Designing the Future of Work

Archive for the ‘Freelance Economy’ Category

The C in Co-Working Space Also Stands for Community

wordgram-of-coworkWhen I first arrived in town I used Meetup to find people who shared common interest. That led me straight to Locus Co-working space. Once in the door, I quickly connected with both the startup community and the writing community, common members of co-working spaces. It has been almost three years now and although I never signed up to co-work at Locus, I realized that I spent time in one of the two spaces at least once a week.

When my new job took me away from Prague for months, my homecoming included reconnecting with my friends at Locus. I write every Saturday with a dedicated group, committed to various forms of media that involve the written word. We have bloggers, and novelists, and game script writers, and PhD students writing a thesis. We come from different countries, different generations, different genders. Our bond is a long-term fascination with words on a page.

It was through Locus that I joined my E-publishing Mastermind group that has single-handedly taken me from talking smack to preparing to upload my first ebook, Two Broke Chicas, a Travel Series, December 26th, just in time for people to use their Christmas gift cards and make their New Year’s Resolution to travel more. Mentor members, like successful sci-fi writer, Bill King, have made my dreams come true.

While plopped on a big fluffy couch to wait for the group to start, I realized how important Locus was to my social life, and sense of being, in Prague. What my virtual membership gave me access to, besides one day a month and access to my e-Publishing Mastermind group, was a community. A place I could belong with people who shared my passion for a flexible work life.

Community = Thrive

Just like we need a Tribe, we need a community. Research found that people who belong to a co-working space report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices. Read more: Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces

infographic-co-work

Grind, is a growing network of coworking spaces in New York and Chicago. Community manager, Anthony Marinos, shared, “When it comes to cultivating our community at Grind, we’re all about the human element. We consider ourselves as much a hospitality company as we do a workspace provider. Our staff knows all of our members by name and profession, and we’re constantly facilitating introductions between Grindists.”

Research in Forbes magazine showed that entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks grow their businesses bigger. Co-working spaces can be a place for women, known for being great communicators and collaborators, who don’t excel at building power networks can find a safe space to start. (Women tend to build deep and narrow networks women-networkwhile men wide and shallow ones.) I’ve added several women to my network from Locus, and started an informal dinner group to encourage young professional women to support each other, over a glass of wine.

Building Intentional Communities

Some experts believe that co-working space should be built more like intentional communities. Example, Brooklyn’s Friends Work Here. Founded by NYC-based Swiss-born designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth-Eisenberg, who’s also behind the international lecture series CreativeMornings (which happens monthly in Prague, but mostly in Czech) and Tattly. The space came as a response to Roth-Eisenberg’s negative experiences in “soulless” coworking places that are more focused on making money than cultivating inspiration among its members.

A Wealth of Human Resources

Locus is how I found my brief dog-sitting gig. I enjoyed several days of pretending to own a dog, forced to take several walks every day, which did wonders for my mental health. I’ve enjoyed people passing through town and people here for the duration, like my friend Sarah who first came when it was Czechslovakia, and still communist. She is at heart a historian, writes historical fiction, and loves talking about the history of this country she calls home, as a well-informed outsider.

It was hysterical and inspiring to sit in on Texas Holdem’ Poker night, where people from around the world turned into ruthless gamblers who might gut you for a pair of Ace. It was motivational to listen to Regina and Mike talk about becoming Courageously Free, and through that relationship I was interviewed for their podcast – which should be out just in time for my book launch.

There were people at Locus doing, looking for, thinking about the exact same things as I was. We all wanted to marry our fascination with social media and our passion for words. I could pick the brains of people who, like me, were inspired by Prague, determined to make their literary dreams come true. We figured out all kinds of ways to make money with words. My critique and Saturday writing buddy, Beth Green, will fix your words for a fee. Which still leaves her time to search for an agent for her first novel, represent on Booklust and @bethverde, and be a Wanderlust columnist at thedisplacednation.com.

