Idea of the Day: Jevons Paradox – why isn’t it getting cheaper?

Graham’s summary: As things get cheaper, we increase our use such that we end up paying more than we did before.

Jevons Paradox is named after William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) who was an English economist and logician.

The life of ideas is something that fascinates me. How long does it take an idea to become mainstream? Why do some ideas live and others don’t? That kind of a thing. This particular idea is over 150 years old and is still being hotly debated.

It’s also worth observing that Jevons wrote about the paradox at the age of 30; he was dead by 46.

The paradox is summarised by William Stanley Jevons as follows:

“It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Several real-world examples of this:

As our vehicles get more efficient, we travel more, and the level of oil consumption continues to rise.

As clothes cleaning technologies have taken the labour out of cleaning, we clean far more than we used to, the result being that we now spend more time cleaning clothes than we used to. Interestingly, there’s a secondary effect here, cleaning clothes more regularly has required us to have more clothes, but that’s a whole other conversation.

In the world of IT the cost of storage continues to go down, per gigabyte, but the rate at which we are storing things is accelerating even faster. Storage is just one technology commodity, the same is true for compute and networking capacity.

I’ve been involved with several conversations with customers where they expected the deployment of a new system to reduce their costs, only for the new system to increase use and drive higher costs overall.

Jevons paradox is hotly debated in energy circles where the concern is that as renewable energy becomes more efficient the result is an overall increase in our use of energy rather than a displacement of the non-renewable alternatives.

Over recent weeks there has been a vogue for organisations to announce huge reductions in their workforce resulting from the expected use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Here’s one example: BT to axe up to 55,000 jobs by 2030 as it pushes into AI | BT | The Guardian. Apart from the observation that 2030 is a lifetime away in AI terms, does it also overlook Jevons and his paradox? Yes, lots of jobs will be directly impacted by AI, but how many of those will just morph into different jobs?

What if, having made a unit of work cheaper – which is what AI is doing – we use more of it and the result is that we need more people than we used to? That’s the challenge of Jevons Paradox.

Are the organisations declaring staff reductions just short-sighted?

Header Image: This is the river Dart in Devon. The Dart is famous amongst wild swimmers, and this is one of the most popular places to swim. We weren’t swimming, but only because we’d just been for a swim in the sea, and we were doing a bit of exploring during a short trip to the south of England.

“The White Noise of Modern Life” – can you hear it?

I’m currently loving reading a book about a man, Chris, who is walking the coastline of the UK. This isn’t as easy as you might suppose if, as the author is doing, you are determined to stick to the actual coastline of a small nation with a very jagged perimeter and lots of islands.

What makes this a compelling story is that Chris’ walk is as much about mental attitude as it is about the physical challenge.

As you can imagine, part of the time is spent in cities and coastal towns, but there are huge sections where the walk is through sparsely populated areas.

Upon leaving one of our country’s busier cities the author used this phrase – [it was great to be away from] “the white noise of modern life.”

Something about this phrase reverberated around my mind, and I’ve pondered it several times since.

In recent years, the term white noise has taken on a broader meaning, breaking out of its signal processing origins. In this quote I think Chris is referring to all those things that we are so used to being there that we no longer notice them. They are there, all the time, in the background, vibrating the air.

As I pondered, I started trying to listen to the white noise and to hear those things that many of us allow into our modern existence to fulfil a purpose, bringing with them noise.

I sought out times when I could turn other noises down to see what was underneath, it would take me a few minutes each time, but this is what I found in my surroundings.

On my morning walk, a time when I deliberately try to have a time of quiet, I have been aware of a significant white noise for some time. I regularly post videos of my walk on Instagram, but rarely with the original audio, and that’s because my walk is always accompanied by road noise. There is an eight-lane motorway near to my house and I never walk far enough away from it for there not to be a level of tyre hum. When I made the effort to listen there were other noises that I wasn’t aware of, over in the near distance there’s a warehouse which was being accompanied by the serenade of vehicles maneuvers, there was also the hum of machinery at a nearby building site. All white noise that my brain was filtering out until I paid attention to it.

Returning home, I sat in my office and listened. The clock had stopped, I’ve written about that before. Outside a workman was using an impact driver to erect some woodwork in my garden. There is the low hum of the powered air-filter underneath my desk and another buzz which I eventually discovered to be one of the LED lights, my main monitor also has a slight buzz. My desk is positioned in front of a window that looks out into our garden. I love to have the window open for the fresh air and the sound of the birds, but the window also opens to the sound of the motorway. My laptop is quite quiet, but it isn’t silent. All imperceptible most of the time but lurking in the air.

