What I learned by gatecrashing another workplace

Let me start by saying that the title of this piece is a little misguiding.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

It wasn’t a real gatecrash in the true sense of the term.
More like an invitation extended on which I acted.
Alright, I was an invited guest.
But it made a really good title.

I recently returned from a trip to Melbourne, during which I covered the swarm conference (it’s my annual national-scale giving back to the community project) through live tweets and blog posts of the two days it ran. It is always an eye-opener and an educational experience, sharing the room with so many amazing minds in the community and social media management arena. If you missed my work, or if you want to learn more about the only annual Australian conference for Online Community and Social Media Managers, you can check them out here.

I also took some time off to just enjoy the sight and sounds of Melbourne. I had the chance to catch up and hang out with my very good friend, Venessa Paech. If you don’t know this amazing lady, then you’re missing out. She is a wealth of knowledge concerning community management and a constant source of awesomeness.

Venessa is Senior Manager for Community & Content Strategy with REA Group, and I was invited to pop into the office to catch up with her and the crew after swarm. What I learn was very valuable indeed.

Lessons I learned at REA Group.

1) Work hard, but make time for play.
While many workplaces pay lip service to facilitating the work/life balance of their employees, few really offer ways in which to truly help. Even fewer employees seem willing to accept such offers. Whether it’s not wanting to appear unable to cope, or if it’s a lack of willingness to let their guard down, employees are not striking a true balance in their life and employment. REA Group has made some great moves to endorsing and encouraging fun in the workplace, with an emphasis on helping their employees strike their own sense of balance. Whether it’s taking time out to sit on the couches in breakout areas and play Guitar Hero, or if it’s grabbing the Oculus Rift gear to thwart zombies, these guys have really taken the “Balance in all things” phrase to heart. They even hold classes in the office for Zumba and subsidise gym memberships, showing that healthy choices are all part of striking the balance employees need and want in their lives.

2) “Hot-desk” isn’t a dirty word.
Sure, there are some roles in which you simply can’t have a different desk every day. sometimes, you really do need your own place and for that place to be always yours. When possible, and properly implemented, hot-desking can prove to facilitate employee productivity. It can stop the silo-ing effect of nesting, and helps teams to find a place that works for them and their particular efforts. It also means that if that person who insists on clicking their pen ad nauseum (or any other really annoying habit that you simply can’t stand) isn’t so offended when you simply up and shift to a new position.

3) Employee health IS an employer’s concern.
We often forget that, unless properly managed, one of the cons to increased work hours is a decline in employee health. With office hours on a general increasing trend, it falls to the individual AND their employer to ensure that health, physical and mental, is protected. Walking meetings, standing desks, opportunities to move around, offering exercise incentives, allowing regular breaks, ensuring good office ergonomics and allowing flexibility in work conditions are all ways in which employers can genuinely assist their employees in finding their own ways to ensure good health.

4) Your workplace is a community.
We spend so much of our time at work, but often forget that the people we work with are people too – people with feelings and families and a set of ethics and values. For that reason, your workplace is a community of people, each bringing valuable societal information to share. The moment you start looking at your colleagues in this way, work becomes less of a place to hack away at tasks, and more a place of collaboration and communal problem-solving that makes everyone feel good about the work they are doing.

5) Helping people is good.
REA Group holds regular Hackathons. These Hack Days are a chance for people to pitch ideas they want to work on, for customers, or as a way of giving back to their community outside of work. Whether it’s setting up a national volunteer database, or helping homeless people find a safe place to sleep, allowing employees to work on tasks that benefit someone outside of the workplace not only provides exposure for your company, but also shows that you recognise your place of privilege without society and are wiling to use that position for the greater good.

REA Group is a huge crew, but these lessons aren’t only for big organisations. They work and have meaning on smaller scales too.

And every work place should have zombie-smiting sessions.

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A Simple Comment to a Video…

or Why You Don’t Ask An Internet Communications Student For A Comment On A Video Off YouTube, Because You Might Just Get What You Asked For (but that was too long for a title on my blog, so you get the simplified version).

So, it appears I cannot retire my “political hat” any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link from the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University, Professor Terry. All in all, it’s a good delivery of an update on the goings on around campus and what she is doing to keep up-to-date with the various campuses. I, however, have the following email which I am about to send to the Vice Chancellor, as per her invitation for comments.