My writing group has sustained me, in ways both creatively and emotionally, over noodles and pivo at the Vietnamese restaurant down the street from Locus. We’ve discussed our lives and our loves, U.S. and European politics and the meaning of feminism.

We’ve shared critique groups and book front-cover
launches, like Sonya’s soiree for Under a Caged Sky, held at Locus Slezka, where we toasted with glasses of wine under the skylight, with Prague as the backdrop.

 

Staying Engaged

partyOnce I’d had that moment of realization, that my co-working space was my community, I started to look around for other ways to participate. Engaged in the social media connection and found easy, fun ways to stay involved. I am looking forward to the Christmas Party catered by Ethnocatering, a social enterprise of migrant women that serves authentic food from Georgia, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Armenian. You can’t find this deliciousness in restaurants. I know, I said it, that bad M word. Well, I must own it because here in Prague, I’m a migrant. A tax paying, law abiding expat seeking shelter and new beginnings.

I know I’m not alone in this revelation and would love you to share your experience of finding community in co-working spaces. Tell us your story in the comment section here at the Global Mobile Worker Project.

Global Mobile Workers in Color

faces of colorThe internet promised many things upon is inception. To democratize knowledge by sending information to the farthest cornors of the earth, to shed light on the evils and corruption of governments, and to break down the barriers of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. You could chat with people all over the world and they wouldn’t know your gender, your age, your race, whether you were fat or thin, tall or short. It was a golden era.

One would like to believe that for freelancers it still exists. Clients on Upwork, Guru, 99Designs  and Freelancer.com are making their decisions based on a robust description of skills and past accomplishments. Certainly, their choices are based on rational facts, relevant statistics, valid assessments. Well, maybe not.

As the sharing economy evolved there was a drive to create a sense of instant trust. It led to the decline in online anonymity, which has introduced its own problems.

You’ll buy from an unknown retailer on Amazon because you can see the seller’s rating. On Amazon there are no photos, just facts. But, when you get to sites like Uber and Airbnb trust is created because you know up front the driver’s name and license plate, or you’ll rent someone’s private home because the host has a public identity, a woman in Los Angeles who loves to eat at the Jewish deli two blocks away. She looks perfectly nice in her profile photo.

We digital nomads of color face a different world when we travel the globe. Recent disclosures about bias on Airbnb reminded me that the world is far from fair and impartial. The bias that is attached to a face and a name can impact where a digital nomad can stay, and most importantly, opportunities for freelance work.

Airbnb While Black Podcast
Click here for a Transcript of airbnbwhileblack – How hidden bias shapes the sharing economy

In #AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes The Sharing Economy, the experiment run by researchers Michael Luca and his colleagues Benjamin Edelman and Dan Svirsky at Harvard Business School was explored. They sent out 6,400 requests to real AirBnb hosts in five major American cities—Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington.

All the requests were exactly the same except for the names they gave their make-believe travelers. Some had African American-sounding names like Jamal or Tanisha and others had stereotypically white-sounding names like Meredith or Todd.

Hosts were less likely to accept guests with African American sounding names. Researchers found discrimination across the board: among cheap listings and expensive listings, in diverse neighborhoods and homogenous neighborhoods, and with new hosts as well as experienced hosts. They also found that black hosts were also less likely to accept requests from guests with African American-sounding names than with white-sounding ones.

The findings are in line with the degree of racial discrimination found in other studies about who gets taxi tips or job call-backs or good rates on classified ads. Similar results have turned up on eBay. Black Americans even have trouble getting email responses from government officials.

Names - CopyThe Airbnb experiment was modeled off a well-known study that found racial discrimination in the job market when they sent out resumés with black- and white-sounding names. The Airbnb study even used the same names: Tamika vs. Laurie, Darnell vs. Brad and more.

My partner and I noticed it immediately when we started using Airbnb with my profile. We changed to using her, she is White, and got much better results, internationally.

