12.14.20

Can people be paid to take the vaccine?

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

The first COVID-19 vaccine to gain emergency use authorisation in the US could roll out within days, as Pfizer and BioNTech’s candidate was endorsed by an external advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration on December 10. Two days earlier, an internal FDA panel endorsed the vaccine. These were the last required steps before the FDA authorises the vaccine, which will soon be administered to healthcare workers across the country.

But while healthcare workers, who will be first to receive the vaccine, appear eager to get the shot, others are not so convinced. In fact, recent studies indicate that many Americans do not plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine, even if one is available at no cost.

If levels of vaccination are not robust, it will take longer to reach herd immunity, or widespread protection within a population. In response to these concerns, several people have suggested that the government should provide a monetary incentive to COVID-19 vaccination.

We are health law professors and, in our view, it is important to understand how these monetary incentives work as COVID-19 vaccines become available, why payment for vaccination may exacerbate vaccine mistrust, and how this incentive fits into the broader history of monetary incentives in public health.

THE IDEA BEHIND MONETARY AWARDS FOR COVID-19 VACCINATION
In summer and early fall of 2020, several surveys indicated that the number of Americans planning to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was lower than desirable. Experts estimate that achieving herd immunity require anywhere from 67% to 85% of Americans to be vaccinated. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that only 60% of American were considering getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

If vaccination rates are indeed low once vaccines become available on a large scale, it will take the U.S. longer to curb the pandemic. Moreover, many Americans expressing COVID-19 vaccine mistrust are part of are members of racial minorities, which are precisely among the groups hit the hardest by the pandemic.

The idea of monetary incentives seems straightforward: Pay people to get vaccinated. One of the earliest proponents, economist Robert Litan, called the idea an “adult version of the doctor handing out candy to children.”

Litan suggested that the government should pay $1,000 to each person who receives a COVID-19 vaccine. He admitted in his proposal that he had not relied on any studies or data to get to this number, explaining that the proposed payment amount was a “hunch.”

His idea has since been endorsed by prominent commentators. These include economist Gregory Mankiw and politician John Delaney, who suggested that the incentive should be increased to $1,500.

WHEN MONEY WORKS AND WHEN IT DOESN’T
Paying incentives to people who take on health risks to help others is not new. The most common example is clinical trials. Participants in these trials often receive set payments typically ranging from $25 to $1,000, to cover the costs of participation and perhaps to compensate for participants’ time.

Researchers don’t intend for these payments to induce subjects to take risks they would otherwise refuse. But there is a concern that, if clinical researchers pay potential subjects for risk-taking, their clinical trials will prey on poorer people for whom the payment would make the most difference. The law withholds authorization for clinical trials where there is reason to suspect that large payments were inducing people to take risks against their better judgment.

While a number of studies demonstrate that nominal payments rarely cause a person to consent to clinical research the person believes is risky, data show that payments as high as $1,000 cause potential participants to perceive the proposed research as highly risky. Those individuals seek out risk information and review it more closely than others who were offered significantly smaller payments.

Monetary compensation is also available in other cases. For instance, payments for the donation of plasma currently ranges from $30 to $60. Compensation for the donation of gametes is also possible, with $35-$125 being the range for sperm donations, and $5,000-$10,000 the range for egg donations.

There are also cases in which it’s been effective to nudge people to stop unhealthy behaviors. Studies have shown that paying people to stop smoking can be a powerful incentive. These studies offered smokers rewards that ranged from $45 to $700. People who received a reward were less likely to restart smoking, even after the monetary incentive ended.

Conversely, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act expressly prohibits payment for organ donations. Here, the concern is that allowing payments would undermine the altruism underlying the current system such that nobody would give their organs for free if there is a market for them. And where there is a market, it will exploit the poorest among us, who are the most vulnerable.

In countries that do not prohibit payment for human organs, there is anecdotal evidence of unscrupulous brokers and healthcare providers who profit from the desperation of wealthy recipients at the expense of impoverished and vulnerable donors.

WHY MONEY FOR COVID-19 VACCINATION IS DIFFERENT
In the medical context, monetary incentives are typically not available when participants take a health risk that nonetheless provides them with some likely personal benefit. Instead, payment is more likely for people who agree to participate in clinical trials where the participants are unlikely to benefit medically from their participation. This also applies to payments for donations of plasma and gametes given that donors do not benefit medically from their participation.

A massive payment plan designed to promote COVID-19 vaccination would be very different from current monetary incentives. In addition to its novelty, our concern is that such a scheme would have unintended consequences.

First, we have no actual behavioral studies in this area—as opposed to the case of smoking cessation rewards. Similarly, as the proponents of vaccination rewards admit, there is no data on how to set the appropriate reward.

Second, the proposal might backfire. People who already do not trust vaccines may consider the mere availability of payment as confirmation that vaccination is especially risky or undesirable. And people or organizations interested in promoting disinformation about vaccines may portray payment originating from the government as “proof” of deep-state or hidden agendas associated with vaccination. If people perceive the monetary incentive in this way, that could contribute to increased vaccine hesitancy—precisely the opposite of what it is intended to do.

