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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 002
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our monthly Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now. 

In today’s newsletter…
  1. How it's different working from home while Black from Aaron
  2. Detaching from and reattaching to responsibility for a healthier life from Alex
  3. The sheer intensity of video collaboration from Ilana
  4. Talent beyond higher education from Osei
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From the Field

01 / Working from Home While Black 

From Aaron Powers
HBR explores how work-from-home arrangements create new conflicts for Black employees. Many engage in code-switching to navigate professional spheres — adjusting their speech, appearance, and behaviors to optimize the comfort of others with the hopes of receiving fair treatment, quality service, and opportunities. Regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong,” remote works make this much harder, if not impossible.
Why It Matters
Many employers are blind to the formal policies and informal practices that exacerbate the stress, burn-out, and increased cognitive load that black employees face in the distributed work environment. Video-conferencing has transformed formerly safe, private spaces for authentic cultural expression into focal points of the public gaze. This invasion of personal space increases Black workers' vulnerability to bias and judgment of their professionalism.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Immediately: In videoconference-heavy cultures, explicitly allow employees the space to turn their cameras off during meetings to demonstrate respect of personal boundaries as work and home merge.
Longer Term: Examine the language and vernacular of “professionalism” in your org.
The conception of “professionalism” is steeped in European, white, upper-middle class ideals: one reason that code-switching has been a part of the educational and professional toolkit for so many underrepresented Black professionals. Organizations that more seriously interrogate and acknowledge a broader language of professionalism have a much greater opportunity to create an inclusive, engaged, productive remote work culture.

02 / Distributed Detachment 

From Alex Anderson
Dropbox reports on the critical role "detaching" plays for people working from home on distributed teams. Studies show that the inability to detach at the end of the day, and successfully reattach to work at the beginning of the next day, have severe consequences for productivity. 
Why It Matters
Focusing on results, versus being present somewhere at a specific time, empowers employees to work how and when is best for them and adds a layer of flexibility for those currently working under suboptimal or stress-inducing environments at home.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Prioritize regular long-form writing for internal communications, using the Fifteen/Five for example.
Thoughtful internal communication based on long-form writing—rather than the verbal tradition of meetings and speaking in-person—can lead to a helpful reduction in meetings and over reliance on video conferencing. This focuses updates on results, or barriers to results, and less on obligatory presence, increasing the ability to achieve psychological safety and feel good disconnecting when we log off.

One model for this is Fifteen/Five, where on a time bound basis, subordinates are asked to update managers in a report that should take subordinates no more than 15 minutes to write and managers no more than 5 minutes to read.

03 / Zoom Collaboration Intensity

From Ilana Bondell
Microsoft Asia recently unveiled “Together Mode” for its virtual collaboration product, Teams. The innovation enables users to all place themselves in a shared digital environment, such as a simulated conference room or auditorium.
Why It Matters
“Together Mode” may signal the start of a new era of collaboration catering to more sophisticated psychological needs. Virtually placing participants in a shared, static space allows users to focus less on the intensity of others’ up-close faces—which would normally signify an animal is about to fight or mate—and avoids cognitive overload that can come from dynamic interfaces. “Together Mode” is an attempt to better recreate an organic, IRL, collaborative environment: even for two avatars giving each other a high-five. 
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Escape the single-shot view of video-conferencing to those more germane to the IRL tasks.
Until technology like Teams’s “Together Mode” becomes widely available, consider the value of kinetic energy and taking a break from all-day “face boxes.” Psychologists have already begun exploring alternative views with clients—side profiles for both participants, but turning to each other as needed—that approximates the normal conditions. Purchasing a detached web camera or utilizing an external monitor can allow you to more easily shift your view as needed, change angles or distance, and embrace a more flexible physical presence in video conferences.   

04 / The New “Hire” Education

From Osei Kwakye
Google has just announced a new set of online certificate programs in data analytics, project management, and user experience design. These programs, taught by Google employees, do not require a college degree to pursue and can be completed in as little as 3-6 months. They consider the certificate equivalent to a four-year degree for any role at Google.
Why It Matters
Higher education in the United States is at a critical inflection point. Many of the most in-demand skills are in short supply, while the traditional four-year undergraduate degree has become prohibitively expensive for most students without taking on exorbitant debt. COVID-19 is accelerating the push-back against colleges' strangle-hold on education. Companies are desperate to find skilled talent and are starting to abandon the credentialism of degrees in favor of the assurance of certification.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Use training rather than credentialism to steer your talent strategy.
Instead of outsourcing the talent-vetting process to colleges and universities, create your own low-barrier programs to help you efficiently identify and train new employees. By streamlining education towards skills that are desperately needed in the modern economy, we can better connect companies with jobseekers. Education may become the new domain of every HR professional and the backbone of every talent search.

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