Archive for Distributed Work

How Things Are Supposed To Work …



The title of the blog post (excerpt below) says it all. 

Kudos where kudos due, this short story show how customer support is supposed to work today.


A Grateful Customer

24 August, 2009 (19:28)

This weekend my laptop had a total meltdown on the drive and I lost all my data (may still find a way to get it back – yet to be determined) due to a combination of a Windows update gone bad (first one in 14 years) and the incomplete removal of Linux (Grub boot loader remained.) For whatever reason the .net framework update completely munged on my computer and in doing so it wiped out the MBR (master boot record). Now normally that’s not a big deal you simply …

[ Snip ...]

Now I need a Windows computer for work and I needed to be at work this morning so I thought well screw the data I’ll go buy a copy of Vista and install it. Off to the only local store open on a Sunday …

[Snip ...]

Enter my new HP G60-439CA

Well I’m back up and running and if I can get XP installed on the old one I might still retrieve my data as I have XP backups on an external USB drive but Vista does not know what to do with them.

[ Snip ...]

Anyway to the title of this post. The one thing that had me sweating bullets was the loss of Quicken.

Now I regularly back it up to an external USB drive and when I bought Quicken 2009 I saved the downloaded install file to that same drive. So after I got my new laptop up and running I went to reinstall Quicken from the saved file and uh oh I got file corruption errors.

After buying the laptop I have no funds left to buy yet another copy of Quicken – especially since they forced me to upgrade just two months ago when they expired online banking in my 2006 version. So I visited their site and contacted their email support team, explained my problem, used all the same contact info I had used when buying from them and waited hopefully for a positive response.

That was late yesterday afternoon and this morning I received an email from them with a link to download a fresh version of the install file, no questions asked. It installed perfectly and I was able to import my data from the 2 day old backup with no problems at all. So I want to take this opportunity to really thank Intuit software and the Quicken team for coming to my rescue like that.

I’ve been a Quicken customer since the mid 90’s and I will stay one for as long as I can now. It’s the best money manager out there and that was tremendous customer service.


(Disclosure: Intuit is the spnsor of this blog)

The moment where the customer gets real and satisfying service .. what hundreds and sometimes thousands of people in a single company strive for. 

It’s a real, and randon, blog post from a guy I know who has no incentive whatsoever to post this story on his blog.  That’s why I noticed it, and why it’s such a good example of doing things the right way, the customer-centred way.  Well done.



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Tap the Collective: An Open Innovation Turning Point?


Is anyone planning to attend the Tap the Collective event in Washington DC this coming Wednesday, September 2?  There’s an impressive presenter list:

  • Don Burke, Intellipedia, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Ryan Hahn, The World Bank
  • Robin Hanson, George Mason University, Chief Scientist of ConsensusPoint
  • Shyam Sankar, Palantir Technologies
  • David Resseguie, Sensorpedia, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Emma Antunes, Spacebook, NASA

Sensorpedia, “a program initiated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to utilize Web 2.0 social networking principles to organize and provide access to online sensor network data and related data sets” particularly interests me.   If I’m correctly understanding the next generation Web,  as promoted through Tim  Berners Lee “Linked Data“  and the new “Web Squared” O’Reilly white paper,  Sensorpedia gives us a glimpse into the future.  The site description explains:

“Instead of networking users based on mutual personal interests, Sensorpedia networks users based on mutual information interests. It provides near-real-time collaboration among communities with requirements to share sensor information.”

From my summer reading including papers:

Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence” from Tom Malone et al at MIT

“The New, Faster Face of Innovation” by Erick Brynjolfsson &  Michael Schrage in MIT Sloan Review

Open innovation: where do french companies stand” by Thierry Weil

and recent business press stories including

The Corporate Lab As Ringmaster” (New York Times)

Big Blue’s Global Lab“  the Business Week story about IBM’s “collaboratories” about which Patti Anklam writes in her post here,

I’m wondering if we’ve reached an open innovation tipping point?

It’s 36 years since Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet and laid the foundations for always-on global connectivity and the power of computer connected minds.  Has recognition of the power of openness, mass collaboration, crowdsourcing and “collaboratories” to solve problems and innovate become just the way we work?

