Here’s the thing: we need politics in the workplace. Politics—that is, the act of negotiating our relationships and obligations to each other—is critical to the work of building and sustaining democracy. And the workplace isn’t separate from democracy—it is democracy. It is as much a part of the democratic system as a neighborhood association or a town council, as a library or youth center or food bank. By the very nature of the outsized role that work plays in our lives, it’s where most of us have the potential to make the biggest impact on how we—and our families and communities—live. Workers across industries have organized to secure a legal minimum wage, won laws against unpaid overtime, established workplace safety guidelines, improved patient care standards at hospitals, kept school classrooms to a manageable size, ended private collaboration with the military and border control, worked to pass laws condemning gender and racial discrimination, and the list goes on. They’ve done this not only within their own workplaces, but for all of us.
Sabina Nawaz: Be More Realistic About the Time You Have (Harvard Business Review)
Five strategies to help you stop overloading your workday.
Francesca’s patterns of overcommitment revealed five elements of magical thinking about her time — traps that many of my clients fall into. We devised antidotes for each.
1. My heavy workload is just temporary.
2. The next time will be easier.
3. I will collect immediate rewards.
4. Others will follow my instructions.
5. Without me, this work will be poor quality.
Because if remote work gives us anything at all, it gives us the chance to root ourselves in a place that isn’t the workplace. It gives us the chance to really live in whatever place we have chosen to live—to live as neighbors and caretakers and organizers, to stop hoarding all of our creative and intellectual capacity for our employers and instead turn some of it towards building real political power in our communities.
A guide to maintaining good mental health for new remote workers.
With the spread of COVID-19, many tech companies are sending employees home to work remotely. As someone who has worked remotely for multiple companies, in different setups, I wanted to offer some assurances and tips for maintaining your mental health while adjusting to this new life.
Molly Young: Why do corporations speak the way they do? (Vulture)
The pernicious spread of corporatespeak, or garbage language, as Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley calls this kind of talk. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers.
In other words, to “parallel-path” is to do two things at once. That’s all. I thought there was something gorgeously and inadvertently candid about the phrase’s assumption that a person would ever not be doing more than one thing at a time in an office — its denial that the whole point of having an office job is to multitask ineffectively instead of single-tasking effectively. Why invent a term for what people were already forced to do? It was, in its fakery and puffery and lack of a reason to exist, the perfect corporate neologism.
But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.
Our attraction to certain words surely reflects an inner yearning. Computer metaphors appeal to us because they imply futurism and hyperefficiency, while the language of self-empowerment hides a deeper anxiety about our relationship to work — a sense that what we’re doing may actually be trivial, that the reward of “free” snacks for cultural fealty is not an exchange that benefits us, that none of this was worth going into student debt for, and that we could be fired instantly for complaining on Slack about it. When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem. Empowerment language is a self-marketing asset as much as anything else: a way of selling our jobs back to ourselves.
One reason for the uptick in garbage language is exactly this sense of nonstop supervision. Employers can read emails and track keystrokes and monitor locations and clock the amount of time their employees spend noodling on Twitter. In an environment of constant auditing, it’s safer to use words that signify nothing and can be stretched to mean anything, just in case you’re caught and required to defend yourself.
Usage peeves are always arbitrary and often depend as much on who is saying something as on what is being said. When Megan spoke about “business-critical asks” and “high-level integrated decks,” I heard “I am using meaningless words and forcing you to act like you understand them.” When an intern said the same thing, I heard someone heroically struggling to communicate in the local dialect. I hate certain words partly because of the people who use them; I can’t help but equate linguistic misdemeanors with crimes of the soul.
The meaningful threat of garbage language — the reason it is not just annoying but malevolent — is that it confirms delusion as an asset in the workplace.
Judith Shulevitz: Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore (The Atlantic)
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
When so many people have long or unreliable work hours, or worse, long and unreliable work hours, the effects ripple far and wide. Families pay the steepest price. Erratic hours can push parents—usually mothers—out of the labor force. A body of research suggests that children whose parents work odd or long hours are more likely to evince behavioral or cognitive problems, or be obese. Even parents who can afford nannies or extended day care are hard-pressed to provide thoughtful attention to their kids when work keeps them at their desks well past the dinner hour.
What makes the changing cadences of labor most nepreryvka-like, however, is that they divide us not just at the micro level, within families and friend groups, but at the macro level, as a polity. Staggered and marathon work hours arguably make the nation materially richer—economists debate the point—but they certainly deprive us of what the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described as a “cultural asset of importance”: an “atmosphere of entire community repose.”