Sitting in my lounge there’s some more white noise that I can hear. It’s coming from near the TV, but the TV isn’t the cause, one of the boxes has a hard drive in it, which must be spinning iron as it’s causing a vibration that is slightly rattling the glass shelf on which it stands. It’s not much, but more white noise. As I sit in silence for a little longer, I can also hear that the uplighter in the corner has an electrical hum. More air vibration.

We are privileged to have a small room where there is a chair and not a lot else, deliberately. I sit in there and I am struck by how quiet it feels, I can’t put my finger on what has changed, but it’s notably more peaceful in this place away from other noise generators.

I suppose the real question here is – so what? Does the noise we surround ourselves with have any impact upon us? I’ve done a bit of reading around, and the answer is inconclusive. There’s a link between noise and stress, which is clearly negative, but white noise is also linked with stress reduction. There are studies that show that white noise can have a positive, and negative, impact on both performance and stress depending on the volume. The impact of white noise is also dependent upon the type of activity being undertaken.

As the noise I’m talking about here isn’t true white noise, I’m not sure that we can claim the benefits, but do we need to do something about the negatives?

If we look at the primary source of white noise in my life, the road noise, there is research but it’s not really talking about my situation:

Despite my inconclusive research findings, I have a feeling that the noise around me is generating a level of stress, nothing major, but enough to be noticeable. We can give up our quiet spaces too easily and I’m determined to do a bit more to protect my own. I’m also looking to reduce the white noise in my workplace, although most of that is irrelevant at present as the workman is still building in my garden.

For those of you wondering here are the book details:

  • Title: Finding Hildasay: How One Man Walked the UK’s Coastline and Found Hope and Happiness
  • Author: Christian Lewis
  • ISBN-10‏: ‎ 1035006790
  • ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1035006793

Header Image: The local tree canopy is looking radiant in its green out on my morning walk.

The Personality of Cable Connections – Do they talk to you as well?

I may be revealing a bit too much about myself in this post, but here goes 😊

In my mind different connector types have different personalities and they speak to me in different voices.

Take USB as an example.

A solid chunky Type-A USB connector has those characteristics to its personality. It speaks in the low adult voice of someone who has been around for a while and seen it all. There’s nothing stressed about a Type A, it knows its place in the world, it knows that it is still THE standard despite what others think.

The Type-B connector doesn’t really have a voice, more of a whisper. It’s so rarely seen out in public choosing to hide away in the back of printers mainly. (If you don’t know what a Type-B is then I think I’ve made my point 😉)

The Mini-AB connector is the stressy one of the bunch; watch out for its sharp corners. It feels that it could have been used for so much more, if only it had been given the chance. Sullen is the tone of its replies when I scrabble my way to the bottom of the cable box where it lurks on the rare occasion when it’s needed. Sometimes it gets into reminiscing for the good old days when things were different, and it saw far more of the limelight.

The Micro-AB connector is a self-assured mid-lifer. It’s a bit geeky but knows its place in the world. It has the self-assurance of someone who has changed the world, even if it does need to be treated a bit more carefully than Type-A and is no longer the star of the show. Its voice reflects this quiet confidence, it sounds a bit like a middle-manager running a successful organisation.

Type-C is the hipster of the group – cool in every way. Seeing a massive future ahead of it, its crafted curves give it a laid-back voice. It looks over a Type-A and says, “well done old-timer, shall we walk together for a while?” knowing it is the heir.

HDMI connectors come as a family, the only difference in their voices is the pitch. They have exactly the same attitude, which is temperamental and unpredictable.

RJ45 connectors sound like the chipmunks from the cartoon.

I’ve gone too far already but wanted to end on an old favourite that I still see occasionally.

The VGA connector speaks the soft voice of someone who has seen too many years. It’s considered and precise but can only really talk about one subject. It always talks about the past.

I sometimes wonder what they talk about while they are together in the black box in the cupboard?

Header Image: The Hawthorn is fabulously in bloom at the moment.

Office Speak: T-Shaped People – I’m not sure I’m any shape?

The idea behind T-shaped people goes like this: The vertical axis is supposed to symbolize someone’s depth of skills in one particular area, whereas the horizontal demonstrates the breadth of their skills across different areas. Think about it like this, if you invest all your energy in training people on how to do their job you end up with I-shaped people who only have the skills to do one job. That might be fine in a world where people just do one job, but in the creative economy you need people to work across different disciplines, people who can work interdisciplinary. They don’t need to know every discipline in detail, they need a basic understanding. These people with a wide, shallow knowledge in many disciplines and a deep knowledge in their own disciple can be envisioned as a letter T, rather than an I.

Lay a set of T shaped people together and you get lots of areas of overlapping skills which make for great interdisciplinary teamwork.

While I understand the metaphor, it’s not very good, is it? I don’t use the term myself, it’s the kind of Office Speak that I dislike, let me explain why.

