Udayippu

The recent outbreak of corona virus disease, and the response of humanity has brought about serious questions about our preparedness, general nature etc. What started off as concern for the Chinese has spread to become this uncontainable monster that is seemingly threatening to change life for good. The last time something like this happened on a global level, I was 14, and 9/11 happened.

The current situation is dire, and while much of it is because of the lot of unknowns surrounding the disease itself, the human nature is a lot to blame for it too.

In a world driven by profits, greed etc, several employers have put the health of their employees on the backburner while repeating and reiterating that they have utmost care for the well being of their “family”. Many roles that can be done remotely are still being performed from offices.

The phrases going around is social distancing and self isolation. Us humans seem to find those two very difficult to understand and have been putting ourselves in danger, as well as others.

What else explains individuals not reporting their travel history correctly upon return, or people going out soon after getting back home from travel without going through the mandated 14 days of quarantine? Then there are those who think what the world leaders are doing are masterstrokes, and scientific that's beyond the understanding of an average human being, while those leaders are only trying to hold onto their fortresses with empty rhetoric and very little action.

If and when this all ends, I wish we all take a real hard look at ourselves as a race and how we behaved when we were faced with a problem that didn't distinguish on religion, colour, nationality etc and hopefully find answers that undo the wrongs we've managed to build up as an ideal society.

Because as I see it now, the structures that exist now are clearly uncapable.

I turned 33 last week. My journey through 32 was one of discovery, reigniting passions, becoming better at what I do etc.

The first couple of years of the 30s were filled with anger, confusion, worrying about missing out on what the world had to offer. 32 was about realizing that it's alright to be at peace with what I have, and it's alright to cut out toxicity from my life. I quit using traditional social media on a regular basis towards the latter part of the year, which did a whole deal of good for my mental health. I spent more time with my son than I did before. I cooked a lot of delicious meals, went out with family more, understood my partner better etc.

Being away from the toxicity meant that I was getting less angry, the stress at work was manageable, I made more rational decisions, and found time where I'd have found none in the past.

I was more cautious with money too. Spent where needed, saved where I could. That gave me a peace of mind like nothing before.

I documented my mood every day with an app called Year in Pixels. There were quite a few “light green” days which meant the year was overall a happy one with very few extremely sad days.

The plan for 33-34 is to continue on this journey to being a better person than I was. Maybe, I should reach out to friends from the past with whom I haven't been in touch for several years. I think I can also be better in delegating things at work instead of wanting to fix problems myself. That would give me even more time to enjoy what I do and also leave room for growing even more.

Recently, my workplace implemented a policy to restrict the number of days an employee can work from home. The excuses they have given for this have ranged from “Employees are abusing this freedom.” to “We have paid a lot of money to set up this office, so it's only reasonable that they utilize these facilities to the maximum.”

For a technology company that is spread across different timezones, and wants its employees to collaborate across these barriers, we have a huge number of meetings that happen in the early mornings or late evenings. In such scenarios, the option of having remote work is great, especially because one can plan their day around those meetings in a good way. I for one, start my day at my usual time, but take a short nap in the afternoon so that I feel fresh for the meetings, and can take my best mindset to them and come out of those discussions with good outcomes. For others, it may be a case of starting their day a little later than they usually do, so that they can use the mornings to take care of personal stuff which they'd otherwise do in the evening.

By taking away the “right” to be remote as many times as needed, the HR is saying that “We are in charge, we decide how and where you'll work, and we expect you to toe the line.” The company aims to be at the top of employee retention, employee empowerment etc. I feel like this policy isn't a step in the right direction to achieve that aspiration. There is also the gradual shift to monitoring the number of hours an employee is inside the office. This is also wrong for several reasons.

Having been involved in a company that grew from 8 members to 100, I feel like I am in some position to talk about what can make a team or company successful. The first and foremost is keeping the employees happy. And happiness isn't just gyms, free hot beverages, gaming rooms, or bean bags. It's putting the power in their hands. The smaller teams should be democratic and have a say in deciding what works for them and how. If they want to go watch movies together during the day and stay up at night to work on something, let them do it. If they feel hyper focused when working from benches in the parks next to their homes, let them do it. If they want to be in the office for 10 hours together, even use their lunch hours to discuss work, let them do it, but for goodness' sake, put that power in their hands and don't make policies about things you don't understand.

