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November 2022 Menlo Bits



♫ 'Tis the Season to be... Working? 
How the holiday season can turn into an HR nightmare

Whether it's one email or creating a whole new deliverable, most people are guilty of having worked on vacation. But even if it can seem innocent in small quantities, the impact of employees working on vacation can have immense long-term consequences for a company. In fact, a read by Ryan Wong discusses a study that showed 43% of those who work on vacation think about quitting, and a third of those actually do (generally within a couple months). As a result, times where people take vacations, such as the upcoming holiday season, can quickly turn into an HR nightmare.

"But wait, nobody tells them to work on vacation! It's voluntary!" While this may be true -- 95% of respondents in the study actually admit their vacation work was voluntary -- this still means employees aren't taking the time to refresh and mentally disengage, making them a part of that 43% statistic. So why, then, are people working on their vacations? Per the study, the primary motivation is employees worrying that something important will be missed or the catch-up work waiting for them when they get back. At Menlo, we would say that's fear driving behavior.

This leads to an obvious question: how can an organization give its employees the peace of mind to fully disengage with work tasks during their time off? While there won't be a one-size-fits-all solution to this, Menlo has a two-part solution that leans on both culture and intentional systems. Starting with culture, Menlo works to tear down "towers of knowledge," team members that are the only one who understand a concept or know how to do something. This means that if someone's on vacation, there's at least one other person who can answer questions or fill in for each of the vacationer's tasks, giving them peace-of-mind. Additionally, it isn't a norm to text or otherwise interrupt someone when they're not on the clock. In terms of systems, we use pairing to help tear down those aforementioned towers of knowledge and ask clients to always message an email made specifically for each project, not just an individual, for correspondences. By having this project email always in the loop, all potentially relevant team members can jump in to reply to key messages when they know the person it was intended for is out.

How does your team give people the confidence to fully enjoy their vacations? Are there any experiments you could run this holiday season? Let us know!
Learn more about the dangers of a not-so-vacationy vacation from both the worker's and company's perspective by reading Wong's full article and more on the referenced study!

A Musk of its Former Self
Twitter's culture is facing its biggest challenge yet

The drama coming from Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter has been reading like a soap opera lately, with new episodes airing almost nightly. First there were the layoffs, with half the workforce axed overnight, immediately followed by reports of some employees being begged to return when certain cuts were erroneous or too hasty. Next there was Twitter Blue, Musk's attempt at selling the famous "verified" blue check mark that traditionally differentiates the likes of those like Taylor Swift from the rest of us. If you didn't keep up with that saga, the backlash from Musk wanting to sell the mark for $20/month drove the planned price down to $8/month before it was even available. Then, the day of launch, users started trolling celebrities and businesses by making near identical copycat accounts (complete with blue checkmark) and posting inflammatory tweets. Needless to say, Twitter had to pause that rollout. And this drama is just the tip of the iceberg.

But while it's easy to focus on the Twitter's external turmoil, an Insider article by an anonymous Twitter employee suggests that the biggest changes happening are internal. The employee states that despite taking a pay cut compared to other Big Tech opportunities, they came to Twitter because they believed in the company's mission. Emphasizing transparency, the employee mentions that in the past they could read up on what any particular member of the company was working on at any given time, be openly critical of leadership's decisions, and even look up where department heads were having lunch. Now, there are times the employee has tried to access communication channels they're supposed to be a part of and can't.

When mergers or acquisitions happen it's normal for there to be some culture clash. In fact, Menlo has taken on a number of culture change consulting engagements where our High-Tech Anthropologists® have helped companies navigate these difficulties and remedy tensions. And if there's anything we've learned from this, it's that ignoring culture in these situations can spell disaster for everyone at the company. Going back to our anonymous Twitter employee, at the end of the Insider article they reference employees suddenly sleeping at the office and say that Elon's tight deadline, ask-how-high-when-he says-jump approach is "psychologically unsafe. This is not Twitter's culture. I can't keep doing this. I've started interviewing elsewhere."

Want one employee's full, inside scoop on Twitter's cultural metamorphosis? Click to read the full article!


Return to... what, exactly?
Navigating the transition back to in-person work (or not!)

If your company is anything like Menlo, you're trying to figure out this whole return-to-office thing: should things go back to pre-pandemic norms? Should things stay fully remote? A mix and, if so, what mix? It's a hard question to answer, and one size definitely does not fit all.

In Hannah Ingber's New York Times article, she offers a thought that might just help any company figure out their answer. In general, she says, people feel disgruntled with having to come into the office when it feels pointless. When they get to meet with their team, draw all over a whiteboard, or use tech they don't have at home it feels worth it and even "amazing". When someone has to organize childcare, put on real pants, leave the dog, and pay gas money to spend their time driving over to the office just to host a couple zoom calls and send some emails, however, it feels like a waste to go in.

