The Work We Want

If you haven’t seen it yet you need to check out the Work We Want web site. The site has been created by the Glasshouse Collective (which “was formed to meaningful throw stones at the Glass Houses people build using the Internet”) and commissioned by the Space.

We face a radically different future of work, which is being shaped by the web. The days of the steady 9-5 are over, as workers around the world come online. Competiton for jobs is global, work is bought and sold on demand, and the price of labour is falling. How should we respond as a global workforce? How can we prepare for a different future of work? Are we going to compete, co-operate or exploit our fellow workers? The Work We Want explores these questions through a series of creative processes:

The site has some great resources: videos, graphics, games, a blog and real-life stories. Take a look!

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Time team

Time zones can be a bit of a nightmare for distributed teams. At Open Knowledge our staff stretch from the US to India with quite a few places in between. Sometimes when an all-staff meeting isn’t going that well it’s worth reflecting that someone might have got out of bed early for it while another person is ready for a good night’s rest.

Our fantastic systems guy Nigel Babu has put together a useful app for us all to use. He found it via a blog post from Doug Belshaw – a fellow remotie!

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The app lets us see what time everyone else is on and where they live, you can also use arrow keys to try out different times – very useful for meeting organising! All the code is available on Github.

Just as an aside I use Worldtimebuddy to help me work out more general time zone queries. There is nothing so frustrating as missing an important meeting because you were working in the wrong time zone!

OK:FM – Connecting through music

We all know that being a remote worker gets a bit lonely – it’s great to be able to reach out to colleagues when you can. I’ve written before about our efforts at creating our own watercooler spaces at Open Knowledge. In that post I said:

One of our team is a DJ on the side and he shares Spotify playlists with us most Fridays. These playlists are great and get us talking.

The fab Christian Villum who creates our playlists has now taken things one step further! He, and his OK:FM posse, are beginning to pull together our own OKFM radio station – be it an online station that exists through crowdsourced playlists!!

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He began by asking the staff to suggest songs for the Open Knowledge “Songs About Change” playlist. I think the topic was chosen in response to our recent summit.

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Christian then compiled all the suggestions (see some of our suggestions below) into a playlist, so that we have a proper soundtrack for the weeks to come! Here’s the Spotify playlist for Changes.

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The plan is to collaborate on future playlists on areas we are interested in! And there may even be a Twitter account for OK:FM in the pipeline. Watch this space! Music really is the universal language!

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People’s Choice Vote – the final score

Yesterday the LinkedUp Project announced the winners of its Vici Competition, the third and final competition in the LinkedUp Challenge. All 3 competitions have involved the judging of software prototypes and apps that build on open education data using an extensively researched and refined evaluation framework. They have also all included an ‘online open vote’.

Winners of the Vici Competition

Winners of the Vici Competition

The process of implementing the People’s Choice Award has been a bit of a roller coaster ride and I’m keen to share our experiences.

I wanted this assessment of our approaches to be both open and honest, and so it feels appropriate to publish it here – on my own personal blog – rather than on the LinkedUp site, or elsewhere.

Some Background…

Before the launch of the first competition I was in discussion with colleagues at Open Knowledge (where I’m based) and we agreed that although the evaluation framework is a fair way to judge an open data competition it is not a very inclusive process. Only an elite group of reviewers get to judge the entries – everyone else’s views are discounted. Community building within LinkedUp is very much about building new audiences so we came up with the idea of the People’s Choice Vote – a way to involve everyone and anyone in the judging of the competition. It was agreed that the People’s Choice Vote would be run in parallel with the evaluation framework assessment giving competition entrants an opportunity to promote their submission, and external people an opportunity to be involved in the voting process. In my role as dissemination and community building co-ordinator it seemed like an interesting approach to take and and the consortium agreed that it was something we could spend time on. Maybe at this stage we were naive in our thinking that it would be easy to run such a vote.

Although I’d had some experience of running online votes before (mainly related to chosing sessions for a conference I’d been involved in) we did recognise that the People’s Vote would be some extent an experiment. We were unfamiliar with the currently available software used and had only a vague idea of the challenges such a vote would pose. However the LinkedUp Project is partially a research project so this level of experimentation seemed reasonable providing we share our experiences; it was agreed that it was a risk worth taking. Hopefully our insights will prove to be a useful resource for others planning to run a similar open vote in the future.

