Work Futures Daily

| Bottom-Up Unions | Who Manages The Managers? | Longer Commutes | Interruptions | Bullshit Jobs | George Santayana | Forgotten Newsletters |

Beacon NY | 2019–10–10 | We have — at least many of us — made a Faustian bargain: an exchange of our time for knowledge, a paycheck, and status in the world. Most of the stories in this issue touch on that in one way or another. The lousy commute, the bullshit job, the need to push back on manipulative bosses, the need to organize in retaliation to work-related grievances.

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Also, I have made my own Faustian bargain, which is why I have transitioned to a less frequent schedule here at Work Futures Daily: too many other obligations.


Stories

The Radical Manifesto Embraced by Google Workers and Uber Drivers | Naom Scheiber looks into the recent organizing in traditionally un-unionized sectors, like white collar tech workers, Uber drivers, and Starbucks retail staff, and finds the influence of Staughton Lynd, a labor historian, who wrote the first edition of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer in 1978, and updated editions in 2008 and 2011 with participation of Daniel Gross after the two met at a labor conference in 2000. Gross is 50 years younger than Lynd. The book draws its inspiration from the thinking behind the International Workers of the World, a form of bottom-up unionism from the early 1900s, that can be contrasted with top-down conventional unionism:

Mr. Lynd and Mr. Gross lay out a practical guide for staging a kind of workplace revolution that upends the balance of power between management and labor.

They explain, for example, when striking workers enjoy strong legal protections (in taking aim at unfair labor practices like retaliation) and when they are more exposed (in strikes focused strictly on economic demands). They discuss the circumstances under which workers can take their concerns to the media, such as a news conference in which coffee shop employees disclosed evidence of rat and insect infestations.

But more broadly, the book serves as a polemic contrasting mainstream “business unions” with what the Wobblies refer to as “solidarity unions” — that is, worker-led groups that are not typically certified as exclusive bargaining agents under federal law and therefore don’t need to win majority support to exist.

The business union “is controlled from the top down by officers and staff (usually white males) who are not regularly employed at the workplace,” Mr. Lynd and Mr. Gross write. They complain that a business union is preoccupied with achieving a bargaining agreement that requires workers to give up the right to strike and any say in the company’s major decisions.

When there is trouble at the workplace, they write, “the union member calls a steward or business agent and hopes that some bureaucratic process disconnected from the rank and file will right the wrong.”

In a solidarity union, by contrast, the workers “decide together on a course of direct action to right the wrong, which the workers will lead.” Solidarity unions may seek written agreements with management, but they are loath to make them overly comprehensive, at the risk of letting management get too comfortable.

This is a mislabeling. It would be better to call the bottom-up unionism of the Wobblies fluidarity, because the workers don’t have to agree on a complete platform prior to taking action, as opposed the the top-down solidarity generally practiced in conventional labor unions, which is a reflection of the top-down orientation of major corporations. But let’s not let names get in the way of the major distinction between conventional, top-down unions and the unconventional, bottom-up ones advocated by Lynd and Gross.

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Who manages the managers? | Jonathan and Melissa Nightgale try to answer a hard question. If businesses use tools that attempt to harness people’s natural desire for mastery, autonomy, and purpose, they can be overused, right?

Once you understand what goes into motivation, you can design for it. You can feed people’s need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You can help them connect with a rich vein of energy for the work. And that energy can help them run faster and think smarter. It’s such an inspiring thing for any boss to see their people giving it everything they’ve got.

But if you keep pushing, you can run that vein dry. We’ve both worked in orgs that fed our sense of purpose so much that taking any down time, making any space, felt like a moral failure. And that’s what this person was asking. Where’s the braking force? Who stops this from becoming abusive?

There are two answers to that question. Or one answer, in two parts. The first answer is: no one. Look around. There are CEOs who step in, but there are far, far more who don’t. There are boards that act, but there are far, far more who wait for it to blow over. Those people should act, to be clear. They are ignoring their legal and moral duty when they don’t. But unless you have good reason to believe that your org is different, it’s not going to make sense to count on them.

The more complete answer is: no one, so we have to govern ourselves. If we’re going to build skills around managing people. If we’re going to say yes to the promotion and take the pay that comes with leading people as a career. Then we have to do the job. We have to wear the responsibility for where it leads. And when you let that fully rest on you, when you really feel it, and it’s overwhelming to you what a big thing it is, that’s when you start doing the work.

I wrote a piece years ago called Dig Your Own Hole, Sharpen Your Own Shovel that builds on the idea we have to take responsibility for our own personal development, and that includes managing the managers.

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Want a Better, Nicer, Shorter Commute? The U.S. Government Just Revealed Some Really Bad News | Bill Murphy reports that commutes are getting longer, and some thoughts on why:

And depending on where your business is located, your employees might be spending as much as 17 hours a year more commuting than they would have a decade ago.

