Spam everyone and use your filters

For over two years now, polypoly is working as a remote-only company. Most of the time, this works well, but there are of course wrinkles and roadblocks. The major one is in how and where we communicate.

We have all the tools: Email, Chat, a wiki, a ticket system, a CRM-system, a design system, and so on.

And still, during our first in-person company offsite, a common concern was „I don’t know what X does, nor how they work.“. This was voiced across all levels, from trainee to C‑Level.

An investigation ensues

That is because we don’t get a chance to observe others communicating or working. I peeked at the statistics of the messaging service we use to talk to each other, and it showed that 84% of all communication happens behind the virtual equivalent of closed doors! That may be not all of it, but it surely feels that way. Most of our chats are ad-hoc groups of three to four people, and these chats are closed and invisible to everyone else.

This is the equivalent of everyone having a private closed office and private corridors to visit the other offices. Yes, quite like in the dystopian TV show Severance.

We do have watercooler talk, but it is limited to the already-established small groups, not random encounters when fetching coffee.

I spent a whole day of our offsite workshopping this, talking to colleagues all across the company about this issue. The people who complained the most about the missing information are also those who fear of being inundated with information, and of course do not want to spam others. In the end, I realised that a key reason for this is that our social tools aren’t very social, and that fact forms the wrong expectations:

  • There is the expectation that there is the perfectly fitting tool for every context, and that if everyone would only use them in the right way, everything would be fine.
  • The other expectation is that the onus is on the creators and senders of information to figure out who needs what and then to make sure that these people see it.

My take

I whole-heartedly disagree with both of these expectations. People use the tools they are comfortable with, and in the way that fulfils their needs the quickest. So they will always make mistakes, put things into the wrong wiki page, or use a superfluous label. One can minimize this, but never get it perfect.

And once your company passes a certain size threshold, probably at around five people already, no one can have perfect knowledge of who needs to know what.

(That does not meant that you wouldn’t need working conventions within a certain team or domain. Of course it is important that the documentation of your backup for example is set in a way that it is structured, and at a known location. I am talking about cross-domain conversations here.)

What is needed for these tools is to make information discoverable to people outside your immediate team, and to facilitate serendipitous connections.

So what do I propose? Three steps, ideally all taken together:

  1. Communicate a guideline of what kind of information should generally live in which system. Tasks go to the ticket system, documentation and asynchronous discussions in long form to the wiki, and everything that involves short-form and/or live communication goes to the messaging platform. A corollary is to establish an etiquette on what tagging someone in a message means. For example, if I add someone to the “To” field of an email, this contains information they need to know and to act on. If they are in the ““CC” field, I just want them to be aware of the conversation.
  2. Encourage everyone to communicate as much in the open as possible. Make people not be afraid to use a channel, contact a person, or edit or comment on a wikipage. Allow questions everywhere. People should feel comfortable to ask if someone can use feedback on something. Everyone should feel free to make noise and be observeable.
  3. Teach everyone rigorously about filters. They need to understand how to effectively condense the noise into the background, but have the important signals stand out.

That last bit is crucial. It shifts the responsibility of managing the information flow away from the sender, to the receiver. This is because as a sender, I cannot ever reliably know the potential receivers state of mind, their load, their interests, and so on. Heck, often enough, people do not even reliably know who the potential receivers should be in the first place.

So the only chance we have is to communicate in the open, using keywords and making sure that bystanders have a chance of discovering whatever I send.

Managing the information firehose

The result is that any given person will have a potential firehose of information coming towards them. Lots of chat channels with an unread messages icon, full email-folders, a Wiki timeline that is chock-full of entries.

And that is fine. It means that one can get a sense of where the action is. You can see in which area of the virtual office everyone is congregating, where a lot of discussion is happening.

But it also means that one needs to learn to let go. Not every message needs to be read. Not everything needs to be commented. And even when people CC you, they probably just want you to be aware of something that is happening, nothing more.

So, figuring out how to make the important signals float to the top is important:

  • set up email filters that for example move all of the system messages that you don’t need to read all the time go away into a subfolder. Those ticket-system updates that someone logged work on something? If that isn’t something actionable for you, make them disappear.
  • On the other hand, ensure that things with words like “task assigned to you” or keywords relevant to your job get a highlight and stay in the queue you actively monitor and work on.

Setting up those filters and tweaking the notification settings is time very well spent, and everyone should be familiar with those settings. When choosing a new tool for your team, choose the one that has a better way to adjust these settings. And when you onboard a new team member, spend some extra time on showing them how to set up their own filters.

As an aside: In over 20 years of working in IT, I have never missed a message or notification because it got drowned out in useless noise. And I was nearly always one of the persons who had to be at least low-key aware of everything that is going on. The first thing I do for every new communication tool I get, is to figure out how to tweak the notifications.

In a former job, there were a few magic words that would summon me to any conversation happening on the company slack. I didn’t advertise those words, but when someone would use the word “tracking link” in any of the Slack channels I had access to, I’d be notified — because I knew that in 9 times out of 10, this was a problem I needed to know about.