Let’s start with the beginning of the metaphor – the I-shaped person. Do you know anyone whose skills are truly I-shaped, absolutely linier? The only thing that this person brings to the business is their ability to do one role. Let’s pick an example, in my business that could be a coder who can only code – they can’t do even the smallest amount of design, product management, test, deployment, analytics or even user documentation. I’m sure there are people who are like that, but they are very few and you may want to employ them because they probably bring something special to the role that they do.

If most people aren’t I-shaped, what are they? Honestly, I don’t think that they are any shape. I’m not even sure that you can describe most skills in a way that would allow you to put them into a box and classify someone proficient. Even in the skills where you can clearly define proficiency there’s a huge variance. Take driving as an example, there’s a defined proficiency for it in most countries – the driving test resulting in the driving license. Yet, how many of us know someone who has a driving license, yet wont drive on the motorway, or in the dark, or into a city. Are these people proficient, or not?

Think about other skills, ones for which there isn’t a defined level of proficiency. How do you measure someone’s amiability, or their honesty, how about clarity of thinking, or adaptability, and a huge one for our current age their ability to learn? Where do these fit into the I or the T? How do you even measure these in such a way that would allow you to put them on any chart?

Most of us don’t just have our employment skills though, we have all sorts of other skills. These skills aren’t in a separate bucket that we leave outside our office when we start work each day, they are our skills. A few personal examples: I learnt map reading as a boy scout, I’m convinced that the way I understand technical diagrams is heavily influenced by that skill. I used to do youth work at the local church and that’s strengthened my listening abilities and my ability to command a room. Working with people in volunteer roles has taught me about motivation. I’ve read several books about neuroscience, a fascinating subject. Where do these skills fit in the T?

The final reason I don’t think that the metaphor is very good is that it’s been endlessly corrupted. Let me give you some examples.

There are the people who want to define the thickness of the T – “that’s a fat-T role” or “that’s a thin-T role”. I don’t think that this is a comment on someone’s stature, I think what they are trying to say, in the case of “fat-T” is that the role needs someone to be very general with only a small amount of specialty, whereas a “thin-T” person needs to be very highly specialized in one area, but not so much in the breadth areas.

Then there are the people who start applying other letters to different situations.

There’s the X-shaped Executive, which just confuses me, I can’t see how this fits with the metaphor at all. The best that I can understand is that the X is there to symbolize that someone has intersecting skills as a leader and as a subject-matter expert. In other words, Executives have more than one I and they overlap?

Where do the E-shaped people fit in? Well, it turns out that this is a different metaphor all together with E symbolizing the four attributes that happen, conveniently, to begin with an E – expertise, experience, execution and exploration. These are often depicted as the different strokes that make up the letter E.

We haven’t finished though, where do you think an M-shaped person fits in? Here we are back to the metaphor with the two vertical bars of the M representing people who have deep skills in multiple areas.

Then there’s Pi shaped people? From what I can understand they are just M shaped people with an attitude.

People without a specialty can be described as a dash or hyphen. I hope no-one ever uses this definition in real life to describe an actual person.

Then there’s the ultimate description, the one that blows the metaphor completely apart – the comb-shaped person. They have deep skills in many different areas spread across a breadth of knowledge. This, for me, would represent most people except I don’t believe that you can put people’s skills on two dimensions. None of us fit neatly into two dimensions in any way that is meaningful.

Things have various qualities and the soul various tendencies, for nothing presented to the soul is simple, and the soul never applies itself simply to any subject. That is why the same thing makes us laugh and cry.

Blaise Pascal

Header Image: This is the view from the White Beach on Iona looking north towards Staffa and Mull.

Office Speak: “on a Page”

Something like this has happened to me hundreds of times in my career.

I am working on a solution to a problem, and I have a set of diagrams that describe how we can get things fixed. I’ve even created a commentary for the diagrams to explain the contents of the diagrams.

The answer to the issue is complex and is going to require multiple steps. Each step will need to be completed before the next one starts making it a sequence involving several teams.

The need for different teams means that I need to set up meetings to talk through the resolution. I’d quite like to put together a short document that talks people through it, but this is an organization driven by email, reaction, and most of all distraction. I know that getting people to read and interact with a document is not going to give me the results that I need. There’s a chance that a meeting will help me make progress.

It’s then that someone points out that there’s already a meeting where this kind of thing can be discussed. I ask what it is I need to do to get on the agenda. I’m directed to the person who organizes the meeting schedule, they book me a slot on the meeting and send me the standard slide deck that I need to fill in.