As The Washington Post put it while reporting the data:

“Relative to 1980, the picture is even more grim: Since then, American workers have lost nearly an hour a week to their commutes, the equivalent of one full-time workweek over the course of a year. All told, the average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting in 2018.”

The causes of the increase in commute time are sort of obvious — the kinds of things that add up over time. Among them:

º New housing isn’t being built fast enough in metropolitan areas, and what housing exists is much more expensive.

º So, workers are settling further away from where they work — especially after they start families.

º Overall populations are growing, but we’re barely spending enough to maintain the existing transportation infrastructure, never mind expand it.

And stupid bosses are resisting the benefits of remote work, four day weeks, and any number of other approaches to counter this trend.

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Digital tools interrupt workers 14 times a day | Roberto Torres has more bad news about wasted time at work:

The constant chime of digital workplace tools including email, instant messaging or collaboration software interrupts knowledge workers 13.9 times on an average day, according to a survey of 3,750 global workers from Workfront.

In the company’s State of Work 2020 study, 86% of workers said they expect simplicity and ease of use from their workplace tools, likening ideal systems to the user experience provided by platforms such as Instagram or Amazon.

Respondents say just 43% of their week is spent focusing on the job they were hired to do. The rest of their work day goes to administrative tasks, unproductive or nonessential meetings, responding to emails or other tasks.

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Bullshit Jobs | Jonah Galeota-Sprung reviews David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, and has fun dissecting the core motivations for working:

Why do we have to do it? What else do we have to do? The questions are staging a comeback. Old dreams of new deals and new dreams of old jobs wake and walk. David Graeber’s latest book, Bullshit Jobs, is one of many contributions to this rethinking. Slapdash and anecdotal, it reads like a parody of a pop-business manual, an anarchist take on Charles Duhigg or Malcolm Gladwell. The premise, which gained wide coverage following a 2013 article of the same title, is that many-to-most people in the wealthy world are employed in jobs not only unpleasant but purposeless: their days are filled with what amounts to busywork, however cleverly disguised, or they are filled with sitting around doing nothing.

Graeber’s scheme divides the working world in four. There are those who do actually necessary labor, like harvesting, manufacturing, cleaning and caring for children, the sick or the elderly. These jobs have clear value, tend to be low-status and poorly paid and are often performed by the most vulnerable. The upper echelon of meaningful and rewarding work — art, medicine, science, NGO administration, etc. — is reserved almost exclusively to those born into wealth, not least because such careers often require expensive degrees or long unpaid apprenticeships. Alongside them stand the better-remunerated but less obviously virtuous elite of bankers and corporate executives and such — roles with clear duties and goals, even if those goals are often at odds with public interests. Everyone else is stuck doing some sort of bullshit: work that’s not only of questionable utility in broad terms, but clearly pointless or redundant within its own organizational context. Personal reports from workers in this last group, which Graeber subdivides into the categories of flunky, goon, box ticker, duct taper and taskmaster, form the core of the book.

A tensile network of bitterness and sadomasochism holds the system stable. The useful resent that the money all goes to their useless overlords; those overlords resent the intrinsic rewards work brings their underlings; those in between resent everybody; and the well-paid and purposeful feel keenly, at some level, the vampiric nature of their satisfactions. Graeber calls this arrangement “managerial feudalism,” and is at pains to show that its paeans to efficiency are but a thin cover for a much weirder and more atavistic set of relationships. “The whole point,” he writes, “is to grab a pot of loot, either by stealing it from one’s enemies or extracting it from commoners by means of fees, tolls, rents, and levies, and then redistributing it. In the process, one creates an entourage of followers that is both the visible measure of one’s pomp and magnificence, and at the same time, a means of distributing political favor: for instance, by buying off potential malcontents, rewarding faithful allies (goons), or creating an elaborate hierarchy of honors and titles for lower-ranking nobles to squabble over.”

Go read it. It’s good even if you’ve read the original, and incorporates a great deal more than Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs polemic.


From the Archives

The way we work doesn’t work, anymore | Stowe Boyd | February 2017 |

Gallup has released its 2017 State of the American Workplace, and the first words, from Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chair and CEO, takes a very strong stand:

“The very practice of management no longer works.”

Still true.


Quote of the Day

Faust founds his kingdom because he must do something; and his only ideal of what he hopes to secure for his subjects is that they shall always have something to do.

| George Santayana


Elsewhere

Email-Newsletter Start-ups and The Future of Media | Kaitlyn Tiffany reports on venture capital moving into newsletter startups:

Substack, founded in 2017 by Chris Best (former chief technology officer of the Canadian messaging app Kik) and developer Jairaj Sethi, as well as the former journalist and Tesla alum Hamish McKenzie, is at the head of a pack of new email-newsletter start-ups — a surprising sentence mostly because it’s hard to think of anything less thrilling, from a venture-capital perspective, than email, a decades-old technology that essentially everyone is accustomed to using for free, all the time, rarely for fun.