Veni Vote

For the Veni Competition I carried out quite a bit of investigation into who was running online voting and the type of solutions involved. In the end we went with Ideascale. The setup worked well but unfortunately our freemium version meant that while voters could only vote once on each idea they could vote down as well as up using a dislike button. This meant that some competitors and their supporters were coming to the site and voting everything down except for their own entry. Naturally this upset many of the competitors and to ensure positive results we added in extra opportunities to physically vote at the LinkedUp poster session at the OKConference in September 2013, venue for the Veni awards. The competitors who were causing the problems also ended up getting eventually locked out of the system.

Veni Vote in Ideascale

Veni Vote in Ideascale

I documented my thoughts on the Veni vote in the following blog post: Online Voting: The highs and lows.

Vidi Vote

It was clear that the service to be used for the Vidi Competition Vote had to only allow positive voting. We were offered an alternative software solution: GNOSS, a software platform, created by RIAM Intelearning LAB S.L. who specialise in online social networks with dynamic semantic publishing. The GNOSS team were actually shortlisted for the Veni Competition so had some understanding of what was required for the People’s Choice. The system (described in this post) was much more complex than Ideascale and to prevent vote rigging it required that voters register with the GNOSS site or use an already established account. The GNOSS setup is still available online.

Vidi People's choice in GNOSS

Vidi Vote in GNOSS

The system, whilst being more secure, received some criticism for its complexity. Loging in was either via Facebook, Twitter, or a new GNOSS registration. During this process the interface would change language (from English to Spanish at regular intervals) so for example you were required to make selections related to the community you wanted to participate in with little explanation.

The GNOSS solution was definitely better, but still didn’t tick all the boxes for us.

Vici Vote

Despite being out third effort and the feeling that we should almost be there by now, the Vici People’s Choice was by far the most complicated.

In response to the feedback that the GNOSS system had been overly complicated we opted to use a dedicated, yet fairly simplistic online voting app. The app was called Vote Contest was created by Wishpond and for the first time during the LinkedUp Challenge we actually paid for the software. It’s simplicity was it’s appeal and we were able to embed it in our website. You can read more about the Wishpond system in the Vici People’s Choice launch post.

Vici People's Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Vici Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Unfortunately it became clear fairly early on that there were problems with the software. The mobile version of the site had a bug that enabled people to refresh the page and then vote again with the same email address. There was also no email verification and as the Mobile version failed to remember the MAC address this resulted in opportunities to game the system. After a few days and discussions with the Wishpond team (who initially denied the problem and then admitted that they were unable to fix it) we were left with broken software and scores that were effectively null and void. After a consortium meeting an executive decision was made that due to a relatively short-timescale there would not be a chance to investigate and implement alternative online voting solutions. The only option was to cancel the online vote completely. Not wanting to let the Vici entrants down completely it was decided that we would replace the online People’s Choice Vote with an offline People’s Choice Vote. The People’s Choice winner will be identified during a physical People’s Choice Vote that would take place at the poster session at ISWC in Italy – where the Vici awards were to be held.

We were put in a very difficult position and it was clear that whatever decision was made would cause some upset. Many of the competition entrants complained but came to realise that we had been left with no other options.

Tokens for the Vici People's Choice

Tokens for the Vici People’s Choic

Running a physical People’s Vote at ISWC was an arduous task. All ISWC attendees received a token (shown above) in their ISWC delegate bags. This involved the creation of 650 ‘tokens’ (pieces of card with the details of the vote on). The tokens had a space for people to write their name and their entry on – the thinking behind this was that it would involve competitors ‘borrowing’ tokens from unused bags. The Vici Challenge entrants were invited to showcase their entries and their posters during the ISWC minute madness session encouraging delegates to come and vote for them. The posters were then on display in a dedicated Poster and Demonstration session and delegates were able to vote for their favourite submission by placing your token in the relevant poster bag.

