“Meet the man that banned Facebook at work,” was how I was gleefully introduced to co workers when I started my current job. This fearful epithet was not entirely merited on my part – I simply discouraged staff updating their Facebook profiles or tweeting when they were supposed to be participating in conference calls (and being paid to do so).

“Vindication” was the word that came to mind when I stumbled across a report compellingly titled (for me, at any rate): Is Web Surfing Distracting Your Workers?

However, my superficial reaction was premature. According to the research conducted by Harvard Business School research fellow Marco Piovesan, banning such activities is not merely futile but potentially counter-productive. The act of resisting temptation (in the case of the research to watch a funny video or – when reproduced amongst children – to each succulent marshmallow), actually makes people less productive.

So, while idle web browsing can certainly reduce the level of attention and focus that people apply to their work, overtly prohibiting such access could be even worse for productivity.

Here´s a summary of the findings:
• Psychologists have theorized that the energy spent resisting temptation takes attention away from other tasks, but this is the first experiment to test it in the context of a work environment.
• Researchers found that subjects exhibited a decrease in productivity when they were tempted to watch a funny video but then told not to do so. Comparatively, subjects who were allowed to watch the video were more productive.
• The research indicates that prohibiting private Internet use at work is actually bad for employees’ productivity. That effect could be especially critical in jobs where small mistakes could mean a big difference in performance.

Despite the above, I still believe that the benefits of multi-tasking to be greatly exaggerated. My experience at work, instance, is that tweeting and updating Facebook at the same time as doing work is not conducive to effective proof reading, budget planning, contract negotiations, exchange rate calculations or – even – conference calls. Regarding the latter, I believe that all conference calls could be reduced to 15 minutes of everyone genuinely paid attention!

The benefits of social media within the workplace are indisputable – from market research and brand management to internal communications and R&D; such activities should not be considered as “accompaniments” to work but fundamental to it. If your Facebook page requires updating . . . update it, then move on to the next task. This is what I call “uni-tasking”; concentrating on a single task until it is complete before moving onto the next. Do you think it will catch on . . . ?

That’s not to say that there is no role for multi-tasking within the workplace . . . . I’m convinced that it is still possible to eat lunch at your desk, while continuing to email, of course! Does that count?

@RogerDarathe man in the centre has not read this blog

The man in the centre  has not read this post.

….or Why “Reading, Travelling And Keep Fit” Will Become The Most Important Part Of The CV Of The Future

I have just spent the last week imaging what our working environment will look like in 2020. Special thanks to Jonathan Hargreaves, Rick Murray and Stefan Stern for their thoughts and inspiration.

One of the discussions centred on the fact that while in the 1980s the world of work was defined by FMCG companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever in terms of management style and organisation, while in the 1990s management thinking took inspiration from engineering companies epitomised by the GE Way. By 2000 investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan) and, to some extent, management consultancies (Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey) were the dominant force.

The broad consensus is that the workplace of 2020 will be driven by technology – the way teams collaborate, the frequency and style of communications, the nature of management and hierarchy, and the overall organisation of work.

However, the workplace of the future will not be dominated by technologists; on the contrary, the technology paradox of 2020 is that non technical, “soft” skills in greater demand than ever before.

There are three key reasons:

· The nature of work in 2020 will exert a premium on employees who thrive in collaborative environments, those who can communicate across a range of media and time-zones to a variety of cultures, in a multiplicity of languages. 2020 collaborative teams will have to find and agree a set of shared values (there will be no default office culture), shape and adhere to a hierarchy which is both virtual and global, and create a working culture that crosses international boundaries, datelines and language. Collaboration on this level is not about technology or automation, it is more about social skills, creating team cultures and building loyalty.

· The consumerisation of technology; by 2020 the number of platforms and media through which organisations can communicate will multiply and they will not distinguish between “workplace” and “leisure-time”. An acute awareness and understanding of these communications media will be fundamental for any organisation; and the skills required to match message with appropriate media – on a global scale – will, by definition, be soft.