But Andreessen Horowitz led a $15.3 million round of funding for the company this summer, with general partner Andrew Chen taking a seat on the board. We’re living in “a pivotal time in the history of mass communication,” Chen wrote on his firm’s blog at the time. “The golden age of new media.” Substack, and its intimacy-leveraging subscription model, he argued, was the future.

Buttondown, which also launched in 2017, charges newsletter writers nothing until they reach 1,000 subscribers, and $5 a month per thousand subscribers after that. Revue, which has a sophisticated suite of editing tools, and is aimed more at publishing teams or “thought leaders,” is free up to 50 subscribers and then charges a variable fee based on audience size ($5 a month up to 200, $8 up to 750, $10 up to 2,000, and so on). It raised an angel round of €300,000 in 2016, is currently profitable thanks to subscription revenue from its 60,000 registered users, and plans to fundraise again at the beginning of 2020.

Substack works on commission, taking 10 percent whenever a writer starts charging her audience a monthly or yearly subscription fee. Though anyone can use the product entirely for free and charge their readers nothing, Best, who is the CEO, told me the company considers free newsletters something like “lead generation.” When people are new to the platform, they’ll start out publishing for free, but that’s ideally an “incubation period” before they start converting their audience. The site has a dedicated discovery section where top newsletters are ranked, then promoted based on “internet points,” and the founders often emphasize their personal investment in helping writers grow their subscriber lists.

Her history of the newsletter world stands in dramatic contrast to Mike Isaacs’ male-dominated piece The New Social Network That Isn’t New At All. She sums up the current frenzy:

Newsletters were a private world, a club so thoroughly feminine it was forgotten. Now they’re the next big thing.

Mentions Griefbacon at Substack, but its creator Helena Fitzgerald is winding that newsletter down soon.

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Workplace Growth and The Frontline Workforce | Stowe Boyd | Facebook’s Workplace continues its expansion with special attention on the 80% of the workforce that doesn’t sit behind a desk.

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Departing the File Platform | Stowe Boyd | How Dropbox and Box are Diverging, and Why


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Work Futures Daily | Breadcrumbing

|Two weeks in the West | Breadcrumbing at Work | Better Diversity at the Fed | Rudiger Dornbusch | Uber Ambitious | Subpriming Cars |

Beacon NY | 2019–10–07 | Back from two weeks in San Francisco, at the Dropbox Work In Progress event and Boxworks 19. You can soak up the experience in these posts:

live-tweeted the Dropbox Work In Progress keynote.

Dropbox Launches ‘Smart Workspaces’ | Drew Houston repositions the company and wants to ‘quiet the noise’

Dropbox Spaces: Evolving from File Platform to Work Platform | Working in Place, not in Passing

Dropbox Spaces and Dropbox Paper: Not Totally Integrated, Yet | Things That Are in the Works and Things That Should Be

I attended Boxworks 19 and live-tweeted the keynote. I also curated a bunch of others’ tweets.

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I love the term ‘breadcrumbing’, which I had never heard before.


Stories

What to do if your boss is “breadcrumbing” you at work | Gwen Moran offers some insight to a negative trend, where companies fail to offer professional growth for employees:

While “breadcrumbing” — being strung along by small reinforcements without true commitment — has been around in the dating world for a while, the idea can apply in professional contexts as well. An August 2019 BBC report says bosses may be guilty of leading employees on, rather than genuinely committing to their development. In a tight labor market, this can be the kiss of death for employee engagement and retention.

Forty-four percent of employees don’t feel they have sufficient opportunities for professional growth in their current positions, according to TINYPulse’s “2019 Employee Engagement Report: The End of Loyalty.” The company’s research has also found that people who don’t feel supported in their professional development are three times more likely to be job hunting.

But it’s not always nefarious, says Tania Luna, co-CEO of LifeLabs Learning. Employers and supervisors may have good intentions, but inexperience, work demands, or lack of resources may get in the way, she says. “It’s not like there’s someone who has this devious plan to give you just enough development that you stick around, but not enough that you’re actually productive,” she says.

Moran offers a four-step plan to break this pattern.

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How the Fed Is Trying to Fix Its White Male Problem | Jeanna Smialek digs into the new approach to broadening the field of research assistant candidates has led to 5% increase in women and 6% increase in minorities, in just four years:

It showed through to the numbers. At the Fed Board of Governors in Washington, about 34 percent of research assistants were women in 2013, and 23 percent were minorities, according to a recent Brookings Institution report. That may have had a lasting impact, because research assistants often go back for doctorates and become full-fledged central bank economists.

Criteria used to screen résumés were also poor predictors of which candidates would make great research assistants, Mr. Wilcox said.

So starting several years ago, the central bank shook things up. It has begun casting a wider net for applicants, adding a recruiter who trekked out to a more varied set of schools. Starting in 2015, it brought in Amanda Bayer — a former Fed researcher who teaches at Swarthmore College — to help to rethink how résumés were reviewed. While the Fed cannot legally hire based on race and gender, it could make sure a broader swath of applicants were considered.