This unconscious discrimination isn’t harmless for either party. The researchers found that the discrimination was costly for hosts, a lesson that extends beyond Airbnb. Hosts who rejected a Black guest often never found a replacement customer for those same dates. As a result, the researchers calculated that individual instances of discrimination translated to forgoing about $65-$100 in revenue. Washington Post

To See the Full Report

What is Unconscious Bias?

It’s natural. It’s unintended. It can affect decisions. It can be mitigated.

Unconscious bias occurs when people favour others who look like them and/or share their values. For example, a person may be drawn to someone with a similar educational background, from the same area, or who is the same colour or ethnicity as them.

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offered a helpful description.

A manager who wasn’t successful at school may listen to, or be supportive of, an employee who left school without qualifications because, subconsciously, they are reminded of their younger self. The same can be true of a manager who is educated to degree level, favouring employees who have also been to university. This is known as affinity bias, because they feel an affinity with the person as they have similar life experiences.

And then there is the halo effect. This is where a positive trait is transferred onto a person without anything really being known about that person. For example, those who dress conservatively are often seen as more capable in an office environment, based purely on their attire. People notice behavior that reinforces the bias and ignore behavior that does not.

The story most commonly shared to explain the impact of unconscious bias is the transformation of symphony orchestras. Some brilliant artist suddenly realized men were being favored over women, and that perhaps the best musicians were not on the stage. The leading symphony orchestras started auditioning musicians behind a screen. A simple curtain doubled the talent pool and transformed what orchestras look like, says Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist and professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Dear Clients – What about Steve Jobs?

An example of how this works in the work world is highlighted by a study from the job site Indeed, which discovered that bosses who attended a top-ranked college preferred to hire employees who also graduated from a prestigious institution. Specifically, 37 percent of managers who said they went to a top school said they like to hire candidates from highly regarded universities. That compares to just 6 percent of managers who didn’t attend a top school.

On the flip side, 41 percent of managers who didn’t graduate from a top-ranked college said they consider candidates’ experience more important when making hiring decisions. Just 11 percent of managers who did attend a prestigious school said the same.

Despite their desire to bring in employees from highly regarded schools, most managers agree that going to a highly rated school doesn’t translate into being a top performer. Just 35 percent of all of the bosses surveyed said top performers generally come from top schools. Instead, the managers surveyed said the ability to work well with others, strategic thinking, and self-direction are much more indicative of high performance.

Here unconscious bias works against the interest of the client or employer.

What’s a Freelancer to Do?

One step some companies are taking when hiring? Stripping resumes of names and other identifying information and assigning numbers. So perhaps that is something that freelancer websites should explore. Perhaps it should be standard to select an avatar that reflects how we view ourselves and have a name like Upwork Rising Star #106.

How Does Race and Ethnicity Affect Digital Nomads?

Being different in a small pond - CopyAs I sit in the middle of Europe amid the emotionally inflamed dialog about immigration, being other and different in a new country resonates. When travel is part of your life, and sometimes part of your job, how does one cope?

While listening to a podcast about the current state of Venezuela I was confronted with my own unconscious bias. The host introduced her guest “back with Nicholas Casey, The New York Times Andes bureau chief, who’s based in Caracas, Venezuela and covers the region. He previously worked at The Wall Street Journal. He led the paper’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reported on the Arab Spring. He was also based in Mexico City for five years.”

And then the host asked:

I’m wondering if, in covering Latin American countries, as an African-American, if you’ve faced any kind of racism. Race is different in Latin America than it is in the United States. Are there any stereotypes that you have to confront? And how do racial issues compare, in the countries you’ve been in there, to the United States?

Casey was African American!

And, he had quite a bit to share on the topic, which I suggest you hear straight from him. Nicholas Casey Fresh Air Podcast

Check out other opinions at NOTES ON CASUAL RACISM IN TRAVEL, ASIAN HERITAGE MONTH, & THE IMPORTANCE OF CELEBRATING/UNDERSTANDING OUR DIFFERENCES and SHOULD YOUR ETHNICITY IMPACT TRAVEL DESTINATIONS?

So Now That You Know What Are You Going To Do About It?

