When I arrive for my meeting with Sara Whitestone, a 28-year-old neuroscientist based in Bordeaux, I’m sweaty and five minutes late. Whitestone is already putting my delay to good use by calling her mother in the U.S. Immediately, I realise that she and I aren’t cut from the same cloth. In life, you have two types of people: Those who organise their time, and those who run around chasing it like headless chickens.
Whitestone works for an international group based in Switzerland: It’s a time-consuming career with weekly travel obligations. One of her favourite project management tools is Jira, basically “a to-do list, but on steroids,” as she describes it. “I live and breathe my to-do list at work,” she says. “I’m juggling so many projects and have so many things I need to remember.” Her favourite apps are synchronised to her personal calendar, too – which she shares with her boyfriend.
“And now, the crazy part,” Whitestone continues. She says her management tools have also become fundamental in keeping track of other parts of her life – from dates to couple trips, from exercise classes to endometriosis symptoms, and even random thoughts. When she shows me her apps, I feel as if I’ve been granted access to her entire private life. “I don’t have to remember if my phone tells me,” she explains when I ask why these apps are so useful to her.
Though they’re almost everywhere in our personal lives, organisational tools like Trello, Notion or Todoist originated in the world of corporate management. A lot of them are based on the Gantt chart, designed between 1910 and 1915 by mechanical engineer and management consultant Henry Gantt, to increase productivity and optimise industrial workflow. Another popular model is the Kanban method, first introduced as part of Toyota’s production system in the 1950s.
Paris-based Edouard Polese, 34, heads a startup focused on teaching people how to drive. He, too, is hooked on project management tools – so much so he’s even created his own app. “I use the same tools for business strategy management and for picking out Christmas presents,” he says.
Sure, it’s easy to be horrified by this, but Polese thinks it helps him a lot with his mental health. “The goal is to lighten the mental load, to calm down,” he says. “We’re kind of forced to mix our professional and personal lives nowadays – our brains don’t automatically forget what’s going on at work just because it’s 9PM and we’re home.”
“When we ask people what they like and what the main benefit is they get from Todoist, it’s that it reduces stress and anxiety,” says Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Todoist. “Most people don’t have assistants. Most people just keep everything inside their heads and I think that creates a lot more stress than if they had an assistant app to update and use.” Salihefendic, who says he has a “very bad memory,” created his app back in 2007, when he was a 22-year-old computer science student. Today, Todoist has 20million users.
For Whitestone, management tools are equally as crucial for her mental and physical health, since she has an autoimmune disorder and needs to block out time to rest. “Many people who have limited energy levels or chronic pain end up over doing it,” she says. As an undergrad, Whitestone would often ignore signs of exhaustion and end up burnt out or sick. “I’m the kind of person who just works until I drop,” she says. “I learned years ago I need to schedule recovery time.”
For many users, these tools are crucial to reclaim control of the soul-crushing demands of big city life, too. “In Paris, I got really overwhelmed by the rhythm of everyday life,” says Mathis Samba, 29, who works in finance at a consulting firm. He was suffering – and so was his relationship with his girlfriend. It got to a point where they barely saw each other on weeknights. “It was really awful, just too much,” Samba says.
Despite being taunted by friends and loved ones, Samba eventually decided to block time off for dates on Family Wall, an app specialised in organising domestic life. “We have to make sure to take time for ourselves, just as we do for our friends and colleagues,” Samba says. “Since we live together, we’re always going to see each other, but there’s seeing each other and there’s spending quality time together.”
As you’ve probably noticed, the type of people who tend to use these apps have something in common: They’re often in high-level jobs, live in cities and have busy social lives. According to Marc Bessin, research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and sociologist at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), that’s not a coincidence.
“If you’re interested in this kind of app, you’re someone with the means to organise your time,” he says. That’s not necessarily the case for all very busy people, like for instance, a single mother working a low-paid full-time job with multiple kids to take care of. “Being able to master your schedule is something that sets you apart in today’s world,” Bassin continues. “These apps are designed for a population that increasingly want to take control of their lives.”