A centralized committee began conducting an initial review of applicant résumés, and the Fed started prioritizing qualities key to success in the job, like collaboration and teamwork. It took into account work experience and activities beyond the classroom. And the board standardized interview questions, so that instead of chatting about shared experiences, candidates and interviewers would focus on job-related skills.

Grades were kicked to the curb as a be-all and end-all, Ms. Bayer said.

“If a student comes in with a 3.9 G.P.A. from college, it means they hit the ground running in college,” she said. “That’s another tendency for economists: Just set a higher quantitative bar. You’re going to omit a lot of fabulous people that way.”

The new approach has had an impact. The Fed Board employed 150 research assistants in 2017, 39 percent of them women. That is up five percentage points from four years earlier. Minorities made up 29 percent of economists, up six points, Brookings found.

The Fed’s push illustrates how gender, racial and ethnic imbalances, often assumed to be unavoidable given the available crop of qualified students, might be possible to change with reworked selection criteria.

Another example where meritocratic principles led to inequity and lack of diversity.


Quote of the Day

In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.

| Rudiger Dornbusch


Elsewhere

Uber overhauls its app in ambitious bid to become ‘the operating system for your everyday life’ | Andrew Hawkins looks at the grand ambitions of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi:

Uber is merging its ride-hailing and food delivery apps, adding a raft of new safety features, boosting alternate modes of travel like bikes, scooters, and public transportation, and getting involved in “virtual restaurants,” in addition to dozens of other product announcements that amount to a major bid to become, as the company’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says, “the operating system for your everyday life.”

The company rolled out the product updates at an elaborate, Apple-like event in San Francisco on September 26th. But first, Khosrowshahi sat down for an exclusive interview with The Verge to explain why overhauling the app makes sense at a time when Uber is struggling to stem its massive cash losses, facing questions about its approach to safety, and fighting multiple regulatory battles around the country.

“We don’t just live in the digital sphere, and the real world comes with all kinds of complications,” Khosrowshahi said. “And for us, the challenge is: how do we navigate those complications and how do we make sure that we’re a constructive part of everyone’s life?”

Uh-oh.

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Climate Risk in the Housing Market Has Echoes of Subprime Crisis, Study Finds | Christopher Flavelle looks into the growing impact of growing financial risk related to climate change:

Banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government, new research suggests.

The findings echo the subprime lending crisis of 2008, when unexpected drops in home values cascaded through the economy and triggered recession. One difference this time is that those values would be less likely to rebound, because many of the homes literally would be underwater.

In a paper to be released Monday, the researchers say their findings show “a potential threat to the stability of financial institutions.” They warn that the threat will grow as global warming leads to more frequent and more severe disasters, forcing more loans to go into default as homeowners cannot or would not make mortgage payments.

“We’re talking about a loss that’s going to be borne by United States taxpayers,” said Amine Ouazad, a professor in the department of applied economics at HEC Montreal and one of the paper’s authors. He added that with between $60 billion to $100 billion in new mortgages issued for coastal homes each year, “we’re not talking about a small number.”

Time for a retreat from the shores.

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The Seven-Year Auto Loan: America’s Middle Class Can’t Afford Its Cars | Ben Eisen and Adrienne Roberts report on the startling trend in car financing:

Walk into an auto dealership these days and you might walk out with a seven-year car loan.

That means monthly payments that last well past when the brake pads give out and potentially beyond when the car gets traded in for a new one. About a third of auto loans for new vehicles taken in the first half of 2019 had terms of longer than six years, according to credit-reporting firm Experian PLC. A decade ago, that number was less than 10%.

Car loans that are increasingly stretched out are a pronounced sign that some American middle class buyers can’t afford a middle-class lifestyle.

Incomes have risen at a sluggish pace in the past decade, but car prices have grown rapidly. New technological and safety features, such as larger and more sophisticated multimedia displays, have made even the most basic cars more expensive. U.S. consumers have also veered toward pricier rides such as sport-utility vehicles that tend to dominate auto showrooms. The result is that consumers are seeking bigger loans than ever to purchase a car.

[…]

A third of new-car buyers who trade in their cars roll debt from old vehicles into their new loans, according to car-shopping site Edmunds. That is up from about a quarter before the financial crisis.

A new sort of subprime financial risk, where ‘middle class’ car owners are financing more car than they can really afford.

Work Futures Daily | Political Questions

| White-Collar Work Moves | More Kickstarter | Cultural Fit | The End Of The Gig Economy? | Hannah Arendt | WaPo Arc | Wordpress raises $30M | Climate Risk in Housing Market |

San Francisco | 2019–09–30 | In SF, between Dropbox Work in Progress event and Box Boxworks. Some other meetings. Busily catching up on writing after being under the weather for a week.

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It’s odd to be back in the neighborhood where I lived half-time for four or so years, Soma. So much turnover. So much vomit on the sidewalks.