And now for my extensively long comment. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dear Professor Terry,

Thank you so much firstly for posting your video on YouTube, and for inviting comments. It is rare to hear someone in an actual position of authority openly ask for, and encourage feedback in such an engaging medium as the Web.

I was happy to hear you speak of the restructuring of the academic teaching system within Curtin University. As a current student, completing my Honours thesis this year with a view to going forward to higher degrees by research in order to join academia and the teaching profession, it is a relief to hear that you will not be cutting numbers of teaching staff. I do, however, offer my story as a view from the other side of the fence that you may not have considered in the implementation of these changes.

I began my undergraduate degree as an Open University’s Australia student, not because I wasn’t as committed to my studies as on campus students but because, as a mature aged, single parent student without high school completion dependant on public transport who was working full time in order to make ends meet, it afforded me the best possible opportunity to fit me life and study together in the same 24 hours everyone else had.

When I made the realisation that this degree I had undertaken was giving me a more rounded sense of accomplishment and personal pride than almost anything else I had undertaken, I decided that I would be furthering my studies. The staff of the department with which I was studying afforded me every opportunity to obtain the necessary information, facilitated my education with a shared passion for the learning material and concepts of study that I thought were a myth amongst academics.

This department was that of Internet Studies, out of the school of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University – a group of academics whom I owe a great debt of gratitude and thank no end for the development of a lifelong love of learning.

This inspiration is, I’m afraid, in spite of almost being erased from the history books due to a proposed cancellation of on campus enrolments last year. This move would have seen the end of this department – the first and only dedicated Internet Studies department in Australia. The students of this department lead and won the fight to retain the opportunity to attend on campus classes, despite opposition from the chancellory of the university, through online and offline means of protest.

But my story does not stop here.

As a current Honours student in the Arts, I have seen more uncertainty regarding the offerings to students already this year than I feel is acceptable. This is absolutely through no fault of the teaching and support staff who have done the very best with what they have had available.

I am attending classes on campus, having made arrangements with my family and employer, as an off campus option has not been made available to students this year. I have been lead to understand that this is due to a revision and restructuring of the unit material and teaching method. This, in spite of having been offered as an off campus study stream in previous years.

Class timetables were finally made available to students, in order to select the  days and times of their classes, only a few days before the beginning of the semester. We then received automated confirmation that our chosen times and days would be made available, only to be told the following week that they were not, and that the classes would be combined and only available on a single day of the week. Thankfully for me, I have a moderately flexible employer who understood that these changes to my schedule were not under my control.

We were then told, just a few weeks later, that the previously possible day and time for class to be held was still available and that the consensus of the class would be the deciding factor as to whether or not the day and time of our compulsory-attendance class would be changed in the middle of the first term. While it only took a matter of an hour or so for the decision to be made by the students that keeping the current day and time would be best, the moments of panic were felt by more than just myself, I can assure you.

I was probably not the only student who felt that continuing studying would be jeopardised if the class were to change circumstances again.

I was probably not the only student who felt that their employer might not be so understanding if study circumstances were to change again.

I was probably not the only student panicking that the Honours we had invested ourselves in might be taken away from us before we had the opportunity to really get started.

What I do know for certain is, I am the only student from my department currently studying Honours with Curtin University. Why? An unofficial poll of my fellow online students puts this down to the inability of enrolling off campus.

With so many Internet Studies students currently enrolled in off campus or online only study of the Internet Communications degree, it makes no sense to not have this further education offered online if, as you say, numbers of teaching staff have not been reduced.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, especially with the fine online access to Curtin Library resources we now have available.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus with the degree of control and interaction possible through the Blackboard system, which served as my lecture, seminar and tutorial space for three years quite sufficiently.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, when the Internet Studies department of Curtin university have shown that this mode of study facilitation can create future scholars that will, one day, make Curtin University proud.

This, Professor Terry, is why I find it difficult to believe that the current restructuring at Curtin University has no negative impact on the numbers of teaching staff available to students of Curtin University. I have seen the ability of the teaching staff of Curtin University to traverse space and time to deliver a world-class degree second to none in the world. I have also seen the trials of trying to deal with university bureaucracy when staffing changes, restructuring, budget cuts, reforms and proposed denial of access take place.

Please, if you want to be sure that these staffing changes hold no negative impact for the students of Curtin University, both current and future, I suggest you ask the current students if they are seeing any ramifications from the initial changes today. You may be surprised to hear what they have to tell standing in direct opposition to what the numbers and figures suggest.

I may be just one student telling my story today, but this is not my story alone.