Change begins by just being aware that we have unconscious bias, because we all do. Focus on the positive behavior of people and not negative stereotypes. If you are an Airbnb host read the person’s review, and try to get past the name and the photo and the unconscious images that creates for you.

Another useful exercise is to imagine a positive contact with the group toward whom you may have a bias. Research has shown that simply visualizing a particular situation can create the same behavioral and psychological effects as actually experiencing it. For example, in tests, individuals who imagined a strong woman later showed less gender stereotyping than people who had imagined a vacation.

If you are an Airbnb user try  a browser plugin called Debias Yourself that Airbnb users can install in Chrome to scrape names and photos off of the home-rental site. (“That isn’t quite what Airbnb intended,” the researchers explain of their plugin, “but it’s your computer, and it’s your right to configure it as you see fit.”)

Google has committed to tackle this problem in their own workforce and shares the unconscious bias training they have developed online. It’s free, it’s painless, why not try it.

Rework with Google – Unbiasing

Google Bias Training on YouTube

If you want to test your on implicit bias, go straight to Project Implicit. Again it’s free; maybe not painless. Be Brave!

For realistic picture of what it means to Black in America, only one of the places I’ve experienced being Black, and after three years of international travel, by far the worst, take a look at When Whites Just Don’t Get It.

Fun fact discovered in my research. According to the U.S. census 90 percent of people with the last name Washington are black and 75 percent of those named Jefferson are black. Are founding fathers really got busy on their slave plantations.washington and jefferson

THE WILD WILD WEST OF FREELANCE JOB SITES

Wild-Wild-West-Logo-Web

The world of virtual work has exploded with more and more talent committed to work from anywhere. Last fall LinkedIn announced the launch of a pilot program called ProFinder, which connects companies to talented freelancers. Although ProFinder is currently only open to Bay Area professionals in accounting, graphic design, and writing and editing, the program is expected to grow and succeed because of LinkedIn’s massive membership.

But the social network has its work cut out for it — with sites like Upwork and Freelancer leading the way over the past decade, LinkedIn may be too late to the freelance marketplace game.

For freelancers, the plethora of freelance job sites has many of us dazed and confused about the best options. There are several factors to consider:

  1. How much of my hard earn money will the site take as a service fee and are there other hidden fees that will shrink my dollar,
  2. Does the site require the buyer to put the project money in escrow or have some other way to ensure I will get paid for the work,
  3. What is the quality of projects on the website, and
  4. Will I be competing with a global marketplace of freelance talent that drives down what I can earn.

I am inspired to talk about this topic after being seduced by Outsource.com to complete a profile. During my daily walk through the web they came to my attention and the job offers looked mighty good. It wasn’t until after I had completed the process that I realized Outsource expected me to pay for the privilege of competing for a job. Big Opps. Now I had to figure out was it worth it.

UpworkThere is very little information out there for freelancers about the value of using any particular site, and there are pros and cons to all of them. While a global marketplace for jobs is a plus it also means you compete with talent that is willing to work dirt cheap.

The global competition pushes job pricing way below market value. There have been web coding offers for $1 to $2 an hour.

I focused on the best websites to find freelance jobs for a broad category of work. There are sites like Toptal, which if you pass their rigorous prescreening process, promise cream of the crop opportunities with clients like Art.sy, J.P. Morgan, and Airbnb, but the site is limited to web developers and designers.

Here is what I found out about the “top” sites for freelancers.

Upwork

The leader on the job boards, freelance marketplace giants Elance and oDesk merged into a single company that recently changed its name to Upwork. They revamped their platform to serve more than 10 million freelancers. Upwork offers a wide range of job categories from web and mobile development, writing, sales and marketing, design, management consulting and legal projects. Upwork aims to make the entire process as frictionless as possible, offers payment protection, and a software application for hourly projects that takes screenshots of your work to satisfy clients that you weren’t just fooling around on Facebook.

