Millennial Optimism About Workplace Technology Ignores a Key Problem—Ourselves

The bright, shiny future of meetings in augmented reality, AI assistants, smart workspaces built on the internet of things, and other Jetsonian office technologies fast approaches—and American workers can’t wait for them to improve productivity. A year ago, Stowe Boyd presented research here on Gigaom that found significant optimism about the potential for technology to make work easier and more collaborative.(1) Unsurprisingly, the research found this positivity strongest among Millennials.(2)
However, that same research found that nearly half of Millennials believe the biggest time waster at work is glitchy or broken technology. Millennial frustration with current technology might explain their simultaneous wide-eyed excitement about cool, acronymed stuff like VR, AI, and IoT. This is at odds with the overall population, which perceives wasteful meetings and excessive email as the biggest enemy of efficiency.(3)
The problem is, both diagnoses are wrong. Research shows that the most significant barrier to productivity, by far, is the good, old-fashioned problem of getting distracted. It’s not that distractions exist—it’s that we succumb to them.
Put another way: poor tech and erupting inboxes don’t waste our time—we do. We have lost our ability to choose where we spend our attention.
In one survey, 87% of employees admitted to reading political social media posts at work.(4) Other research shows that 60% of online purchases occur between 9am and 5pm and that 70% of U.S. porn viewing also happens during working hours (“working” from home?).(5) And if none of that convinces you, perhaps this will: Facebook’s busiest hours are 1-3pm—right in the middle of the workday.
To be clear, this isn’t just a Millennial problem. The 2016 Nielson Social Media Report reveals that Gen Xers use social media 6 hours, 58 minutes per week—10% more than Millennials.(6) Overall media consumption tells the same story: Gen Xers clock in at 31 hours and 40 minutes per week, nearly 20% more than Millennials.
And if there weren’t enough, each instance of distraction comes at a significant cost. An experiment in Great Britain showed that people who tried to juggle work with e-mails and texts lost an average of 10 IQ points, the same loss as working after a sleepless night.(7) And this affects essentially every office worker, every day.
What’s to be done, then? Fortunately, if you’ve read this far, you’ve already done the most important thing: understand that the true problem doesn’t lie anywhere but in our own lack of focus.
Regaining focus—becoming focus-wise, as I like to call it—doesn’t require a rejection of technology, however. Becoming focus-wise only requires we reconfigure our tech usage habits.
For instance, instead of expecting ourselves (and our employees) to be 100% available throughout the day to emails, chats, and walk-bys, set time aside in “focus vaults” where you are completely unreachable to the outside world for a set period of time. When you emerge, you can have complete freedom to check emails and Facebook, batching those communications so you don’t lose IQ points switching to and from them during the actual work.
Another example is how we use the tech itself. For instance, if you know you can’t resist checking the screen when your phone dings—turn off the sound. Or disable your computer’s internet connection for a period of time. Even something as simple as making your application window full-screen encourages your brain to focus on the single task.
Normalizing simple, focus-wise habits like these throughout your enterprise can reap huge rewards in workplace productivity. As technology starts to fill our offices with artificially intelligent robots, virtual work spaces, and self-configuring environments, you can be confident that you will use the technology to accomplish your goals—rather than letting the technology use you.

About the Author

Curt Steinhorst is on a mission to rescue us from our distracted selves. Having spent years studying the impact of tech on human behavior, Curt founded Focuswise, a consultancy that equips organizations to overcome the distinct challenges of the constantly-connected workplace. He is a leading voice on strategic communication, speaking more than 75 times a year to everyone from global leadership associations and nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies.
Curt is the author of the book Can I Have Your Attention? Inspiring Better Work Habits, Focusing Your Team, and Getting Stuff Done in the Constantly Connected Workplace (John Wiley & Sons, October 2017).


1. Boyd, Stowe. “Millennials and the Workplace,” Oct 26, 2016.
2. Dell & Intel Future-Ready Workforce Study U.S. Report. July 15, 2016.
3. Workfront 2016-2017 US State of Enterprise Work Report. Sept 9, 2016.
4. Kris Duggan, “Feeling Distracted by Politics? 29% of Employees Are Less Productive after U.S. Election,” BetterWorks, February 7, 2017,
5. Juline E. Mills, Bo Hu, Srikanth Beldona, and Joan Clay, “Cyberslacking! A Wired-Workplace Liability Issue,” The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 42, no. 5 (2001): 34–47,
6. Sean Casey, “2016 Nielsen Social Media Report,” Nielsen, January 17, 2017, 6,
7. “Emails ‘Hurt More than Pot,’”, April 22, 2005,

The 2017 State of the Services Economy Report

I’m happy to announce the release of the 2017 State of the Services Economy Report that I worked on for the past six months with Mavenlink, one of the best reports I worked on in the past several years. Visit this page to download the full report.

