Tobias on December 08, 2019:

A brief history about the way we work

In general, we communicate to stay in sync with each other.

Company news, project updates, talking about ideas, making decisions. We talk to inform and inspire other people.

We like to talk in person because it’s the best way to see if the other person gets what we’re telling them. Got it?

Unfortunately, every day, we need to communicate more because digitization is producing more info.

“Now, though, the entire world’s digitally connected literate population is the recipient of an explosion of nonstop, potentially ‘important’ - or at least relevant- information.”

  • David Allen

The internet connects us to people from around the world and staying in constant sync with different time zones is impossible.

Staying in constant sync with each other became exhausting because iPhone & Co made it to easy to be reachable and to let others interrupt our flow.

“No disrespect I be trying to disconnect / But niggas keep pulling me back in, I’m trapped in”

  • Jay Z

We need a way to disconnect from notifications overload.

Let’s sync outside the box. Got it?

But before we do that we need to understand why we work the way we work.

Why do we work in offices? Why do we have meetings and calls? And why do we use Gmail, Google Drive, Slack and Wikis?

Have you ever asked yourself: Why do we work in an office?

Industrialization happened

Before the industrialization many humans worked at home producing goods with their own spinning wheels, hand looms and craftsmanship.

They were surrounded by family and they were responsible for producing complete products in their own speed without anyone stopping the time.

The industrial revolution started the transition from hand production to machine production.

Big machines like the steam-engine, the spinning machine and the power loom were produced better and cheaper products in less time.

Capitalists who had access to money built big factories. They divided work more and more between the workers. Workers who formerly had made a whole article now produced only a part of it.

Have you watched Unabomber on Netflix? I loved it.

A smart guy writes a manifesto about how the industrial revolution made life unfulfilling. Afterwards he starts dropping letter bombs into random mailboxes across the US to create some attention.

Ah, I also might write my manifesto here but no worries, I don’t plan to drop real bombs. Maybe one day, we’ll drop other bombs to get more attention. And thank god that I’m not smart.

But I’ve read Ted’s manifesto and the one of my German buddies Karl and Friedrich.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race […] they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering.”

  • Ted Kaczynski

Ted is more of the bad cop here while Karl and Friedrich are the good cops.

“Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently, all charm for the workman.”

  • Marx, Engels

Y’all ready for some serious thinking to see why the Industrial Revolution changed the way we work?

“They ain’t really ready they ain’t never ready” - Joey Bada$$

Anyway, I’m ready.

The industrial and technical revolution created larger organizations, degraded most people to simple manual tasks and moved individuals away from the power process.

Ted describes the power process as the satisfying process of a human reaching their goals. It contains four elements:

  1. Goal
  2. Effort
  3. Attainment of goal
  4. Autonomy

He says that humans have a need for the power process or something comparable. Otherwise it’s not really clear why humans keep setting goals when our physical needs (food, water etc.) are satisfied.

When you’re a villager selling saddles then nobody cares much when you’re producing saddles. You can produce them in the night, in the dawn or at whenever your flow catches you. You follow your natural understanding of time.

But when you’re part of a 10.000 men organization and a whole production line depends on hundreds of people standing in line. Well, then you need to think different. Unfortunately.

Every individual needs to show up at a pre-defined time for a pre-defined period of time to complete pre-defined jobs.

Because factories are so efficient and the market likes cheaper products workers needed to move into factories. Companies and organizations became bigger and the individual worker became a small cog in a big factories owned by few.

“No one man should have all that power / The clock’s ticking, I just count the hours”

  • Kanye West

Because of the industrialization we moved away from the natural understanding of time. Suddenly, work and life were defined by the technical time.

Most people started working in factories. We started working in sync and became dependent of location and time.

Humans are inventing new shit to change the world and make communicating easier.

Computation happened

Machines became more complex and people invented stuff like phones, faxes, printers, copy machines and the holy computer. With the ongoing automation of manual labour workbenches got replaced by desks. Factories got replaced by offices.

Teamwork makes the dream work and we started to arrange meetings and calls to stay in sync so everybody knows what’s up and info isn’t hidden in our heads.

Internet happened

Screenshot ICQ

In the early nineties, the internet started popping and it created better communication tools which made it even easier to stay in sync without being in the same meeting room.

The internet makes it easy to connect with people from around the globe.

Let’s investigate some major technologies that the internet made possible and how they changed the way we work.

Email happened

The term Email exists since the 1960s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Email) but let’s say email how we know it nowadays started when the internet took off in the 1990s.

