A small Boston-based company called Neurable has developed headphones that can help you concentrate by reading your brainwaves and adjusting noise cancellation levels in response.
The headphones use a ring of sensors around the ear pads to sense your brain’s electrical signals. Based on that information, they can subtly hike up noise cancellation as you begin to reach deeper levels of focus.
According to Ramses Alcaide, Neurable’s cofounder and CEO, the headphones’ corresponding app uses machine learning algorithms to understand when your brainwaves resemble the patterns produced by the brain when it’s concentrating, or if they indicate you’re distracted.
Based on that information, the headphones—called Enten, which means “to understand” in Spanish—can adjust noise cancellation and suggest the kind of music that might help you concentrate. Meanwhile, the software that runs in the corresponding app provides analytics data on the times of day when you’re most productive and when you need a break.
The Enten headphones concept and technology have their roots in research Alcaide did on brain-computer interfaces and signal processing pipelines while completing his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Michigan. Alcaide says his company holds a patent on the technology contained in the Enten headphones.
Right now, Enten is still at the working prototype stage. Neurable, which was founded in 2015 and has a staff of about 20 people, will start shipping the product next year to people who preordered it.
But selling the headphones online might end up being just a small part of Neurable’s business. Alcaide says Neurable has been talking to other hardware companies about licensing its brainwave-reading technology. It’s not hard to imagine a licensee building Neurable’s sensors into, say, the band of a smartwatch. The company is also talking to potential partners that would use the technology for health-related applications, such as helping people deal with anxiety.
Neurable’s Enten is part of a larger category of emerging technology called brain-computer interfaces (BCI), many of which are being developed by large tech companies. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is building a BCI that can be implanted in the brain to allow the control of technology using thoughts. Facebook is working on a BCI wristband that reads the brain’s signals to the hand for the purpose of controlling the features and functions of an augmented reality headset.
But Neurable may represent the leading edge of a different class of consumer products that use a less intrusive form of BCI for more subtle ends. If these applications prove meaningful for users, chances are that features such as brainwave-driven relaxation and music curation will find their way into more mainstream tech products.
The global chip shortage is going from bad to worse with automakers on three continents joining tech giants Apple and Samsung Electronics in flagging production cuts and lost revenue from the crisis.
In a dizzying 12-hour stretch, Honda said it will halt production at three plants in Japan; BMW cut shifts at factories in Germany and England; and Ford reduced its full-year earnings forecast due to the scarcity of chips it sees extending into next year. Caterpillar later flagged it may be unable to meet demand for machinery used by the construction and mining industries.
Now, the very companies that benefited from surging demand for phones, laptops and electronics during the pandemic that caused the chip shortage, are feeling the pinch. After a blockbuster second quarter, Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri warned supply constraints are crimping sales of iPads and Macs, two products that performed especially well during lockdowns. Maestri said this will knock $3 billion to $4 billion off revenue during the fiscal third quarter.
“It’s a fight out there and you have to be in daily contact with your suppliers. You need to make sure that you’re important to them,” Nokia Chief Executive Officer Pekka Lundmark said Thursday on Bloomberg Television. “When there is a shortage in the market, it is things like how important you are in the big picture, how strong your relationships are and how you manage expectations.”
Meanwhile, companies that supply chips are reporting surging sales and pledging to invest billions to expand capacity as they struggle to keep up with demand. Qualcomm, the world’s largest smartphone chipmaker, said demand for handsets is surging back as life returns to normal in some markets that had been locked down by the covid-19 pandemic.
STMicroelectronics, a key chip supplier for carmakers, said profit for its auto and power unit jumped 280% in the first quarter. CEO Jean-Marc Chery credited a surprise rebound in demand as well as the industry’s adoption of new, digital features that require more chips for the latest wave of supply chain constraints.
Samsung, which is both a producer and user of chips, said Thursday that component shortages will contribute to a slide in revenue and profit this quarter at its mobile division, which produces its marquee Galaxy smartphones.
The shortfall of critically needed semiconductors has forced the entire auto industry to cut output, leaving thin inventories at dealerships just as consumers emerge from covid-19 lockdowns. In just the past week, Jaguar Land Rover Automotive, Volvo Group and Mitsubishi Motors have joined the list of manufacturers idling factories.