I co-authored the report with Ray Grainger, the CEO of Mavenlink. We were supported by a great team, and supported by ResearchNow. We also had great contributions from my research panel: David Coleman, Steven Fisher, Martin Gaedke, Maddie Grant, Jean Russell, Brian Solis, and Joachim Stroh.

We started with some core premises for the research. We believed that the rate of change in the service economy was very steep, and that turned out to be the case: Over three quarters (78.3%) of our survey’s respondents state business conditions are changing quickly, and 20% say it’s faster than ever before.

This sets the deep background for everything else discussed in the report: an unrelenting pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing business context, one that — at least for some — is changing as quickly as it ever has.

A major trend in services companies is the rapid transition to project-based work, away from retainer-based models, and the bigger the company, the quicker the transition. This transition seems tightly linked to the need for greater agility and flexibility by services companies’ clients.

We expected that the best defense against the onslaught of technology-induced change would be… more technology. 70% of those surveyed say they are adopting new technologies, and only a small group are holding out against new technologies.

The third big bang from the research has to do with competition. Times of great change can lead to increases in the level of competition, and our survey confirmed that.

We asked if companies are seeing increased competition:

  • 62% said they are.
  • Of those that are seeing more competition, 26.8% says it’s coming from existing competitors,
  • 36.6% indicate it’s coming from new entrants, and
  • 36.6% say it’s a combination of the two.

That means the greatest competitive threat is coming from new entrants, in general.

So, the hard bottom line: accelerating change, transition to project-based economics, more defensive and offensive technology, and more competition.

Welcome to the accelerating services economy.

This research was sponsored by Mavenlink, but the opinions stated are my own. Originally published at

Todoist becomes a work management solution with new features

Doist has released version 800 of the team task management solution, Todoist, effectively moving the tool into the work management category. In particular, Todoist now supports activity ‘logs’ (or ‘streams’), project notes, improved microsyntax for quickly creating tasks, and a reworked notification system user experience.
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.44.54 AM
Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as team task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, principally derived from design motifs that originated in work media (or enterprise social network) tools (like Yammer, IBM Connections, and Jive).
The new activity stream includes recent comments and project notes (although they are named ‘comments’ in the activity stream.
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.06.40 AM
The new project notes is basically a reuse of the existing model for task comments. This has the benefit of being familiar, but falls short of what I’d like to see since task comments and, now, project notes, are not visible until the icon is clicked, and then they appear in a hover box, covering the task list in the project.
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.40 AM
It would be much better if display of project and task comments was more like the new activity stream. Imagine that I click the comment icon in either case, and instead of the hover window instead the comments would be displayed below the title in a scrollable list. Here’s a mock-up:
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.16.19 AM
And I would like to see explicit replies, too. A flat series of notes or comments creates all sorts of headaches.
Bottom Line
The most important takeaway is that Todoist has now moved from team task management to being a true work management tool. While there’s a lot still to do with the new features, Todoist’s traditional strengths — ease of use, flexibility in ordering and nesting of tasks and projects, and smart integration with Gmail — are still in place. But now Todoist is gaining important features for workgroup cooperation and coordination.

Facebook rolling out limited beta of Facebook At Work

The long-awaited Facebook At Work is being released in a limited beta, according to Lars Rasmussen, the project director at Facebook. You may recall that Rasmussen was the force behind Google Wave, and earlier Google Maps.

Back in June 2014, Facebook’s Jason Fabbard revealed that the company was working on a version of Facebook for business use (see What does Facebook at Work mean?), similar to how Facebook uses its technology internally.

This is potentially very disruptive, since Facebook has billions of users, and the pattern of use is so well ingrained in many people’s lives.

The pricing — if any — is unresolved at present. In fact, I can’t find any press releases from the company about the release. And despite various journos saying the product is available in the Apple and Android app stores, I can’t find it, as of 9:30 AM January 14.