At ISWC alongside the LinkedUp Challenge there was also a best poster competition. Over 130 posters were competing in the competition and delegates could vote for their favourite poster using the ISWC website or phone app – this involved using a code number placed in their delegate bags – again more ways to avoid gaming the system. It was clear that with so many choices delegates were at voting saturation level. Although over 100 votes were placed for the LinkedUp Vici Challenge it was a relatively small sample of the 650 attendees.

Conclusions

Over the last year the vote process has given me extensive food for thought around our innate tendency to compete, and at times cheat. Any voting system has to be set up with this in mind.

In hindsight the time and effort in running a successful People’s Choice Vote was underestimated. Software solutions need to be well tested by a committed team looking for loopholes and opportunities to break the system. They also need to be tried out on multiple devices. While all the LinkedUp People’s Choice votes has been marred with attempts to game the system I still glad that we run it and believe that it was established with the right motivation in mind. LinkedUp has attempted to be inclusive and innovative in its approaches to raising the profile of open data in education. In fulfilling this task we have worked hard as a consortium to reach out to new audiences and include the general public when possible.

At this year’s ISWC the complexities of running the People’s Vote seemed overwhelming and at times I felt like we’d let entrants to the competition down. However one shortlisted candidate kindly pointed out that it is impossible to keep everyone happy but if you try your best and your motivation is good then you just have accept that there is little more you can do.

Making things ‘open’ often highlights flaws in the system. These flaws may be with a service or device, or sometimes they are human flaws – the need to win at all costs. It’s unsurprising that online election voting has yet to reach fruition! However I still believe that transparency is a worthy approach and hope that those who competed in the LinkedUp Challenge will recognise that it was in pursuit of the goal of openness that we made our mistakes.

10 point specification for open voting software

Experience has shown us that to fully work an online voting system will need to consider the following points:

  1. Email validation – those with a creative mind can make up emails, there needs to be some way of proving that a voter is an individual.
  2. One person = one vote – basically the ability to block voters after one vote.
  3. Only allow positive voting – having negative votes is depressing for all.
  4. Random listings of entries – people will often vote for what is at the top of the, random listing of entries goes to some lengths to ensure more even voting.
  5. Urls links for entries – it’s not totally necessary but it can be useful to have one url per entry – this allows easier promotion entries.
  6. Easy to use – If it isn’t easy users will give up before voting.
  7. The ability to add tags – not necessary but allows you to do interesting things with the content.
  8. The ability to add images and links in the description – some software will only let you add plain text.
  9. Embedding into your website, Facebook etc. – versatile services will let you embed the app and not require users to go to a separate website.
  10. Test your software – test it, and then test it, and test it again on lots of different devices.

It is also worth thinking about openness – how open do you want your system to be? Could you run it on Facebook or as a smart phone app or do you feel that is excluding people?

Some current open voting systems you could try

  • Google docs – you could create a poll
  • GNOSS – see Veni!
  • Hackdash.org – they have some great voting and collaboration software going on
  • Facebook Like count linked to descriptions of items. Each user is required to have a facebook account to vote and a “like” would be consider a vote, and by design, each user can only like something once.
  • Polldaddy plugin for wordpress
  • Opinionstage plugin
  • Jisc Elevator used a drupal module – not possible for us
  • Ideascale – see Veni vote!
    Simply voting – costs, looks complex
  • Estonia released its national e-voting system on github – it’s probably overkill for a competition though, fairly complex
  • SnapSurvey – costs, very corporate
  • Election buddy – costs, maybe overkill
  • Eballot – costs

Related blog posts

Google Apps for Business and Remote Workers

Kelly SmithKelly Smith works at CourseFinder.com.au, an Australian online courses resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and works as a freelance writer.

She’s written a post for us on Google Apps for Business and the potential for remote workers.

***

Many remote workers might remember the statement from Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Meyers, who condemned the idea of working remotely and swiftly ordered all of the company’s employees to show up in person at their offices. Her opinion was echoed by Yahoo’s HR head, who claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home […] we need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

But the above is a very limited point of view. Provided that remote workers use the many cloud tools available to them in a smart way, there should be very few sacrifices involved with a remote working environment. One of the most popular and efficient packages that help team members to collaborate, communicate, as well as store and manage data is Google Apps for Business.

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But what exactly is Google Apps for Business?