“The second quarter is going to be worse for automakers than the first quarter,” said Song Sun-jae, an analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities Co. in Seoul. “The chip-shortage problem could end up lasting longer, maybe into next year.”
Beyond Apple, whose high-specification iPhones and aggressive demands typically place it at the front of the line, the dearth of chips threatens to dampen a nascent rebound in the entire smartphone market. Worldwide shipments surged an estimated 27% to 347 million devices in the first quarter, aided by a plethora of new models and China’s swift post-pandemic recovery. A shortage of components such as app processors could sap that momentum over the rest of 2021.
“Covid-19 is still a major consideration, but it is no longer the main bottleneck,” Canalys Research Manager Ben Stanton wrote Thursday. “Supply of critical components, such as chipsets, has quickly become a major concern, and will hinder smartphone shipments in the coming quarters.”
At Ford, the shortage will likely reduce production by 1.1 million vehicles this year, CFO John Lawler said on a call with reporters. The carmaker expects a $2.5 billion hit to earnings due to scarce chip supplies.
Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk earlier this week called the chip shortage a “huge problem.” NXP Semiconductors said it’s expecting supply to be tight all year and warned constraints for the auto industry could extend into 2022.
“There are too many uncertainties about when chip supplies will improve, and that’s making it difficult for automakers,” said Lee Han-joon, an analyst at KTB Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. “For semiconductor makers, the auto industry isn’t really seen as one of their key customers and that’s putting the carmakers in a much tougher position in securing supplies.”
At the end of the business day, a bakery may have a few leftover cupcakes, or a market may have made more boxes of fresh sushi than what was sold earlier at lunch. A food bank likely wouldn’t make the trip for such a small amount of food, so instead of going to someone in need, those items get tossed in the trash. But with the app Too Good To Go, you can reserve a “surprise bag” from one of those restaurants, and get whatever would have been thrown away at the end of the day for a discounted price.
In the US, between 30% and 40% of all food produced is wasted. Not only does that food get sent to landfill when it could have gone to a person, but also that food waste releases significant levels of methane into the atmosphere as it decomposes. Globally, food waste generates 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. “We wanted to find a simple solution,” says Lucie Basch, cofounder of Too Good To Go, the winner of the apps category of Fast Company US’s 2021 World Changing Ideas awards.
Unlike other food-waste saving apps that list specific menu items a customer can save from the trash, Too Good To Go’s simplicity is that you just get a grab bag of whatever the restaurant or store has on hand. A store may never know what items are destined for landfill at the end of the day, but packing any of those items into a one-price surprise bag for customers, Basch says, “is as simple as throwing away food.”
Too Good To Go launched in the United States in September 2020 (it first launched in Copenhagen in 2016) in New York and Boston. Already 500,000 people have signed up and nearly 1500 stores have joined the app, saving nearly 200,000 meals from landfill in the US alone. Across its 15 operating countries the app is saving 125 000 meals a day. During the pandemic, Basch says the app has also been a boon to restaurant owners, who can make additional revenue and attract new customers.
The app is now available in the US in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, and will launch in San Francisco; Seattle; and Portland, Oregon before the summer. Basch says they plan is to be in 10 US cities by the end of 2021. “We think we can save more than 2 million meals from the trash in the US in 2021 already,” she says. “That’s thousands of tons of emissions avoided.”
This online platform seeks to modernise and simplify the African architecture industry.
Before COVID-19 relegated most of society to the confines of their homes, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) sought to bring digital transformation to the masses beyond online classes and work-from-home. Across businesses, digital transformation became the new buzz phrase, describing the potential of technology to completely rebuild entire industries.
According to Mondli Cele, CEO of Yakha AfriCAN Architecture, the impacts of digital transformation have even extended to the built environment industry, encompassing construction and architecture, and which has historically been characterised as a structurally difficult business that hinders attempts at reform.
Despite this, in early 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa heralded the construction of South Africa’s first 5G-ready smart city, ushering in a new vision for the country’s built environment. Getting there, however, calls on transformation of a different kind; one that starts with a collection of innovative tools and advancements for South Africa’s current built environment sector.
