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February 26, 2016 12:43 PM   Subscribe

New York Times Magazine's The Work Issue: Reimagining the Office presents longform articles on questions regarding hiring, teamwork, meetings, automation, and more. Semi-permeable paywall.

In the issue:

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team (group norms matter a lot!)

Meet is Murder (meetings: often intolerable, yet sometimes vital!)

Is Blind Hiring the Best Hiring? (is partly anonymizing hiring the best way to build a diverse workforce?)

Failure to Lunch (yeah, it sucks that everyone eats at their desks now, but here's some more info about why)

The 'Good Jobs' Gamble (how might the gig economy create actual, legit jobs?)

Re-thinking the Work-life Equation (what it says on the tin)

The Robots are Coming for Wall Street (unfortunately not what it says on the tin)

The Post-Cubicle Office and its Discontents (does continuously fucking around with office design really make for happier or more productive workers?)

The New Dream Jobs (claiming millennials want it all, like duh)
posted by MoonOrb (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Like a lot of things management related, how to construct the optimal work environment is well-known, but actually requires work that most people aren't willing to put in. So, we get these silver bullet articles every 1st quarter that make everyone feel good, or bad, and maybe someone gets a pretty office -- but nothing really has changed except for the amount of natural light.

Respect your workers, talk to each of them one-on-one and figure out the optimal environment that suits the particular mix of workers and projects you have. Use that arrangement. Keep checking in often to make sure its working, and make tweaks as necessary. But... again.. this requires managers and higher ups to actually care about the employees and do the work instead of doing fun stuff like redesigning an office or trying out amateur psychological experiments.
posted by smidgen at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Just thought of a connection here: the neglected "work" in this case is a kind of emotional labor.
posted by smidgen at 1:02 PM on February 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

needs more full communism
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:42 PM on February 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

smidgen: Cate Huston recently wrote a piece which you might like: Thankless Emotional Labour as Management Training. It really resonated with some coworkers.
posted by adamsc at 4:03 PM on February 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

The findings about a psychologically safe environment as critical to effective teamwork are corroborated by David Rock's work on approaching and avoiding (one of his papers is here).

Briefly, Rock says, "In the absence of safe social interactions the body generates a threat response" and that "...much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward....Secondly, that several domains of social experience draw upon the same brain networks...used for primary survival needs." Safe social interactions are as critical to well-being as air, food, and shelter.

One of the worst teams I ever worked on--filled with smart, dedicated, and generally nice people--had a leader that didn't see the necessity of making the space safe. He felt safe; why wouldn't the rest of us feel that way? The unspoken aim of the team's work became "don't draw the attention of Leader" as opposed to "what can we do to move the project forward?" As long as the two were aligned, work went forward but at a tremendous energy/emotional cost caused by trying to avoid Leader. Where they didn't align, it was safer to avoid Leader than approach him, even if approaching him would be more effective for the project. And Leader scratched his head and said, "You're all smart, dedicated people. Why can't we make more progress?"
posted by angiep at 4:07 PM on February 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The lunch one was interesting.
‘‘Workplace satisfaction is so much higher if you eat with your colleagues,’’ Wansink told me. ‘‘You like your job more — and you like your colleagues better.’’

In my experience coworkers don't eat lunch together because
- they don't like each other
- people's meeting schedules don't line up; it's hard to get even 2 people to find a time when they're both free at the same time
- the sooner you get your stuff done the sooner you can go home. When I was a receptionist and had to be at the desk from 8 to 5 you better believe I took my lunch period seriously. But now that my workplaces largely don't care if and when I'm there then I'm all about refueling as quickly and painlessly as possible so I can just get my stuff done and go home. i really like those Starbucks PBJ boxes for this purpose. I will be sad when they discontinue these. It's just the right amount of food and just the right amount of effort I'm willing to spend. All the other options out there for work lunch when you're not into cooking are way too heavy and expensive.
posted by bleep at 5:49 PM on February 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I should probably be Internet correct, so I deleted the comments I was going to make. But let's just say I agree with a lot of this, especially the commentary about a safe work environment being something people need to thrive. Fairness is important, not micromanaging/nitpicking is important, feeling supported instead of being frequently unpleasantly surprised is important.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:59 PM on February 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will say that unfortunately -- and eventually, if emotional labor becomes a thing, it will be used against middle management. It'll be the latest buzzword, and one will be required to fill out their emotional labor timesheets with particular emotional tasks laid out, and we'll all have a quarterly emotional review. Thereby, avoiding any real emotional labor at all.
posted by smidgen at 7:04 PM on February 26, 2016

"In a study of 122 employees, people on average cached 476 calories’ worth of food in their desks. One person squirreled away 3,000 calories, including Cheetos, candy bars and five cans of pop-top tuna fish. In addition to the personal food stashes, there are those areas in an office where food accumulates like driftwood — the leftover sandwiches from a catered lunch; the remains of a birthday cake; banana bread someone baked at home; the bottomless candy dish. When researchers interviewed administrative staff members at the University of California, Davis, one respondent called these common stockpiles ‘‘food altars.’’