I open the standard slide deck and my heart sinks as I read the title of each page:

  • Problem Definition on a Page
  • Solution on a Page
  • Plan on a Page
  • Costs on a Page
  • Sales on a Page
  • Risks and Issues on a Page
  • Actions on a Page
  • Stakeholders on a Page
  • Current State Analysis on a Page
  • Mode of Operations on a Page
  • Customers on a Page
  • Team on a Page
  • SWOT on a Page
  • Integrations on a Page
  • Coffee Order on a Page

What is meant here is that I have one page to say all that needs to be said on this topic, the use of animation is cheating. It’s really shorthand for: “keep it simple enough for us to understand, don’t embarrass us by making it overly complicated.”

Each of the standard slides looks fine, but when I come to edit them it it’s clear that this template has been put together by someone who really doesn’t know how to make something that someone else can use. I am conflicted by the desire to stick with the standard verses doing my own thing in half the time.

This is a complicated set of activities; how can I be expected to get your solution on a page? How do I do that? I could make the diagrams smaller so that the details fit on, I could also simplify the diagrams. The problem with both options is that neither is very helpful. The small diagrams, I know, will just make people’s eyes bleed, the simplified diagrams will give people a simplistic view of the situation. Unfortunately, the rules are the rules, and the solution has got to fit on a page. I ask how firm the rule about a single page is, the reply is “No you can’t have more pages, we struggle to get people to focus for one.”

There is, of course, a third option, and that’s to get a bigger page. Unfortunately, most people are reading the material on a screen so it’s a bit of an academic argument. The point isn’t really about fitting material to a page, the true message is about simplifying the story.

I have some sympathy for the on a page approach. I’ve been in so many situations where someone thinks that you care enough to go through their entire documentation to get an understanding of what it is they are doing. I’ve also sat in meetings where someone describes everything in intricate detail despite being told that all you want is the overview that will help you to formulate the questions. Conversely, I’ve also been in an on a page meeting where it’s clear that someone is trying to hide something in the simplification. Mandating a single page feels like a blunt instrument to use when really what is required is someone to set the scene correctly.

I attend the scheduled meeting. Everyone looks at my on a page deck, which has taken hours to create; the attendees of the meeting conclude that I need to have another meeting to talk through the details with their teams. In this meeting we talk through all the diagrams and agree it’s the correct answer.

Header Image: This is the Lismore Lighthouse, taken from the ferry from Oban to Mull.

Graham’s WFH Tip #11 – Meeting Management – Recognise your emotional responses

There seems to have been a lot of chatter about meetings recently.

Some of the discussion being prompted by a set of tweets, followed by statements, from those involved in Shopify. They are seeking to radically decrease the meeting burden on people:

I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that meetings are bugs, most of them are not desirable and add little value. Like bugs meetings have consequences.

If you read the linked article you’ll realise that the tweet isn’t quite as radical as it may seem on first reading, but to be fair, the proposal is quite radical including meeting free days, large meetings limited to certain days, and an automated deletion of all recurring meetings with more than three attendees. This latter activity being a one-off thing to clear out people’s diaries.

Previously Microsoft published some data on the change in meetings with the switch to home working during the COVID pandemic:

Meetings are still consuming a lion’s share of our time. Since February 2020, the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings has increased 153%.

Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work (

What? That’s a huge increase.

Why such a massive increase just because people are working from a different location?

There are, of course, many reasons for this swing, some of them practical, many of them emotional. It’s those emotional responses that I want to think about for a little while in the hope that we can start to see them for what they are.

Now that you are working from home you have huge flexibility to join meetings of all sorts of shapes, sizes, priorities, and subjects. The emotional cues have changed though, your viewpoint on the plethora of meetings is limited to what you can see, and something is nagging in your head reminding you that you can’t see everything anymore. You can’t get a general feel of who is meeting who in the way that you could when everyone was in the same office. Your emotional response to meeting invites has changes. You treat every invite as equally important when you know that it can’t be true. How do you respond differently to the noisy person, or the person who calls something “URGENT:” and “CRITICAL:” or the one I’m seeing increasingly “MANDATORY:”

There’s an additional stickiness to regular meetings. I’ve seen this cycle happen hundreds of times – a regular gathering of a small group of people takes place. You add someone into the meeting to talk through a particular subject and they remain on the invite list. Others get added for other subjects. Before you know it there are meeting invitations flowing backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards. The small, focussed, meeting now has an invite list of 60 people and regularly has 40 attendees. The small 5 person catch-up has grown from 30 mins three times a week, to every day at 6pm, for an hour – most contributions are still provided by the original 5 people. The value of the meeting hasn’t changed but its costs have spiralled.

As an invitee to one of these meetings, how do you decide whether you should attend? Do you ask for an agenda and only attend when the subject is something that is your responsibility? (Agenda? What’s one of those? :-)) Do you trust the person who organises the meeting to stick to the agenda? What do you do if there is no agenda, which is increasingly common? What happens if someone asks a question about your area and you’re not there? How will you know if they discuss something that impacts your area, and you don’t pick it up in the minutes? Can you ever trust minutes anyway? But the minutes are now a video, and who has time to watch the videos. What if you miss something important? How much of this is an emotional response?