There are going to be arguments that managing companies that are so big is difficult, let me break it down step by step.

  • Every team can't be allowed to operate in the way they wish. It'd lead to an unfair system : Read that last paragraph one more time. The teams decide how they want to do things. If they find a system working for another team and feel like they would benefit from that system, let them adopt it.

  • Employees will start doing as they wish and there would be conflicts within the team itself : The role of hiring cultural fits is very important. If you hire for numbers and don't care about the soft skills (which is not just the ability to write great emails and talk fluently), you have pushed yourselves to a corner in that aspect. When you form a new team, identify individuals who gel together and let them decide the type of team members they want. And I beg you, please don't force them into hiring candidates just because you aren't able to meet your recruitment targets for that month. All you are doing with that is adding friction into a system where it isn't needed. While on that, just stop bragging about the number of employees you have. That isn't a hallmark of greatness. How productive and happy those employees are, is.

  • The facilities that we have created for the employees will be wasted : Who said anything about the employees deciding to never show up in the office forever? You are going to put those beanbags and standing desks to attract the “hip” crowd anyway, and the less the employees use these facilities, the longer they'll stay new. Also, stop pretending like you are spending all this money from your pocket. We also see how flexible and accommodating your counterparts at the company headquarters are with these policies, even though they have offices that are state of the art and boasts facilities that you all can't even dream about.

  • We can't keep track of employee productivity if they aren't in the office : There is a concept of delivery, definition of done etc in software. When those criteria are met within the agreed upon timelines, you sure as hell know that the employee or the team has been productive. You shouldn't measure this in terms of how many hours the laptop was idle, how many hours the employee spent walking to the rest room, how many hours the employee played foosball etc. Hours in front of a computer is not equal to productive hours. Period.

You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it. - Tim Berners Lee, Inventor of WWW

Over the last few years, we've seen the rise of mega corporations that have had a significant impact on our lives. They've made our lives easy, they've given us platforms to use that help us connect with the rest of the world with a few taps on our devices, they've provided you with means to watch cat videos for free. Are all these really free? To use a cliché, “If something on the internet is free, you are the product.”

The Problem

If you are someone who has wondered how texting our friend on Zucky's phone number based messaging app has resulted in ads being served to us about it on the blue F platform, chances are that we have also figured out that it's no coincidence. They are tracking everything we say, type, browse, listen etc. And with so much data about us, they can predict who we are just by matching some parts of our real life signature which depends on these tastes.

The algorithms at these corporations also amplify content that are eye catching, controversial, rage inducing etc so as to have all of us going back for more, and engaging with them so that they can tell their investors that they are generating traffic and get more cash inflow. They also decide what we are thinking about at every moment in time we spend time on their platforms.

Then there's the issue of censorship, and partiality from these corporations that results in folks making legitimate cases being banned, yet inflammatory personnel and trolls who incite the masses with immoral speech are allowed to roam freely in the name of “free speech”.

All this means is that we aren't in control of what we want to see, we don't get to decide what's done with our data, we are left at the whims of these corporations who decide how the internet should be.

The Solution

Can you imagine a world where you are in control of what you share online? The answer to that lies in a decentralized internet where there are computers or servers talking to each other in the way they were meant to. There is a parallel universe called the Fediverse (read up about it, it's simple, trust me on this) that can solve some of the problems we have currently with an internet controlled by the corporations. The other problems can be solved with the use of open source software that provides alternatives for the services we use. Of course, the learning curve can be a little steep, and the experience not as smooth because they aren't tailored for us. But we'll sleep well knowing that you own your data. At a time when governments are trying to censor content which doesn't suit their propaganda, the existence of a decentralized internet also means that our space is universal and not controlled.

Importantly, we can urge those in our circles to give these alternatives a try to build a better, more democratic internet which respects voices instead of throttling those which one entity doesn't like. At time when machines are taking over all aspects of our life, let's bring back humanity to the internet.

I'll leave you with this talk by Aral Balkan.

And if you like something, please consider donating something to the creators (even the smallest contribution counts) to create an internet that's yours.