While most other industries have undergone tremendous changes over the past few decades, reaping the benefits of process and product innovations, the sector’s hesitation to embrace the latest technological opportunities and its resultant labour productivity has left it stagnant. Internationally, tech start-ups in this arena have contributed to improved processes of collaboration between suppliers and contractors, simplicity in recruitment, and sufficient knowledge transfer. However, the field still remains largely untapped, especially in Africa where, just a few months ago, Yakha was launched as a direct response to the need for digitalisation in the built environment sector.
In a billion-rand industry, technology provides vast potential for improved productivity and efficiency to help drive the sector forward. One way of doing this is through the harmonisation of technical specifications and the introduction of platforms to break down barriers to trade. This is where tech start-ups for the built environment shine, especially as the world moves from an era of information technology to one of data technology. At Yakha, for example, they encourage data exchange, benchmarking and best-practice knowledge sharing, whether via partnerships or amongst individual companies, and are constantly using data to further help consumer-to-business interactions. Through this process, data – including Big Data – helps manufacturers and suppliers improve communication through the material supply chain to predict demand, potentially eliminating inventory.
The benefits to industry are extensive, too, from ease of procurement and increased collaboration to reduced overheads and boosting economic development. Capturing this potential will require a committed and collaborative effort by the industry, but will also – and perhaps, more crucially – rely on the government to create a fertile environment for the digitalisation of the sector beyond plans for the development of smart cities. As regulator, incubator and, often, a key project owner, the government could establish a centrally funded infrastructure research support platform, joint industry and academic funds, tax incentives, and schemes for contested research and development. This type of system would allow for actively managed and coordinated public sector demand, thereby driving industry change.
On the technical side, one-third of construction costs are currently attributed to building materials. Therefore, the industry could increase the development and implementation of standardised, modularised and prefabricated components, which will in turn increase productivity, lower costs and maintenance fees for end users, as well as provide improved systems for interface and technical issues, and more scope for recycling. Semi-automated and automated equipment also offer greater potential thanks to shorter delivery times, higher quality, increased accuracy with fewer workmanship errors, and improved safety for labourers. And, leaning in to the President’s proposed plans for smart cities, digitalisation will contribute to the interconnection of people, machines and data to further optimise the operation and management of construction projects and properties.
The development and deployment of digital technologies and processes is key to the transformation of the built environment sector. And it starts with innovation aimed at enabling functionalities that facilitates users at every phase of the value chain.
According to a PayU report, multiple factors have combined to bring African countries to an e-commerce adoption tipping point, creating more opportunities than ever for online and omnichannel merchants
This is particularly true for merchants in fashion, beauty, education, and digital goods.
This evolution has seen the emergence of more digitally savvy shoppers with strong demand for globally sourced goods and services in regions where parts of the population have access to increasing disposable income. These factors make Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa particularly interesting for emerging e-commerce leaders from outside these markets.
These are the key findings in a report published by PayU, the fintech and e-payments business of Prosus. Titled “The Next Frontier: the most promising markets for emerging e-commerce leaders in 2021 and beyond”, the report highlights unprecedented consumer spending growth in 19 e-commerce in high-growth markets that have often been overlooked before 2020 in favour of more traditional, Western markets, including South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.
The report examines four of the fastest-growing consumer sectors where PayU sees the biggest growth potential over coming years: beauty and cosmetics; fashion and gallantry; digital goods; and education.
Among the three African countries included in the report, South Africa has the highest internet penetration at 56%, with Nigeria and Kenya at 46% and 31% respectively. However, e-commerce penetration is at 37% in both Nigeria and South Africa, and at 25% in Kenya. This highlights significant potential for growth in e-commerce in these markets.
The data reveals that Nigeria is by far the largest e-commerce market on the African continent in terms of the number of shoppers and revenue, with predicted consumer spend via this channel expected to be several times those of South Africa and Kenya combined.
However, Kenya is primed for a boom in e-commerce, with the digital goods sector forecast to expand by 94% from 2019 levels by the end of 2021, and the fashion and gallantry sector expected to grow by a massive 160% over the same time.
In South Africa, the market is embracing digitalisation and e-commerce, and there are abundant opportunities across every sector, but particularly for specialist merchants in beauty and cosmetics, and fashion and gallantry.