Upwork now even offers freelancers access to affordable health insurance and other employment benefits. Plans start at $105/month and can include benefits like 401(k), dental coverage, and W-2 tax filing. Upwork, like all of the sites, handles the money transfer, which is a huge value add when you and the client are in different countries.

Upwork charges 10% of freelancer’s payment instead of an upfront payment for freelancers. Companies pay nothing. The disadvantage is that anyone can and will post jobs and quality of the postings isn’t the best. Upwork does provide you with some historical data about companies, but it’s a freelancer beware environment.

Freelancer

The “world’s largest outsourcing marketplace” boasts over 10 million registered users and $1.3 billion in projects posted. Freelancers have several options for work, including project-based jobs, hourly work and contests. Freelancer competitions allow you to compete with other freelancers to earn engagements and create a winning brand. With millions of projects posted, a contest win is a way to get your name out there as a top freelancer to attract more clients. While all of the job sites send you postings that match your specific skill sets once you create a profile, Freelancers seems to offer better fits for me as a writer. Freelancer only charges the employer 3%, which means there is a low quality bar for projects, and charges freelancers 10% of money earned through the site.

Fiverr

A little different from your average freelance job-listing website, instead of having companies post their projects so freelancers can apply, this site has freelancers create “gigs” based on what they’re best at. That way, freelancers sell their services to the companies that find them. You can categorize your gig by keyword so it shows up in multiple searches. Given the name, buyers come here looking for talent at a bargain. However, you can build up a reputation and make a living through repeat business.

SpareHire

Branded as an elite online work marketplace that enables organizations to find and engage top-tier finance and consulting professionals for project-based work, SpareHire offers top talent without the high cost of an expensive firm or hiring a professional on a full-time basis. They claim to have former McKinsey and Deloitte consultants in their stable of freelancers. Although, I met the requirement of two years of consulting experience I never heard back from them. Even after two emails to confirm their process.

Peopleperhour

A “purpose-driven business that desires to help people start and build their own businesses and live their dream of being independent.” They have over 600,000 jobs posted and over 150,000 satisfied buyers in over 226 countries.

The site has received a number of recent very bad reviews that claim freelancers have not received their funds and the escrow process has not been fairly followed. I signed up for the site and found it very interesting that at no point did they advise about the fee arrangement, be or that I would have to pay to bid for jobs. After digging through the site I learned that I am given 15 free proposals and must pay for any more, and the fee for using the site is 15% (excl. VAT) on the first £175 (or €210 or $280 USD) earned in the month and 3.5% (excl. VAT) on all work earned after that in the month.

See additional reviews at Comparakeet.com Best freelance websites- people-per-hour-review

WorkMarket

The site is designed to help businesses easily manage an independent workforce. In addition to talent found on the site, companies can bring their own independent contractor workforce into a private talent pools. Companies can build custom, on-demand talent pools based on skills, location or certifications. They make it easy for talent to join the site with an offer to import your LinkedIn profile (it didn’t work when I tried it).

Freelancers, independent contractors and consultants use WorkMarket at no cost. They can receive work and get compensated without paying anything. Companies pay a subscription fee, so they have to be serious about using the site as a source of talent.

Guru

The granddaddy of freelancer websites, claims a global pool of over 1.5 million freelancers, also known as “Gurus,” ready to help businesses with technical, creative or business projects. Guru offers a payment protection guarantee. Meaning businesses pay Guru and Guru disperses the finances to the respective Gurus. Funds can be sent by Guru through PayPal, credit card, e-check, or wire transfer. In addition to handling the 1099 filings and foreign exchange translations, Guru has created “loyalty dollars” which help businesses collect up to 2% cash back when paying with check, e-check, or wire transfer. Guru offers over 220 categories and easy steps for finding and hiring the perfect freelancer.

FlexJobs

The site requires you to sign up and pay a monthly fee. My assessment ended there.