~ Jenny Ambrozek

The evolution of the PC and its impact on work


Last week, I read an article on Engadget about the imminent death of the PC, saying that “PCs are simply getting too complex, difficult and expensive for most consumers to master and maintain.” The author never defined what he meant by PC, so let me take Wikipedia’s definition and share my thoughts on the subject.

“A personal computer (PC) is a generic name for a general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user, with no intervening computer operator.”

Nowadays, the term applies to a myriad of devices. Desktop computers, laptops, and even some smartphones are essentially PCs in various forms. Computers used to be purely office machines that took up a whole room, and now they are small enough to fit in our pockets. I don’t think that PCs as we know them will die out anytime soon (though it’s also unwise to say they’ll go on forever), but they will continue to evolve and diversify in order to better serve our various needs. It’s fascinating to think about how all these changes will affect the way we work in the future.

What will happen when computers shrink to a size small enough that we can carry them on our key chains? What if smartphones become competent enough to also serve as a desktop when paired with a monitor, keyboard and mouse? Is a shift from stationary to mobile platforms for the enterprise feasible? To what extent? And what role can cloud computing play in this? How will software change in response to hardware? And what role will the Internet play in all this when 4G’s speed and coverage comes along?

In thinking about technology as we push it to it’s limits, we should not forget that we, the users, also have ours. There’s only so much detail our eyes can detect no matter how you increase resolution. Keyboards that are too small can become very uncomfortable. A typical office worker doesn’t need the power of a gaming rig just to create spreadsheets.

If you could nudge technology one way or the other, what would you like to see? What would make your work life better?

Use Telework Day to Stress Test Your Systems


Monday, August 3, 2009 has been designated “Telework Day.”  Right now it appears to be mainly a Virginia initiative — but individuals and businesses across the United States are being encouraged to participate too.

Work at home

The Telework Exchange has a dedicated page for Telework Day, providing:

On June 10, 2009, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine issued an Executive Order to “green” Virginia – calling for reductions in energy consumption and efficiency in state government operations as well as a statewide Telework Day to save the energy of commuting.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, Telework!VA, and Telework Exchange are encouraging organizations and individuals to telework from home or a remote location on Monday, August 3, 2009 – Telework Day

Telework is a win-win-win opportunity for organizations, employees, and the environment.

Telework supports:

  • Reduction of traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and wear and tear on public transportation
  • COOP: Business as usual
  • Personnel recruitment and retention
  • Real estate savings
  • Work/life balance and commuter-cost savings

So be green, give your car a rest, and make a pledge to telework on August 3.

As you can tell from the above language, it’s being touted as a green initiative and a way for all of us to reduce our carbon footprint. The Telework Exchange site has a built-in calculator that helps you as an individual see how much you are saving (or could save) in commuting costs, as well as the pounds of pollutants you avoid putting in the air by telecommuting. For instance, by using the calculator (you have to register first), it told me that each year I am saving $1,185 in commuting costs based on commuting to my last job, and 1575 pounds of pollutants.

Government officials like the idea of telework, because it takes pressure off of already over-burdened roads, and has the potential to keep the air cleaner.

For employers it can be a productivity enhancer and cost saver.  According to PC World magazine:

Not only can telework help companies green their processes, but it can also pay off in productivity savings. For instance, Cisco recently reported it was able to save some $277 million in employee productivity costs alone by sending employees home to work.

“Telework Day is an important opportunity to advocate telework as a business strategy that can have a positive impact on the bottom line and improve organization efficiency,” said Jennifer Thomas Alcott, program manager for Telework!VA. “Telework is one of the most effective ways for people to greatly reduce their work-related carbon footprint and demonstrate that ‘work is something you do, not a place you go.’”

When it comes to employers, you’ll get the most benefit if you have systems and applications in place to make it easy for employees to work remotely.  Systems need to be able to support their work so they don’t have to work against the systems.  Remote work requires the right types of IT systems, business software applications, and telecommunications systems.  Employees will obviously need to be able to communicate, access business applications,  share files, and otherwise make it “business as usual.”   While it’s possible for employees to work at home with limited access to company systems on a single day or two, as an ongoing way of doing business you may be required to rethink and overhaul your systems to make them more “remote-worker” friendly — if they are not already.

Telework Day could be a way to “stress test” your systems and see how conducive they are to employees working remotely. By participating in Telework Day — or designating a Telework Day of your own in your business — you can test out your systems and see what you’d need to change in order to make telework more widespread.