Third, we worry about the socioeconomic underpinnings of this proposal. An amount close to $1,000 is supposed to prompt a person to change attitudes toward vaccination. In practice, this means that richer individuals, who might not be moved by $1,000, can just ignore the reward. Poorer people, however, are expected to change their behaviors in exchange for money. This is a paternalistic approach that does not help build trust in the government and public health authorities among poorer communities.

For these reasons, we urge caution to regulators and legislators in this area. We all want the pandemic to come to an end as soon as possible. But we need to get the incentives right, which entails relying on data, and not just on unstudied theories.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com.

12.10.20

7 YouTube secrets you need to know

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

‘Tis the season, friends. The weather is turning, work slows down a bit, and we can finally make a dent in the nearly infinite number of interesting, funny, and entertaining YouTube videos we’ve been meaning to watch.

And while many people never do more than open up a video, watch it, and then move on, YouTube has a surprisingly rich set of features. Here are some cool tricks you can use to make your viewing experience more engaging, efficient, and fun.

LINE UP VIDEOS FOR YOUR VIEWING SESSION
You’ve navigated your way to the main YouTube page and your interest is immediately piqued by 10 hours of Christmas jazz music, followed by 48 minutes of the greatest NBA highlights ever, followed by a clip of Rodney Dangerfield on The Tonight Show, followed by about a dozen other must-see videos on the main page.

 

Hover over each video you’d like to watch and click the second icon in the upper-right corner: Add to Queue. You’ll notice a personalized watch basket filling up in the lower-right corner of the YouTube page. Hit play, go full screen, and enjoy the show as your selected videos play one after another after another.

GIVE YOUR MOUSE A REST WITH KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS
If you’re looking to achieve true YouTube-watching mastery, then keyboard shortcuts are a must. Google keeps a full list here, but some of the more notable ones include using the J, K, and L keys to go back 10 seconds, pause, and go forward 10 seconds, respectively.

 

The / (slash) key pops your cursor right into the search box, and if you’ve got a playlist or queue going, hitting Shift+N moves you to the next video while Shift+P moves you to the previous one.

SHARE A VIDEO STARING AT A SPECIFIC POINT
Speaking of that 48 minutes of NBA highlights video, there’s an excellent highlight at around the 24-and-a-half-minute mark that you’d like to share with a pal.

 

Instead of sending them the link to the entire video and making someone scrub through it, pause the video right at the point you’d like to share, hit the Share button under the video, and check the “Start at” box in the lower-left corner. Then copy the URL and send it along. When your friend clicks the link, the video will begin playing right at that point.

TURN A SNIPPET OF VIDEO INTO A GIF WITH EASE
There are roughly a bajillion ways to turn YouTube videos into animated GIFs, but adding “gif” to the front of a video’s URL is probably the easiest to remember.

 

So if the video you want to GIF-ify has the URL:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWYPm24qVd8

Just turn it into:

https://www.gifyoutube.com/watch?v=SWYPm24qVd8

You’ll then find yourself in the handy Gifs.com video editor, which is an independent service rather than part of YouTube itself. You can pick your start point, adjust the sliders to get your clip just how you like it, and ultimately create your shareable GIF.

GRAB WRITTEN TRANSCRIPTS FOR INTERESTING VIDEOS
This trick works great for properly captioned videos and OK for videos that are auto-captioned by YouTube. If you’d like to grab a particular video’s written transcript, click the three dots next to the Save button under the video and select the “Open transcript” option.

 

Now, this isn’t available on all videos—just ones that have been transcribed either by hand or by YouTube’s transcription algorithm. But if the transcript is available, you’ll see it to the right of the video, at which point you can copy and paste the text into your favorite word processor or email program.

Transcripts feature time stamps by default, but you can hide them by clicking the triple-dot menu in the upper-right corner of the transcript box if you’d like the text to look a little cleaner.

WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEOS WITH FAR-AWAY FRIENDS
YouTube is fun, yes, but you know what’s even more fun? YouTube with friends. There are several services to choose from, but SyncTube is particularly slick and straightforward.

 

You can create a shared room in a couple of clicks and send a unique link to your friends. Then everyone can start loading up YouTube links. Videos will play one after another, synchronized so everyone’s watching the same thing at once, complete with a handy chat feature on the right-hand side so you can all exchange witty banter in real time.

DOWNLOAD VIDEO THUMBNAILS FOR EASY SHARING
If you’d like to call attention to a video using its own thumbnail image—maybe on your blog or one of your social media accounts—there’s no obvious way to do it directly from the YouTube interface. However, YouTube stores all the images in the same way, so you can use the following URL to access them.

To download a thumbnail, use this URL:

img.youtube.com/vi/VIDEOID/maxresdefault.jpg

But replace VIDEOID with the string of letters and numbers immediately following the “v=” part of the video’s URL.

So for this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzK3_MA1Al4

You’d use:

img.youtube.com/vi/pzK3_MA1Al4/maxresdefault.jpg

That will open up the thumbnail image on its own, at which point you can download it.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com. 