Thankfully, I also knew that I could otherwise safely ignore these channels, as they would be talking about things entirely irrelevant to my job. But knowing that a conversation happened there, and how much, would help me gauge how much business is flowing through that part of the company. Kind of like the restaurant owner who can see the stack of order slips grow during the evening, knowing how well his business is doing at a glance.

Not everyone in a company needs to keep track of everything. Generally, the further down the ladder one finds oneself, the less sources of information one needs to watch. But in the other way around, the broader your responsibilities, the more interconnected you are in the work, the more you need to be able to gather a good view of what is happening.

This is not a call for having very precise summaries and statistics on all fields all the time (although there is use for that). This is about the feel of communication, and feelings are, by their nature as messy as us humans involved in it. One cannot expect a whole company to always communicate precisely and only to the exactly right persons. So it is important to factor in these imperfections.

Make asynchronous communication and work easier

The other reason to foster such a culture is because it makes asynchronous communication and work a lot easier: If I do not need to worry about whether my information comes at a convenient time and in a convenient channel, then I can do this a lot more efficiently from my end. But I can only do so, when I can rely on the receivers to actually not be inconvenienced by my actions. And that risk is significantly lowered when everyone has good filters.

So, go ahead: Spam everyone, but use your filters!

Home Office — redux

About a year ago, I shared how my home office setup looked. It is now not only a year later, but I also moved back to Hamburg and moved everything into a combined office&hobby room. And with that, I also upgraded a few key features of the space.

Let’s start with the room itself: It is a rather small one, so I had to think of space economics. In the end, I settled for the traditional center aisle with desk, workbenches and storage along the sides, keeping the window free so I could move about the room at ease.

That meant that I had to get rid of the door, as it opened to the inside of the room and would have been blocked by the storage shelf. As a replacement, I fulfilled that inner nerds dream and built a secret door!

The room now houses not only my desk, but the printer, the filing storage, a workbench, all my tools and hobby supplies, two 3D printers, a borrowed laser cutter and all my roleplaying games and comics. Pegboards on the walls keep the more frequently used items in easy reach. Otherwise, I took full advantage of the laser cutter to have nice labels on all the drawers, so I don’t have to remember where the different tools are.

And yes, the motordesk and treadmill are still there, and I also managed to put the remote control holder into a fitting place on the workbench. That green button is a Logitech POP button that I use to switch the treadmill and 3D printer on or off.

But to the actual desk setup: Since last we met, I added and swapped a few things.

Audio

I ditched the Bluetooth headset for a DECT one. That has a lot better range and audio quality, while also sitting quite easy on the ear. It is a Yealink WH67 with built in speakerphone. As soon as I put the headset into the cradle, it switches from headset to hands-free operation. This happens entirely on the device, any computer or phone connected to the WH67 not seeing that change. I love this, as I never have to twiddle any software settings. And yes, the WH67 also has Bluetooth, so it connects to the computer and the phone at the same time.

Also, I’ve splurged for the QI-charging module, so the phone gets juice without any hassle too.

Video

The SLR camera is now hidden behind a black box that acts as a teleprompter. I rarely use that for the usual purpose of reading a script, but to be able to make eye contact during conference calls. It is entirely self-built from foamcore, wood glue and black paint, with the only bought addition being the 12″ USB‑C screen and proper teleprompter glass, that reflects from the front surface of the glass instead of the back, providing crisper contrasts to me. It does eat some of the dynamic range, but not too much to be a bother. (Eventually I might update to a brighter screen to compensate, but that’d need some more serious budget).

Also, the standard webcam is right now a Lumina, some crowdfunded, allegedly more intelligent camera with better colour calibration and more processing. Might go back to the Logitech BRIO eventually, but for now, I am giving the makers a chance and see what the software updates bring…

Lights and Buttons

On the other side there is an Elgato Stream Deck. This is mostly a toy / luxury purchase, but it does come quite useful when hosting online events. Routing my camera through OBS I can easily blank my video feed, swap backgrounds, pipe in waiting music, etc. Just having a hardware button to mute myself or blank my video is already a godsend. Also, it controls the room light!

Speaking of room light: I splurged and installed a light-up ceiling. Six 4m RGB zigbee powered lightstrips that are hidden behind a semitransparent white cloth. They could be a tad bit brighter, but for now, this is pretty good to keep the winter depression at bay. And I have a button for „Red Alert“ :D

SO many calbes needed to be attached and sorted for the ceiling
admit it, it’s pretty.

Warum man nicht neutral über Blockchain oder NFTs berichten kann.

Immer wieder sehe ich Journalisty und Medien, die versuchen „neutral“ über Blockchain oder NFts zu berichten. Im besten Falle geschieht dies, da man diese ja nicht einfach direkt kritisieren könne, ohne dem Publikum das ganze vorher einmal zu erklären.

Ich (und sehr viele andere) sehen NFT und Blockchain aber eben nicht als neue Technologie , die man neutral betrachten und erklären kann, sondern als das Äquivalent zu radioaktiven Klärschlamm.