Living almost ten years in Beacon NY, a small town on the Hudson, has changed me enormously, and it’s when I travel I realize how deep that change goes. I’ve seen a few friends here, but I have drifted away from the tech scene for a long time.

I guess my spin with SF was a superficial attraction, like meeting a mysterious stranger at a dance party. Once the confetti is swept away and the pulse of tricky glamour fades in the hard light of dawn, it doesn’t add up to much.

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I am enjoying all the Asian food here, though.


Stories

The White-Collar Job Apocalypse That Didn’t Happen | Ben Casselman looks back on the prediction of many economists that millions of white-collar jobs would migrate overseas. In fact, many of those jobs stayed in the US, but moved to lower-cost regions:

A widely covered 2007 study by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist and former Clinton administration official, estimated that a quarter or more of jobs were vulnerable within the next decade. But many companies discovered that labor savings were offset by other factors: time differences, language barriers, legal hurdles and the simple challenge of coordinating work half a world away. In some cases, companies decided they were better off moving jobs to less expensive parts of the United States rather than out of the country.

“Where in retrospect I missed the boat is in thinking that the gigantic gap in labor costs between here and India would push it to India rather than to South Dakota,” Mr. Blinder said in a recent interview. “There were other aspects of the costs to moving the activities that we weren’t thinking about very much back then when people were worrying about offshoring.”

In his 2007 paper, Mr. Blinder scored occupations on a 1-to-100 scale based on how easily they could be sent offshore. Bus drivers and electricians scored near the bottom. There is pretty much no way to do that work from afar. On the other end of the spectrum were computer programmers and telemarketers — jobs that in many cases were already being sent overseas.

In a follow-up paper released Friday, another economist, Adam Ozimek, revisited Mr. Blinder’s analysis to see what had happened over the past decade. Some job categories that Mr. Blinder identified as vulnerable, like data-entry workers, have seen a decline in United States employment. But the ranks of others, like actuaries, have continued to grow.

Over all, of the 26 occupations that Mr. Blinder identified as “highly offshorable” and for which Mr. Ozimek had data, 15 have added jobs over the past decade and 11 have cut them. Altogether, those occupations have eliminated fewer than 200,000 jobs over 10 years, hardly the millions that many feared. A second tier of jobs — which Mr. Blinder labeled “offshorable” — has actually added more than 1.5 million jobs.

But Mr. Blinder didn’t miss the mark entirely, said Mr. Ozimek, who is chief economist at Upwork, an online platform for hiring freelancers. The new study found that in the jobs that Mr. Blinder identified as easily offshored, a growing share of workers were now working from home. Mr. Ozimek said he suspected that many more were working in satellite offices or for outside contractors, rather than at a company’s main location. In other words, technology like cloud computing and videoconferencing has enabled these jobs to be done remotely, just not quite as remotely as Mr. Blinder and many others assumed.

Especially when US companies have kept most salaries basically flat for 30 years. Now have them work at home with no benefits, and it’s better than sending the customer support call center to the Philippines.

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Kickstarter To Workers and Project Creators: Drop Dead | Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs, and he skewers Kickstarter for their rabid anti-union activities. Current Affairs is moving from the platform along with a long list of other union supporters.

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The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit | Sue Shellenbarger unpacks the dangers of ‘cultural fit’:

Employers often aim to hire people they think will be a good “cultural fit,” with attributes that will mesh with a company’s goals and values. But their efforts can easily veer into a ditch where new hires all look, think and act alike. That’s bad for anyone who cares about an office with a mix of races, genders and points of view.

“What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with,” says Patty McCord, a human-resources consultant and former chief talent officer at Netflix. “You end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike, and everybody likes drinking beer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the bros,” she says.

I remember meeting some VCs years ago, and being struck by how many had played lacrosse at Dartmouth. As I recall, they didn’t have many big exits.

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Maybe We’re Not All Going to Be Gig Economy Workers After All | Neil Irwin takes a hard look at the mess in the gig economy platforms and ends with this:

Business has been on a multidecade campaign to shift more economic risk from its balance sheet onto its work force — through de-unionization, routine use of layoffs, outsourcing and the use of independent contractors.

The gig economy was supposed to be the apotheosis of that shift. It is a form of capitalism that is brutally efficient. It can work well for people seeking a little extra cash. But it has major drawbacks for those who want a solid, predictable income and some protection from the ups and downs of the economy — or for employers who need a reliable, collaborative work force.

As the gig economy matures, it is becoming clear that every trend has its limits.

And there is a mounting backlash in progressive circles against shifting economic risk onto the workforce, in part because it serves to increase economic inequality, but also since externalizing that risk from business means that the public sector — taxpapers, ultimately — will be left holding the bag.


Quote of the Day

Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.

| Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times


Elsewhere

Bezos’s Washington Post Licenses Its Publishing Technology to BP | Arc is a competitor to Automattic Wordpress, and Vox Chorus.