12.07.20

This is where the world’s next pandemic is likely to emerge from

BY farah khalfe 3 MINUTE READ

Roughly a year ago, it’s likely that the new coronavirus made the jump from a wild animal to the first infected human in Wuhan, China, before spreading throughout the city, and then leaping quickly to the rest of the world. If 2020 seemed like an anomaly, it isn’t: Scientists say that another pandemic will follow at some point in the future. A new study tries to identify where it might emerge.

“Essentially, this work is trying to identify the biggest gaps in the modern, globalized world where pathogens may be most likely to slip through and lead to extensive global dissemination,” says Michael Walsh, the lead author of the new study and an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.

Three factors are key. In areas where the most wildlife habitat is disappearing, there’s more stress on wild animals, making disease spread more easily, and more contact between humans and animals. All of the worst infectious viruses to emerge in recent decades, including HIV, the first SARS, and Ebola, are “zoonotic,” meaning they spread from animals. (In some cases, viruses spread first to livestock, and then to humans.) Poor health systems are a second risk factor. The cities that are most at risk of being the next to launch a pandemic are also well connected globally through airports.

“Our goal was to identify those areas where the greatest amount of wildlife are sharing space with the greatest amount of people,” Walsh says. “In these spaces, humans are simultaneously putting a high degree of pressure on wildlife species and their environment and increasing their own [human] exposure to new pathogens because of the greater contact with wildlife. The result is an increase in the risk of these new pathogens ‘spilling over’ into human populations.”

[Image: University of Sydney]

recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that the emergence of COVID-19 was “entirely driven by human activities,” and that there are hundreds of thousands of other viruses in mammals and birds that could also potentially infect humans if action isn’t taken to protect nature and limit the possibility of them jumping species. Some could be far more deadly than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Without action, pandemics in the future could begin to happen more often—already, new infectious diseases are emerging in humans approximately every eight months.The new study notes that areas in Africa and parts of Asia are most at risk, both because of contact between people and animals and because of the other factors: While it’s possible that a pandemic could emerge in a location with good health infrastructure, it’s more likely to happen in areas where healthcare is underfunded. “If a new spillover leads to onward human-to-human transmission, then this is more likely to go undetected in areas without good access to healthcare for all and without robust disease surveillance systems in place than in areas where these are present,” says Walsh. Cities like Mumbai, India, and Chengdu, China, are at the highest risk because they’re also major travel hubs, so once a virus emerges in humans, it could quickly spread to other parts of the globe if it’s not detected in time.

Governments can use the study to start to fill the gaps in the cities most at risk, by conserving habitat, improving health infrastructure, both for humans and vet care for livestock, and developing better disease surveillance systems that can systematically monitor pathogens (including, as a last defense, disease surveillance at airports). Societies also “need to think about ways to minimize contact, ways to ‘break the interface’ in other words, between humans and wildlife as much as possible, which means working with forest departments and other land management agencies to think about ways to reduce the sharing of space,” Walsh says.

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Article originally published on  fastcompany.com.

Here’s how to organise your inbox and home office for a fresh start in 2020

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

The finish line is in sight: 2020 will soon be behind us. Good riddance, hallelujah, and amen.

As you exhale after a tumultuous year, now is the time to clean out and set yourself up for a productive, successful new year.

TURN YOUR EMAIL PROGRAM INTO YOUR PERSONAL ASSISTANT
I get it. You are probably rolling your eyes or shaking your head in disbelief wondering if you just read the section header correctly. Is it even conceivable that your email program could ever be that helpful, let alone your personal assistant?

Yes. Here’s how:

Assistants prioritize your messages. Set up your email program to prioritize your messages. Color-code incoming messages based on sender priority or where your name appears in the message. For example, you might color-code your manager red, your top clients green, and turn the messages where you are cc’d to light gray. Use conditional formatting in Outlook and labels in Gmail. Then, when you open your inbox, you will be able to quickly scan and identify the messages that require an immediate response from you.

Assistants help you follow up and keep track of open tasks and pending requests. Ask your email program to remind you of the requests you have made via email where you are waiting on a response. Automate your follow up by setting up and using the “waiting for” rule.

When you send an email where you need a response from the recipient, cc yourself on that email. That email will then be automatically saved in a folder you have designated for all your follow-ups. As new messages are automatically added to this folder, the numeral indicating how many messages are in the folder will become bold. No longer will you spend hours searching through sent messages trying to remember if you have followed up on your open requests. Your personal assistant will remind you.

And, if you are a Gmail user, consider using Boomerang. It will schedule messages to automatically return to the top of your inbox at a time you specify and remind you to follow up with people who don’t respond to your email within a specific amount of time.

Assistants stop interruptions from hijacking your day. Turn off all the new message alerts. Those pings, buzzes, and pop-ups divert your time and attention.

P.U.R.G.E. YOUR HOME “OFFICE”
The temporary “office” you created for yourself in March has now become your permanent office and will probably be where you work for most of next year. It’s time to P.U.R.G.E. and get organized for 2021.

P: Establish your productivity zones
To optimise your efficiency and effectiveness in your home “office,” set up your productivity zones. To determine your zones, identify the primary activities in your job. Then determine the optimal conditions for you to complete each activity. And, finally, select the place or space in your home or home office that will best support each activity.