In reality, these apps are not for everybody – they mostly appeal to a very specific type of person, someone who typically works in a performance-based job. Omer Perchik, CEO of Any.do, estimated that his company and its main competitors combined have less than 5 percent market penetration – meaning the vast majority of potential customers aren’t using these tools. “The category has a relatively high churn rate, not because the products are not good, but because people are, at large, procrastinating,” he says.
Salihefendic agrees. “Most people are actually really bad at planning and executing stuff,” he says. “If you look at our data, there’s this snowball effect where people keep adding tasks for today, don’t complete them and move them to tomorrow, then they have a thousand tasks for a single day.”
Indeed, not everyone has the type of mentality that is conducive to organisation, but our society’s obsession with productivity and optimisation can make us feel inferior to people who naturally have these skills. That’s the case for freelance graphic designer Patrick Pabeun, a friend of mine who’s “more of a dreamer type”, in his words.
“I have a twin sister who functions very differently from me – she has a job managing a big team and a personal life, too, somehow. She does yoga classes and hosts at least two dinners a week.” Patrick hopes that the apps will help him achieve a similar level of ease when busy. “In an ideal world, it’d all just coexist in harmony,” he says.
This begs the question – is there still a place for dreamers in this world? Sociologist Marc Bessin believes that a mass adoption of these apps shouldn’t really be seen as a sign of progress. “Society pushes us to keep track of our activities to get instant results,” he says. For this reason, we tend to abandon a more long-term vision of our lives and lose track of what balance actually looks like on the whole.
“You don’t always have to focus on organising your daily life,” Bessin concludes. “You need meaningful activities that make you present in the world, too.”
Running a remote startup has huge cost advantages over traditional, brick-and-mortar companies, but it also comes with a few downsides. For one, it can be challenging to get virtual teams on the same page if you are miles or continents away from each other.
Without face-to-face interactions, you’ll have to contend with issues regarding collaboration, communication and the individual productivity of members. The good news is, there’s no shortage of strategies and tools out there that can help you overcome the distance barrier when it comes to working with a virtual team. Below are some of the top practices you need to follow as a remote startup:
Hold regular virtual meetings
Just because you’re exempt from the nuisance of seemingly non-stop meetings in-office doesn’t mean you should abandon them entirely. It’s easy enough to use virtual meetings to level up your remote team’s collaboration.
Virtual meetings will enable you to concoct solutions to problems quickly, maintain rapport, ensure everyone’s aligned on all fronts, make important business decisions, and develop more concrete goals as a team. For startups, it’s also a great way to provide motivation as you kick off your very first project.
A webinar platform like ClickMeeting eliminates most of the technical hurdles involved with regular virtual meetings. You can manage users, prepare your content, issue invites and even customize the look of your webinar room, all through the simplified setup page.
ClickMeeting is also equipped with a number of interaction tools, such as screen share, polls and live chat. These are helpful for accelerating the knowledge sharing process as well as maintaining the engagement of webinar or meeting attendees.
Use powerful communication tools
Many startups settle for email as the primary means of communication. Sure, it does the job of sharing feedback and important work details. But when it comes to keeping a remote team engaged, emails do little to nothing.
Let’s face it; an email inbox isn’t really the best place to discuss work-related matters. Not only are there social media notifications and newsletters to distract you, but emails also make it difficult to track the progress of ongoing tasks.
A better solution is to use a communication tool like Slack, which creates a virtual “workspace” where team members can discuss specific topics. It works by letting users create channels for pretty much everything — from ongoing campaigns to random conversations.
By organizing conversations into channels, you instill purpose whenever team members communicate online. Slack also makes these sessions beget more actionable results with the help of third-party integrations, like cloud storage services, project management apps and automation platforms.
Organize your tasks visually
Effective communication is only a piece of the collaboration puzzle for remote startups. Remember, discussing and monitoring are two very different things. Once you have finalized the tasks to be done, you need to organize and track them in a way that’s accessible to everyone involved.
A collaboration tool like Trello is the simplest you can get when it comes to visual task management. Put simply, it lets you organize individual tasks into “cards,” which are then sorted into lists.