It’s a set of the most popular Google apps that help to manage a business from remote locations. Inside, we find apps everyone knows and uses on daily basis – Gmail to provide email, Drive for storage and document creation (among them text documents, spreadsheets, forms, slides and sites), or Hangouts for video calls and instant messaging. Another feature is Calendar, which helps to create integrated business calendars and ensure that all workers are on the same page when it comes to important deadlines.

Google Apps for Business features two special apps – Vault and Admin. Admin is an interface for broadly defined administration and includes functionalities for mobile device management, security and control, as well as access to 24/7 Google support. Vault, on the other hand, provides an archiving service for all emails and chats, which can later be searched, managed and easily exported.

The Potential of Google Apps for Business in Remote Working

The benefits of this communication and collaboration system are multiple and varied. First, companies don’t need to spend lots of money on specialized hardware and software – all apps are in the cloud and available from every device connected to the internet. It’s perfect for companies with low budget or organizations with remote workers, who will be able to access Google apps from all locations and almost every operating system.

Seen from the perspective of remote workers, Google Apps for Business help in several major areas of any business collaboration:

  • Communication – Google apps are made for easy communication. Gmail has an understandable interface, it’s quick to use and features multiple, built-in and highly efficient security features like filtering and spam detection. Gmail includes an added feature which adds your company domain name to personalize the employee email addresses. Hangouts and Google+ can foster both individual and group communication too.
  • Collaboration – Google Drive, and its various functionalities, is there to make collaborating easier than ever. Users can edit files at the same time and consult with one another using an adjacent chat window, which can save the time lost on switching to a different instant messaging window or other devices like cellphones.
  • Efficiency – all apps are literally in a single place and available with a few clicks. After logging in, workers won’t need to switch to other programs, ensuring high productivity and no time lost on the usual distraction when using a variety of tools scattered around different platforms.
  • Time-management – All in all, Google Apps for Business really helps to save time on everything, from editing documents to brainstorming an idea.

A lot of people believe that in a decade, remote working will be as much or even more popular than the traditional office environment. The truth is that both employers and workers benefit from the dynamics of remote working. That’s why it’s likely that digital tools that foster easy collaboration, communication and management, such as Google Apps for Business, will become increasingly effective, user-friendly and geared towards breaching the time and space barrier to ensure a stimulating remote working environment.

Know Your Company

We are trying out Know Your Company at work.

know 09.48.29Know Your Company is an online tool that was originally built by Basecamp (formerly 37signals). The idea is that through asking questions (both work-related and social) of employees and then sharing these answers everyone involved will get to know their company and the people in it better. There is a significant trust element behind this and everyone, especially the management, need to be ready to hear some truths that might be difficult to handle.

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A tool like Know Your Company can be incredibly important in a dispersed team environment when opportunities to just ‘say how you feel’ or talk about what you are up to’ are minimal. I’ve talked about how we build in Watercooler moments before but this is an attempt to further facilitate those discussions.

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So every week we answer three questions – the request comes via email. You can answer these questions openly or send the answer to just the management team. There is no obligation to answer. The answers given openly are shared later on in the week.

The questions cover:

  • How employees feel about the business, the work, the culture, etc.
  • What everyone in the company is working on.
  • More about each other as people. This could be a favorite recipe or movie. The small connections can bring people a little closer together.

Know Your Company have some ground rules for managers:

  1. You have to want the truth. This isn’t about checking a box. This is about genuinely getting to know your people better.
  2. You have to ask questions. You can’t expect information to come to you. A leader’s job is to go first, and start the conversation.
  3. You have to be committed to taking action. The entire purpose of feedback is to do something with it. Otherwise, why ask for feedback at all?
  4. You have to make it a routine. You can’t ask for feedback just twice a year. Information dumps aren’t useful or timely enough to act on.
  5. You have to make it easy. It can’t be a burden to get to know each other better, or else no one will do it – including you.
Some of the responses to 'what are you reading'

Some of the responses to ‘what are you reading’

      So far the experiment has been interesting.

know20.40.38I now know that I can chat to many of my colleagues about graphic novels (one of my favourite genres!) and I have a better idea of what people are up to. I’m also more aware of how different we are as individuals, issues bother others that I hadn’t given a second thought to, and I’m sure it is vise versa. I knew this before through discussions had in online meetings, but I think allowing us to express our own personal feelings through the answers to questions seems to be less confrontational and more objective. Building trust within our organization is a key priority right now and I’m glad our management team are trying out ways in which this can be done. Maybe it has given us a little space in which to reflect and has dampened people’s fuse a little. Surely a good thing!