FlexjobsOutsource.com

Something that is both a pro and a con is the relatively small amount of users. The hefty membership fees ensure that only those that are very serious will apply to jobs. Thus, clients receive fewer—but higher quality—applications. Clients don’t have to comb through hundreds of poorly matched proposals and if your quote is not read in 5 days, Outsource will refund the credits back to your account. The 70,000 current registered users are dwarfed by powerhouses like Upwork.com. I had to question an investment in a brand new site.

Outsource guarantees that if you’re not hired within 6 months, you can have another 6 months of membership for free.

One reviewer of Outsource.com reminded me of something I hadn’t considered, surprising for a reformed lawyer, the blanket statement regarding IP rights assignments. For those offering design services this can be important.

See More Reviews of Freelancer Websites

Check out this Top Ten List for Other Options or this discussion on Quora

 

 

I Speak Technology

 

I speak technology

Pressure to Learn the Language

When you actually settle in a place there is a subtle pressure that builds month by month to speak the native language of the country. Speaking Czech is practically a political issue in a country whose language has as interesting a history as the country itself. The comment I often hear from Czechs, “why would you want to learn a language that only 10.5 million people speak,” could be said by someone from pretty much every country in Europe and Asia. To be fair, knowing only one language is unheard of here. Czech and English are just the beginning, and at least the minimum. Or it’s Czech and German, Russian, French or Polish. A little Dutch and Hungarian.

Speak a Universal Language

So while I sit in three hours of Czech classes each week, my head spinning at the challenge, I hope to bridge the gap with my shared language, technology. I have loved technology since I was young, although never encouraged as a girl, in college I cheerfully carried my punch cards to the data center, yes it was Cobalt and we had to code on punch cards. Although I headed in another career direction, law, I took my love of technology with me and knew every software program any of my law firms used, was a Palm Pilot early adopter, joined a startup on a wild ride (unfortunately months before the first dot com bust), and blog about technology here.  I speak technology, and that may be the most important language on the planet.

The New Digital Divide

Defin Technology GapWhile most see the digital divide as a generational issue, it’s not. It’s a mindset, a value statement. I had lunch with a smart guy who told me how he makes a living at online education. Spends hours of his day at a computer, yet draws the line at a smart phone. He proudly tapped his indestructible long past warranty Nokia on the table. It’s true, they used to make damn good phones that we were seduced away from with pretty icons and the promise of continual connectivity.

I encounter people of all ages on one side or the other of technology. Everyone has their boundaries. As more and more of the world becomes the Internet of Things I have to wonder what will happen to these people. His resistance futile or am I the fool.

Read this hysterical interpretation of the digital age gap – I am guilty of none of these things and my daughter better shut up.

A World Without Technology

RevolutionEven in the apocalyptic worlds without digital technology depicted in films and television, like the U.S. TV series Revolution, humanity seems to find a way to gather together enough technology to blow each other up. Hell, fire is technology, especially in the wilderness.

Yet, technology has been a game changer for poor countries and disempowered people. The Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, the first woman ordained in the Southern Congo Conference, understands the power of technology.

“My cousin, a villager in Congo, cannot even write, cannot even read, but she has a cell phone,” she said. “That is powerful.”

At Game Changers Summit, a conference on using information and communications technology for development, Revi Stering,  whose work with NetHope centers on gender inequity in technology, reminded us that technology is considered so empowering there are examples of villages barring women from using phones or punishing them for using them too much.

“Women have been killed for using technology.”

I worry for the citizens distanced from technology, which has opened up so many opportunities for developing countries and individual enterprise. Only an apocalyptic event will stop the bullet train of progress, and what happens to those who don’t get on?

One of two startling projections in the World Bank’s “World Development Report,” released last week:

The probability of certain jobs’ nullification-via-technology is extremely high. Most likely to be affected, according to the report: agricultural jobs, clerical jobs, and service industry jobs.

US Tech Job Growth

The Technology Gap will Become a Canyon

Is Technology the Answer to the Technology Gap?

The U.S. is, by design or sheer bad management, not prepared to supply the talent of the future.

US High School Computer Science

Not only is the U.S. not skilling up the next generation of workers, there is a wave of former middle class Boomers, who lost industrial jobs and don’t have the technology skills to get back into today’s market. If the issue is ignored, it will create a permanent underclass at two ends of the population.