Many thanks for your time,

Melissa Nile.
– current Honours student of B.A. (Internet Communications)

 

TL;DR:

I didn’t write all that so you could cheat and look for the Brodie’s Notes (and if you don’t know what they are, you’re too young!) version of my email. Go read it! And get off my lawn!

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Social Media. It’s a catch phrase that used to carry with it so much promise. You could keep up to date with friends across the world from the comfort of your home and in your own time. Then came the social games, which offered the chance to play games with all your online friends and gain in-game rewards for the amount of people you had attached to your “friends” list. Then came the gamification of knowledge, with its badges of honour for depth of knowledge as awarded by your peers. Then … Then came this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=D5fB5d2mqnc

Now, at first I suspected it was a parody, or a prank being played by a group of hilarious friends… Not so. I went to the website and had a look around.

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Looks fairly innocent, right? Well, let’s look further…

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Ummmmm… So, you’re just the platform on which this craziness can occur, but you accept no responsibility if anyone gets hurt, or if anything illegal happens.

THAT’S MADNESS!!!

See, this is the fundamental flaw that most people seem to not realise about the interwebs. All that stuff we skip past called the Terms Of Service? Yeah, that actually is just a document (for the most part) about how we, the user, accepts all responsibility for the stuff we do through these various services, but that the services themselves accept no responsibility for … well … much at all really.

Service outages? Not their problem.

Damage occurring from use of service? Not their problem.

Illegal activity performed on their service? Not their problem.

Making sure that all challenges are sane, safe and not illegal? Completely the user’s problem! Because we users have been so good in the past at keeping that in mind when doing stupid things on the intertubes.

I think this situation deserves:

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Now, I know that writing about this will provide the site with a multitude of hits, which is exactly what it wants in order to justify its existence. The reason I’m writing, rather than ignoring, is that people I know will sign up to this stupidity and then I’ll be forced to hear about it more… Also, people will sign up without reading the ToS (because that’s what we all do) and will get hurt, try to sue and be slapped in the face with the stupid fish.

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Gattacca – coming to a world near you.

So I happened to come across this article this afternoon and it kinda scared me.

We’re heading down Genetics Lane without a map. – by lousia_catlover

Not because I don’t think it’ll do amazing things for the medical field. Not because I think it’ll serve to save lives (eventually). Not because I think it looks a little too “Tron” for my liking. More because I think it’ll bring us one step closer to the world shared in the film Gattaca.

For those not familiar with the plot (and without spoilers, because I think EVERYONE needs to see this film), the future is a world controled by your genome. Babies are no longer born without careful screening for future medical conditions (well, rarely and if they are, they’re at a significant disadvantage). You don’t just fall in love with someone. You nab yourself a DNA sample and have their genome compatibility matched to you, THEN you fall in love with them. You don’t get jobs based on the merit of your work. Instead, promotions are based on the decency of your genetic make up to that particular position. It’s frightening stuff… and it’s becoming more and more real.

We have in utero screening which, trust me, I think is a good thing. With this kind of a machine though, I can see a time in the not too distant future where people have the genomes of their babies mapped out in the first trimester and decide from there whether or not to continue to full term. While I am sure this would save a world of heartache and pain, is it really the best thing? If one thing leads to another as we have seen in the past, the chances of the world becoming a genetic competition in more than the most base of levels is very possible.

We just need to remain responsible for the advancements of genetic research. – by Sean Graham.

And I’m not the only on who feels this way. This post by Symon Perriman (apologies for the screen options – highlight it to read), and this commentary by Jason Lipshin are just two of a multitude of writings on the dystopian idea that our future is one set to weed out genetic inferiority by way of selective breeding. We have done it to animals and plants. It is only a small step in logic to extend the idea to humans.

The greatest hurdle, of course, will be “ethics”. In my mind, I can see a persuasive argument build for progressive implementation of the technology to give parents the choice to reduce the risk of their child having a burdensome and debilitating genetic disease, causing excessive drains on an already tired public health system. From there it is a series of small steps to break down even further opposition to have genetic screening implemented prior to conception for each couple, as an extension of marriage applications.

I guess rather than saying it’s good or bad, I am trying to say that technology is being developed so quickly that our morals, mores and values cannot keep up with it. Rather than asking it to slow down, perhaps it is time that we learned to really think about the extended ramifications of the advancement of technology upon our society.

The Australian Internet Filter.

All the cool kids are doing it, so why not me?