· Information overload; if we think we are bombarded by information and stimuli now, 2020 will see even greater pressure on our time and attention spans. The volume and diversity (work and leisure-related) stimuli bombarding the 2020 employee will require a level of judgement, experience, discretion, prioritisation – in short, soft skills – never previously demanded of any generation. 2020 employees will be systematically required to make value judgements on whether, how and when they respond to incoming data on a continual basis. It will not be possible to automate these decisions (the entire process will already be fully and exhaustively automated); what remains will require a level of judgement, opinion, assessment, discretion and experience that is 100% “soft” and 100% “human”.

So the age of technology management may not only be good news for social sciences, it will also add a new level of importance to soft skills often hidden at the bottom of our CVs . . . if, of course, we have CVs in 2020, but that requires another post altogether!

@RogerDara

Can content ever be country neutral? Meaning, can an idea or concept be equally relevant and meaningful in multiple markets at the same time?

I believe that the answer is yes. That doesn’t mean that the concept has to be interpreted in exactly the same way; “football” means different things in the UK and the US but it is still meaningful and relevant to its respective audience. The Eurovision Song Contest is another example of individual countries’ image of popular song can vary quite markedly.

However, the concept of Eurovision remains consistent across Europe; a popular song content not taken entirely seriously where international “favours” are exchanged during the course of an interminable voting procedure.

I recently participated in a training exercise within our agency including teams from 15 countries charged with launching a “St Valentines” mobile phone specifically for the female market. The challenge was to develop a central idea or concept which could drive local activities in five other EMEA markets. The idea was not that each market´s activities simply replicated each other, but that they each applied their twist to the central concept to make it meaningful and relevant to their market. In essence – like the Eurovision Song Contest – while the contest remains central, the songs themselves can be quite different (in fact, they should be – that’s the point of Eurovision!).

The secret, of course, is the central concept (or “strategic framework” as PR people sometimes call it). This concept is required to reflect the business proposition (the benefits or selling points of the product or service) but also be resilient enough to withstand localization (literally, turning and fine-tuning) by markets from Abu Dhabi to Aberdeen without losing meaning.

Our Valentine Phone contest generated some immensely powerful ideas; in many cases the teams didn’t realize quite how powerful there were. Here is a selection:

· “Women reveal the secrets of multi-tasking” – building on the phone multiple features (including a pocket mirror); this idea potentially could work in any market, there is an element of humour and women anywhere could relate to it (women think they can multi task more effectively than men (as centuries of child rearing would demonstrate)). This concept lends itself to all types of competitions, challenges, discussions, dialogue in any language or location imaginable

· Discover your secret “Femme Fatale”:  Another fun idea which could work multi-market, nice element of humour also; perfectly mapping to the phone positioning. Which woman has never dreamt of being a femme fatal in any country, any culture . . . just for a day?

· Lady Gaga flash mob: pure genius, really simple, relevant to the phone, inexpensive and fun. In reality this is a tactic rather than a strategic framework, but it has the beauty of simplicity and directness. You can just see this spontaneous choreography happening from the Gare du Nord to Red Square!

· Countless faces of love: this would generate conversations and dialogue in any market; solid idea worth developing; love whatever it looks like is really in the eye of the beholder. Another amazing strong concept that would easily stand the test of country localization.

These ideas can only really be developed and tested in a multi-country environment (teams paired up across borders for the above exercise), but when they are developed, such ideas are – literally – priceless.

@RogerDara

After yesterday’s TweetLevel insanity, the evening brought dose of reality in the form of dinner with a bunch of CIOs. It’s always fun. No, really it is…I enjoy it. They’re senior guys in big companies – financial services, law, consumer goods, leisure – working right at the coalface of technology in industry. You get some great perspectives.

Oh, and by the way, none of them are on Twitter.

Much of the conversation was client-confidential, but there are a few bits I think I’m safe to reveal…

The mention of cloud computing provokes a reaction. And it’s not generally a good one. Not because the CIOs don’t feel that they will be putting stuff in the cloud, but because it’s regarded as another example of cynical technology industry marketing. One CIO said he fined any of his team every time they mentioned the phrase…

In reality, most of the CIOs said that they had been doing what would now be considered cloud computing for a good while, but were they about to entrust masses of sensitive data to someone else’s data centre thousands of miles away? Not likely. Security is cited at the main concern.