The good thing about email is that it’s asynchronous. Email allows electronic messaging with several people without the need of being online at the same time. It’s like an electronic letter.

Unfortunately, it’s possible to send the same email to many persons at once or to easily forward an email to a third person. This makes creating duplicates super easy and it makes it hard to track what’s happening and who has access to info.

It’s hard to understand a long email conversation if you get looped into it because it has no good structure.

Wikis happened

“A wiki […] is a website on which users collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browser.”

  • Wikipedia

In 1995, a guy named Ward Cunningham invented a new way of communication. He thought it can make sense to let people collaborate together by changing each other’s content. Smart guy this Ward.

The most famous of a wiki is.. Wanna guess? Wikipedia.

Another characteristic of wikis is that you can reference other pages or notes of the same wiki which makes a lot of sense for knowledge management because knowledge is never isolated. It’s connected.

References make it also easy to navigate from one page to another.

Wikis allow users and teams to communicate to store knowledge, notes, and ideas so that other can be informed and inspired later.

Wikis can be used as a collective brain of your team.

Wikis can be a team’s single point of truth and give you something to talk about. If it ain’t in the wiki it ain’t true.

For a long time, most wiki software systems required learning a special syntax to create pages. They felt technical and it was not intuitive to use them.

Google Docs, Sheets and Slides happened

In 2007, Google introduced Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. They’ve done some heavy lifting and brought word processing, spreadsheets and presentation into the browser.

Before we sent emails with attached Word, Excel and PowerPoints files to each other. Out of the sudden, it was possible to collaborate simultaneously on documents, spreadsheets and slides.

This reduced the amount of duplicates. Somehow.

In 2012, Google introduced Google Drive as the Finder / Explorer to browse your Google Docs, Sheets, Slides.

Unfortunately, Google decided to use folders as a way to structure content and also allowed subfolders. As we’ve learned people are creative creatures and allowing infinite levels of subfolders makes it quite easy to come up with a structure that feels more like a maze.

Most times, I don’t understand my own folder / subfolder structure so how should I understand the one my co-workers created?

You can share single documents and complete folders with others. Having folders in folders makes it difficult to understand who can access what. So the overall permission control of Google Drive isn’t the best.

Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are full of great features and even on 2016 Macbook Pro it takes around 3 seconds to load an empty Google Doc. This makes the browsing experience unsatisfying if you need to open several documents till you finally found the right one.

iPhone happened

In 2007 a man in a black turtleneck hit the stage and brought us an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. All combined in one revolutionary device - the iPhone.

The iPhone was a milestone in human history. Apple made technology desirable for the masses and turned it into a mass market consumer product.

With the Appstore and the possibility to install external apps on your iPhone developers phased new restrictions like smaller screens and new ways of using software (touches, gestures and so on).

Now not only a professional, a nerd or a techboi were using software - everyone was doing it. What followed was the consumerization of software and every industry was simplified one after another.

Unfortunately, the iPhone and everything what came after created

Slack happened

Slack was one of the first software companies that consumerized a software product built for work. Slack is good looking, simple to use and fun.

The Slackbot made it fun.

Slack cares about details and the onboarding experience is still superb. That’s why Slack is the fastest growing workplace software ever (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/slack-fastest-growing-business-app)

Maybe there is another reason why Slack is so successful in engaging it’s users. Nir Eyal wrote the book “Hooked” (https://www.nirandfar.com/hooked) explaining how software can make addictive.

Facebook and Instagram are great examples how Facebook is using those mechanisms to manipulate us (Fuck you, Mark!). I don’t think that Slack is using those mechanisms with a bad intend - they are more or less part of the underlying concept of real time chats.

Benjamin summarized the downsides of Slack in a great post (https://www.bitquabit.com/post/i-hate-slack-and-you-should-too/). Reading Benjamin’s post reminded me a bit of Ted’s manifesto.

“Stop using Slack. I hate it; you also should hate it. It’s distracting. It murders productivity. It destroys old tools. It exploits psychological needs in such a way that it kills your soul and hangs it up to dry over a lava pit, where the clothesline catches fire and your soul falls into the fire and somehow you’re not dead, just a zombie, forever, reading zombie notifications on your zombie iPhone and wondering whether “@here brains?” is a lunch invite or an insult until you read the backlog.”

  • Benjamin Pollack

Maybe one day, there is also a Netflix series about Benjamin. I hope it’s a funny one.