You tell yourself that you’ll join the meeting, even if you don’t get any value from it, because you’ll use the time to catch-up on some emails. You know this is practical folly, you know that this type of multi-tasking places a huge burden on your productivity. It’s not practical considerations that are driving you, this is an emotional response. You’d rather take the significant hit on your productivity than face the potential of missing out.

Working from home has taken away many of the people interactions that you used to value. Joining a call, any call, includes a certain amount of social time. Having spent an hour listening to whale music and trying to read a 50 page report, you are ready to talk to someone, anyone. You know that the social side of this meeting is going to be minimal, but it’s better than nothing. You want to be sure that you haven’t been forgotten. The last thing you need, in the current climate, is for people to forget who you are.

Let me give you some simple advice here – by giving in to these worries that are going around your head, you are compromising your ability to do excellent work. Most of those meetings that you attend do not add value to you and you should remove them from your calendar. You may miss something important, but you are paying a massive price to mitigate that fear. Remember, you survived, just fine, with fewer meetings before you started working from home.

Here’s my tip to you (sorry it’s a bit long): Decide to manage the load that meetings place on you. Recognise the emotional responses to meeting invites and resist the temptation to join everything and anything. Be particularly cautious of regular meetings, do an audit and cull the low value ones. If you aren’t speaking at most of those meetings it doesn’t need you to be there.

Header Image: This was the scene on my regular morning walk today – cold, crisp, misty, and beautiful. There was fun moment though, there’s a big iron gate at the end of this path which was frozen shut. Thankfully, a short detour and I managed to find a gap in the fence.

Sitting in the queue (at the blood donors)

Queues are fascinating places.

People show their character in a queue.

I’m sat with over 30 other people waiting to give some blood to the nhs. The red cushioned steel framed chairs are comfortable enough.

This activity is normally a slick routine with the queue moving seamlessly from station to station with little interruption.

Beside me the lady who has been waiting over an hour has just been called and stands with a mini cheer. We’ve just been talking about how much this queue has cost her, John Lewis will be the providers of her boredom purchases. She says she feels guilt about it, but her face says something different.

A moment passes and the man on the other side of me is called. He leaves silently but there’s an excitement in the queueing mass caused by the sudden progress. It’s not really progress though, it’s an anomaly of scheduling and everyone settles back into there infinite scrolling on their portable screens.

The lady behind me is trying to persuade her teenage daughter that it’s not going to be much longer. “Are we nearly there yet”l They’ve only been here for 10 minutes and the lady who’s just been called was also here for an hour. I suspect that honest may have been a better policy.

Another woman is called as I’m looking at my screen. The name that is called is the same as my deceased mother-in-law, before I’ve realised what I’m doing I have looked up to see if it’s her.

The two men behind me are convinced that the wait is getting shorter, but all that has happened is that people have stopped joining the queue. This is the last session of the day and we are nearing its end.

A lady behind me leaves the queue, she’s left her dinner in the oven and tells the new lady beside me that she worried her kitchen will be full of smoke. She’s already been here for 45 minutes and was only expecting 20.

To my left there are four men, all from the same company. Well, I’m assuming they are because they are wearing the same clothes with the same logos. They haven’t said a word to each other all the time I’ve been here (40 mins). I hope they are playing a game together on their screens, but think it’s more likely they just can’t be bothered to talk. It must be an exciting place to work.

Across from the queue I can see the people tucking into their reward biscuits. I can see from here that it’s Clubs today. Is a club biscuit enough of a reward to continue waiting? It’s quite a nice reward.

There are still people ahead of me, but it’s hard to tell how many as we are spread across two rooms.

Another two names are called. One of them is from the group of four. He stands up without saying anything to the others. They aren’t playing fruit ninja together then.

I’m sitting here debating whether I’m ok to go to the loo. They make you drink when you arrive, to make sure you are hydrated to give. I suspect that most of us are thinking the same thing. I don’t want to miss my turn.

Another name. Another from the four.

The father and son behind me have planned the refurbishment of a bathroom while I’ve been here. They are currently debating radiators and who is the best plumber, someone called Andy appears to be a favourite, but Jason is apparently easier to work with.

There’s now a queue for the Club biscuits. I hope there’s some left by the time I get there.

It’s now 50 minutes and I feel that I’ve invested too much to leave now. I’m sure they’ll get to me soon.

It’s definitely time to go to the loo. While I’m in there I hear another name being called.

It wasn’t me.