Even if you aren’t asked to pull a weekend shift, work intrudes upon those once-sacred hours. The previous week’s unfinished business beckons when you open your laptop; urgent emails from a colleague await you in your inbox. A low-level sense of guilt attaches to those stretches of time not spent working.
Wall Street demands improved quarterly earnings and encourages the kind of short-term thinking that drives executives to cut their most expensive line item: labor. If we want to alter the cadences of collective time, we have to act collectively, an effort that is itself undermined by the American nepreryvka. A presidential-campaign field organizer in a caucus state told me she can’t get low-income workers to commit to coming to meetings or rallies, let alone a time-consuming caucus, because they don’t know their schedules in advance.
Reform is possible, however. In Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco, “predictive scheduling” laws (also called “fair workweek” laws) require employers to give employees adequate notice of their schedules and to pay employees a penalty if they don’t.
Then there’s “right to disconnect” legislation, which mandates that employers negotiate a specific period when workers don’t have to answer emails or texts off the clock. France and Italy have passed such laws.
It’s a cliché among political philosophers that if you want to create the conditions for tyranny, you sever the bonds of intimate relationships and local community. “Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She focused on the role of terror in breaking down social and family ties in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. But we don’t need a secret police to turn us into atomized, isolated souls. All it takes is for us to stand by while unbridled capitalism rips apart the temporal preserves that used to let us cultivate the seeds of civil society and nurture the sadly fragile shoots of affection, affinity, and solidarity.
Oliver Burkeman: This column will change your life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory (The Guardian)
There are two reasons this metaphor is so compelling – apart from the sheer fact that it's Finland-related, I mean. One is how vividly it illustrates a critical insight about persistence: that in the first weeks or years of any worthwhile project, feedback – whether from your own emotions, or from other people – isn't a reliable indication of how you're doing. (This shouldn't be confused with the dodgy dictum that triggering hostile reactions means you must be doing the right thing; it just doesn't prove you're doing the wrong one.) The second point concerns the perils of a world that fetishises originality. A hundred self-help books urge you to have the guts to be "different": the kid who drops out of university to launch a crazy-sounding startup becomes a cultural hero… yet the Helsinki theory suggests that if you pursue originality too vigorously, you'll never reach it. Sometimes it takes more guts to keep trudging down a pre-trodden path, to the originality beyond. "Stay on the fucking bus": there are worse fridge-magnet slogans to live by.
Heidi Grant: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To (Harvard Business Review)
This article offers three reasons and three solutions: “thinking about the consequences of failure, ignoring your feelings, and engaging in detailed planning.” Summarized in edited excerpts here:
Reason: You are putting something off because you are afraid you will screw it up.
Solution: Adopt a “prevention focus.” Instead of thinking about how you can end up better off, you see the task as a way to hang on to what you’ve already got—to avoid loss.
Reason: You are putting something off because you don’t “feel” like doing it.
Solution: Ignore your feelings. They’re getting in your way. If you are sitting there, putting something off because you don’t feel like it, remember that you don’t actually need to feel like it. There is nothing stopping you.
Reason: You are putting something off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.
Solution: Use if-then planning. Making an if-then plan is more than just deciding what specific steps you need to take to complete a project – it’s also deciding where and when you will take them. By deciding in advance exactly what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, there’s no deliberating when the time comes. It’s when we deliberate that willpower becomes necessary to make the tough choice. But if-then plans dramatically reduce the demands placed on your willpower, by ensuring that you’ve made the right decision way ahead of the critical moment. In fact, if-then planning has been shown in over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average.
Jeremy Gordon: A Completely Subjective Do’s and Don'ts Guide to Freelancing
This is from a freelancer writer, not a web developer, but most of the principles still apply.