“2020 was a year that lit a fire beneath online payments in South Africa, transforming e-commerce while creating immense economic pressure,” says Karen Nadasen, CEO of PayU South Africa. “There is growing attention on our continent, increased investment from large international brands and payment platforms. Retailers adapted quickly over the last year, and despite early bans on non-essential purchases, we saw significant growth in e-commerce, with more and more transactions being completed on mobile devices – up 35% on 2019 levels in South Africa as an example.”
According to PayU data, year-on-year online spend in beauty and cosmetics category in South Africa grew by 140% between 2019 and 2020. Spending particularly ramped up in Q3 2020, increasing by 229% compared to the same period in 2019, and is expected to grow by 69% to $169m by the end of 2021. In Nigeria, it’s expected to grow to $255m by the end of this year, and to $29m in Kenya in the same time frame.
South African consumer spend on fashion and gallantry through PayU’s platform rose by 180% between 2019 and 2020, with the average transaction value increasing by $11. In Nigeria, spend in this sector is expected to grow to $2.27bn by the end of 2021, while in Kenya it’s expected to reach $504m – a projected 160% increase comparing to 2019 results.
E-commerce spending on digital goods in South Africa is projected to grow by 46% between 2019 and the end of 2021, reaching $336m in total spend. This has been bolstered significantly by strong growth of 69% in 2020, with people consuming more digital media while spending time at home. In Nigeria, this sector is expected to grow to $811m by the end of 2021, and to $70m in Kenya – it’s a 94% increase on both markets comparing to 2019 results.
Online spend on education boomed across South Africa in 2020 as people sought to upskill themselves during a prolonged time at home. PayU data shows a year-on-year increase in spending of 67% in 2020, with the average transaction value growing by $136 to $404. The majority of the growth was in Q3 2020, when spending rose by 134%.
Much more than just another ride-hailing service, DiDi focuses on providing high-level resources, safe and flexible entrepreneurship opportunities for driver-partners, and reliable mobility options for the public.
Transport company DiDi, has started its registration process for drivers in Cape Town, and will begin offering ride-hailing services in the Western Cape over the next few weeks.
This new expansion follows a very successful pilot launch in Gqeberha, South Africa, on 1 March 2021. Since then, more than 2,000 drivers in the city have already downloaded the DiDi Drivers app, enabling more than 20,000 local residents, who have already signed up with DiDi, get to where they need to be safely and affordably.
Much more than just another ride-hailing service, DiDi focuses on providing high-level resources, safe and flexible entrepreneurship opportunities for driver-partners, and reliable mobility options for the public. In a country like South Africa, where unemployment rates and safety are major concerns, this platform is not only much-needed but highly valuable.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact in South Africa and has rapidly changed our lives. As such, we decided to launch the DiDi platform in the country and offer a necessary, high-quality tool to mobilise recovery and reconstruction. Our platform creates better income opportunities for drivers and safer and more affordable mobility alternatives for the people of Cape Town, and hopefully the rest of South Africa very soon,” said Lyn Ma, DiDi’s General Manager for Africa.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, DiDi continues to focus on providing resources, safe and flexible entrepreneurship opportunities and reliable mobility options to new regions and people. With its launch in South Africa, DiDi delivers a wide range of safety features to benefit users and driving partners, including facial recognition for drivers, SOS buttons for riders and drivers linked to the local police, 24/7 support via a dedicated safety hotline, preview information for riders and drivers, and safety training for drivers, among others.
Since February 2020, DiDi’s anti-COVID experience has created strong and positive results in addressing local challenges by: Introducing Health Guard technologies to ensure that masks are worn during trips and that all vehicles are disinfected.
Providing financial assistance to driver-partners in overseas markets through a dedicated US$10 million relief fund.
Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event on Tuesday offered a bonanza of new hardware announcements, including some unexpected ones. But while Apple went big and loud with the new iMacs and powerful with the new M1 iPad Pros, the company also launched a tiny and discreet new product: the AirTag.
AirTag is Apple’s long-rumored tracking gadget, designed to be attached to an item to track its location in your house—or across the city. The product has been long in development and will take on the likes of other trackers already on the market, such as Tile. However, as with many things Apple, the company says AirTag has one massive advantage over its competitors: It was built from the ground up around privacy.
“When it came to designing our own product, we thought carefully about how to get this right in a way that no one else in the industry’s ever done before,” says Kaiann Drance, Apple’s VP of worldwide iPhone product marketing. I spoke to her and Ron Huang, the company’s senior director of sensing and connectivity, about Apple’s newest, tiniest gadget. “You’ll see that we designed for the privacy of AirTag owners and nonowners, as well as making these benefits opened up to third-party products as well.”