(When I got to the end there were no club biscuits left)

Graham’s WFH Tip #10 – Lift Your Focus and Feed the Birds

When I am working from home, which is all the time, I can find myself sucked deeper into situations than is good for me. Sat alone in my little office I can feel myself locked into a kind of tunnel vision. The screens, my headphones and the shenanigans they represent have become my sole attention.

There are times when this singlemindedness can be a powerful thing, the feeling of flow when I am in the zone is wonderful, but there are plenty of times when the tunnel is not a healthy place to be. Inside my head I am not flowing, I am watching the vortex of hundreds of things that I am supposed to be doing. Watching a whirlpool swirl around is mesmerizing, but not very productive. I need to break my gaze and switch my focus.

That’s when I look up and out of the window into the garden beyond. Here there is a bird feeder; around it the robust Great Tit is dancing with the flashy Goldfinch. On the fence the brightly coloured male Bullfinch is waiting in line behind his less brightly coloured but intricately dressed partners. The squirrel is contemplating how to extract some nutrition from the contraption before it marked “Squirrel Proof”. On the ground below a Dunnock is picking up the seeds rejected by the goldfinch. The Blue Tit makes a dash into the feeder, retreating just as quickly as it arrived. The squirrel dashes away followed by another, bigger, one. Meanwhile the Robin stands on the edge of the birdbath and makes sure that everyone is behaving themselves. Occasional visits from a Jay or Sparrow Hawk add extra delight.

A few moments watching the choreography and my brain has calmed enough for me to return my attention to the task-at-hand. My first task, list the tasks, then pick a task, before, doing a task.

When I worked in an office and met people in a room there was something cathartic about walking away from the room at the end of a meeting. It gave the opportunity for one set of thoughts to drain away before another set arrived. The move to home working and online meetings has created a situation where a day can be filled with more than ten 30 minutes meetings, back-to-back, without a break. Clicking on LEAVE isn’t the same as standing up and walking out of a meeting, it doesn’t have the same physical cues. Standing up at the end of a meeting, watching the birds for a few moments has become my end-of-meeting cue, especially useful when someone has generously given me “2 minutes back.”

Your thing might not be garden birds, I recognise that I am privileged to be looking out on a garden, my advice to you is to find something that lifts your focus up from the whirlpool and away from the battleground of the last five back-to-back meetings. It ought to be something that isn’t based on a screen, checking Facebook/TikTok/Instagram/Twitter doesn’t count. Something like a picture in your working space, a pet, a favourite object, or book, something that reminds you that this is just work. Having a perspective that it broader than your work is good for your work.

Header Image: This the Monastery of Saint George of Choziba in Wadi Qelt.

New to Graham’s WFH Tips? Here’s a handy list to help you catch up.

Graham’s WFH Tip #9 – Find your Social – It doesn’t have to be about work all of the time

There are several things that people miss about the office and many of those are related to the social interactions that being in the same physical location enables.

I used to enjoy going “for a brew” with the people who worked on the desks around me. We’d talk about all sorts of things, sometimes work, but mostly it was a more social interaction. How are the kids? What did you think about that show last night? Weren’t the roads bad this morning? How was your last holiday? That kind of a thing. We’d often supplement this with a walk somewhere at lunchtime.

Some groups of people find social interaction easier than others, I suspect that some people need it more than others, but for many these interactions are particularly important. The challenge with home working is that it strips out the triggers for these interactions, there’s nothing stopping me having a social chat with someone as I go for my coffee, but there are no social prompts for this. For many modern workers and especially for home workers lunch is the thing you do sat at your desk while listening into another conference call, a drink is something you get while there’s a short lull between calls. The result is that this type of interplay has vanished.

Why does it matter? Speaking personally, I work better when I understand that what I am doing has meaning and purpose. The long list of emails requiring my response doesn’t give meaning to anything. It’s the personal connections across the team is what gives purpose to what I am doing.

We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.

Brené Brown

On a more practical basis having those social connections leads to notable changes in my thinking. Knowing a bit about a colleague’s home situation and how it influences the times when they prefer to work makes for a different approach to scheduling. Understanding that a co-worker is going through a stressful time at home influences my response to their desire for time off. Understanding someone’s total workload, and not just the part I’m interested in, affects my expectation of their ability to deliver. Celebrating a team members family news strengthens those connections that give meaning.

As a home worker you need to recognise this challenge of the missing triggers for interaction and be more intentional about creating space for these important conversations. I’m not naturally good at this, it feels strange to cold-call someone just for a chat. I know others who are far more instinctive at this type of thing, but for me I need to schedule it.

Every other Friday I have a call in my morning with team members for whom the time-zone works. It’s supposed to be 45 minutes, but often goes for the full hour. None of us are naturals at chatting and often fall into the trap of discussing a work activity before one of us pulls us up into the social. It’s only a small group with each one based in a different country and it’s fascinating to hear about the perspectives across two continents. Certain subjects come up regularly, but I love those times when we find a new avenue to explore. It’s not as natural as a chat during the walk to Tesco, we need to work at it a bit, but it is so, so valuable to do.