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Automattic raised $300M from Salesforce Ventures in a series D round at a $3B valuation. 34M of the world top 10 million websites run on Wordpress, up from 22% in 2014. Automattic also owns Tumblr.

:::

Climate Risk in the Housing Market Has Echoes of Subprime Crisis, Study Finds

Banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government, new research suggests.

The findings echo the subprime lending crisis of 2008, when unexpected drops in home values cascaded through the economy and triggered recession. One difference this time is that those values would be less likely to rebound, because many of the homes literally would be underwater.

In a paper to be released Monday, the researchers say their findings show “a potential threat to the stability of financial institutions.” They warn that the threat will grow as global warming leads to more frequent and more severe disasters, forcing more loans to go into default as homeowners cannot or would not make mortgage payments.

“We’re talking about a loss that’s going to be borne by United States taxpayers,” said Amine Ouazad, a professor in the department of applied economics at HEC Montreal and one of the paper’s authors. He added that with between $60 billion to $100 billion in new mortgages issued for coastal homes each year, “we’re not talking about a small number.”

Uh-oh.

Work Futures Daily | Knowledge and Ignorance

| Kickstarter Union | Unoffice! | CA Freelance Writer Limits | Paul Krugman | Robots Report | Dropbox Spaces |

source: Alex Kotliarskyi

2019–09–28 | San Francisco CA — The combination of travel and head cold has really smashed my productivity this week. Apologies.

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I encountered what looked to be a forty-five-minute waiting line at the Apple store in Union Square this morning. People want the new iPhones, I guess.


Stories

Here’s What the CEO of Kickstarter Said to Creators About Firing Union Organizers | Lauren Kaori Gurley reports on the acrimonious interactions between CEO Aziz Hasan and workers at Kickstarter. He denies firing organizers in retaliation, but clearly states his objections to the union:

Since the union drive first became public in March of this year, the company has made it clear that it opposes a union. In his letter, Hasan asserts that management believes a union would hurt the company and that union organizers have not made their complaints clear to the company. “The union framework is inherently adversarial,” he writes. “That dynamic doesn’t reflect who we are as a company, how we interact, how we make decisions, or where we need to go. We believe that in many ways it would set us back, and that the us vs. them binary already has.”

If Kickstarter unionizes, it would be one of the first white collar tech unions in the United States. This week 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh voted to form Google’s first white collar union [the United Steelworkers Union]. Slate has reported that over half of Kickstarter’s non-management employees support a union.

Some Kickstarter employees have speculated to Motherboard that the company does not want to set a new precedent for the tech industry.

A Kickstarter employee told Motherboard this week that the union is contemplating asking the company to voluntarily recognize the union. Today’s statement from Kickstarter says, “we’ve said that it would be irresponsible of us to voluntarily recognize the union if asked.”

Germany and other European countries manage to operate with unionized workers fairly amicably. American managers are going to have to get used to unionized white-collar workers.

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Two pieces about the ills of offices.

Burn your office down. Today! | Mouna Boumal pens a manifesto for unofficing your business:

Your employees hate coming to the office every morning. They hate it. It slowly kills their potential and creativity, and they feel it. The freest spirits have been feeling stuck for quite a while now. Eventually, they will end up hating their job and leaving for another one. You think I’m exaggerating? I’m really not.

I don’t blame you, you paid the rent of this beautiful space, bought really cool office supplies and designed the place so beautifully. I blame the office, I blame the idea of the modern office that has been inhibiting the productivity and creativity of people instead of unleashing it. (I secretly blame you too for embracing that idea)

This idea is telling you that your ‘employees’ have to be sitting at a desk for eight hours a day to be producing the work and meeting the expectations. It’s wrong. It’s wrong and painful. People don’t need an office to deliver results, they need a culture. They need a culture that puts them in the centre, a culture that celebrates trust, freedom and responsibility in the work environment.

Yes. Trust, freedom and responsibility.

And Farhad Manjoo suggests Open Offices Are a Capitalist Dead End, sparked by the WeWork meltdown:

How did so many people put so much money into something so many were warning would end up so badly? What was We thinking?

And then it hit me: We wasn’t thinking.

WeWork? Not really. WeCan’t! We’reTooDistracted!

Much will be written in the coming weeks about how WeWork failed investors and employees. But I want to spotlight another constituency. WeWork’s fundamental business idea — to cram as many people as possible into swank, high-dollar office space, and then shower them with snacks and foosball-type perks so they overlook the distraction-carnival of their desks — fails office workers, too.

The model fails you even if you don’t work at a WeWork, because WeWork’s underlying idea has been an inspiration for a range of workplaces, possibly even your own. As urban rents crept up and the economy reached full employment over the last decade, American offices got more and more stuffed. On average, workers now get about 194 square feet of office space per person, down about 8 percent since 2009, according to a report by the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. WeWork has been accelerating the trend. At its newest offices, the company can more than double the density of most other offices, giving each worker less than 50 square feet of space.

