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How Dependent Are You On Other People?

In a new article from Berlin’s excellent ESMT, Konstantin Korotov states that “What the crisis has revealed is how very dependent our work is on other people.” Initially, you want to agree with the statement, but the more you think about it, the less it makes sense.

You have been working remotely for almost 5 years now. Your experience as a remote worker taught you that you have to be extra open and welcoming and…well…nice to your colleagues and forge relationships through common projects, goals and opportunities. Physical proximity is a nice way to accelerate such bonds, but these can be done remotely just as well if you are cognizant enough to the challenges of being remote.

So now that everyone is remote, and new employees are not being physically introduced to their new colleagues by their manager, we have to collectively be more cognizant and spend the extra time to virtually meet our peers and colleagues. In fact, unlike dating, the smell of your colleagues or the way they look should play a small role on how much you like them so everyone being forced to work remotely might actually bring more teams together. The office could be saved for those team building exercises that will happen again once we can all travel again.

We will have a vaccine and we will be able to meet our colleagues again. Let’s not wait until that happens to build teams and relationships.

Riding and Walking

As part of the daily routine you start by a quick ride to the office. The commute to the home office, part of the “Bookend your Day” rule (see this post), often also involve running one or two errands. It is pretty useful to have shoes that are not only clipless, a confusing term which actually means “attach to your pedals”, but also feature a wonderful capability called walking.

There are not too many such shoes as it turns out. The absolute market leader used to be Chrome Industries, but they are currently updating their SPD shoes offering so alternatives are needed.

The list below is by no mean complete, but these are great options to consider. Some might be hard to get in Europe, but at least the Quoc and Pedaled are brands associated with Europe so getting them might be easier. DZR are San Francisco based.


  • DZR Shoes


Changing Directions Midway

You return home one day earlier than originally planned from a bike tour in Northern Germany. BEST.DECISION.EVER. You did everything right, yet, during the morning of the second day, as you were rushing to make your destination, a hotel that was still 100km away, you realized that you are missing the whole point.

Originally, you wanted to see the Lüneburger Heath (Heide) which is a beautiful nature reserve somewhere north of Hanover and south of Hamburg. Plans were made to spend the weekend with the misses in Lübeck and then ride to the Heide and then ride back home.

The goal was to see the Heide. Collection kilometers was of course an added bonus, but this year, with SARS-CoV-2 grounding sensible air travel, you see the opportunity to explore your backyard. You spent most of your vacation time flying places so actually taking the opportunity to explore Germany seemed like a sensible thing to do. The pictures of the Heath looked amazing and it was within “cycling distance.”

How often do we embark on a project, dig deep into the details, identify all the trees, the roots, the leafs and forget that the goal was at the other end of the forest? It happens a lot. This was exactly the experience you were having on day 2. After 3 hours of riding off road, on mostly horse trails, getting lost numerous times (Garmin be damned), having experienced a pretty weird dehydration situation the previous day, and being cold non-stop, you figure a lunch break was in order. With that break also came the realization that you were only focusing on one Key Performance Indicator (KPI): Distance Left.

The goal of the tour was to see the Heide. And here you were in the middle of the Heide, yet, you were only looking at the 100km left to ride to get to the next hotel and was completely ignoring nature that was all around you.

In an instance you changed direction. You replanned a route through the Heide, with one click (albeit deep in the app) you cancel the hotel, you roughly get an idea of where the train lines were hiding, and you update the misses to the new plans.

Everybody wins (apart from the hotel….sorry). You enjoy the beauty of the Heath, you have time to take pictures, you greet other travelers, you smell the flowers.

Keeping your goal front and center is key to happiness and success. If the goal was to ride a lot of kilometers, you would have failed. But the goal was to visit a beautiful area and in that you totally succeeded.

When the Pendulum Stops Swinging

Since pretty much the invention of modern computing, we always swang between the cost of communication and the cost of computing. From the perspective of communication, one of the Internet’s design guideline is the end-to-end principle. A good discussion on the topic is nicely laid out here. The end-to-end principle, simply stated, advocates keeping the nodes on the network smart and the network dumb. In other words, the network is generic and meant for all traffic while the edges know what to do with the traffic. Compute was too expensive at the time the principle was created, so the thinking was that it is easier to provide CPU cycles at the edges.

Fast forward to today where Apple just announced that they will be making their own silicon for their laptops (they already make their own chips for all their mobile and wearable devices) and where more and more specialized CPUs are coming to the market. Pensando is one such example with an interesting SmartNIC design and the tune of $278m in funding as well as top Cisco veterans in its ranks. Ampere is another good example of a company looking to add value to the edges. This all plays to the narrative that the edge of the network is where the processing of data is happening.

But…with 5G (the real one, not that bad marketing joke from AT&T) and edge/cloud computing everywhere, both communication and compute cost are approaching zero. Why? 5G offers 100 times faster speeds than today’s LTE technologies (it will take some time) but the cost that your carrier can charge you for that speed is not 100x, but rather around 10 Euro extra per month. It is already happening in Korea. Hence, the cost per bit is quickly approaching the fraction of a cent which means it is “free”.

The hyperscalers are looking to provide massive “cheap compute” capabilities in the cloud and in their edge offerings:

  • AWS bought Annapurna Labs in 2016. Annapurna Labs gave rise to AWS Nitro at Re:Invent 2017 which in essence delivered bare-metal performance and virtualization. That’s a lot of compute available in the market since 3 years. Since AWS owns Annapurna Labs and since they have scale, they can drive the cost of their in-house xPUs (DPU? CPU?) way down.
  • Microsoft Azure put their bet on FPGA (home-made and probably off-the-shelf like the Intel). It probably makes sense for a hardware (surface, Xbox) and software company to bet on FPGA since they know how to create the necessary tools to allow developers to write RTL code (register transfer level) and manage the ownership of the code and hardware.
  • Google Anthos is an interesting question. If anyone knows, I’d love to find out.