Whenever I’m in a one-to-one or a group of three meeting I try to include a social element to the conversation, it’s a hugely valuable aspect of working together as human being. I must admit that I’m more likely to look favourably on a request from someone I have chatted with. Wider than that, though, these interactions connect me with people in a way that adds to the meaning and purpose that Brene Brown talks about.

Your circumstances may make it possible for you to meet up physically with the people you work with. Make those opportunities a priority, they will make a difference to the way that you feel about the team that you work with. I’m no longer in that situation, but there are plenty of former colleagues in the vicinity who I make the effort to connect with.

One thing that I personally find tiring is being the initiator, I’m assuming that I’m not the only one judging by the number of people that reach out to me. This makes me very grateful for those that do. Although I find it tiring it’s always worthwhile so I’m off now to find someone to interact with.

Header Image: This is the view from the top of Masada in Israel. There’s a huge amount of history in this place. Just imagine what it took to build a palace up here over 2,000 years ago.

New to Graham’s WFH Tips? Here’s a handy list to help you catch up.

Graham’s WFH Tip #8 – Lighten Up – you need more than you think you do…

Do yourself a favour, go to your local app store and download a light meter app. It doesn’t have to be a fancy photographic level one, you’re just looking for one number. If you have a proper photography level light meter handy that will do, but it’s overkill.

Put your phone, or light meter, next to your keyboard where you normally work, set the units to Lux and take note of the number.

Now move the phone/light meter around and take note of other readings. What does it say in that corner where you like to read?

You might also like to take note of readings at various times of the day. What does it say when you are on the early shift in October?

There are recommendations for how light an office should be, and it’s likely to be a lot higher than you were expecting?

The UK HSE recommendation for an Office is a minimum of 100 lux, with an average to avoid “visual fatigue” of 200 lux. That number goes up dramatically for situations for “work requiring perception of fine detail” – with a minimum of 200 lux and an average to avoid “visual fatigue” of 500 lux.

Those recommendations are just factoring in safety, what about wellbeing and alertness? Light isn’t just for seeing, it has a significant impact on how we feel. Well here the recommendations are a bit more difficult to pin down, but 1,000 lux is probably about the right kind of brightness. For a bit of comparison, not that there is any, an overcast day comes in at somewhere around 2,000 lux with a sunny day at >100,000 lux.

I work out of a small bedroom at my house. It’s blue skies outside, but it is October, in here today, without any lights on it’s just about 200 lux at my desk. This is supposed to be enough, but it feels dull. With lights on, which I do quite a lot, it’s over 500 lux, and it makes me feel completely different. Perhaps it’s time to invest in some spot lighting for my desk to push the brightness nearer to 1,000 lux.

The other factor in Office lighting is the temperature, and to a certain extent colour.

Colour makes a big difference to how we feel, and I certainly don’t have enough time to go through that now, suffice to say, there are colours which are good for different modes of working.

Most of the time, though, the predominant light should be a form of white for which the temperature is the thing that you should be considering. Most of us didn’t consider lighting temperatures until the days of LED and now we see hundreds of choices. For an office, the recommendation that people make is between 3,500K and 4,000K which may not be as warm white as you have in your lounge but isn’t a stark blue-white either. Why does temperature matter, it’s not about health and safety, higher colour temperatures impact productivity because we are supposed to find them invigorating. You should go for lower temperatures when you want to relax because they contain more red which helps to increase melatonin levels, something we need in an evening. The higher colour temperatures contain more blue light which is linked to alertness.

In summary: go brighter and go lighter.

Tip: Go brighter and lighter – aim for more than 500 lux brightness and 3,500K temperature.

There’s another discussion about lighting and home working, and that to do with video conferencing, but that’s for another day.

Header Image: Another beautiful morning walk.

Office Speak: “Double-Click” – “Can we double-click on that point?”

I’m sitting in a meeting, presenting graphically rich charts to some senior people when one of them says to me “Graham, can we double-click into what that means?” This was a term I’d heard hundreds of times before; I knew what was meant by the question, but this time it struck me as an odd thing to say – “double-click“?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this way of speaking let me explain.

What is being requested is that I go into more detail about something in the presentation – that I open-it-up.

For those of you who have grown up in a world of desktop computing, and in particular a Microsoft Windows world, this makes total sense because you double-click on a file to open it up.

What’s strange is that double-clinking isn’t something many of us do very often, anymore. Most of our modern-day technology interactions are about a single-click or a tap. You don’t double-click a link in a browser, no one double-clicks to open anything on a mobile or tablet device. The only double-click I can think of on my iPhone is when I double press the side button to open the wallet. On a mobile are tablet device you are much more likely to long-press something than double-click.