As a socially anxious introvert with a lot of bespoke workplace rituals (I can’t write without aromatherapy), I used to think I was simply a weirdo for finding modern offices insufferable. I’ve been working from my cozy home office for more than a decade, and now, when I go to the Times’ headquarters in New York — where, for financial reasons, desks were recently converted from cubicles into open office benches — I cannot for the life of me get anything done.

But after chatting with colleagues, I realized it’s not just me, and not just the Times: Modern offices aren’t designed for deep work.

He doesn’t offer much hope, either. But go read it.

:::

California’s new 35-story limit for freelancers | Tony Baisotti reports on the new California Assembly Bill 5, and the fine print related to freelance journalists:

The core of the Dynamex decision, and of the new law, is a three-pronged “ABC test,” which is used to determine who is and isn’t a freelancer. The “B” prong, which presents the biggest issue for freelance journalism, states that employers can only contract out work that is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” A company in the business of journalism, then, could not hire freelancers to do journalism.

As CJR reported in March, some publishers responded to the Dynamex ruling by cutting ties with freelancers based in California. The passage of Assembly Bill 5 offers some relief: freelance writers, editors, photographers and editorial cartoonists were given a partial carve-out, allowing publishers to hire them for up to 35 separate “content submissions” in a given year. (The law exempts more than 20 professions, including doctor, lawyer, manicurist, travel agent and commercial fisherman. Graphic designers have a full exemption, which means California judges could find themselves ruling on how much Photoshop work it takes to distinguish photography from graphic design.)

35 pieces seems like a low number. wouldn’t 52 — one per week — be more natural?

But the final question — as always — has to be who benefits? Will this spur papers to hire employees who otherwise would be limited to 35 pieces? Will this simply force journalists to work for a longer list of papers, and papers to create a longer list of freelance journalists to spread work over? Will California gain from more benefits being paid by papers? Will full-time journalists gain more job security? The implications are unclear to me.


Quote of the Day

Knowledge is objectively better than ignorance.

| Paul Krugman, For Whom the Economy Grows


Elsewhere

World Robotics Report: Global Sales of Robots Hit $16.5B in 2018 | Keith Shaw reports on the annual World Robotics Report:

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) today released its annual World Robotics Report, which showed an annual global sales value of $16.5 billion in 2018. The IFR said 422,000 were shipped globally in 2018, an increase of 6% compared with 2017 shipments. However, the group said shipments in 2019 will recede from the record levels in 2018, but also expects an average growth of 12% per year from 2020 to 2022.

In the service robots category, the IFR said the sales value of service robots for professional use increased 32% to $9.2 billion in 2018. Logistics systems, such as autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) represent 41% of all units sold, followed by inspection and maintenance robots (39%). Service robots aimed at personal and domestic use, mainly in the area of household robots such as vacuums and lawn-mowing, was up 15% ($3.7 billion in sales).

The rate of robot installations in China and South Korea declined, but Asia remains the largest user of robots. Europe grew 14% and the Americas grew 20%, another record year for the sixth consecutive year.

In the U.S. robot installations increased for the eighth year in a row, with about 40,300 units shipped, representing a 22% increase compared to 2017. “Since 2010, the driver of the growth in all manufacturing industries in the U.S. has been the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen the U.S. industries in both domestic and global markets,” the World Robotics report said. In terms of annual installations, the U.S. has moved past Korea to third position on the list.

Trailing China and Japan, still.

Automotive is still the largest user, with almost 30% of total supply in 2018:

Almost 80% of industrial robot installations in the automotive industry took place in five key markets:

º China (39,351 units)

º Japan (17,364 units)

º Germany (15,673 units)

º United States (15,246 units)

º Republic of Korea (11,034 units)

Electronics Industry is the second-largest market declined 14%, and in third place Metals and Machinery took 10% of supply. Also, Logistics grew 53% and is the dominant sector for service robots. Warehousing and shipping are exploding.

The bottom line will be continued attrition of workers in automotive, electronics, metals and machinery, and logistics sectors.

:::

Dropbox Launches ‘Smart Workspaces’ | Stowe Boyd | Drew Houston repositions the company and wants to ‘quiet the noise’


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Work Futures Daily | Yesterday’s Path

| Mind Changing | Decontracting | Bosslessness | John Burroughs | Antwork |

source: Caleb Jones

AI Beacon NY | 2019–09–22 | I’ve been sick as a dog for the past few days. Missed a great deal, and behind in everything.


Stories

Research: Changing Your Mind Makes You Seem Intelligent | Martha Jeong, Leslie K. John, Francesca Gino, and Laura Huang summarize research on changing your mind, publicly:

First, we examined the implications of refusing to change your mind in a real-word context with important outcomes — an entrepreneurial pitch competition. Consistent with prior research, we found that entrepreneurs had a general tendency to dig their heels in: 76% of entrepreneurs refused to change their minds when faced with contradictory evidence. Unfortunately, this tendency turned out to be counterproductive to their interests. Specifically, entrepreneurs who changed their minds during the pitch were almost six times more likely to advance to the final round of the competition.