We chatted a bit about Windows 7, given the generally positive buzz it seems to be creating since its launch. Interestingly, none of the CIOs present had moved their businesses to Vista, so my assumption was that they’d be moving to 7 fairly soon. Not so…most didn’t feel that they’d jump to 7 until 2011 at the earliest, probably until the inevitable first Service Pack was delivered.

Despite it obviously having a negative impact, a number of the CIOs mentioned the positive changes brought by the recession. The increase in use of collaborative working technology, unified communications and remote working is something that won’t be reversed when the economic picture looks more positive, which has got to be a good thing.

For me though, the most interesting little nugget came from the CIO who said that he can see a day – and it’s not too far away – when people are joining his company and are better equipped technologically than the business. Therefore he believes that the role of his team will be to connect people’s personal and preferred technology into the corporate network. The implications of this are enormous, of course, from a security, payment, platform and network perspective.

Interesting stuff.

businesswomen(NB: The headline of this post is not the original as penned by Lucy. Mark Pinsent has abused his editorial position.)

Why are female successes always indirectly related back to men?

The Independent reported yesterday that “ruthless women have extra testosterone” and implied that the male hormone is the key to females achieving success in the business world. The recent hype around Olympic athlete, Caster Semenya, is an exemplar of this line of thought. Instead of congratulating the young athlete on years of hard work, determination and downright dedication to her sport, the world questioned her sex and thus, her ability as a woman. Caster’s success was finally attributed to her elevated levels of testosterone – talk about feeling deflated!

The media love a good story about putting women down in the workplace…I can’t remember the last time I saw a positive story. The Guardian reported several weeks ago that new research from LSE suggested that having women in the boardroom can damage a company’s bottom line and lower performance. The survey revealed a correlation between companies with proportionally more female board members and lower profitability and market value.

Talk about advertising agencies and fashion brands damaging the self-esteem of young women with digital enhancements and airbrushing – what about the ambition of women in the workplace?

Lucy Davies – @lucydesadavies

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To those of you who are reading this in the UK, it should come as very little surprise that our trust in the UK government is on the decline. Notwithstanding the stupidity of the expenses scandal from our parliament, the results of the recent Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the UK are bucking the trend …for the wrong reasons.

Specific UK findings include:

  • 71% don’t trust Gordon Brown and 65% trust him less than six months ago
  • 69% trust Government less than six months ago
  • There is a strong link between trust/distrust in Government, Gordon Brown and MPs in general
  • Three quarters don’t trust financial institutions who have taken bail-out money to use tax-payers’ money responsibly
  • 49% think the country is heading in the wrong direction
  • Only 11% believe that global business has a good reputation
  • 44% don’t expect economic recovery to happen before 2011 at the earliest; 50% think it will take until 2011 or later for business to be trusted again
  • Britons believe that a CEO’s business decisions should consider the interests of employees, customers and communities before those of shareholders or government

For more UK highlights – click here and here (for supplementary Omnibus findings)

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However, what surprised me was that these findings are not universal across the world. Whereas you might expect some more positive outlooks regarding business in the eastern countries (and you’d be right), in the west the US, France and Germany are rebounding – which is in stark contrast to the that in the UK.

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There is already some debate about this in twitterville.

Mike Freer (@leaderlistens), Leader of Barnet Council – and probably one of the best politicians who understand how micro-conversations help (unlike David Cameron) explains, the issue of trust is about being open:

@JonnyBentwood when the Govt won’t come clean about having to balance the books on tax and spending why should people trust politicians.

Sharon Richardson (@joiningdots) agrees – her view is the problems go back to the beginning of the financial crisis:

@JonnyBentwood I think many believe if Gov had let Northern Rock fail other banks might have acted instead of assuming tax-funded bailouts

This debate will no doubt continue for some time yet – get involved in the conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #edeltrust

The full report – and the key data – can be found on our global site, on the FT site here and on Edelman’s UK site here

Jonny Bentwood (@jonnybentwood)