It’s really only within the Microsoft Windows File Explorer and the Apple macOS Finder that anyone double-clicks on anything to open it. Perhaps that says something about the context in which people use the phrase?

I suppose that “can we click into that point a little?” doesn’t have the same impact, and “can we tap into that point a little?” sounds very strange indeed given the multiple meanings of “tap” (in UK English at least).

As we’ve seen in other posts the reasons that certain Office Speak finds its way into an organisation is complex, and often without clearly defined logic.

Sometimes Office Speak is a shortcut way of saying something, which doesn’t appear to apply here, it’s easier to say “can you open up that point a little”, than to say “can we double-click into that point a little”.

Sometimes the phrase is associated with an individual, and it’s that association that makes use widespread. If that is the case, I’ve not been able to work out who that person is. In a TED Podcast from May of 2022 Adam Grant is talking with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft and there’s this fascinating little phrase from Adam:

“Well, I’m a big fan of rethinking for obvious reasons. And I want to try to speak one of your languages. Can we double click on each of those themes that you just raised? Is double click the right lingo here is that we’re looking for. Okay, good.”

Satya Nadella is building the future (Transcript)

That’s interesting, Grant associates the phrase, the lingo, with Nadella, or perhaps with Microsoft, but I’ve heard it used in many more organisations than that. Although I must acknowledge the limitations of my own observations, I work in technology, and work a lot with people who also work in technology, so perhaps this lingo isn’t used as widely as I perceive it is.

It’s almost like there is a reverse taxonomy adoption going on here. The way it normally works is that we use the lingo of day-to-day life in the way we present technology to make it understandable. An example of this is files and folders, the storage on the computer isn’t creating files and folders, they are just shown that way to help us. With double-click the taxonomy is working back the other way, something we do in our technology interactions has escaped into the real world. I suppose there are plenty of examples of this – reboot, upload, download – to name a few.

Personally, I’m resisting the use of double-click, I much prefer to ask someone to “go into more detail”.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little double-click into double-click 😉

Header Image: Sunrise on my morning walk. Autumn has arrived.

Graham’s WFH Tip #7 – Make Time to Stand Up and Get Moving

It’s quite clear that our sedentary lifestyle is killing us. Who better than the wonderful NHS to tell us.

Having worked in an office for many years, and now also worked from home for a long while, I find that there is something different about the home office that means that there’s less movement. I’m speaking here as someone who sufferers with poor posture and many an aching neck and back. Sitting for long periods of time is not good for me, I can feel it.

Despite all the pain, movement doesn’t come naturally, I need to take conscious steps to make it happen. I need prompts to get up from my rear and to let the blood flow.

These are the steps that I take, and I leave them here as a few pointers of things you might like to take on. They certainly aren’t a definition of best practice:

  • I use an app on my work mobile – Stand Up! – which is set to remind me every 30 minutes to stand up. That simple ping is often all I need to get going. There’s also a tracking element to it, but I find that I’m not overly motivated by trackers.
  • I have a sit-stand desk – it’s not an automatic one, so I do need to press a button. If you can afford one with an automated timer, then go for it.
  • Bluetooth headphones enable me to walk around while I’m on calls – most of the time I’m at home alone, so the annoyance level for others is minimal.
  • Regular evening stretches get everything going again – I use a yoga app for this. It doesn’t take long to make a difference for me, 20 minutes is often all I need. I find being consistent at this difficult.
  • The coffee making facilities are downstairs – those few steps make a difference. I work on the first floor (that’s upstairs to those of you who don’t come from the UK) and stairs are a wonderful way of giving your heart rate a micro boost.
  • Occasionally I will do a walking meeting – unfortunately, the mobile signal isn’t great near my house which limits where I can walk. Also, many of the calls I’m attending are discussing a diagram or a document which isn’t great on a mobile.
  • Desk stretches – I know where my physical weaknesses are, and I know how to stop those weaknesses becoming painful. There’s a neck twist and a back stretch that make all the difference. I just need to remember to do them.

The reality is, I tend to be physically lazy, and there are times where all this movement isn’t enough, mainly because I’m scrimping on each one of them here and there. The overall result is that I get steadily stiffer. On those occasions I have found that a couple of sessions with a physio are invaluable. They act as a reset on the process. I used to put this off, thinking that I could work my way through it, I try not to do that anymore. Early intervention makes the recovery so much better. The desk stretches that I do are the ones that have been recommended to me by my physio.

It’s time for all of us to get moving.

New to Graham’s WFH Tips? Here’s a handy list to help you catch up.

Header Image: This is the view from the top of Malham Cove, a fascinating geological wonder in the Yorkshire Dales. Below is the view from the bottom.

Malham Cove
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