Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days?

I found the article Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days | Inc.com. interesting, as I have had this discussion with people in the past. While I pretty much agree with what is said in the post, I have a few things I would like to say (as I do about almost everything!), and a couple of counterpoints.

Going back a bit, vacation time has never been something I looked at closely when I was younger, as I hardly ever took vacation. Through the 90s, I think I went 5 or 6 years without ever taking more than a day or two of vacation. In fact, back in 1999 when I joined Whitehill Technologies, I never even thought to discuss vacation when we were negotiating the employment agreement. Some time after I started, I thought to ask my boss (the CTO) about it, and he said “Fred, you have as much vacation as you can find time to take!”. Note, it turns out I took no vacation in the first few years!

I believe vacation time is important, though. Even when I was not taking vacation, and running myself into the ground, I believed it was part of my responsibility as a leader to ensure members of my team took their vacation time. This all stems from my belief that is a leader’s job to ensure their team stays healthy for the long haul. If you burn your team out during the first few games of the season, you will have nothing left for the playoffs. You have to protect your team, keep them healthy, protect them from the demands of the business, and in many cases (especially with young developer-types who think they are super-human) protect them from themselves.

This is one of the problems I see with the “unlimited vacation days” model, which is often phrased as “take as much or as little vacation as you want”. Unless it is implemented very carefully, and managed by people who truly look out for their teams, there is a great risk of people not taking vacation and burning themselves out – not a good scenario for the staff or the business.

The second issue I have with the “unlimited vacation days” model is that people may feel pressured to take fewer vacation days as they feel they will be viewed poorly for taking time off. This is especially true in a business where you are judged based (wholly or partly) on billable hours realization. There is pressure (real or perceived, implicit or explicit) to not take vacation in order to exceed your target – and you are frequently rewarded and cheered for doing so. Again, this is something that must be carefully managed if you want to ensure your employees maintain life balance. While this is a problem already with “defined vacation allowances”, since many people in North America already do not take the vacation allotted to them (see, for example, here). I think there is risk of the situation becoming much worse if the amount of vacation time is undefined, especially for more junior staff.

Overall, I think it is a great idea, for the reasons stated in the article. But it is not without risk, and needs to be managed, like anything else.

Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet

Windows 8 tablets secret weapon: OneNote and inking | ZDNet.

This has always been my view of Microsoft’s tablet strength, and the competitors’ glaring weakness. For me, without a viable input method (and the onscreen keyboard is not a viable input method for anything more than 140 characters), existing tablets are nothing more than one-way consumption devices.

I, too, used slate tablets + OneNote for all of my note-taking. Not just in meetings, but when I was brainstorming, researching new ideas, collecting and annotating content from the Web, etc.

I have OneNote notebooks with every note I took from 2003 through 2008, all searchable, and all with me all the time. The only reason I stopped was because my slate tablet died a slow death, and all of the newer Tablet PCs I have tried are complete crap for handwriting (mostly because of the introduction of and focus on touch).

However, this is just me, and the way I work. As I discussed in a previous post, this is not the case for millennials (or however you want to label the up-and-coming generation). For my kids, handwriting is awkward and slow. They would much rather type things, even on smartphone keyboards, or onscreen keyboards. Writing is an absolute last resort. Look also at the fact that a number of education departments are now removing cursive writing from the curriculum. For better or worse, in the next generation, handwriting may become almost unknown.

So for Microsoft, Windows 8, tablets, and handwriting, it will ultimately come down to (as it almost always does) answering the question who is your target market?. If Microsoft is going after the same people who buy iPads, and Android slates, then handwriting may not be much of an advantage at all.

In fact, it may just make those people think “more old fashioned stuff from Microsoft”.

Interesting opinion piece on the backlash against Smart Metering

In many parts of the US (and maybe in Canada, too) there seems to be significant backlash against the idea of utilities using smart meters in consumers’ homes.