Trello also allows you to assign cards to team members, set deadlines and apply labels. Everything can be done via the intuitive, drag-and-drop interface. It’s also worth noting that most of Trello’s core features are already made available for free.
If you want, you can go for a more comprehensive project management platform like Basecamp, which incorporates advanced community and communication tools. But since you already have Slack for that, a premium platform is only worth the price if you plan to consolidate everything in one place.
Streamline file-sharing with cloud storage
At this point, you now have a few tools you can use to share and work on files with your remote team. Trello, ClickMeeting, Slack — all of these tools allow you to upload files as attachments. However, none of them is capable of synchronizing changes in real-time.
As a result, it can sometimes be hard to get a hold of the latest version of a certain file. Cloud services such as Google Drive solve this problem by enabling users to seamlessly work on files without having to download and re-upload them. It goes hand in hand with the rest of their “G Suite” apps, like Docs, Sheets and Calendar.
Docs and Sheets, in particular, allow users to edit a document simultaneously — given they have adequate access privileges. They also have a “Version history” tracker that lets users easily restore previous versions of a document.
Plan casual hangouts
If you’re considering working together for the long-term, the least you could do is to really get to know your team on a more personal level. Doing so will help you get a deeper understanding of their strengths, work habits, preferences and so on. This also builds accountability between members, which in turn, leads to a more nurturing and productive company culture.
While there’s no specific way to do this, below are some ideas you should consider:
Book a coworking space If your remote startup’s members are within driving distance from each other, book a coworking space where employees can be productive together.
Attend events together To make your meetup as meaningful as possible, try looking for events you can attend and plan a group activity afterward. There are bound to be seminars, speaking engagements, and other events relevant to your niche — some of which can be found on social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn.
Use Google Hangouts You know that distance doesn’t have to be a hindrance to relationship-building. As such, don’t hesitate to initiate impromptu conversations on Google Hangouts or any other similar platform.
Plan a company retreat It may seem like a long shot for brand new startups, but a company retreat is more than possible if the time is right. Buffer, for example, shared a number of valuable tips on how they successfully held a weekend getaway with over 90 remote team members.
There’s no doubt that running a startup with a remote team can be quite overwhelming. However, with the right tools, strategies and attitude, you’ll be able to increase your chances of succeeding despite all the roadblocks that you need to address.
Jordan Kasteler is a freelance marketing consultant and entrepreneur, passionately innovating the status quo. He has a history of entrepreneurship co-founding and serving positions in such companies as BlueGlass Interactive, an Internet marketing agency, and SteelCast, a tech incubator housing several other self-started companies.
Starbucks is sort of America’s bathroom. In cities like New York, where public restrooms are hard to come by, it’s the de facto spot to stop and pee. Mike Bloomberg, who tried to set up a network of public toilets when he was mayor, once reportedly shrugged that perhaps “there’s enough Starbucks” to address the city’s bathroom needs anyway.
But Starbucks is an imperfect public toilet because providing a public toilet is not the point of Starbucks. It has tried in the past to limit its facilities to employees, or, at the very least, to require people using those facilities to buy something first. That proved to be a problematic system after employees at a Philadelphia Starbucks in 2018 called the police on two Black men who asked to use the bathroom while waiting for a business associate. And so, the coffee giant has begrudgingly accepted its fate as many passersby’s emergency loo.
The solution is far from ideal. But in many places in the US, there aren’t many immediate alternatives. The government has failed to meet a very basic biological need, and so a private company fills part of the gap.
Across various segments of American life, the private sector has begun to take on tasks big and small that one might think should be tackled by the public sector. Domino’s filled in potholes. Dawn’s dish soap saved ducks. American Express pitched in on historic preservation. Walmart started selling low-priced insulin. A slew of companies help workers pay for school. Much of America’s health care system is still handled through private insurers and your job.
It’s not a bad thing for brands and companies to try to make the world better. Starting a business often involves identifying a problem to solve, and it’s much better for companies to help than to do harm. Corporate social responsibility is fine. There are, however, limits.
“Of course we want businesses to be responsible,” said Suzanne Kahn, managing director of research and policy at the Roosevelt Institute. But she emphasized that this does not constitute a plan for how to organize society. “Private companies don’t, can’t, or won’t plan with the same values that we demand and expect the government to.”