Another point Ingber discusses in her article is that transparency and communication with employees are key, especially for people who are required to come into the office. Making them feel heard and helping them understand the value of being together -- because of the social benefits, productivity, and/or whatever else -- helps workers feel better about having less control over their time. At Menlo, we have tried to navigate return-to-office in a way that emphasizes these traits as well; our High-Tech Anthropologists® talked with our team members to understand their concerns and perspectives and our founders hosted Lunch & Learns to discuss why Menlo values in-person collaboration. Ultimately, we decided to keep some hybrid flexibility to reap the benefits of remote work while also moving back to a primarily in-office model. While this is still a work in progress and we don't claim to have everything figured out, we think Ingber's article is worth the read.

Bottom line: Companies need to listen to their employees and communicate why they're asking what they are of their teams to have the best chance at a "successful" return-to-office.
Learn more about what really makes it worth it to return-to-office with Ingber's full article!
From Crucial Learning's LinkedIn Post Honoring Kerry
This month a good friend of Menlo, Kerry Patterson, passed away.

"Kerry, one of the founders of VitalSmarts, (now Crucial Learning), believed and taught that if we change behavior, we can change the world. His writings and teaching in Crucial Conversations and Influencer have strongly shaped our culture at Menlo. The fact that he and the VitalSmarts team built the Menlo Innovations story and culture into their books and curriculum was the icing on the cake of a relationship that has strengthened our resolve that we were on the right track. For those who'd like a deeper peek into Kerry's perspective and writing style, look no further than the Foreword of Joy, Inc. which he graciously agreed to write back in 2012. Kerry also came up with the title Joy, Inc. after I told him I was thinking of calling the book, The Business Value of Joy. I will miss him and will be forever grateful for his friendship, encouragement and support."
-Rich Sheridan, CEO & Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations

Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life

Author: Amy E. Herman

Recommended by: Stephanie Nagy, Software Developer & High-Tech Anthropologist®

Amy Herman taught a class at NYC medical schools to help doctors improve their patient observation skills. After 9/11, she reached out to law enforcement agencies to see if they would be interested in learning the same skills. Her Art of Perception class has been called “invaluable” by the Department of Defense and has led to a multitude of criminal convictions. How does she do it? Herman teaches people to view masterpieces of art with a four step process: assess, analyze, articulate, and adapt, in order to become more observant in their personal and professional lives.

Throughout the book, Herman asks the reader to look at a painting or sculpture, then look again…and then look again. What can you tell about the person from their clothes and surroundings? Are there clues to help determine the era, the socio-economic background, or the weather from the details? What is missing from the scene that might provide insight into what is happening? Looking for these answers and articulating what we know as fact can help us to hone our ability to separate judgements and emotion from our assessment of a scene. We might be able to say with certainty that a person has their eyes closed, that they are facing downward with one hand covering their right eye, and that they have a tear on one cheek. We cannot necessarily determine whether they are overcome with joy or sadness. By describing only what we know, we leave other details open to thoughtful interpretation.

At Menlo, being able to clearly articulate what we see is a crucial part of our jobs. High-Tech Anthropologists® observe users in the field to discover pain points in their workflows. They look for hidden clues about what users might not say out loud when they design software. Developers need to turn business requirements into functional code and describe the architecture of a system. Herman’s exercises in patient observation can help us filter unconscious bias and adapt what we learn in a relevant way.

I found the techniques in Visual Intelligence to be a great addition to my toolkit. This book made me think carefully about what I do and don’t know. Describing a situation factually can diffuse tension and open the door to gather more information instead of jumping to a conclusion. Herman trains first responders, but she recognizes that any of us could be called on to be first responders at some point. Whether we are parents, teachers, students, bosses, or employees–we never know when we might be called on to make decisions that affect others. Honing our visual intelligence can give us confidence that we are making better decisions because we have taken the time to not just see, but to observe.

Get a copy for yourself here!

The Menlo Tree With Its New Snowman Friend

This month, our experiment is a bit more botanical in nature than our normal featured experiments.

For the last ten years, this tree has lived with us in the basement of 505 E Liberty. Consequently, the tree has lived without any exposure to natural light for a decade! Having experienced regular shock and awe from guests and Menlonians alike when people have discovered it isn't plastic, the tree might be the member of our team that's the happiest that we're officially moved into our new office at 339 E Liberty, Suite 210!

This brings us to this month's experiment... what happens when you give a tree that hasn't touched sunlight in ages a spot by a window!?


Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.