Meet me at the Watercooler

I’ve recently had a guest blog post published on the Digital Epiphanies blog about how we at the Open Knowledge Foundation facilitate virtual informal discussion.

I’ve mentioned the Digital Epiphanies Project before when I was interviewed as part of their research. It’s an EPSRC- funded project that is attempting to enhance understanding of the “paradoxical and double-edged effects that new technologies and digital practices are having on work-life balance“.

I’d like to repost some of the thinking in behind my blog post here, for those who missed the original.

As those of you who read my blog will know the Open Knowledge Foundation is probably fairly unique in that it is a truly virtual organization. Our staff sit on 4 different continents and over countless timezones. We communicate primarily using online tools and face-to-face is rare for us.

To support our remote/virtual working we have a suite of tools that we utilize, some are for administrative purposes, such as Xero for expenses and Toggl for timekeeping, others are to help us with our work, such as Google drive for documents and Google hangout for meetings, and Trello for project management.

Watercooler moments

The area that always proves to be the most tricky to facilitate is discussion, especially informal discussion, or the ‘watercooler’ discussions as people like to call them. In the past the term ‘watercooler moment’ referred to a controversial event in a television programme that people would discuss at work the next day. These discussions took place next to the drinks dispenser or watercooler. Being able to discuss those exciting TV moments in a group has slowly disappeared as an activity due to changes in television watching (the rise of streaming services and playback TV), but the need to chat hasn’t. Every organisation continues to need a watercooler.

Prior to my joining the Open Knowledge Foundation they had tried out other IRC chat services. Most had faded by the time I started. People do use things like Twitter and Google Plus but these tend to support discussion with external people, not internal colleagues They’d been trying for some time to answer the question: how do you create a chat space internally?

The current service of choice is Grove.io. Grove is an IRC server that has rich functionality. It gives you archives of your chat history, search, user accounts, channel access management tools, GitHub integration. You can also chose to use the web client or a desktop app, and get notified when someone mentions you by name.

watercooler2

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we have quite a few ‘chat rooms’, some for work team chat, some for cross-team chat for example on community or tech, and we have a watercooler room. The watercooler room has the byline ‘100% social chat. No work stuff’. I’d have to say that this isn’t always the case primarily because the boundaries between work and pleasure are pretty blurred for many of us. This is partly because most of us work for an organisation that is fighting for a cause we passionately believe in: the opening up of knowledge. Politics, technology and the state of the world are fair game. However there are cat pictures, silly web links and lunch dates on there too! The quality of the conversation aside encouraging informal chat remains difficult – people are busy and prioritise work activities. Unfortunately, as many of us know, the bonds created by ‘just having a chat’ are those that build better working relationships.

After our last all-staff meet up the subject of social chat came up (again). Suggestions were made that we use a more feature rich platform for our non-work related communications (Diaspora or an inhouse tumblr were mentioned). There seemed to be a reluctance to change platform, but people were all up for social chatting.

So the question isn’t how do you create a chat space internally? It is how do you get people to use a chat space and share a side of themselves that isn’t work facing? Or how do you get people to take their eye off work even for a minute in a virtual organization?

OK, so here are a couple of things that bright sparks at the Open Knowledge Foundation have been doing. One of our team is a DJ on the side and he shares Spotify playlists with us most Fridays. These playlists are great and get us talking. We even ended up with a staff-playlist at our face-to-face event.

Someone else has started a form of virtual Chinese whispers called ‘Eat poop, you cat’ (don’t ask!), which requires people to draw a picture for a sentence. The sentence gets passes along a virtual queue of people and there is lots of silliness involved. We are almost ready to complete our first game, the results hold be interesting and hopefully funny!

We also had a virtual Christmas party in Google hangouts with virtual party hats and real Christmas carols.

These activities can result in more chat on Grove.io and actually give us a much needed break from work.

So what activities and services are you using to make sure that the watercooler remains an important destination?