Companies have a profit motive and are ultimately accountable to shareholders. Doing what’s lucrative often doesn’t align with what’s best for most people, and when they do nice things, it’s often because they know it will play well with consumers and workers. Domino’s helped fill some potholes because it was good advertising for pizza pickup customers, not because it’s overly concerned about the future of America’s bridges and roads. The issue is, the entity that should be driving the bus on America’s bridges is kind of asleep at the wheel.
The private sector is increasingly encroaching on the government’s space because the government is leaving so much space to begin with. Corporations are swooping in with solutions because the solutions coming from public officials and entities aren’t working or are nonexistent.
“I don’t think it’s bad for a company to say we’re going to do the Paris climate accord,” Kahn said. “It’s bad when we as a country say we’re going to let companies do what should be a public responsibility.”
Corporate America wants to be here for you … to a point
At the start of the pandemic, the airwaves were filled with commercials from brands promising solidarity and support. Corporate America was eager to reassure us “we’re all in this together” and highlight the myriad ways they were supporting their customers and workers. Insurers paused policy cancellations. Telecom companies gave away extra data. Retailers started calling their workers “heroes” and, in some cases, giving them hazard pay.
But many companies were here for us on Covid-19 until about the summer of 2020, after which many of those pandemic-related perks and benefits expired. Stores halted hazard pay for workers even though the hazard was far from over. Creditors wound down debt deferrals. We were all in this together for a limited time only. Ultimately, it was big government programs, such as stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and eviction moratoriums, that would make the biggest difference in people’s pandemic lives.
“It’s bad when we as a country say we’re going to let companies do what should be a public responsibility”
It’s illustrative of the greater landscape: The private sector can and should play a role in addressing society’s issues, but it will only do so to a point. Kroger just isn’t going to pay its workers an extra couple of dollars an hour forever if it doesn’t have to. The airlines started laying off workers the minute government funding dried up. Operation Warp Speed for the vaccines wasn’t going to be undertaken by pharmaceutical companies on their own.
Companies are under increasing pressure from their workers and consumers to do the right thing. According to a report from Kantar Monitor, more than two-thirds of consumers expect brands to be clear about their values, and nearly half of millennials and Gen Z expect brands to be brave and speak out. Research suggests that when companies do a good deed, their products are perceived as safer and consumers are drawn in.
Employees also have high expectations of their workplaces — being on the “right side” of issues such as climate and race can be a useful recruiting tool. But what matters more than companies talking a big game on helping their communities is whether they’re backing that up, or what else they’re doing in the background.
Companies have money and power, and major multinational corporations are often the only entities besides government with the clout to influence societal forces, said Jerry Davis, a professor of management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “It’s very clear that some of the problems that we want to have solved are going to take scale, and that’s the kind of scale that only a government or a really big business can pull off. And if we don’t trust the government to do it, that just leaves Walmart and Amazon,” Davis said.
Alice Korngold, a corporate governance consultant, echoed the idea that companies are often the ones with the weight to tackle major global issues — though sometimes, once you dig deeper, the situation becomes much more muddled. “I’d never say, ‘This company is doing a particular thing, then this company is great!’ And it’s really industries that are often culpable for creating situations that need to be addressed,” she said.
She explains that, far from alleviating collective problems, some industries are complicit in creating them, pointing to the fossil fuel industry, a notorious driver of pollution and waste. If Walmart were to decide to stop selling factory-farmed meat or were to commit to selling only LED lighting, it could have a real impact on the environment. But companies can’t always, or even often, be trusted to wield all of their powers for good.
“We need big to do some good things, and yet big can be really bad,” Davis said. “Big in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg is a nightmare.”
If the government’s in the back seat, who do you expect to drive?
The cynical view of companies acting as a benevolent force in the world is that they’ll only do so to the extent that it somehow benefits their bottom line or is good marketing. That cynical view is sometimes borne out in reality.
