So you Think you can Telework – Part Three – A Rant?

In this era of social media influencers, anyone who’s read a book or watched a TED talk can self-promote as an expert in that topic. Now that we’re isolating in a pandemic and everyone is rushing online, I could be a legit distancing diva. After all, I’ve been working, coaching and training online since the ’90s. And I know how to use breakout rooms, polls and whiteboards on Zoom and have the power to mute anyone at will.

Unfortunately, I seem to want no part of it anymore. I’m not sure why, except that it worries me.

Buzzwords make you look smart, right? I see folks in my professional world believing, imagining or pretending that their online tools connect them. They judge that they – both people and tools – are being effective. They wonder what made us think work teams needed to be co-located. Unfortunately, no matter how good the tools are, they provide, at best, a shallow, fabricated, artificial connection. When work requires true collaboration, is real communication happening when we spend our days on Zoom?

I recognize that tools are what we have, as we isolate, temporarily, in this pandemic. And I’m rather fond of what Zoom has done and can do for me and my tribe. What worries me is my certainty that some business people, watching work groups make this ‘remote work thing’ actually work, are thinking, “Hey, this ‘remote work thing’ actually works; let’s keep it going. We’ll save on premises costs, travel and the hassles of dealing with people all day.” The cost issue, alone, will be attractive once the pandemic ends and the accountants tally the financial impact while the PR folk position this to maximize share price.

Worry Number One: What will be missing when technology is, forever, intermediating? Even deluxe, wonderful intermediary platforms (Adobe Connect, iObeya, D2L, etc.) require careful thought about what, why, with whom and in what context we are communicating. Are we considering these things when we set up – or sit through – the seventh online meeting of the day? Or when we reformat our highly interactive in-person workshops as webinars? Or when we move our annual conference to virtual? Or when we forget that there are still neighbourhoods without reliable highspeed?

Worry Number Two: Are we chasing solutions before we understand the problem? And what is the problem, anyway?

4-Cs Model: Yeah, yeah. I know about the George Box quote, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” I developed this model, years ago, when I was trying to get bosses, colleagues, clients in the business world to recognize that communication only happens when we make a connection. And connection only happens when our message, or content, is aligned with the situation people are in, or context, and the channel or means of contact.


Context: So let’s start with breaking down the work. What parts of it can people do alone? What parts need collaboration? Do they need to see and manipulate screens together? Or can they talk about it and send each other screenshots? Who needs to collaborate with whom? Who has the info needed? These are context questions. You can probably think of more.


Content: Is the communication about transmitting facts (“Here are the sales figures for March.” “We deployed n times in April.”)? Or does it need a discussion (“What factors affect our sales figures for March?” “What led to the drop?)? Do we need images? Or will data suffice? Are we informing people? Or do we need people to make a decision? Again, who has the info needed? These are content questions. You can conjure up others.


Contact: Next come the means of contact questions. Here are a few big picture considerations. Do the people with the information have a good Internet connection? Can people get through the firewall? How long does it take? Do people know how to use the tools? Do they have company tools, or are children and a spouse also using the family computer? (That’s also a context question, as is the next one.) Do they have a quiet place where they can be on a call? (Yesterday, I heard about someone who, on a confidential call, had to Zoom from the privacy of the bathroom.)


The next step for generating contact questions would be to match tasks and tools. What can be an email? What needs to be a call? Do we need to see each other? How can we do that? Do we need to share screens? How can we do that? What’s the value of having [whoever] here? What’s the downside risk? What about this tool your brother-in-law recommended? Can we use that? Do we really need it? Will it run on everyone’s machine? When you work thorough that task-tool matching exercise, you may discover that you don’t need to spend seven hours a day with your whole team assembled on Zoom.


We can make working from home work if we’re thoughtful about the content, context and means of contact, matching tools to tasks. We can make it work if we remember that we are dealing with people, unpredictable, creative, quirky and oh so human. As I and others have said before, this is a weird time. Working at home is our response to ‘sheltering in place during a pandemic’ or ‘staying safe in a crisis.’ Let’s hope it’s temporary and not ‘a new way of working.’

Caution: Engage brain before tweeting

I recently posted: “Google before you Tweet” is the new “Think before you Speak.” Since things posted on the Internet are forever, I thought I’d remind myself and others that it’s good to verify your information before pontificating. (I have on speed dial.)