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Just in case you haven’t heard of what this is. Let me recap. In essence, the Australian government has already started paving the road for a mandatory internet filter of the internet for all Australian citizens. There will be a secret blacklist for sites that will be banned, which no one has access to. There is no real recourse if your site ends up on the list to get it off. There is no real disclosure on what might get your site onto this list, suffice to say the official line is: “Items refused classification”. This could anything deemed illegal, immoral or otherwise.

There’s that curly word again… Immoral. It’s a word that makes my skin curl. I am all for deciding that illegal thing should be banned. Child pornography, bestiality, those such things. But how do I know that even typing those words won’t get my site on the blacklist? But what if I have a site about polyamory? Homosexual health issues? There are some that would consider that immoral. Who is to say that what I am saying is or isn’t immoral? Who has control over the list?

Another issue that has not really been brought up has been the implications on academic internet research. Those researching potentially “suspect” subjects may find that they are not able to access such sites that contain articles concerning such things. Where will that leave our universities and other researchers?

What I am afraid of is this being just yet another extension of the Blame Game. What’s that, I hear you say? What I call the Blame Game is people suggesting the magical “someone” should that magical “something” about whatever. There is a trend that is growing in the world that we do not want to take responsibility for our own actions. Suing a major technological corporation over false advertising is one thing, but suing them if you were surfing, got dumped by a wave and ended up in a wheelchair claiming they needed to erect signs warning about the dangers of the surf is another thing. Take responsibility for your actions people!

In the same way, parents arguing that the internet has become too ubiquitous and “someone” needs to do “something” about keeping the children safe is just another attempt to forgo some hard-line parenting and discipline. I am not suggesting that you do not allow you children to use the internet at all, although if that works for you, go for it. What I am saying is educate your children on the right way to use it. Yes, that may mean NOT using the computer as a substitute for the babysitting television. Yes, that may mean actually sitting down with your children and using the computer with them. Yes, it may even mean that you have to go and educate yourself on safe internet practises. Heavens forbid you actually have to take time out of your schedule for the betterment and protection of your children! You decided to have kids. Go wild and actually be a parent to them. Stop using the magical “someone” and “something” to fix all your problems.

Why should adults be told what they can and cannot view? Australia already has some of what are viewed to be the most strict censorship guidelines in the western world. Surely we don’t need more restrictions? We seem to be making a bee-line for the ultra restrictive days of the 1930s where books were banned under the Indecent Publications Act (look up the first book to be banned: ‘Upsurge’ by J.M. Harcourt) for having communist tendencies and immoral leanings (yes, there’s that word again).

Even beyond that frightening trend is the fact that this filter will not stop future governments from banning to their own agenda. With the increasing power pressure groups such a Family First and others, developing significant say in the parliament through members we can only project that the future in one in line more and more with seemingly science-fiction films as Equilibrium and V for Vendetta. Harsh? Idealistic? You think? We see in other countries that panic spreads amongst people and they rally to a previously uncharismatic leader who finds strength in the people’s “time of need” (post 9/11 fiasco). We see that a coupe in Australian politics (K-Rudd vs Gillard) is viewed with disgust but no real outrage. We in Australia have become so terribly disconnected from our government that most are still unaware that decisions are being made in the parliament despite politicians not having read senate inquiry reports, not even waiting for them to be published before the vote is tabled!

“The concept of the Web is of universal readership.” – Tim Berners-Lee

The sad part is that the Web which runs on the internet, when invented, was never supposed to be ruled over by governments. It was supposed to be a depository for all the collective knowledge of the world. Yes, it may have gone a little out of proportion and out of control, but Tim Berners-Lee was on to a good thing when he said no government or corporation would have control over the whole web.

Make no mistake, this is a far-reaching topic that will go through unless there is a major outcry from those that our politicians supposedly have been elected to represent. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t felt very represented in the parliament of late. What can you do about it? There are a number of on line petitions and such useless ways of making yourself feel like you’ve done something, but if you rally want to do something about this, write your local member or senator a letter or email detailing what your concerns are. Call them. Make them realise that this is an actual problem that they can finally step up and act the valiant politicians just like they dreamed they could.

Want to know more about this topic? Here are a few links for you to take a look at:

The OpenNet Initiative.

The Australian Government Classification website.

The No Clean Feed website.

news.com.au: Enemy of the internet: Australia under surveillance for violating online freedoms.

Communications minister Conroy misleading public about the filter.

 

Image courtesy of Sally06 on Flickr