For example, the core activities in your job are Zoom meetings with clients and prospects, prospect research, and email correspondence. Zoom calls require quality audio and lighting. Prospect research and email correspondence require a computer and internet connection. The dresser in your bedroom is the best place for you to conduct your Zoom calls because you can close a door and use a lamp on the dresser for additional light. And, your sofa in the den is an ideal place for prospect research and email correspondence because this is where you have the best internet connection.

If you do have a dedicated office space, follow the steps above to create productivity zones within your office.

U: Use household items creatively.
The office supply cabinet in your home is probably not as well-stocked as the one in your office building. So, get creative and use what you have at home. If you want a standing desk, use your kitchen counter or a bookcase. Repurpose your standing, lighted make-up mirror as a “ring-light” to provide additional light on Zoom calls. Or reuse one of the many shipping boxes that show up at your front door every day to elevate your laptop so you can be eye level with your built-in camera.

R: Reestablish your “coworker” working agreements.
Working well with your “coworkers” including your partner, spouse, children, roommates, or your fourth cousin, is hard. Reestablish working agreements to halt interruptions and restore sanity to everyone’s workday.

Implement the “stoplight” system by having each person place a colored square of paper on the edge of their workspace indicating their current level of focus and availability for interruptions. A red square signals that the only reason to be interrupted is if there is an emergency. It is critical that you define an emergency. In our household, there are two emergencies: fire and bleeding that cannot be stopped with Band-Aids. A yellow card means you are working on a project that requires a significant amount of focus and concentration, so proceed with caution when interrupting. A green card means you are open and available. And, if you leave your card on red all day every day the system will fail. I learned this lesson the hard way.

G: Gather all required tools to complete your tasks.
Searching for a stapler, pair of scissors, a note pad or a Sharpie that is not dried out wastes your time and makes you cranky. Identify all the tools you need to complete your tasks. Gather your tools on an at-home shopping trip. Purchase any missing items and place them in one, and only one, place. If you work in multiple spaces in your home, consider a basket with handles or a repurposed toolbox that you can transport with you.

E: Eliminate old papers, files, and binders.

  • Shred, recycle, or trash papers, files, and binders that meet the following criteria:
  • You are not required to retain for compliance, tax, or legal reasons.
  • You are not required to retain based on your company’s record retention policy.
  • The information can be accessed somewhere else. For example, a copy of your company’s vacation policy is available on your company’s website.
  • You cannot identify a specific reason you would need to retrieve this information again.

Don’t start your year bogged down in old documents and information you do not need. Clear the clutter.

For many of us, 2020 was a one-star year: very bad, would not recommend. So prepare your inbox and home “office” for a more productive (and healthy) 2021.

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Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., and the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work.: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job.

12.01.20

This “zero-input” kelp burger requires no land or fresh water to produce

BY farah khalfe 3 MINUTE READ

In an effort to lower the carbon footprint of your diet, maybe you’ve swapped out a beef burger for one made from plants. But growing crops like peas and potatoes can still be resource-intensive, requiring lots of land, fresh water, and fertilizer, the abundant use of which is degrading our soil and polluting the water and air. Instead of looking to replace meat with plants, food startup Akua is looking to the ocean with the launch of its kelp burger.

Akua (previously named Beyond the Shoreline) has already launched a line of kelp biltong. Cofounder and CEO Courtney Boyd Myers says she was drawn to seaweed for a few reasons. Along with its health benefits, seaweed provides some environmental advantages. “If you think about food systems with kelp, it doesn’t require dry land or fresh water or fertilizer or feed to grow, so it’s what is called a zero-input food,” Boyd Myers says. “If you can grow zero-input food abundantly to feed the planet, you’re in a really good place.” Kelp farms also naturally sequester a lot of carbon, so creating a larger market for kelp could help suck up even more emissions.

And finally, there’s the economic impact that comes with supporting kelp farmers. “These fishermen start to make more of a living by being ocean gardeners, if you will,” she says, putting less of a strain on the fishing supply. Investing in sustainable ocean practices can have huge global benefits. According to the nonprofit World Resources Institute, every $1 invested in ocean sustainability generates $5 of benefits for the planet.For its kelp burger, Akua works with women-owned kelp farms off the coast of Maine. The Akua burger also includes cremini mushrooms, black beans, quinoa, crushed tomatoes, and pea protein, which plant-based burger eaters may recognize as an ingredient in Beyond Burgers. Boyd Myers says the Akua kelp burger isn’t meant to mimic meat in the way Beyond and Impossible burgers do, but assures it’ll still be satisfying to meat eaters.

Kelp and mushrooms have this “umami bomb taste,” she says, “and it’s really satiating in the way that meat is.” (The company assures there’s no fishy taste.) “I think that the kelp burger is going to have a special place in the market in between a fake meat burger and your boring old veggie burger.”

She’s also hoping it’ll appeal to people who might want a healthier burger alternative, made of more whole foods. (“Our Kelp Burger is made in Maine with love—not in [a] lab,” the website reads.) The Impossible burger has 14 grams of fat, 8 of which are saturated fat, and the Beyond Burger has 18 grams of fat, 5 of which are saturated fat (though Beyond did recently announce a healthier version of its faux burger). Akua’s kelp burger contains 14 grams of fat, but zero saturated fat.