And from a privacy standpoint, that’s what’s really remarkable about the AirTag: Apple isn’t just thinking about the privacy of AirTag owners themselves, or even solely about users in Apple’s ecosystem. The company designed the AirTag with the privacy of everyone in mind—yes, even Android users and people who have never owned an Apple product.
So just what are Apple’s AirTag privacy protections that keep it in the realm of a truly useful tool instead of a gadget for stalkers?
PRIVACY FOR AIRTAG OWNERS
Each AirTag is about the size of a coat button and is designed to let you track whatever item you’ve attached it to, all from the Find My app on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, or iCloud.com. You set up a new AirTag by pairing the diminutive gadget with your iPhone. During the pairing process, the AirTag is associated with your Apple ID, thus making it trackable inside the Find My app.
AirTags don’t rely on an internet connection of their own. Instead, they piggyback off of a network of almost a billion iOS devices and Macs already out in the world. Each AirTag sends out a unique encrypted Bluetooth identifier; other Apple devices can detect it and relay the location of the AirTag directly to an owner’s Apple ID account.
This entire process is end-to-end encrypted so that no one but the owner of the AirTag—not the owners of the crowdsourced devices picking up the AirTag’s location or even Apple itself—ever has access to the AirTag’s current or past location. And the Bluetooth identifiers that AirTags emit are not only randomized but “are rotated many times a day and never reused so that as you travel from place to place with the AirTag, you cannot be re-identified,” Huang says.
Drance and Huang are also keen to note that though almost a billion Apple devices act as a crowdsourced monitoring network that helps keep track of AirTags, the AirTag owner can never see which devices its AirTag’s location is pinging off of or who owns those devices.
AirTags also have a unique security feature called Pairing Lock, which protects against people who may find your lost item and snatch the AirTag from it to use as their own. Huang likens Pairing Lock to the iPhone’s Activation Lock. “It means that if you lose your AirTag, somebody can’t just pick up your AirTag, re-pair it with their phone, and continue using it,” he says. “This has been really impactful for the iPhone and we think it will be for AirTag as well.”
Not only can people who gain hold of an AirTag not use it for themselves, but they also can’t find out the identity of who owns it. Every AirTag has a unique serial number printed on it, but the identity of the owner cannot be derived from that number unless that owner activates the AirTag’s Lost Mode. That’s a toggle in the Find My app that marks your AirTag as lost. Once you’ve toggled that option on, someone who finds your lost AirTag can then scan it with any NFC-equipped device (such as an iPhone or Android phone) to display a web URL prompt on that device. Tapping on the prompt will take the finder of your AirTag to an Apple support page featuring the AirTag’s unique serial number and—if the AirTag owner so chooses—the phone number of the AirTag’s owner so the finder can call or text.
Apple designed the AirTag with one useful purpose in mind: helping people find lost objects. But the company also understands that bad actors may try to use any technology for nefarious purposes. An AirTag designed to track a backpack could also be used to track an unwitting person. AirTags are small, after all, and one could easily be slipped into someone’s purse or coat pocket without them realizing it.
That’s why Apple has built a number of powerful anti-stalking protections into the AirTag platform. If you’re an iPhone owner running iOS 14.5 or later and someone slips an AirTag into your possession in secret in order to track your movements, your iPhone will warn you this has happened by sending you an “AirTag Found Moving With You” notification. This notification will appear only when an AirTag is following you that is not paired with your Apple ID or another iPhone that is in your vicinity. That distinction is critical so that your iPhone won’t be notified of AirTags that, for instance, belong to other people on the same bus you’re riding. Tapping the notification will take you to the Find My app, where you can tell the AirTag that has been slipped into your possession to emit a sound so you can locate it.
But what about people who don’t own an iPhone? How would Android owners—or those without a smartphone at all—know if an AirTag was slipped into their possession by a stalker?
Apple thought of that too. After an AirTag has been away from its paired device for a certain amount of time, the AirTag will automatically emit a sound notifying those around it of its presence. Right now, the AirTag needs to be out of range of its paired device for three days for the sound to emit, but Apple could lengthen or shorten this time via a software update in the future.