Yeah, we also have a "food gets pitched out of the fridge weekly" rule now too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:05 PM on February 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

the sooner you get your stuff done the sooner you can go home.

This. I am on the clock right now. In theory, I need to work 40 billable hours. In practice, I need to work 40 billable hours plus however many more billable hours I need to finish my work.

None of these are conductive to eating lunch with other people. The way my job is set up, the only way I'm willing to eat lunch with other people is if I'm eating it during a meeting or I can somehow manage to get paid while I'm eating.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:24 PM on February 26, 2016

Er, I work on the clock these days, not that I was at work when I wrote that.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:04 PM on February 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, in all honesty the thing I am most dissatisfied with about my job is the work itself; but that may soon change (there are a couple of tantalizing chances coming for me to move into a role that is more suited to my strengths, and even if not I am due a potential raise).

But in all honesty, one thing I also dislike is where I sit.. I'm in one of four desks that is arranged in a cluster of pseudo-cubes, with all four of us sitting with our backs to each other - and I have recently realized that this makes me subtly uneasy that someone is sneaking up behind me for eight hours a day every day, and I am thus at a low level of wigged-out all the time. If I were sitting with my back to a wall, even if it was the wall of a cubicle, it'd make a tremendous difference. But I don't know if this is the kind of thing you can talk to an employer about without coming across as a precious snowflake.

So workplace design matters, and isn't always about grand sweeping things like whether there are nap rooms or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 AM on February 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've been a lower-level manager for a long time. As a result I've had both cubicles and offices depending on where I was stationed. Right now I'm back in an office and let me tell you having a door is absolutely wonderful.

I pity anyone stuck working in a "open plan office".
posted by tommasz at 5:39 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put me in a cubicle or meeting rooms one or two days a week if you like, but let me work remotely the rest of the week. The ideal work environment for me would be optional telecommuting at least three days a week -- go do my work at home or in a downtown cafe or at the seaside or up a mountain or in the woods -- and a couple hours of required work-related training and professional development every week.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2016

this makes me subtly uneasy that someone is sneaking up behind me ... But I don't know if this is the kind of thing you can talk to an employer about without coming across as a precious snowflake.

It's a not uncommon complaint. My friends in similar situations haven't had luck getting management to change anything but have found that adding a mirror to their desk so they can see behind them helps.
posted by Candleman at 8:06 AM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Employment: Global Best Practice - "Employee satisfaction has a positive impact on productivity, but how to achieve it?"

The Robots are Coming for Wall Street (unfortunately not what it says on the tin)

Finance, not tech, is driving growth in U.S. billionaires (via)
posted by kliuless at 12:21 AM on February 28, 2016

This is really interesting writing, thanks for posting.
posted by rebent at 10:46 AM on February 29, 2016

DeepMind and Demis Hassabis (via)
“We’re really lucky,” says Hassabis, who compares his company to the Apollo programme and Manhattan Project for both the breathtaking scale of its ambition and the quality of the minds he is assembling at an ever increasing rate. “We are able to literally get the best scientists from each country each year. So we’ll have, say, the person that won the Physics Olympiad in Poland, the person who got the top maths PhD of the year in France. We’ve got more ideas than we’ve got researchers, but at the same time, there are more great people coming to our door than we can take on. So we’re in a very fortunate position. The only limitation is how many people we can absorb without damaging the culture.”

That culture goes much deeper than beanbags, free snacks and rooftop beers. Insisting that the Google acquisition has not in any way forced him to deviate from his own research path, Hassabis reckons he spends “at least as much time thinking about the efficiency of DeepMind as the algorithms“ and describes the company as “a blend of the best of academia with the most exciting start-ups, which have this incredible energy and buzz that fuels creativity and progress.” He mentions “creativity” a lot, and observes that although his formal training has all been in the sciences, he is “naturally on the creative or intuitive” side. “I’m not, sort of, a standard scientist,” he remarks, apparently without irony. Vital to the fabric of DeepMind are what he calls his “glue minds”: fellow polymaths who can sufficiently grasp myriad scientific areas to “find the join points and quickly identify where promising interdisciplinary connections might be, in a sort of left-field way.” Applying the right benchmarks, these glue people can then check in on working groups every few weeks and swiftly, flexibly, move around resources and engineers where required. “So you’ll have one incredible, genius researcher and almost immediately, unlike in academia, three or four other people from a different area can pick up that baton and add to it with their own brilliance,” he describes. “That can result in incredible results happening very quickly.” The AlphaGo project, launched just 18 months ago, is a perfect case in point.

... “just thinking time. Until three or four in the morning, that’s when I do my thinking: on research, on our next challenge, or I’ll write up an algorithmic design document.” ... It’s not so much actual AI coding, he admits, “because my maths is too rusty now. It’s more about intuitive thinking. Or maybe strategic thinking about the company: how to scale it and manage that. Or it might just be something I read in an article or saw on the news that day, wondering how our research could connect to that.”
also btw...
-Andy Rubin Unleashed Android on the World. Now Watch Him Do the Same With AI
-The smart wi-fi water pitcher
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2016

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