Akua says its kelp jerky is carbon negative, but Boyd Myers doesn’t yet know how the kelp burgers compare in terms of carbon footprint. Kelp alone, she says, “is like drawing carbon out of the sea.” (It’s the production of the burger’s other ingredients that may increase emissions.) In 2019, Akua used 40,000 pounds of ocean-farmed kelp for its jerky, pulling 2,000 pounds of carbon from the ocean; Boyd Myers has previously estimated that by its fifth year in business, the company’s kelp jerky will sequester 1 million pounds of carbon.Akua is raising funds for its kelp burger product on Republic, an equity crowdfunding platform, and already has raised more than $100,000. Boyd Myers knows some people might be a bit hesitant about biting into a kelp burger, but she believes that’ll change soon. She points to the growing popularity of mushrooms—another edible item that, like kelp, doesn’t fall into the “plant” category but exists in its own kingdom. Now that consumers are enjoying all kinds of varieties, from lion’s mane to maitake, and even downing mushroom “coffee,” the global mushroom market is expected to hit $86 billion by 2025, up from $53 billion in 2019. “Over the next 10 years,” Boyd Myers predicts, “I think seaweed is going to be following that trajectory.”
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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

Here’s the real problem with working from home

BY farah khalfe 3 MINUTE READ

For decades, we’ve commonly believed the further two people were apart physically and organisationally, the lower their estimation of one another was likely to be. Our latest research at VitalSmarts suggests otherwise. The problems with work from home (WFH) don’t emerge because employees are no longer working in the same space. Its weaknesses arise when leaders fail to create new ways for employees to connect.

In August 2020, we surveyed 2300 executives and employees who were abruptly thrust from the workplace by COVID-19. While a predictable majority (54% of executives and 43% of nonexecutives) reported cultural strain and deterioration since dispersing, we were repeatedly fascinated by reports of teams that felt closer and more productive than before. Surprisingly, a large minority of employees report they are working together better since their forced separation.

Our study sought to examine the effect of WFH on social capital—a concept popularised by Robert Putnam in the early 1990s as the measure of the healthy functioning of social systems. In our view, it is a report card on leadership. Leadership, after all, is not about creating results. It is about influencing others to create results.

What we found is that some leaders are finding ways to generate greater social capital because of WFH conditions. Here are some conclusions from our study.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO TO DESTROY SOCIAL CAPITAL IS NOTHING
We gave respondents a list of actions their leaders might have taken to mitigate the effects of WFH. Some required very little effort, like sending out a survey. Others were more taxing, like increasing personalised virtual contact with leaders.

We were encouraged to find that almost every intervention leaders used had a positive effect on social capital. Some had a greater effect than others, but most everything produced something. Healthy organizations were those where leaders worked actively to build social capital. When they did, employees were:

  • 60% more likely to respond quickly to requests from each other.
  • Almost three times more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt when problems occurred.
  • Almost three times more likely to sacrifice their own needs to serve a larger team goal.
  • More than twice as likely to take initiative to solve problems rather than waiting to be told to do so.

On the flip side, in organizations where leaders have taken no steps to offset the potential alienation of WFH, social capital is diminishing rapidly. The difference between the social capital winners and losers was not distance, but leadership.

SUPERVISORS MATTER
In healthy organisations, many mentioned small gestures and consistent actions from their immediate supervisor since WFH. And the returns on these small human investments were enormous. One respondent described how touched they were by a supervisor who frequently asked her how her kids were “handling the transition to remote learning.”

Our study showed managers in weak organizations are almost always those who have done little to leverage the social capital opportunities WFH offers. As a result, these leaders suffered extraordinary losses in social capital. Their direct reports were:

  • 40% more likely to do the minimum required in their work.
  • Four times more likely to respond slowly to requests from others.
  • Four times more likely to assume the worst of others when problems happen.
  • Three times more likely to put their own interests ahead of larger organizational goals.

THE OFFICE IS A WAY, NOT THE WAY
What worked about the office was that it was a highly structured way of promoting unstructured interaction. It gave the illusion of agency to our spontaneous connection. But the truth is, those “chance” happenings have always been engineered. We were required to arrive at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, and report to a specific office. And it worked. Like marbles in a bowl, our contact with each other was not elective.

Leaders in healthy organizations understand that WFH demands more than substituting conference calls for conference rooms. It isn’t just about using virtual technology to substitute for the structured interaction required to get work done. They are experimenting aggressively to create new norms and rituals for unstructured interaction. Leaders in healthy organizations went beyond the obvious interventions like offering flextime and were far more likely to use:

  • Fun, off-the-wall virtual events (virtual dance parties, online eating contests, etc.).
  • More frequent team meetings.
  • Scheduled nonwork-related meetings for team members to connect.

These investments enable not just structured, but unstructured interaction. And their social capital effects were strikingly different, showing a two to four times greater impact on social capital than offering obvious interventions like flextime.