And, according to Kurt Wagner, the tool lacks a document sharing feature, which is a large hole in the feature set needed for work.

What I wonder about is the determinacy needed in business. If I post something in [email protected], I want to know that everyone that I intended to see it does in fact see it. That’s not how the Facebook newsfeed works today, at least in the consumer edition.

More to follow, I’m sure.

And, in perfect synchrony, Linkedin has announced plans to roll out work technology, too. The first step will extend the use case for InMail, so that coworkers will be able to message each other even when not officially connected on Linkedin. That sounds to be only useful in really large companies, to me. But we’ll have to see what emerges.

Elisa Steele promoted to president of Jive, Tony Zingale retires

Tony Zingale has stepped down from the role of CEO at Jive, after overseeing the company’s IPO in 2011, and subsequent ales and stock decline. He is — strangely — continuing on as executive chairman.

Elissa Steele

Elisa Steele

Elisa Steele, who joined the company in January 2014 from Microsoft as chief marketing officer — and was subsequently named as executive vice president of marketing and products — will assume the role of president on November 10.

The training wheels aren’t off the bike for Steele, however, since along with Zingale as executive chairman, she is not CEO, but appointed to the ‘office of the CEO’ along with Bill Lanfri, a board member who has served since 2008. And the company’s announcement makes Steele’s appointment as president seem temporary, as the company is searching for a new CEO.

It’s a very muddled situation. If Zingale wants to retire, why continue on as executive chairman? If Stelle has the stuff to become president, why not make her CEO?

I predicted that Steele would take over at Jive, since the first announcement of her involvement at the company (see Elisa Steele assumes new role as Jive’s EVP of Strategy and CMO) and later, when Jive posted bad numbers (see Jive posts $146M in 2013 sales, with losses of $75M), based on premise that the board would want someone new to turn the company around.

The company’s announcement came on the heels of quarterly earnings results, which showed better sales — $42.2 million in their third quarter, up 25% on a year over year basis — but a loss of $12.1 million: still an improvement over $18 million in the third quarter of 2013.

Steele’s email announcing the change has a quite different tone from the press release, and she does not mention the CEO search at all. She does discuss other personnel changes: Chris Morace, a long time leader of strategy will be leaving the company after 7 years, and Colleen Jansen — who seems to be chief marketing officer in all but name — will be taking on analyst relations, on top of her role leading product marketing, customer marketing, and field and market insights. I believe Jansen and Steele worked together at Microsoft.

My read is that Steele is in charge, and after a perfunctory ‘CEO search’ she’ll be given the CEO title, especially if she can turn the red ink to black.


Smartsheet announces Workmaps, a tool to visualize connections

Smartsheet is a leading work management solution, one based on a spreadsheet presentation of tasks and other project-related information. The company has grown to be a worldwide player, with 500,000 companies using the product in 130 countries. Earlier this year the company raised $35 million in a funding round, bringing overall investment to $70 million.

I reviewed the product last year (see Smartsheet is a social tool with an image problem) and observed that one of its most powerful features — links between smartsheets — suffers from a lack of visualization:

Hidden in the visibility and access controls of Smartsheet is an interesting find. The design allows for a very rich sort of cooperative work. For example, I can create one smartsheet with 20 columns of data, some of which I want to share, and some I want to remain confidential. Smartsheet supports linking the values in one or more columns into columns in another smartsheet. So I could share the names and resumés of job candidates, for example, by linking to those columns into a shared spreadsheet, but not linking the column with salary history.

By extension, there can be a sprawling network of information managed in dozens, hundreds or thousands of smartsheets can be networked together, with information shared in a fragmented pattern, radiating outward, and being mixed with other local information. Consider something really distributed, like organizing the Olympics, where thousands of individual companies might be sharing core information managed by the Olympic organizing committee, like dates, locations, and core responsibilities, and then each organization could take that public data, and add their own personal information in secondary smartsheets, and share that in a dozen different ways with subcontractors and internal departments.

In such a system there is no master, centralized control: it’s a fully distributed but interconnected network of information intended to coordinate that activities of many, many people, but it works on a networked, pull basis. And those people can be very loosely connected: perhaps the smartsheet information is all that’s needed. Note that Smartsheet supports a version of its tool that integrates with Mechanical Turk for crowdsourcing small tasks, for example.