And yet, we keep looking to private companies to help fix America’s broadband problem because the government isn’t there to do it. The government doesn’t think about the internet the way it does, say, electricity — as in something everyone should have. It’s hardly the only example of the public sector ceding territory or leaving to the private sector tasks reasonable minds might think it should take on.
“We have to recognize that sometimes privatization arises because other systems don’t work”
The 1980s and ’90s saw a shift in political rhetoric to shrinking the reach of the government. Ronald Reagan told us, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” George H.W. Bush declared, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Bill Clinton announced, “The era of big government is over.” The neoliberal idea took hold that the government should set the rules of the road and take on some challenges, but the private sector and marketplace are equipped to do much of the driving.
Lower the taxes paid by the rich and by corporations, the thinking goes, and hopefully their money will trickle down and they’ll put it to good use.“ The premise of a kind of market-leaning libertarian is that the pursuit of private self-interest in the marketplace, aggregated across many actors, will turn out to be socially beneficial,” said Rob Reich, a professor of political science and philosophy at Stanford.
That’s not, in practice, how the market often works. The US has left health care up to private insurers in the Affordable Care Act, ultimately leaving a public option by the wayside. The result: a health care system that is still exorbitantly expensive. There are countless stories of GoFundMe drives that are supposed to be heartwarming, where people raise billions of dollars through a private internet platform to cover expenses for health costs or other financial setbacks in their personal lives.
As to how heartwarming these stories actually are, well, your mileage may vary — it’s not ideal that a crowdfunding platform has taken the place of a more robust public system to cover health costs. “Privatization, I think, is a very bad solution to certain problems. But I do think we have to recognize that sometimes privatization arises because other systems don’t work,” said Chiara Cordelli, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago and author of The Privatized State, which makes the case that privatization and government outsourcing weaken the legitimacy of the state.
Americans are also losing faith in the ability of government to act. According to Gallup, just 18 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in big business. Their faith in Congress, however, is somehow even lower, at just 13 percent.
It’s understandable, given so much of the gridlock in Washington, DC. In the current balance of power, Democrats hold the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate — and they’re still struggling to get major legislation passed. Republicans won’t go along with much of what Democrats want to accomplish, and Democrats are unwilling to make the changes (as in, abolishing the filibuster) necessary to push their agenda through.
Capitol Hill has failed over and over to make real reforms on issues such as guns and immigration and climate. Many companies — which are subject to the pressures of their consumers and their employees — have at least tried. But, again, that trying has limits.
“We have these big, public, global and national problems that we need to address, and that’s not the length of time at which they think, it’s not the scale at which they think,” Kahn said. “And if they’re choosing to put some of these values front and center, we certainly cannot count on them to be thinking about how equitably their moves are affecting different communities.”
There’s a space for the private sector to fill public needs. But maybe not like this.
With threats as big and imminent as the Covid-19 outbreak or climate change, it’s important to have an all-hands-on-deck approach that draws in various players: the government, private companies, nonprofits, and philanthropy. And there are plenty of smart people who argue that while private entities are not the answer to the world’s problems, they need to play a role.
“You can look at almost every major issue of today … and it requires, to solve it, going across all these sectors and aligning interests, whether it’s homelessness, whether it’s climate action, whether it’s racial equity, what have you. None of this is going to be solved by government alone or by the private sector,” said William Eggers, the executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights.
“The role of government absolutely should be to protect our public interest,” Korngold said. “The problem is that so many problems are global, and the governments are national.”
Still, finding a balance is tricky. Take the example of billionaire philanthropy, which is often an outgrowth of extraordinary success in the corporate world. It’s nice that rich guys are trying to have a positive influence on the world. It’s also hard not to wonder whether said rich guys shouldn’t just be taxed more, or why the US and the world are in a spot where private entities, whether it be Bill Gates’s charity or his company, are filling in such obvious public spaces.
The government is by no means a perfect actor. But it is leaving problems to the private sector to address what it feels like should be directly in its purview, whether it be providing citizens basic health care or filling in a pothole in the street.