Next, we took our findings from the pitch competition into the laboratory to find out more about what was driving these outcomes. Participants played the role of investors evaluating entrepreneurs, where half of the entrepreneurs were described as changing their minds while the other half were described as holding their ground on an initial stance in the face of valid contradictory evidence. Similar to what we observed in the actual competition, participants believed that entrepreneurs who changed their minds should advance in the competition, compared to those who dug their heels in. We also found that participants perceived those who changed their minds as lacking confidence, but demonstrating intelligence — the results suggest that in an entrepreneurial context at least, showcasing intelligence is ultimately paramount.

However, further research suggests that there are contexts in which stubbornness isn’t penalized. For example, in another study where participants were evaluating job candidates, participants were more likely to agree that a candidate who changed their mind should be hired if the job was one where intelligence was valued (such as engineering). However, the preference was muted in jobs where confidence was valued (such as public speaking). We believe these results shed some light on why we sometimes hold inconsistent opinions of those who change their minds — at times disparaging them for their equivocation and at times applauding them for their thoughtfulness. Context is everything.

Who can argue with that? But the first finding is the important one: on a day to day basis, those that demonstrate they can learn from feedback are considered more highly than those who don’t.

:::

What happens when delivery startups use employees instead of contractors | Alison Griswald looks into a small set of delivery companies who are using full-time employees instead of contractors, apropos of the recent AB5 law passed in California. Is it the end of the gig economy? The jury is still out.

Companies that rely on contractors have different concerns from those that rely on employees. In the contractor model, the main concern is the supply of workers. Companies need a big labor pool to draw from because, as contractors, workers are free to turn down jobs. Contractors get paid per delivery, which gives them an incentive to get more done (provided it’s ultimately worth their time). With employees, efficiency is the most important metric, because they earn an hourly rate regardless of how many deliveries they do. It’s up to the company to make sure employees are productive enough to make the hourly wage it pays them worth it.

“The overhead is not so much in these benefits and other things that people think of,” [Adam] Price [founder of Homer Logistics, now CEO of Waitr, which acquired Homer earlier this year] says. “The cost is in the management overhead and the employee engagement to get people to work when they’re getting paid a flat rate.”

In a tight labor market, churn will eat more profits that that overhead, I bet.

:::

Gartner: Get ready for more AI in the workplace | Matthew Finnegan reports from a recent London event where they make the fairly timid projection that AI will be commonplace in business by 2025.

Gartner also expects AI tools to help support managers in making better decisions. “Robo-bosses [will] become common in 2025. We are not necessarily saying that everyone is going to be reporting to an algorithm, so you can breathe a little bit easier,” said Cain.

Instead, AI will help out with the more mundane tasks managers already do.

“Let’s think about what managers do every day: they set schedules, assign work, do performance reviews, offer career guidance, help you access training, they do approvals, they cascade information and they enforce directives,” [Matthew] Cai [vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner] said. “We can have AI doing a lot of that.

“Your manager won’t be replaced by an algorithm, but your manager will be using a lot of AI constructs to help improve and to make more efficient a lot of the routine work that they do. We think that that is going to be the combination.”

I strongly disagree.

If businesses can automate — and improve — the job of first-line managers, they will. That role is responsible for a great deal of employee discontent and turnover. So, a great many people will be ‘reporting to an algorithm’ but it won’t feel like that. It will be tools sending nudges to help avoid errors and adopt more productive paths to get things done, like Humu is working on. It will be AI-mediated routing of work opportunities, like participation on a new project, based on skills, interests, and training goals. People don’t like ‘reporting to’ someone, but they will like the availability of deep resources for instruction and advice from Alexa-like bots on demand. And they won’t miss their old boss, either.

Basically, AI will be one of the key elements of a shift toward bosslessness, where everyone is part of the management team (see It’s Bosses, All The Way Down).

As usual, Gartner is too timid.


Quote of the Day

To learn something new take the path that you took yesterday.

| John Burroughs


Elsewhere

The Chinese startup that wants to replace human couriers with drones | Wei Sheng reports on Antwork, a Chinese company that has gotten governmental approval to develop a low-altitude logistics network for China’s multi-billion dollar food delivery market: food delivery drones.

Antwork is the first Chinese company to pass the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA), the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s multi-stage process of risk evaluation for certain unmanned aircraft operations. The certification means that Antwork can conduct urban parcel delivery using drones, co-founder and chief operating officer Zhao told TechNode.

The temporary approval issued by regulators in July allows Antwork’s drone delivery networks to operate in Hangzhou for one year. After that, the company could obtain formal approvals, which would allow it to expand services to other cities, said Zhao.

The cost of delivering packages through Antwork’s drone logistics network is RMB 2 [$0.28] per kilometer at the moment, according to Zhao. He added that the cost could fall as the technology develops and the scale of its network expands.

Maybe I could finally get Pho in Beacon.


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