Here in the Czech Republic there is a generation of women whose transition from a communist economy did not include an upgrade of their technology skills. These women, in their fifties or older, find it difficult to sustain employment in this highly transitional economy. There are limited resources to address their technology skills. Organizations like Czechitas work to find ways to support women in this demographic.

The World Economic Forum thinks that technology is the solution and highlighted the companies that are filling in the grid.

World Forum Online Ed

At the ‘Summer Davos’ World Economic Forum last year in China, the “employment and skills: discussion confirmed language as the largest barrier to online learning for the majority of the world’s population.  The group discussed the opportunity to leverage technology to create a universal language that could break down the linguistic communication gap. Top Seven Gaps in Education and Learning that Need to be Addressed over the Next Decade

YouTube ButtonLearning online doesn’t have to be fancy. I am a huge fan of the University of YouTube. Whenever I need to learn a new tip or trick, optimize my phone, or learn how to draw a box (for my book cover), you can find it on YouTube. I even set up a training program on Word and Excel on YouTube for my technically challenged partner.

 

So, to the technically challenged, or to those who struggle to  learn another language, hop online and learn how to speak technology.

WebSummit 2015 had an entire track on education online. My lunch companion  is staking his economic future on the industry. It’s worth a look from both sides of the equation, teacher and student. Next week – ONLINE EDUCATION – WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME.

 

 

 

Can I Get Some Collaboration Up in Here?

Collaboration in the Cloud is What It’s All About

The second most important word in corporate culture – Collaboration – gets its power from it’s role in the most important word – Innovation. Hard enough to accomplish with everyone in the same place, it can overwhelm companies who need to make it happen across the globe. Collaboration geniuses like Steve Jobs couldn’t even grasp the possibility. He built his concept of collaboration on people bumping into each other on the way to the bathroom, then designed an entire building around it.

The reality lost on Jobs and hundreds of other tech leaders is that even if you hire people from all over the world, once you put them together in one place you lose the perspective they could bring to a business challenge if they lived in another country. Companies large and small search for the Holy Grail, the collaboration tool that will make their teams productive, efficient and happy.

As workers try to balance work and family, who can now text you their urgent needs while you are in a meeting, even teams in the same town need help. The need to work from anywhere has intensified.

Things Have Changed Since I Started This Journey

When I first started my global mobile journey my technology challenged team had finally begun to feel comfortable with ÜberConference.   We used the call record feature to start meetings on time and hold late joiners accountable to listen to what they missed later. Poor call quality on cellphones ended the relationship, and the lack of interactive screensharing (which they have since address). Back then (only 2013) I was an early Cloud adopter. Now the whole world has joined me in the clouds. See How Can I Call You In The Virtual World?

Too Many to Choose From

What hasn’t changed is the overwhelming number of companies in the space. No two best of reviews list the same ten companies, or five.

It’s a tough job and one I tackled recently with Prague based art and finance startup ARTSTAQ. Team members, including the CVO and CEO, were either heavy on tech skills or heavy on art or finance industry knowledge. All sides needed to understand the other ‘s work, and quickly. Only the tech guys had run virtual teams, and the level of comfort with technology varied widely.

What My Experience Taught Me

I added three new apps to my experience databank with the Czech-based startup team, Trello, Podio, InVision, and took my Dropbox and Google Drive skills to the next level. I learned a great deal about how teams adopt technology – the biggest risk with a collaboration tool.

Trello Tragedy

TrelloWe started with Trello, which I had used successfully with another team. It was a disaster. The CEO struggled to translate his GANTT chart into an action focused structure.  Even our small team of ten people didn’t find it useful to keep track progress or communicate quickly. The problem, of course, wasn’t Trello. The problem was not being able to translate the project architecture of the startup to Trello.

So, I was sent in search of something better.