Even decent outcomes, like Starbucks as a forced public bathroom, can feel pretty uneasy. The pandemic gave it a good reason to shut those restrooms down, meaning suddenly a solution many people had adopted was no longer available. And even in normal times, it’s a little awkward to sneak by the barista without buying a coffee or muffin or water first. That’s because it is, and a private coffee company shouldn’t be standing in as a public restroom in the first place.
The Power of the Bull. London: Routledge. p. 13. ISBN978-1-317-72583-1. As the more advanced social institutions began to take shape they contributed to some counterbalancing of the essential insecurity of man’s condition. It was inevitable that ambitious and assertive men should see an opportunity for establishing for themselves positions of power and influence.
Iceland has achieved the holy grail for working stiffs: same pay for shorter hours.Results from two trials of reduced hours showed no productivity loss or decline in service levels, while employees reported less stress and an improved work-life balance, researchers at U.K.-based think tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy said in a report.
Achieving shorter hours with sustained productivity and service levels involved rethinking how tasks were completed, according to the report. That included shortening meetings or replacing them with emails, cutting out unnecessary tasks, and rearranging shifts.
The trials, conducted from 2015 to 2019, cut hours to about 35 a week from 40 with no reduction in pay. Involving about 2,500 workers, equivalent to more than 1% of the Nordic country’s working population, results showed their “wellbeing dramatically increased,” the researchers said. Since then, 86% of Iceland’s entire working population have either moved to shorter hours or can negotiate to do so.
In Nordic peer Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 35, has suggested a four-day work week is worth looking into, saying employees deserve some of the trickle-down benefits of improved productivity. Even so, her government is currently not working on such policy.
Workers went from a 40-hour weekly schedule to 35- or 36-hour weekly schedules without a reduction in pay. The trials were launched after agitation from labor unions and grassroots organizations that pointed to Iceland’s low rankings among its Nordic neighbors when it comes to work-life balance.
Workers across a variety of public- and private-sector jobs participated in the trials. They included people working in day cares, assisted living facilities, hospitals, museums, police stations and Reykjavik government offices.
Participants reported back on how they reduced their hours. A common approach was to make meetings shorter and more focused. One workplace decided that meetings could be scheduled only before 3 p.m. Others replaced them altogether with email or other electronic correspondence.
Some workers started their shifts earlier or later, depending on demand. For example, at a day care, staff took turns leaving early as children went home. Offices with regular business hours shortened those hours, while some services were moved online.
Some coffee breaks were shortened or eliminated. The promise of a shorter workweek led people to organize their time and delegate tasks more efficiently, the study found.
Working fewer hours resulted in people feeling more energized and less stressed. They spent more time exercising and seeing friends, which then had a positive effect on their work, they said.
Many countries regulate the work week by law, such as stipulating minimum daily rest periods, annual holidays, and a maximum number of working hours per week. Working time may vary from person to person, often depending on economic conditions, location, culture, lifestyle choice, and the profitability of the individual’s livelihood.
For example, someone who is supporting children and paying a large mortgage might need to work more hours to meet basic costs of living than someone of the same earning power with lower housing costs. In developed countries like the United Kingdom, some workers are part-time because they are unable to find full-time work, but many choose reduced work hours to care for children or other family; some choose it simply to increase leisure time.
Standard working hours (or normal working hours) refers to the legislation to limit the working hours per day, per week, per month or per year. The employer pays higher rates for overtime hours as required in the law. Standard working hours of countries worldwide are around 40 to 44 hours per week (but not everywhere: from 35 hours per week in France to up to 112 hours per week in North Korean labor camps) and the additional overtime payments are around 25% to 50% above the normal hourly payments. Maximum working hours refers to the maximum working hours of an employee. The employee cannot work more than the level specified in the maximum working hours law.
Cohen, Yehudi (1974). Man in Adaptation: the cultural present. Aldine Transaction. pp. 94–95. ISBN0-202-01109-7. In all, the adults of the Dobe camp worked about two and a half days a week. Because the average working day was about six hours long, the fact emerges that !Kung Bushmen of Dobe, despite their harsh environment, devote from twelve to nineteen hours a week to getting food. Even the hardest working individual in the camp, a man named =oma who went out hunting on sixteen of the 28 days, spent a maximum of 32 hours a week in the food quest.