• DO: Wake up early
• DO: Cultivate multiple interests so you are widely hirable
• DO: Build a good network of friends doing the same thing as you
• DO: Read the comments and grow a thick skin (I don't know about this one…)
• DO: Respect your editor
• DO: Stand up for yourself; the people who hire you are not right by default
• DO: Ask for your money
• DO: Buy business cards
• DO: Be positive and supportive
• DON'T: Push yourself to do too much or something you're not ready for
• DON'T: Read the comments (enough to build confidence, then never again)
• DON'T: Pitch stories to your friends who are editors, it'll make it weird
• DON'T: Be jealous
Adam Coti: Twenty Years as a Freelance Web Developer: Wisdom Gained and Lessons Learned (CSS-Tricks)
• Be reliable
• Communicate when things are going wrong
• Be ‘a generalist who specializes’
• Don’t diversify—you can't handle that much work at once
• Build a network from home: talk yourself up, have a website, use LinkedIn
• Don’t be afraid to ask for a lot of money and negotiate down from there
• Save *at least* six months of reserve funds
• Take breaks and leave the house
• Create projects that are rewarding and challenging to teach yourself things and stay motivated
Leah Fessler: Three words make brainstorming sessions at Google, Facebook, and IDEO more productive (Quartz)
While the phrase “How might we” seems pretty basic, each word is intended to serve a specific purpose. “How” asks employees to be descriptive, “might” suggests there are good answers, but not a single correct answer, and “we” evokes inclusivity and teamwork.
Asking “How would we do this” or “How do we do this” can give employees performance anxiety, she says: People may stay silent for fear of giving half-baked or incorrect answers.
By contrast, “the beauty of the phrase ‘How might we do this’ is that it eliminates fear, stress, and anxiety by supportively implying that there may be more than one solution, and that nothing more is needed at the moment than ideas,” says Greaves. “This is the language that primes our mind for having fun exploring, and pushing beyond what’s already known.”
Kara Sowles: Alcohol and Inclusivity: Planning Tech Events with Non-Alcoholic Options (Model View Culture)
How can we, as individuals and as an industry, do a better job of supporting, including and welcoming people who choose not to drink at our events? As a Community Manager in the tech world, I regularly navigate conferences and parties searching for something delicious and non-alcoholic to drink. Including non-alcoholic options is about much more than “hey, we had Coke available!” Here are five guidelines that help balance alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at events, make events more inclusive, and enable attendees to better choose for themselves what they’d prefer to be drinking.
Leigh Cuen: ConsenSys-Backed Civil Tries Again on Newsroom Token Launch (Coindesk)
The ConsenSys-backed ethereum startup Civil is launching its CVL token today to kickstart an ambitious journalism project.
I got quoted in this:
Popula’s freelance designer, Matt McVickar, told CoinDesk the crypto tips feature was still under development and is “certainly not ready for wider adoption yet.”
This is real. The living, breathing bodies in this room are real. I am not an avatar, a set of preferences, or some smooth cognitive force. I’m lumpy, I’m an animal, I hurt sometimes, and I’m different one day to the next. I hear, I see, and I smell things that hear, see, and smell me. And it can take a break to remember that, a break to do nothing, to listen, to remember what we are and where we are.
Katy DeCorah: What I learned after working remotely for 2 years
I have entered my terrific twos of working remotely. Working from yoga pants. Working from couch. Working from over the sink as I eat leftovers. The glamour. The rolling out of bed. The “I’m going to wake up early and walk, lol jk.”
Though many black folks joke about it, there is no such thing as “calling in black.” To call in black would be a radical act of self care, were it available to most black people. On the day after we have watched yet another black body be destroyed by modern day slave patrols, it would be helpful for us to be able to take a day away to process. To grieve. To hurt. To be angry. To try to once again come to grips with the fact that many people in this country, especially those in power, consider us disposable at best.
Joe Keohane: In Praise of Meaningless Work (The New Republic)
Yes, we should all hope—demand, even—that the workplace of the future will be governed more by respect and sensitivity than cupidity and the Peter Principle. But until that day comes, we should embrace not the meaningfulness of work, but its meaninglessness. The cold, unromantic transaction. The part that keeps food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. The part that, theoretically, gives us our nights and weekends. Let’s demand that recompense, first and foremost, and deal with the rest later. With unemployment falling to pre-recession levels, employees are hopefully gaining the leverage to say enough. The prayer is that the line will be drawn, and managers will then see that the way forward is actually very simple: Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home.
Miya Tokumitsu: In the Name of Love (Jacobin Magazine)
Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?
Derek Thompson: How Did Work-Life Balance in the U.S. Get So Awful? (The Atlantic)
The surprising fact is that American leisure time has actually been increasing for most families for decades, and American men work less today, and have more down time, than ever recorded. Even if you consider that to be bad news (and many do), less work should improve just about any definition of work-life balance. Still, the most important reason why we rank barely above Mexico is the increase in single mothers who, in the U.S., face an extraordinary burden relative to their overseas counterparts.