But the presentation of smartsheets — looking like standalone spreadsheets, and with the linkages and access information concealed in record and sheet-level metadata — conceals the latent power of this tool. So, I think Smartsheet needs to also create a presentation of the network of sheets. For example, if I have created a collection of 25 smartsheets with links between them, I would like to be able to visualize those connections, like a mindmap or an entity-relationship diagram. And perhaps even manipulate them in that view.

I’m happy to announce that the company read what I wrote (and gathered input from others, too, I bet), and they built that visualization of the networks of smartsheets. Today, the company announced Workmaps, which render those interconnections as a network may, and also display a map of the users that have access to those smartsheets.

Here’s an example Workmap:


The varieties of Workmaps include project-level insight, perhaps as fine-grained as the team accessing a single worksheet, but ranging outward to all smartsheets across an enterprise or even across multiple companies.

Here’s an example showing a leaderboard, those individuals most involved with Smartsheet:

mbf leaderboard


With Workmaps, Smartsheet is taking a giant step forward, and entering a new market of strategic insight, one accessible to anyone who has access, both participants and management. Their take on presentation of the networks is novel, because Smartsheets design and user experience is unique. However, the representation of the social networks is immediately intuitive, because it is the way the wiring in our heads works. And that is the power of Workmaps: using the work graph — social networks augmented with the smartsheets — as a way to gain insight into the way that work is getting done.

I think that Workmaps are a major advance, and establishes the company as a leader in the growing arena of quantified work at scale, a subject I wrote about this weekend (see The rise of quantified work at scale). I wonder how the various vendors trying to provide strategic understanding based on work management information will compete and cooperate. It’s going to be interesting to watch it all shake out.

Why I know Google+ isn’t doing well: It’s not part of Google for Work

Google’s lead for the social mess called Google+ is David Besbris, who took over when Vic Gundotra was pushed out in April (see Surprise resignation of VP Vic Gundotra raises questions about the future of Google+). Since that time, the company has relaxed the systematic effort to require Google+ identities to log into various Google properties, and perhaps a cooling on the company’s plans for Google+ in general.

But in a vacuous interview by Recode’s Kurt Wagner, Besbris seems to be continuing the company’s assertions that the product is beloved, although Besbris won’t quantify anything:

Where are you at right now in terms of users?

I don’t want to talk about numbers.

I bet he doesn’t. In a searing review of the interview, The Verge’s Casey Newman wasn’t having any of it, saying

[…] almost since the day it launched, Google+ has struggled to overcome the perception that it was dead on arrival. Nearly three and a half years after opening its doors the public, you would be hard pressed to name a single person who ever became famous because of a following they built on Google+; to name a news story that broke there first; or to identify a way that it meaningfully differentiated itself from the glut of social products on the market. I think there are lots of people who use Google+, if only in passing; I think there are vanishingly few of them who love it.

I will add one obvious note to Casey’s list: Google+ has not been packaged as a part of Google for Work (the former Google for Enterprise, and earlier called Google Apps for Business).

Screenshot 2014-10-08 09.03.00

Note that Hangouts — originally part of Google+ — has been pried free. And the other workhorses — Gmail, Drive, and Docs — were always independent.

My hope is that Google will steer clear of a Google+ integration in Google for Work, and will instead just beef up the activity stream in Docs, so that it’s something like the new Microsoft Groups (see Microsoft rolling out Groups in Office 365: the end of Yammer?). I wonder if internal competition is the reason that Google hasn’t rolled something like that out already?

Short takes: Evernote launches new web client and to add Work Chat, Wunderlist links Dropbox, Box delays IPO again

Evernote has accepted that its app is ugly, and as a first step in rectifying that the company has released a very attractive, clean, and intuitive web client, now available in beta. I plan a longer article once I have tried using it for a while. I hope this means that updated versions of the many Evernote clients is coming, too.

The app opens in a starkly minimal editor with a pulldown of styling options.

Screenshot 2014-10-02 16.06.41

The Notes view defaults to a list sorted by date edited, but various options exist.

Screenshot 2014-10-02 15.56.05




Notebooks are displayed in a lovely way.

Screenshot 2014-10-02 15.54.27


And perhaps the biggest news is the announcement of Evernote Work Chat, which will be a chat capability engineered within Evernote, to be released in late 2014.