This study provides early evidence that leaders need not choose between developing a high-performance culture and allowing home-based work. The vast differences in social capital from one organization to the next are likely the result of variations in leadership competence at building new social rituals, not physical concentration. Ultimately, the necessary condition to a productive social system is leadership not location.

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About the author: Joseph Grenny is a cofounder at VitalSmarts and the New York Times bestselling coauthor of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.

11.30.20

LG begins trials for new robot delivery service

BY farah khalfe < 1 MINUTE READ

LG Electronics has started trials for its indoor robot, Cloi Servebot that can – amongst other features – carry up to 15 kilograms of items in its three drawers and deliver them efficiently and hygienically to its destination without remote control.

The LG Cloi Servebot will deliver products from convenience stores run by local store chain GS25 to the customers within LG Science Park, the company’s headquarters in Seoul, Korea.

The robots can get onto elevators on their own to move between nine floors above ground and a basement level to deliver lunch boxes, sandwiches, and drinks, LG said.

Customers can order using their KakaoTalk chat app. After the order is made, convenience store employees will put the ordered goods into the robot’s drawers and input the destination, reports ZDNet.

In March, LG Cloi Servebots were deployed to a restaurant to carry food trays to tables.

LG Cloi ServeBot effortlessly navigates its way between tables, chairs and customers to bring diners their meals as well as return dirty dishes and utensils to the kitchen.

“Cloi ServeBot isn’t designed to replace wait staff but to complement them, helping to keep interaction between staff and customers to a minimum,” the company said.

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Author: IANS 

Why Google has ended its unlimited storage for photos

BY farah khalfe 5 MINUTE READ

There are two ways to look at Google’s recent announcement that it will discontinue unlimited Google Photos storage starting next June.

The first is Google’s official explanation: People are uploading a lot more photos and videos than they used to, making the service harder to sustain for free. “When we launched Google five years ago, the upload velocity that we had then, versus today’s mobile world, is a lot different,” Google Photos VP Shimrit Ben-Yair told me recently.

But there’s another explanation that Google didn’t make quite as explicit: The end of unlimited Google Photos storage marks a pivot of sorts for the search giant, away from being so overwhelmingly dependent on targeted ads as its dominant business model. The future of Google could be as much about subscription revenue as advertising, with Google Photos’ push for paid cloud storage as the centerpiece of those efforts.

BEYOND THE AD BUSINESS
Google’s shift away from an ad-centric model isn’t entirely new. While advertising made up nearly 90% of the company’s revenues in 2015, that share has since fallen to 83.9% last year and 80.6% over the first nine months of 2020. Nonadvertising revenue comes from the apps and media people buy from the Google Play Store, sales of devices such as Pixel phones and Nest speakers, subscriptions to services such as YouTube TV, and Google’s enterprise business, which includes cloud computing services and business-class productivity tools.

Still, there are signs that Google may be accelerating those nonadvertising efforts, with subscription revenue as the focal point.

Last month, for instance, Google discontinued unlimited cloud storage for business users as part of its rebranding from G Suite to Google Workspace. Instead of getting unlimited storage for $12 per user per month, teams with at least five members will get 2 TB of storage per user at that price. Companies must pay $18 per month per user for 5 TB of storage, and Google doesn’t even advertise the price of unlimited storage, which it only offers through its sales department.

Google also sharply increased the price of its YouTube TV streaming bundle over the summer, from $50 per month to $65 per month. While other live TV services have also raised prices, and TV networks deserve most of the blame for making pay TV too expensive, the price hike shows that Google’s become more intent on making the service profitable.

Google’s also added a few new subscription services over the last year or so. In September 2019, it launched Play Pass, a $5-per-month bundle of Android apps and games from the Google Play Store. A couple of months later, it got into the cloud gaming business with Stadia. And just last month, Google started selling Pixel phones on a subscription basis to customers of its Google Fi wireless service, helping to ensure that they stay connected to the company’s cellular plans over the long haul.

All of this suggests that Google isn’t feeling as confident in the advertising business as it used to, and for good reason: Threats to its longstanding cash cow are everywhere.

On the regulatory front, the European Commission hasn’t held back from attacking Google’s advertising business. It fined the company roughly $1.7 billion for abusing its market power last year. In the United States, the Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, focused mainly on Google’s default search agreements with companies such as Apple and Mozilla.

And if Google was hoping for less scrutiny under President-elect Joe Biden, it got some bad news this week when Biden’s campaign identified Bruce Reed as a top tech adviser. Reed helped shape a landmark California privacy law that went into effect this year.

Even without regulation, Google’s core business model is under threat from Apple, which has made its iOS platform decreasingly hospitable to data collection and targeted ads. Apple has made location data harder to collect and prevented websites from tracking you by default. Apps will have to publish privacy “nutrition labels” starting in December and will need explicit permission to track you across apps and websites starting early next year. The Financial Times even reported last month that Apple is working on its own search engine to replace Google Search as the default.

Google saw its first ever quarterly ad revenue decline in Q2 due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic’s affect on advertising, and while the company bounced back in Q3, the bad quarter shows that Google’s business isn’t invulnerable.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Google’s latest SEC filing lists a dependence on advertising as one of the company’s top risk factors. That same description of risks to the company also notes that Google is “investing significantly in subscription-based products and services such as YouTube.”