The concerns seem based around paranoid beliefs in four areas:

Elster A3 ALPHA type A30 single-phase kWh smar...
Image via Wikipedia

 

  1. Many of the meters use UHF radio to transmit their data, and some are concerned about the health risks (as opposed to their smart phones, satellite TV, microwave oven, etc.)
  2. The meters transmit information about your usage (duh), which some see as an invasion of privacy (though they do not seem to object to their phone company monitoring usage in real-time)
  3. There are fears that the utilities will use this as a way to charge consumers more for electricity if they use it during peak times
  4. There are fears that the utility could unilaterally control some portion of your usage (heat, lights, etc.)

Here is a link to an opinion piece that talks about this (from the perspective of someone fighting the backlash). It is an interesting read – I had never even considered that there would be such a backlash against smart meters.

Google+ and a Failure to Communicate

UPDATE: Well, I remembered a Google account I created a few years ago, and no longer user. With this, I was able to create a public profile and join Google+. But what is the point? That account is separate from the one I now use for all of my other activities. So I will have yet another disconnected social network. Yay.

I thought I would try out Google+ this week, since the press is marketing it so well and everyone else seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of the “game-changing” technology (how I hate that term!). After all, a significant part of my work is around web-based collaboration and I have been an early adopter of most social networking technologies (trying to remember my 5 digit ICQ number).

One of my Twitter connections was happy enough to send me an invite, to my Google hosted email address on the same domain as this blog.

I immediately see the following message:

image

(BTW, Google, lose the “Oops”. We are not in Grade 1.)

I proceed to spend the next hour trying to figure out how to create a Google Profile. I am pretty sure that I am at least as smart as the average Internet user, and probably smarter than some. It should not be this hard to register for a service.

I eventually came to the conclusion that I cannot do it for my fyeomans.com email address.

It appears that if I want to use Google+, I will have to create yet another account email address (to go with the 5 or 6 I already use) and get someone to invite me at THAT address.

Not something I am going to be bothered doing.

While I realize that supposedly 10 million people have already signed up for Google+, remember that that is a drop in the bucket of internet users.

And if you create barriers to people using the technology, it fail at badly as Buzz did.

Just my 2 cents. I would love to comment on the service itself, but well, I can’t.

Microsoft is evil, lame, and sucks, right?

WRONG!

Give me a freaking break!

I was just reading a post over on TechCrunch. I do not know why I allow myself to get drawn into reading this drivel, but I always seem to.

When are the anti-Microsoft crowd going to grow up and realize that this is a business, and we are all in it to make money and increase the value of that business.

(including, of course, Google and Apple – but it is somehow ok for them)

For those who do not want to waste time and bandwidth reading the actual post, I will summarize a bit:

  • Microsoft participated in the consortium which purchased the “Nortel Patents”, even though MS apparently did not need to
  • Microsoft is pursuing licensing agreements with Android phone vendors based on other IP which MS already had
  • Microsoft stands to make a lot of money from these agreements
  • Microsoft is obviously “lame” for doing this (seriously, who actually uses the term “lame” anymore?)
  • Microsoft is doing this (obviously) because they cannot compete with Android by being innovative.
  • It would be OK if Apple were doing this, since Apple can do no wrong

So lets take a look at this from a more realistic point of view.

  • Microsoft is a business. It is in business to make money, and increase shareholder value. Period.
  • Microsoft owns certain patents. A lot of them. It owned this IP before participating in the Nortel deal.
  • Microsoft felt that participating in the consortium to buy the Nortel patents was valuable in terms of protecting its IP position.

So far so good. Lets look at the Android situation.

  • Android (apparently) infringes upon a number of patents which Microsoft owns. I am not in a position to assess this, but I would suspect there is some validity to the claim or Android phone vendors would not be signing agreements with MS without fighting.
  • If this is the case, Google is making money selling something for which they do not have clear intellectual property rights. And this is somehow Microsoft’s fault?