And if you do find a strange AirTag in your possession, you can use any NFC-capable phone to scan it. Tapping the notification that appears in the NFC reader will take you to an Apple website with instructions on how to disable the AirTag and its tracking capabilities immediately—by simply removing its battery. On that same page, you’ll see the unique serial number of the AirTag, which is also printed on the AirTag itself. Though you wouldn’t be able to find out the owner of the AirTag from this serial number, Apple could determine the owner since the AirTag’s unique serial number is associated with an Apple ID during its initial Pair Lock setup.
“If you are concerned that there’s a risk of your being tracked you could contact law enforcement,” Drance notes. “What the [AirTag’s] serial number is used for is when you first set up your AirTag it is paired with an Apple ID along with some additional information such as your name, your email address, your date of birth, and things like that, which [Apple] could provide to law enforcement if asked for, with the proper warrants and process.”
Apple doesn’t see this as a scenario that is likely to happen frequently. If bad actors are aware that they cannot track victims and remain anonymous, it should deter stalking by AirTag in the first place.
ARE AIRTAGS PURR-FECT? PERHAPS
AirTags have powerful privacy protections built in as well as robust anti-stalking tech. And at $29 a pop or a four-pack for $99, it’s reasonable to assume Apple’s smallest gadget is going to fly off the shelves.
But what many people are still dying to know is, “Can I attach an AirTag to my pet?”
When I asked Drance about parents using AirTags to track their small children (such as during an outing at an amusement park) or pets (we know you’re up to something shady, Fluffy) she was quick to stress that the company designed the AirTag to track items, not people or pets. If parents would like to safely track their young children, she suggests an Apple Watch with Family Setup might be a better choice.
As for strapping an AirTag to a pet, Drance says, “If people do that, they just have to make sure that their moving pet gets into range of a device in the Find My network” so its location can be tracked.
Ten bucks says AirTag pet collar holsters are the next hot accessory for the device by the weekend. Just keep in mind that if you’re one of those people who has a few dozen cats, you can’t track them all. Apple limits the number of AirTags that can be associated with a single Apple ID to 16, which means cats numbers 17-36 are out of luck.
Last Friday started well and then landed in a slump. I taught a three-hour class in the morning to a group from Europe. The students were engaged, and the time flew by. And when the class ended, I was wiped out. But, it was only 11 a.m., and I had a long list of things to finish before the weekend.
That got me thinking about the strategies you can use to get yourself back on track when you just aren’t motivated to work. Here are five that work pretty well:
GO FOR A WALK
My go-to when I hit a lull is some type of mild exercise. A 15-minute walk can be great. Park your phone on your desk, get outside and stroll. Look at the trees. Appreciate the design of cars that roll by. Listen to the noises of life. Remind yourself that there is a big world out there beyond your to-do list.
Then, pop back to your desk and dig back in. The combination of the change of context, the energy you get from some exercise, and the time to clear your head can often get you back into the swing of the workday.
TAKE SMALL BITES
The low-energy days are not the ones when you’re going to knock out a huge project that needs your best work self. But, that’s okay. There are usually a lot of smaller things that need to get done. I usually recommend organizing your to-do list around the length of the tasks that need to get done.
Pick some tasks that fit the amount of energy and concentration ability you have. An interesting side effect of this strategy is that if you knock a few things off the list, you might just find that you are more energized.
FIND THE BUSYWORK
Another organizational strategy for your to-do list is to divide it by the degree to which the task requires your best work self. When your best self has exited the building, there are still things you can accomplish that need to happen. There are always forms to fill out or receipts to check, or even some emails that you can do on those slow days.
TRY WORKING FOR A FEW MORE MINUTES
Low energy days tend to drive you to want to give up. You’re feeling bored or frustrated, and you just want to put everything aside. Your reaction to those feelings influences the habits you create. If you stop working or pull out your cell phone every time you feel bored or frustrated, you will begin to associate those feelings with the action of pulling out your phone.
Instead, tell yourself that you’re going to work for five more minutes. Even if you only get another five minutes of work done before you do check your phone, you have associated the feelings that might have gotten you to stop working with continued effort. That makes it easier to keep going in the future. And—every once in a while—that continued effort gets you to a second wind that makes you more productive.
