End #post

Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received. Remember, if there's something, in particular, you'd like to see in here, then let me know. I enjoyed putting together this issue, so any other topic you'd benefit from hearing about would be great.

Also, I enjoy getting the questions from you people-people as an irregular Q&A email, so if anything is chafing, or you need some advice, hit me up mike@hashtagpeople.co.uk

In the meantime, tell your friends about the email and the slack channel: http://hashtagpeople.co.uk/.

Do You Have A Human Instruction Manual?

#PP16: A README on engaging with, or being engaged by your staff.

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An Instruction Manual For Managers

I came across an article a while ago about a manager who had written a README for new staff. It was designed to help people engage with and understand them better. As a manager, you know your staff - mostly - from their CV and how they work, from one-to-ones and other forums, but do they really know you?

The manager README or user guide is document (could be a deck, or a word doc - anything really) which your staff can read to understand how to work with you.

It might contain the goals and metrics your measured by, whether you're a morning or evening person, some personal details, how you prefer to be contacted, when you'd like to have meetings and "what to do if..." playbooks for working with you.

There's even an app for that: https://managerreadme.com/

I think this is a great idea. It sets some ground rules and boundaries that both parties know to stick to. It also forces you, as a manager, to really consider your constraints, boundaries and ideal methods of engaging with and being engaged by your staff.

Here's a few examples from senior leaders in tech - you don't have to be a tech manager to take advantage of this idea though.

End #post

Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received - I love reading it. Send your feedback by replying to this email. Let me know if there's any topics you'd like covered in future emails.

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#PP15: Inclusion and Diversity

How diverse is your company? Oh, really? Great! What about your HR department?

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#BLM

As the volume of news about Black Lives Matter in the media, your Facebook feed and elsewhere quiets down, we can only hope that it’s the beginning of a more significant period of adjustment that allows for equity and justice for those who suffer at the hands of our bigoted systems. It’s depressing and frightening to think that, now the furore has died down, things might go back to the way they were, only slightly less bad. I hope this isn’t true.

I suspect that you’ve probably all done your own reading on and around the matter of racism in recent weeks, but one book that I suggest is How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s really helped me get my head around the deeply systemic and widespread racism that affects everyone from the moment they’re born. It’s not enough to be “Not Racist”, you need to be “Antiracist”.

I’d be interested to hear what books, articles, podcasts etc you’ve been consuming recently to help you get a better understanding of the situation. I also found this resource recently, it’s also excellent: http://yourblackfriendsarebusy.com

Issues on defunding the police aside, us people professionals are in one of the best positions to make a change in society. We have them means, motivation and authority to ensure that the companies we work for, or own, employ a more diverse workforce. I suspect that you’ve probably got diversity targets in place and that you’re measuring (where it’s legal and appropriate to) the number of diverse employees you have.

But let me ask you a simple question: How diverse is your HR department?

If you’ve not got a diverse set of employees actually in your HR department, recruiting, managing, supporting and promoting your diverse employees, how diverse and inclusive are you really?

If you’ve not got any black people working on your recruitment team, how will you know what it’s like, really, to be recruited as a black person? If you’ve not got any less-able-bodied employees on your HR team, how will you know whether your systems and process support the physically, mentally or emotionally less-able?

I’m sure you’ve got your books and metrics, but unless you’re walking the walk, I’m going to believe you’re not serious about diversity at your company.

It’s up to us, as people folk, to ensure we’re doing everything we can to change our companies and, eventually, our society, to be more inclusive. It starts with what you can control and that’s the makeup of our HR departments. Hire diverse employees into your people teams and let them help drive the systemic changes needed in most companies to ensure a more inclusive and diverse workforce.


End #post

Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received.

Remember, if there’s something in particular you’d like to see in here, then let me know. I enjoy getting the questions from you people-people as an irregular Q&A email, so if anything is chafing, or you need some advice, hit me up mike@hashtagpeople.co.uk

In the mean time, tell your friends about the email and the slack channel: http://hashtagpeople.co.uk/.

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