Screenshot 2014-10-02 16.00.59

This is another example of contextual conversation (see Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration), and this will immediately move Evernote from being a personall and team knowledge management solution to becoming a work technology platform, and competing with solutions like Slack, Hipchat, Yammer, and Microsoft’s new Groups (see Microsoft rolling out Groups in Office 365: the end of Yammer?).

I am going to try to get a demo, ASAP.


Wunderkind has announced that Wunderlist now integrates with Dropbox, the product’s first integration. This allows the attachment of Dropbox files to Wunderlist tasks.



This is a synced attachment, so updates in the files are reflected in Wunderlist tasks. Currently supported for Web and Android, and soon for iOS.


Arik Hasseldahl reports that Box is shifting the company’s IPO date again, this time out to 2015, after completing the company’s firscal third quarter. Perhaps the market makers are telling Box that the company’s valuation is too high?



Tibco taken private by Vista Equity Partners for $4.3B

In an unusual move, Tibco has announced that the firm has been acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $4.3 billion, the largest buyout in tech this year. The sale followed a strategic review of options, following disappointing results: profit in the most recent quarter had fallen to $1.5 million, a precipitous drop from the $8.8 million a year ago. The company’s stock is down 23% in the last 12 months.

I have heard little about the company’s work technology solution, tibbr, in recent months. The product is an example of the now conventional social collaboration model: activity-stream-based communications, user profiles, defined shared contexts, file sharing, and integration to external applications.


Faced with competition like Microsoft/Yammer, IBM Connections, SAP, Jive, and many, many others, tibbr has had a tough run in a tight market. It will be interesting to see what new developments follow Tibco’s acquisition.

As I said yesterday, this sort of work technology is becoming a commodity, something that the giants of the industry will provide for next to nothing while making money in other ways (see Even connection is becoming a commodity). The pressures on a smaller firm like Tibco will make it hard to compete in that new environment.

Vista Equity Partners is an unusual firm, run by the highly impressive Robert F. Smith, a former Goldman Sachs technologist who worked with Apple on bringing Steve Jobs back to Apple through the acquisition of NeXT, along with a strong of other huge deals. He left to found Vista, because he wanted to make those decisions, not just advise others.

Unlike many equity firms, Vista generally does not strip out operational costs to turn its acquisitions around. Instead, Smith invests additional sales and engineering resources. And the firm has very unusual hiring:

David Gelles, A Private Equity Titan With a Narrow Focus and Broad Aims

[…] instead of searching for candidates with Ivy League degrees and prestigious internships, Vista looks for workers who have leadership potential and innate analytical abilities.

Using a personality test first developed by IBM that gauges technical and social skills, as well as a candidate’s interest in the arts and humanities, Vista assembles a decidedly unusual work force. Last year, the firm used the test to pare down more than 125,000 job applicants and offered just 6,000 jobs, often to unlikely candidates.

One of Vista’s best software salesmen used to be a roofer. Another previously worked at a Verizon store, and went to making $240,000 a year, from $22,000. In Iowa, a pizza deliveryman took the Vista aptitude test, got an A, and was offered a job paying $43,000 annually.

Not only are many of these workers less expensive than their better-credentialed peers, but to Mr. Smith, they are often more driven to succeed. And employing them, he believes, provides a social good.

“We find those kind of people and put them to highly productive use for decades,” Mr. Smith said.

Vista says turnover at its companies is the lowest in the software business. After Vista acquires companies, Mr. Smith says, they release more reliable software more frequently, customer satisfaction rises and profitability improves. And most Vista companies have 25 percent to 60 percent margins, he adds.

Vista’s portfolio is a long list of unsexy software companies, most of which I have never heard of. Aptean is a “leading provider of industry-specific solutions that help businesses manage their resources, supply chains, employees, and customer relationships.” But Vista has made a great deal of money, returning a 31% annual rate of return since 2000. The firm has never lost money on over 110 investments and acquisitions. An amazing untold story.

It’s uncertain what the path forward is for Tibco, but I will be watching with intense interest to see what Smith is up to, in the years ahead.

Big data’s growing shadow

In his Weekly Update, Stowe Boyd, the Gigaom Research curator for social, notes that ‘the fear of big data’ is growing. He attributes some of the backlash Facebook has suffered for its admitted psychological experimentation with members’ news feeds to people’s growing discomfort with growing data use. Stowe looks more broadly at the unease about the use of technology in the workplace, where, of course, Facebook is among the newest entrants.