PHONE A FRIEND
Worst case, make use of the importance of social interaction to your brain. Set up a meeting—even a phone or Zoom meeting—with a client, customer, mentor, or colleague to talk about something work-related. Work relationships have suffered a lot during the pandemic, so taking some time to have a discussion that is relevant to work, but not directed at a specific project can bring you closer together with your network.
Not only that, but those conversations can often be inspiring. Getting an outside perspective can help you to see your work and the particular projects you’re doing from an outside perspective. Often, after talking with colleagues, you may find renewed energy to push a project forward.
AUTHOR: Art Markaman. Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work. More
Now that we’ve passed the year mark of the pandemic, most of us have settled into new routines. While vaccines hold the promise of a return to normalcy, not all employees want to go back to the way things were. Employers now face a unique challenge as they build the workplace of the future, says Mary Bilbrey, global chief human resources officer at the professional services firm JLL.
“During the pandemic, companies were focusing on employee well-being and putting programs and resources in place for talent,” she says. “We had to rethink how to engage employees when we couldn’t physically be together. Now that we’re bringing teams back, we need to be flexible about physical workspace as part of the employee value proposition. We need unique office environments that are more conducive to collaboration for a hybrid workforce.”
One tool that managers can use to create new arrangements is considering the work personas that have come out of the pandemic. Bilbrey identifies four distinct groups of workers that may dictate how space and technology should design the workplace going forward.
1. THE TRADITIONAL OFFICE WORKER
This person is ready to get back to the office. They probably didn’t work from home prior to the pandemic and will want to be in the office most of the time going forward.
“They are not as attracted to flexibility or rotating schedules as other employees will be,” Bilbrey says. “The challenge for companies is if a traditional office worker manages other teams. This person will need to take extra effort to recognize that their team members may be across other personas.”
2. THE EXPERIENCE LOVER
Experience lovers had high aspirations for flexibility prior to the pandemic. While this persona values their work community, they find that time away from the office also enhances their feelings of engagement, fulfillment, and empowerment.
“This worker will likely want to spend two to three days in the office with the flexibility to work outside the office too,” Bilbrey says. “The challenge for leaders is understanding how to manage someone who is sometimes at home in a way that isn’t disruptive to other team members. It needs to be organized and may involve scheduling days when it makes sense to collaborate with other team members.”
3. THE WELLNESS ADDICT
Wellness addicts value their work-life balance and health. Pre-pandemic, this type of employee embraced remote work and shorter commutes, allowing for a good balance between their private and professional priorities. While the experience lover prefers more days in the office, the wellness addict wants more days at home.
“This employee wants to come to the office just one or two days a week,” Bilbrey says. “They need a company that will allow them to create a good balance. You see a lot of wellness addicts in digital and tech industries.”
4. THE FREE SPIRIT
This employee wants to work remotely full time. Time with family is a main priority. “They might come in for a special meeting or engagement but prefer to work at home full time,” Bilbrey says. “They don’t want to be put on a regular schedule. In fact, they may live outside of the office area. The challenge for managers is to make sure those workers continue to feel connected and included.”
HOW TO USE WORK PERSONAS
From an HR perspective, it’s important to keep employees engaged and connected, and the office plays a role in reestablishing culture and driving collaboration and innovation, Bilbrey says.
The first step is getting the right equipment. The experience lover, wellness addict, and free spirit will rely on technology that allows them to collaborate with coworkers who are in the office or also working remotely. Having the right tools in place, such as video conferencing and project management platforms, will be key in making hybrid arrangements work.
Leaders also need to be cognizant of their individual team members’ preferences and able to deliver what they need to support them. “Provide leaders with training and intake tools to understand the personas they have on their teams,” Bilbrey recommends. “Be sensitive to an employee’s needs. How flexible you can be will depend on the type of work the employee does.”
And if the job doesn’t require an employee to be back, start the conversation about expectations early.
“If you don’t offer flexibility, you risk losing employees to companies that do,” Bilbrey says. “Employees want to align with companies that share their values. They want an employer who shows that they care for their well-being. This will necessitate flexibility in order to be an attractive employer.”
Finally, Bilbrey advises, listen to the questions employees are asking. “Come up with strategies and think about how you can extend your workspaces to be part of those strategies. The best way to know what employees want is to ask.”