Podio Disaster

PodioI did an exhaustive search for a product management tool. We also needed a CRM, and would eventually need a knowledge management tool. Oh, and because we were pre-funded it had to be free.

I made a presentation to the team where everyone agreed that technically Podio was the best product to address both our product design and CRM needs, and I got a Startup deal from Podio that allowed us to add the entire team as users. The launch fell flat.

At the same time the tech team introduced SLACK, a crowd favorite. Nobody wanted to put the time into Podio setup, shared Podio how-to-videos, pleaded with the team. It just wasn’t intuitive. I spent hours learning the product.  Out of frustration I had to create the project architecture for the data, web and business development teams to hand over a turnkey Podio platform. That increased the group adoption rate by one, me. When I left, CRM was still done on excel spreadsheets.

The SLACK Success Story

SlackOn the other hand, Slack was a huge success. Practically idiot proof, people enjoyed real-time communication and moved projects forward faster. We used the random channel to share silly jokes. SLACK was really a bonding experience, with the less technically savvy excited and confident to use the app. But, without a real organizational tool our weekly team meetings suggested we could move faster with more coordination. The team felt a little lost and overwhelmed in face to face meetings. The experience highlighted for me the challenge of collaboration, even when people work in the same town.

SLACK is not really a project management tool – it is about communication and sharing; ideas, documents, video. You can’t track progress or assign to-do’s. Stay tuned. SLACK had a big presence at Web Summit 2015, and the team seemed buoyant. They can quickly build on functionality based on feedback from their community. Slack does support all of your communication in one place, instantly searchable, available on mobile. And it integrates with Dropbox, Asana, Hangouts, and ZenDesk.

Shout Out for Basecamp

BasecampBasecamp (formerly 37Signals), a company I’ve talked about before, but because they are an example of a company built with and for remote workers, is a product I’ve used and enjoyed. The challenge is always to get the team to channel all activity through the portal. It worked really well for the team located in six cities. Basecamp felt well organized and fairly easy to use, and offered collaboration advantages for both internal teams and our external client teams.

So How to Choose?

I did spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to help my team understand the option. I looked at how the team worked and if the collaboration tool integrated with other apps we valued. But, given the dynamic nature of the industry these are really feeble evaluation tools for the long-term. Companies pivot or explode every day.

Since there is overwhelming data that companies with greater gender balance are more successful it may be strong predictor of the best long-term bet. We invested a lot of time when we set up and use these products. I applied this approach once before to pick a cloud storage tool.

Now the consumer cloud storage market has been disrupted by Amazon, OneDrive and GoogleDrive. My fan favorite in Dropbox vs. Box, with decent gender balance at 15%, survived the tidal wave (Box went corporate and JustCloud is just hanging in there). Here are Dropbox numbers from 2014: 34 percent female, 4 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black.

When I first did an analysis like this you could find at least the leadership team on the company’s website. Companies seemed to be less likely to post their employees photos and titles online – possibly because of the increased backlash against companies in tech for the lack of diversity. I was able to get some data.

Company Men % Woman % Total
Basecamp 35 76% 11 24% 46*
           
Podio (owned by Citrix) 8 89% 1 11% 9**
           
SLACK 14 74% 5 26% 19***
           
Trello 6 50% 6 50% 12+
Citrix Executive Team

Citrix Leadership Team

*This is all of the employees of Basecamp

** Executive Leadership Team Only

*** This is all the employees listed on CrunchBase – the Leadership Team is six guys

+This was the leadership team on CrunchBase

Both Dropbox and Slack were recently listed in Textio Top Ten: Tech Companies with the Most Gender-Neutral Job Listings. This is a sign that the desire for gender partnership is strong, given the numbers and the fact they even pay attention to gender bias in job descriptions.

The Trello numbers are unlikely current, so I can’t give them a fair assessment. Basecamp numbers look good, and they are leaders in remote work, an important factor for a company that builds collaboration tools.  That said my vote of confidence goes to SLACK. I trust that they will be able to build on their success and offer us the COLLABORATION product we crave in the Global Mobile World.

 

 

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