The likes of (now part of Equinix) also have options for powerful SmartNIC-based (Netronome) servers and let us not forget Mellanox’ introduction of the ConnectX6 and BlueField-2.

So what does it all mean? Compute is getting more powerful and plentiful at the edge and in your rectangle pocket Internet device. Communication cost is approaching zero. What can we expect from a world in which the pendulum stopped swinging?

Work in the time of SARS-CoV-2

You wake up in the morning, go through your morning routine, check your email and find out that your business leader/CEO/head of people operations have set a company-wide policy of Working from Home.  You work for a Technology company which actually means that you are perfectly set for a Working from Home type of a situation, but within two days you hear all your colleagues that are used to going to the office complain about their new state of working from home.

You can help.  You have experience.  You spent the last 4 years working from home.  When you go into the office there is typically a 14 hours flight involved and at least one border control.  You have advice to offer.  You also know that for some people, those who are always late by just a few minutes to any meeting, those who will “send by the end of the day” but often do not, working from home will be a tough challenge.

Any challenge is an opportunity to grow.  Working from home and minimizing social contact is imperative at the time of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.  If you want to understand why it is important to minimize social contact now, you should spend the 25 minutes needed to read this excellent article.  But even if you don’t read the lengthy article, you have no choice.  No one will go to the office and most customers will not take that face to face meeting, so you better figure out how to effectively work from home.

  • Bookend your workday.  One problem that people who work from home are facing is that work will spill into their family life and into their home.  You already talk about work at the dinner table and check one last time your email while watching Netflix with your significant other and now with work being in the home you are basically going to be working all the time.  Don’t. You must bookend your day with physical separation.  The morning, for example, can start with a jog around the block or a bicycle ride around the lake near by.  20-30 minutes before you read your email or took your first conference call.  You start your meetings at 6AM since you live in California and your customers are in Europe?  Well, maybe it’s time to block your calendar and start your first conference call at 06:30 or do what you do anyway and take your conference call with you on your walk.  Whatever you do, do not shift in your PJs with your morning coffee into the computer and start working.  This will make you miserable within 5 days.  The same routine applies to your evening.  At some point, depending on your family situation, you have to declare that your day is done.  At that point you turn off the laptop, lock it in your home office or the table you spent the day working on, and then you leave the home office and commute back to your home.  You physically leave the house, take a walk, ride your bike, drive to the supermarket, and then come back home.  You are done with working for the day.
  • Do not confuse email with communication. Ever since your Working from Home policy started, you see a spike in the amount of emails you receive every day.  People like to confuse email with communications.  Email is not communications.  Only a tiny percent of people in the world are getting payed to “do emails” (those who do tend to be Nigerian Princes).  Email should be used to set a meeting, summarize a meeting, or convey a one-sided piece of information to your colleagues.
  • Do not confuse chat with talking. Most Technology and technology-dependent companies have implemented some sort of chat programs.  These might be official business tools like Slack or Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams and some unofficial chat tools such as Facebook’s WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessages.  In any case, you already hear people complain about typing 12 hours a day.  Don’t. The more effective way to use these chat program is to convey information quickly.  If you need more than 10 exchanges, switch to voice.  Voice is about 1000 times more efficient way of communication.  You can ping your colleague, see if they are available for a quick chat, and then call them using the same tool.  Most chat programs have a voice function so all you have to do is express the need to chat and then call.  You can follow up with a quick summary email if that’s needed.
  • Invest in silence. One of the best financial investments you can make in a world in which Working from Home is the new normal is a great noise cancelling headphones that are also a great microphone.  There are plenty such options in the market.  The good options are expensive, but will keep your sanity.  Why are these things so important?  You will be spending a large portion of your day speaking to people.  You want to have two free hands to type your meeting minutes and you want the headphones to be comfortable.  Last but not least, you want people to hear you well.  There is an added bonus to having a good set of noise cancelling headphones: they will take care of the outside noise from your neighbour mowing the lawn or the construction truck backing in a drive way.  Outside of a great chair for your home office, the best investment for your work life sanity is a great set of headphones.  Sony WH1000XM3 are a great investment, but other good options exist in the market.
  • Communicate your communication tools. Some companies have a plethora of collaboration and communication tools.  For example: Office 365 (which  includes Teams), Skype for Business, Zoom and Slack.  How will your colleagues find you?  If your IT organization did not conclude on the correct tool to use, make sure the people who work with you know how to get a hold of you.  Consider being flexible and using what your co-workers find as the most convenient tool.
  • Use Video. You lament the loss of meetings where you can see your colleagues and sit around the same table.  Have you considered turning on your video camera during your next conference call?  Why is it that you miss meeting your colleagues around a big conference table yet are keeping the video chat function off?  If you start your day by commuting to the home office that means that you are properly dressed.  If you find a good place to work at home, you have nothing to fear.  Keep the camera AWAY from you and face the camera.  You can stay connected and also show your office to your colleagues.  Using video during conference calls will also mean that you will be missing your colleagues just a little bit less.
  • Focus on output. The virus outbreak and the fact that most people are now Working from Home means that we can finally shift our focus to deliverables and not “being there.”  Your manager and colleagues will now see how productive you are as opposed to being that person in all the meetings.  You need to produce output that is shared and communicated with colleagues, managers and customers.  The virus outbreak and the workforce being directed to Work from Home might finally get us to increase productivity.  If you need some inspiration on the topic, read this great HBR article.

At this point no one knows how long it will take before you’re allowed to go back to the office.  You are likely to be staying at home for at least 4 weeks now.  Get comfortable with it.

Use the technology we now all have.