ENTER GOOGLE PHOTOS
Google Photos represents the search giant’s most serious attempt yet at deemphasizing its advertising business. The service already has more than 1 billion users, who collectively upload 28 billion new photos and videos per week. (That’s a 233% increase from 2017, when users were uploading roughly 8.4 billion photos and videos per week.)

Many of those users aren’t going to want to give up the service once their uploads start counting toward Google account storage limits. Most rival services, such as Apple’s iCloud and Dropbox, also cost money beyond a certain amount of storage, so there’s no obvious place for them to go when they run out of room. (The closest unlimited photo storage equivalent to Google Photos is Amazon Prime, but subscribers only get 5 GB for video uploads with that service.)

Besides, Google Photos has many virtues beyond unlimited storage. Its face recognition features are excellent, as is its integration with Google Assistant smart displays such as the Nest Home Hub, and the ability to autoshare pictures of specific people with a trusted contact is without peer.

While Google says it will offer tools to help users curb their storage use, the reality is that many users will feel compelled to pay. The company estimates that 7% of users will hit their storage limits within a year. If 100% of those people paid for more space, Google could be generating $1.7 billion a year in new revenue by June 2022. That alone would increase Google’s consumer nonadvertising revenue by about 10% compared to 2019.

But Google Photos won’t just be a revenue generator unto itself. It’ll also serve as an anchor for the company’s Google One subscription, in the same way that the shipping benefits included in Amazon Prime keep people tethered.

When Google One launched in 2018, it was basically a glorified version of Google Drive storage with optional live tech support, but Google has steadily piled on more benefits since then. The top-tier One plan, which costs $10 per month or $100 per year for 2 TB of storage, added VPN service for Android users last month, and it offers 10% back on hardware from the Google Store as well. A suite of image editing tools exclusively for Google One subscribers is also on the way, showing how Google could further build up subscriptions around Photos.

There’s been a lot of talk in the tech world about how Apple is pivoting from hardware to services, capitalizing on its massive user base to sell subscriptions to services such as Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, and Apple Arcade. Google’s own pivot seems to be getting far less attention, but it’s no less ambitious in its attempt to wean the search giant off its dependency on advertising.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

How the SABC can rise again

BY farah khalfe 3 MINUTE READ

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is undergoing natural death.

There’s an opportunity, however, for the state broadcaster to rise again and more importantly save jobs. Its survival will depend on transitioning towards new technology.

Here’s how SABC can rise again.
Before the SABC can fully enjoy the benefits of new technologies it will have to understand current technological opportunities. One opportunity that the SABC is missing out on is podcasting.

PwC forecasts $800 million (about R12.1 billion) will be spent this year on podcast ads in the US and by 2024 the total will reach $1.7bn.

PwC says podcast revenue continues to grow at a faster rate than for either radio or the music industry – it estimates an annual growth rate of 18.8 percent through 2024– which it says is a reflection of gains made by podcasters in reaching new listeners.

By hosting its content material with a private company, it is missing out on fully benefiting from the podcasting industry. Imagine if SABC radio were to take podcasting seriously and host their content on SABC podcasting platform. SABC has the potential to become the king of podcasting not just in South Africa and across the African continent.

In the same way that the old technology radio became a platform that promoted local musicians and storytellers, the SABC podcasting platform can become an audio environment through which local musicians and storytellers can host their content.

Online video is another avenue that is a missed opportunity as SABC uses another private company, YouTube, and a Google Alphabet-owned company for this purpose.

Recently, SABC has shown an interest in entering the video streaming industry via a partnership with Telkom, a good move.

Before SABC can enter the video streaming industry it needs to begin a process of hosting its own video content on a platform similar to YouTube.

Such a platform, however, would have to be built and owned by SABC. This move alone will enable SABC to earn billions in revenues, which are probably currently earned by Google based on SABC content.

The global online video platform in the media and entertainment market size was $218m in 2016 and is projected to reach $915m by 2025.

When SABC has built a solid online platform then it can move to video streaming. In doing so, it will have to avoid relying on an external that has little understanding of the media industry.

The current approach of collaborating with Telkom in developing a video streaming solution should be a short-term intervention. In the long run, SABC has to develop and own its digital platforms.

Netflix is what it is today because it built its own platform that is improved daily. SABC can’t compete with Showmax and Netflix by outsourcing its technology development function.

Practically, this means SABC has to hire at five least senior software developers to build its future in the digital world. Staff within SABC will have to be retrained for the digital world.

Lastly, SABC has to rely less on lawyers and accountants in its leadership. Media and technology leadership is what is necessary to lead a 21 century media entity.

Lawyers and accountants should play a supportive role and not drive strategy.

The future of audio and video is digital and SABC needs to become a truly digital corporation to survive and rise again.

11.25.20

5 ways remote work makes you more creative

BY farah khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

Many of the online HR conference sessions I’ve joined recently have been dominated by discussions around finding ways to make our remote workforce more productive and efficient. Yet while productivity matters, creativity often gets left out of that conversation. If creativity is discussed at all, it’s often seen as something that we’ve lost with the move to remote work because of the assumption that creativity is the output of in-person brainstorming sessions, with creativity being measured by the number of Post-its on meeting room walls.