Sprich, jedes Projekt, dass damit in Berührung kommt, ist sofort kaputt und verseucht. Aus unserer Sicht sind Berichte über das Thema, die das erst einmal hilfreich erklären wollen, so sinnvoll wie ein Bericht mit dem Titel: „Radioaktiver Klärschlamm — alles was Du wissen musst, und wie Leute damit Geld verdienen.“

Artikel, die radioaktiven Klärschlamm unbedarften Leuten verantwortungsvoll erklären wollen, müssen also tatsächlich zunächst ernsthaft über Gefahr für Gesundheit und Umwelt aufklären, und warum Kontakt damit schlimm sei, bevor man überhaupt zu irgendwelchen Vorteilen kommen kann.

Ich verstehe jetzt natürlich, dass diese Ansicht Blockchain == „radioaktiver Klärschlamm“ für manche streitbar ist. Aber aus meiner Perspektive als IT Mensch mit über 20 Jahren Erfahrung, und in meiner Peer-Group aus Entwicklern, IT-Sicherheits und Datenschutzexperty, Aktivisty, CTOs, CISOs, etc. ist diese Sicht absolut unstrittig. Es fallen Sätze wie

Crypto/NFT sind die heutige Variante der CDO und der kommende Auslöser der nächsten Finanzkrise.

oder

Web3 ist damit ein politisches Programm, welches sich gegen ein offenes Web mit zumindest dem Potenzial zur Partizipation richtet und dieses ersetzen will durch eine Token-Infrastruktur, bei der für jede Aktion irgendjemandes Smart Contract die Hand aufhält.

Tante auf https://www.golem.de/news/web3-die-komplette-finanzialisierung-des-internets-2202–162689.html

Meine Lebensgefährtin hat in einem Blockchain Startup gearbeitet, und sich die Szene von innen angesehen, und kam ebenso zu diesem Schluss. Ich habe mich auf Parties und Konferenzen mit Blockchain-Enthusiasten unterhalten, und musste denen noch einmal erklären, warum ein öffentlich einsehbares und unabänderliches Archiv aller Stimmen garantiert kein sinnvolles Vehikel für eine Bundestagswahl sein kann.

Aus unserer Perspektive sind Blockchain-Befürworter das Äquivalent zu wissenschaftsskeptischen Impfverweigerern, und Berichte, die da versuchen „sachlich“ erst einmal die Technik zu erklären, ohne die Kritik in den Vordergrund zu stellen, sind für uns das Äquivalent zur Bild-Zeitung, die fragt, ob man wirklich „diesen Virologen“ trauen darf.

Es kann in dieser Sache keine neutrale Berichterstattung geben!

Spaß mit Technik: Neuer Wohnzimmeraltar

Cat staring at goat on TV

Vor 10 Jahren meinte die damalige Freundin, dass Split-Screen Spiele auf einem 23″ Bildschirm doch irgendwie meh seien. Ich kratzte ein wenig Geld zusammen, ging zum örtlichen Tech-Discounter und kaufte einen knapp doppelt so großen Fernseher. Bewusst das Auslaufmodell, das kostete nochmal weniger.

Jetzt in der neuen Wohnung schaute das ein wenig… verloren aus:

Im Grunde alles gut, aber aktuelle Filme und Serien zeigen wichtige Plot-Informationen auf den Bildschirmen der Smartphones der Protagonisten. Und ganz ehrlich, die können wir vom Sofa aus nicht mehr lesen :)

Etwas neues sollte also her, und es war ja auch grad Weihnachten…

Das ist ein Samsung The Frame 65″ QLED. Insgesamt ein schönes Bild, der Art Mode ist hübsch, und generell fügt sich Gerät gut in die Lücke hier ein.

Aber wie immer mit „smarten“ Geräten muss man einiges tun:

  • Hauptzuspieler ist die Chromecast. Das sorgt dafür, dass wir uns so gut wie nie durch die Samsung UI bewegen müssen.
  • Sicherheitshalber, und um unnütze Werbung (WTF?!) zu blocken, hat der TV per Firewall nur eingeschränkten Internetzugriff.
  • Die Box mit allen Anschlüssen ist im Schrank. Das hat den Vorteil, dass man keinen Kabelsalat sieht.
  • Nachteil: Ich kann die Sonos Soundbar nicht einfach so mit der Samsung-Fernbedienung steuern. Denn die Fernbedienung nutzt Funk, und die IR-Signale für die Soundbar kommen aus der Anschlussbox. Ich habe also einen billigen IR Extender gekauft, damit geht das gut, und ich konnte der Soundbar beibringen, auf die Samsung IR Signale zu hören.
  • Wir haben alle Bildverbesserungen abseits der Helligkeitsanpassung abgeschaltet, das sieht für uns irgendwie besser aus.
  • Ebenso haben wir Multiview ausgeschaltet, damit man bei Nutzung der Chromecast-Funktion vom Handy nicht erst jedes mal so einen blöden Bild-im-Bild Modus hat.
  • Ich muss noch einen einfacheren Weg finden um eigene Bilder in den Art Mode zu transferieren — der Standardweg über die Mobile App ist.. umständlich.

Alles in allem, kein schlechtes Gerät, wir sind zufrieden.