The same is true for reading the content before we share on facebook or retweet a link. Actually reading and checking what we post can preserve the illusion that we are intelligent beings.  Otherwise we risk sharing something incorrect or inappropriate or pass on, as truth,  satire from The Onion or Mooscleans.

Being asleBadRetweetep at the wheel when you are posting as yourself is merely embarrassing. But when you’re posting on behalf of an organization, it’s criminal not to have your brain in gear. So I was puzzled, today, to see a retweet of something I posted a couple of weeks ago.

Is this an organization rubbishing itself? Or is someone simply not reading and thinking before posting?

NovoED is the learning platform for an online course I’m taking. (A MOOC with thousands of participants.) Desire2Learn, based in my community, would seem to be a rival in the ed-tech space. (Yes, I Googled that before pontificating.) So why would NovoED repeat a plug for D2L?


Digital journalism a conversation? I don’t think so

One of my intentions for 2008 is to stop reading the comments after stories in the online version of the Globe & Mail, our national newspaper. They showcase uninspired and uninspiring nonsense posted by people who seem, with a few exceptions, to be ill-informed, ethnocentric, regionally oriented and partisan conspiracy theorists hiding behind anonymity.  The outpouring of ignorance and intolerance is especially disturbing because these creatures are my fellow citizens. The news is bad enough; witnessing people at their least charitable makes it even worse.


You call this entertainment?

It’s hard to be a Help Desk person
. We customers only call when we’re angry or confused or both.  If only we could just learn to enjoy:

  • waiting (Kenny G is Top Of The Pops on “Hold” this week)
  • listening to long multilingual messages that don’t make sense in any language
  • bouncing between service people (I suspect they have a [Random] button to send us to other departments where we will hear, “That’s not my job,” immediately before they ask the obligatory question, “Is there anything more I help you with today?”)
  • getting nowhere and taking forever to get there

In a bid to be the “ideal customer,” I have started to use my problems as entertainment, for both myself and Help Desk employees. I had a great chat, this morning, with someone at Bell Canada. He was wonderful and had the customer service spirit so often missing in call centres.

Extra: Calling Out For Service – from Voice Jail

Call anytime, but it’s better to send e-mail
– Yesterday, while I sat on hold long enough to tidy my entire office, the recorded greeting told me that my bank has extended its call centre support service by two hours. Nevertheless, the recording went on to suggest sending them an e-mail for faster service. The irony is that the purpose of my call was to clarify something about online banking. Hmmm.

A friend is using the time she spends on hold to write a book – I imagine there is a statistic, somewhere, revealing that the average North American spends 1.5 months of his/her life on hold.

Would you like fries with that? – Another friend revealed today that while he was waiting for service at a technology site, the system offered him the option of waiting with or without music. I guess they didn’t read the 2002 study by France’s Université de Rennes showing that callers listening to music while on hold underestimate the length of time they’ve been waiting. Next we’ll have a choice of musical styles. But will we ever reach a human being?

Poison IVR – Broadcaster/podcaster Jeff Hoyt has some interesting thoughts on yesterday’s subject of interactive voice response systems that seem to be keeping customers separated from customer service reps.  You’ll find his entertaining “Voice Jail” recording at

Get Real – Calling Out For Customer Service

CalcentremansmallI have a lovely telephone company.  Through the magic of mergers, it’s also my mobile phone company, my Internet service provider and (if I had a TV) my cable company. Multiple services mean multiple reasons to contact its customer service line.

And there the loveliness ends. The organization that enables me to communicate with you and the rest of the universe seems intent on preventing customers from communicating with its helpful help desk.

Place a call to the customer care line and you’re connected with an interactive voice response system (IVR). In other words, a fake guy, with an incessantly cheerful recorded voice tries to guess why you’re calling. Our IVR Guy has advanced beyond the "Press 1 for billing enquiries" stage and saves you the digital wear and tear of button pushing. All you have to do is speak the right words.

Pray the situation fits the options offered. Unless he hears the magic words, this poor man apologizes. "I’m sorry," he says, "I must
have misunderstood. Can you repeat that please?" Welcome to Canada, where even our robots are polite.

Outwitting the robot – Since there’s no
officially sanctioned way to bypass IVR Guy, getting to a real person requires creativity, if not cunning.