But that’s a wrong assumption. We don’t have to be less creative when working remotely, or even when working from home—we can be more creative. By leveraging what’s unique about remote work—work from home in particular—we can boost our creativity, both individually and collectively. Here are five ways we can be more creative when working remotely and the tools to make it happen.

REMOTE WORK LETS EVERYONE CONTRIBUTE IDEAS
Let’s lose the cachet associated with in-person brainstorming sessions because most don’t work. Most become exercises in groupthink, with the ideas shared first, or by the loudest or most senior person in the room, dominating the discussion. Remote work can let us go beyond the standard approach to brainstorming by using brainwriting, a superior way of ideating.

During a brainwriting session, each team member individually creates their ideas, during or before the brainstorming session, without discussion. Put everyone on a Zoom call on mute for 10 minutes and have them sit heads-down and individually come up with some ideas and type them out on their PCs or drawing on tablets. Then, everyone shares their thoughts at the same time by pasting on a common platform—an online collaborative whiteboard like Mural, Miro, Zoom’s built-in whiteboard, or something as simple as a shared Word or PowerPoint document or Google Doc. The group then reviews all the ideas and discusses them and builds on them. This approach separates the divergent thinking (blue-sky thinking that emphasizes the number of ideas) and convergent thinking (narrowing down) phases of ideation, which often get mixed up in traditional brainstorming. Do the convergent thinking and voting on ideas after.

This brainwriting approach prevents the loudest person, first to speak, or most senior from dominating the discussion and stifling innovation. Sharing written ideas simultaneously lets the introvert shine and is fairer to team members whose first language may not be English. It is a more democratic approach because there is less social pressure to follow one person’s idea, so everyone contributes equally. And it is an approach to ideation that is perfect for remote collaboration.

REMOTE WORK TOOLS GIVE US SUPERPOWERS
Collaborative whiteboard platforms and other digital tools give us new abilities and superpowers that we can’t use during an in-person ideation session.

Want to hash out an idea with that colleague who lives in a different city? Hop on a Zoom call rather than hopping on a plane.

Need to do a SWOT analysis, create a business model canvas, or map a customer journey? Online whiteboard tools often have built-in templates for these. Their output can be easily saved, edited, and shared.

Whatever platform you are working on, the odds are that it has a chat feature, another creativity superpower that remote work grants us. With chat, we have an extra channel to communicate, comment on ideas and build on them, and ask questions in a way that isn’t possible with in-person collaboration.

Chat logs, or even an entire remote collaboration session, can be recorded and reviewed by those who couldn’t join in live. This is a bonus when your remote work involves a global team, and time zone differences prevent members from joining in real-time.

CREATIVITY IS BOOSTED BY GREATER TEAM DIVERSITY
All those tools and technology aren’t much use without the collective brainpower to come up with creative ideas in the first place. With remote work, we are no longer limited to the brainpower and creativity of the people in the room. We can bring in a more diverse range of collaborators from other parts of our organization—in the same city or a different country—or outside the organization. More diverse teams lead to more creativity, so remote work lets us tap into a new pool of expertise and creativity, which we couldn’t access when collaborating in-person.

The more people you collaborate with, the more ideas you will get, which are more likely to lead to a few truly genius insights. As double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling said, “If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas.”

ACCESS TO BETTER FACILITATORS
Remote work allows us to not only access a greater range of talent. It lets us bring in the facilitators who can make or break an ideation session. Previously we were limited to having ideation sessions facilitated by our colleagues or by hiring a local outside facilitator. With remote work, we can bring in expert facilitators from across our organization or recruit from a bigger pool of external facilitators.

Looking outside your own team for a facilitator is always a good idea. Facilitators shouldn’t have skin in the game or a vested interest in an ideation session’s output. Plus, remote facilitation is a different skill set. Your colleague who is an ace in-person facilitator may not be able to pull it off remotely.

LET WORKING FROM HOME INSPIRE YOU
No matter how nice our worksites are, they are not ideal locations for inspiration and creativity, for the sudden “aha” moments we get when out for a walk or when taking a shower. When working from home, we have more chances for inspiration, even with noisy pets, kids, or partners. Think about how you are surrounded by the books you love, or your favorite arts, plants, pets, and family members. All of these can energize us and inspire us.

When not working in the office, we can easily head out for a walk, and nothing beats a sudden flash of creativity than a walk, surrounded by nature. Or go for a run, or yoga, or some other physical activity that is proven to boost creativity.

Quiet time to recharge is also easier when working from home. Suddenly sitting down for a 20-minute mindfulness session is much easier to pull off at home than in the middle of an open-concept office.

So, go ahead and find ways to be more productive when working remotely, but don’t leave creativity out of the conversation. While remote work cannot fully replicate the experience of in-person ideation, it doesn’t need to. Remote work can boost our creativity in ways that in-person collaboration can’t.

But more importantly, as remote work will be the new normal for many of us, the discussion cannot be about which is the better place to do creative work. We have to get better at being creative remotely. It’s no longer a nice-to-have.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com