Adoption stories


I’d saved a wonderful story by Michael Idinopulos of Socialtext about how moving from a shared space to private offices (What my Granddaddy Taught me about Information Flow). In the days before computers, brokers worked in a large open space in which information moved vary rapidly from one end of the floor to another. When the office layout was changed to give more people private offices and people began focusing their attention on their PCs, people “…lost the ability to communicate, and nobody had the slightest idea what was going on.”

You can’t read the story, of course without catching on that the open office floor in which information moves in waves is a lot like Web 2.0. From our PC (and Mac!) silos, we are finally liberated and can catch the breath of new ideas rolling over our shared spaces.  This is happening, outside.

Inside, adoption of Web 2.0 tools is not so much of a wave as a trickle. Inside companies, managers think about technologies in terms of security (bring it inside) and cost (it costs money to maintain something inside, so we can’t let people use free tools. [Hat tip to John Bordeaux for pointing to the irony in this story.]).

Inside, we deal with a series of waves, incremental introductions of technology and Web 2.0 services and look for the best way to encourage adoption. I’m guilty myself of responding to clients’ reason for lack of adoption as “the culture” when it can often be the manner in which  the new tool was introduced, or a lack of attention to the user interface/experience.

Adoption and culture being very much on my mind, I was interested to see Hutch Carpenter‘s post in the Social Computing Journal Enterprise 2.0: Culture is as Culture Does. He argues that most companies are ready for social software at least to the extent that they acknowledge that employees are their most important asset.

He goes on to put together a wonderful graphic illustrating two paths to adoption of social tool pilots. He anchors the flow chart by two decision points.

  • Defined use case? is the determinant of whether adoption goes in an official or a viral flow. This assumes that a well-defined use case has proven business value and that undefined use cases may not.  I agree that for a successful pilot in an organization, the defined “use case” must be centered around teams or groups that are engaged in some joint activity that requires flow of information.
  • Exceed expectations? is the measurement that occurs when the two flows come back together and employee feedback has been processed. This decision point really implies that there is a funding decision to be made at this point.
Enterprise 2.0: Pilot Deployment Flow

Enterprise 2.0: Pilot Deployment Flow

There’s some good stuff in this diagram, and it’s flexible enough for adapting to specific circumstances. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if, at the dawn of the PC era, Michael’s Granddaddy had through to work through the use cases of how PCs would affect the information flow on the trading floor.

Join Me at a Free Webinar on Keeping a Team Connected in a Distributed Workplace


Please join me and my partner in crime Charlie Grantham, along with Eric Bensley of Citrix Online, and James Hilliard of BNet next Wednesday, June 24, for a free one-hour webinar called “Keeping Your Team Connected in a Distributed Workplace.

The webinar is sponsored by  Citrix Online We’re very grateful for their continuing support of our research and ideas.

Again, the webinar will be on June 24, at 11 AM Pacific/2 PM Eastern. Register here.

We hope you’ll join us. We’re going to be talking mostly about the leadership and interpersonal principles for keeping members of a distributed team connected with each other, their tasks, and the company.

Keeping Technology in Perspective


Yesterday was a national holiday in the United States:  Memorial Day. We were all reminded of, and thinking of, our military veterans and active-duty soldiers, sailors, pilots, and marines (and all the others serving our country). We have to be incredibly grateful for their service.

I have always taken some comfort in knowing that technology enabled distant warriors to stay much closer to their loved ones than ever before. The combination of email, instant messaging, web cams, and all those social networking sites just had to be bridging the gaps and shortening those miles of separation. After all, overseas military service is the ultimate form of “distributed work.”

Well, it turns out it’s not that simple. There was a very poignant and candid first-person account in Monday’s New York Times of what it’s really like to try to maintain a marriage and a family with one spouse in harm’s way half way around the world (“One Husband, Two Kids, Three Deployments,” by Melissa Seligman).

Turns out that real-time video communication may not be the best way to maintain a distant relationship; Ms. Seligman and her military husband have come to rely on old-fashioned letters (snail mail!) to stay in meaningful touch with each other.

Please read the op-ed column; it’s a powerful statement about the stresses we put military families through. And it’s also a thought-provoking insight into the very real inadequacies of web-cams and real-time global communication.

What’s your reaction? Are we overenthusiastic about how technology “connects” us? How should we be assessing when and how to use which collaborative technologies?

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