The statement is made that Android is winning because Google “out-innovates” Microsoft. Lets compare the two:

  • Google has a mobile phone OS named Android, based on an existing open-source OS, using a programming model which some believe they do not have valid IP rights to, and using a UI paradigm which clearly borrows heavily from another famous mobile phone (though I do think Android improves on it).
  • Microsoft, after lagging for a long time, has introduced a new mobile phone OS, written from the ground up, using a unique UI model which is clearly theirs, and with a development environment to which they own the IP, and which is also highly innovative.

Whether WP7 succeeds or fails, and whether you happen to like it or not, from an innovation perspective it is clearly well beyond Android.

So what is Microsoft’s strategy? Well, it appears to be two-pronged.

Having invested heavily in innovation, they are clearly focused on the future of WP7. They intend it to be a success. Whether or not they are successful is more a question of their timing and marketing ability than their level of innovation.

At the same time, Microsoft has quite rightly taken action to preserve the value of its intellectual property. They have also leveraged their ownership of this IP to make money and increase shareholder value.

It seems to me like Microsoft is doing exactly what a business is supposed to do, and doing it well in this case.

Finally, I just have to comment on this little snippet form the post:

“When Apple takes these agressive (sic) approaches on patents, it’s no more right, but at least they can argue that they have a winning product (the iPhone) that they’re trying to protect. Their goal isn’t to get other companies licensing their patents, it’s to run those guys out of the market”

At least he acknowledges that Apple is “no more right” than anyone else in this process. It is the final statement that gets me. So, it is more admirable to crush your competitors and drive them out of business than to license technology to them, allowing both parties to survive and make money?

Of course it is, since we all know it is better to only have one choice in the market, as long as that choice is Apple!

(in case that was too subtle for any of you, that was sarcasm )

The EMail Charter?

Proof that just because people from TED are involved, does not mean it makes sense!

I have had this link come to my attention several times now, and each time I see it, I am struck by how naïve it is (though I am sure there are those who will argue that its naïvety is its beauty). While I agree with some of the points, I think others are out of line. Lets look at each of the points:

1) “Respect Recipients’ Time” While this is obviously a good idea, it is hardly unique to email. And I would argue that in many cases, email is more respectful than a phone call, or dropping by in person. First of all, phone calls and face-to-face interactions frequently involve significantly more extraneous communications of little to no value. In addition, calling or dropping-in interrupts what a person is doing. Unless the issue is urgent enough to require immediate resolution, an email (which can be handled asynchronously when it is convenient) is far more respectful of my time than other modes of communication.

2) “Short or Slow is not Rude” Short is not rude. The response should be long enough to address the issue, and no longer. Slow may not be rude, and may be unavoidable, but it is better to set expectations as to when you will respond to emails. If people know what to expect, then they are less likely to take issue. Not responding at all is a whole other problem.

3) “Celebrate Clarity” I wholeheartedly agree – but not just for email.

4) “Quash Open-Ended Questions” BS. Within the proper context, this is an appropriate way to collect information from a number of people on the way to building consensus, without calling an unnecessary meeting (or interrupting the work of several different people using a “more personal” approach).

5) “Slash Surplus cc’s” Absolutely! This seems to be a trend from larger companies with a CYA mentality.

6) “Tighten the Thread” more BS, with an arbitrary number thrown in for good measure. The thread should be as long as required, and no longer. When in doubt, do what makes sense.

7) “Attack Attachments” Absolutely. I would do away with all attachments, especially internally.
8) “Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR” Good idea in principle. Most of the times I have used them, they have generated a bunch more email explaining them.

9) “Cut Contentless Responses” Agreed.

10) “Disconnect!” This is just good time management. Manage your email in whatever way fits in to your overall time management process. Some people only process email during certain small time periods during the day. I know some that only process email on Monday mornings, or Friday afternoons. Whatever works for you.

The biggest point of contention I have with the whole “email is evil” trend is this idea that synchronous modes of communication such as phone, f2f, or IM are more respectful of another person’s time than email. If the response does not have to be synchronous, then async is more respectful of my time.