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‘You Have to Change Your Environment’; in Remote World, Offices Must Still Adapt

“From the start of our survey, they’ve said they want to work from home two to two-and-a-half days a week. Now employers have edged up to meet what employees want.” Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom’s words resonate as remote work productivity continues to ascend. But one publisher still believes that hybrid will require an office-space rethinking.

“We learned over the course of a few weeks in March and April last year that we really could do online a lot of that which we used to think we had to come to the office or go to a customer to do. There are many jobs where physical presence is required, of course. But where it isn’t, I can’t see any reason we’ll be returning to a traditional office.”

That quote comes from Thomas Malone, a former research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center and the founding director at MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, in a Q&A last week in The Washington Post.

Here are more thoughts on the remote work popularity and production vs. the value of in-person interaction and water-cooler moments.

Productivity has gone up with remote. Bloom had been studying working-from-home arrangements for years and believes a hybrid workforce is the clear answer. “It’s amazing. Probably the biggest surprise of the pandemic was that working from home worked so well,” he told the Post. “We didn’t find a 13% productivity increase [like another prominent study did], but we’re finding an average of 4% or so. Something like 60% of respondents say working from home has worked out ‘better than I expected.’ Firms are astounded.”

Some type of hybrid is the answer. “I just don’t think you need five days a week,” Bloom said. “In a hybrid plan, the team comes in three days… On those three days we have all our meetings, trainings, events, lunches—the hyper-social things. Then the other two days we work from home. So we end up spending as much face time together as we ever did. We just crush it into three days. We reallocate the quiet time we used to have at work to the two days we are at home. It’s honestly better time management.”

Do office set-ups need to change? Even the three days might be questioned now. It might take some new design ideas to get staff to make the make the trek in. There was a story a few weeks ago from Fox Detroit featuring Crain Communications CEO KC Crain talking about the challenge of getting people back into the office. “You have to change your environment,” he said. “The idea that you are going to bring people back and have them sit in a cube right now is not going to happen.”

Crain continued. “All of that being said, even if you have the coolest workspace at your office, you still need to compete for talent. When you think about the digital age and people working in technology, they are kind of calling the shots. So if they want to sit at home and work because they are building websites, they are going to.”

Will executives come around? Malone admits that executives may be alone in wanting to come back to the office. “The most senior people seem to be the last to catch on to this,” Malone said. “I wonder if part of it is that the people who rise to the top of organizations are just really good at interacting face-to-face, so they overvalue it. But this is where the ‘Supermind’ [the title of his latest book about the ways many human minds can come together and receive a boost from digital tools] comes in—all the staffers who know they can do the work remotely, with the help of computers, are a very strong force.”

Are better digital meeting tools the answer? A couple weeks ago I wrote about a study titled When Chance Encounters at the Water Cooler Are Most Useful. The thinking is that while production and communication have both increased for people working remotely, the down side is that we’ve communicated 21% less with our so-called “weak ties”—who may be important in product development. The author ultimately argues that what truly triggers innovation is an initial, in-person meeting; then remote interaction should work fine.

“Dare I raise the water-cooler argument?” the interviewer asked Malone. “I actually completely agree that we need those kinds of interactions. What I do not agree with is that you need to be in person to have them. The right kind of technology can enable them.” He and a few colleagues have created a program called Minglr that sounds like Tinder for office meetings. “You see a list of people on one side of the screen, and you click on those you might like to talk to, and then if they click on you you’re placed in a private video conference,” Malone said.

Time will tell if Minglr or anything else can fill the void of not meeting in-person. Or if we would even want it to. Stay tuned.


How Harvard Business Publishing’s Lucy Swedberg Uses Lessons Learned to Lead

“Anytime you’re asking your teams for a change, or driving something new or different, you [should] come at it from a place of understanding…” Harvard Business Publishing’s Lucy Swedberg told us recently. “[It’s about] catalyzing people to do things differently. People get anchored to things; they like the way that they did things, and you have to find a way to release that. Building those personal connections is a big part of your ability to do that.”

Last month, our Associations, Media & Publishing (AM&P) Network began a new virtual series called Lessons from a Leader. (Kudos to Amanda McMaster for initiating.) Our first guest was Swedberg, executive editor and senior editorial director at Harvard Business Publishing, and someone I have always greatly respected from her long stint at Wellesley Information Services.

Swedberg spoke about the quick pivot that HBP, like so many others, orchestrated in the wake of the pandemic. “Our audience is educators, many of whom had absolutely zero experience teaching online, so when the pandemic hit—for me it was March 13—everything got locked down, and you had a lot of professors scrambling for help and guidance.” It was quite a challenge, she said, but one that they were able to conquer for their 160,000-plus newsletter subscribers to the tune of 11.4 million business cases sold in FY21.

Here are some key success points that Swedberg spoke to in the session, which can be viewed here with the password r#@Pj7q4.

On meeting the moment. “We had an opportunity for real impact that felt like something we could do to make a difference at a time when everybody was just so unsure of what on earth was going on,” Swedberg said. “Within our organization, it was a transformation. We’re a media company, not an academic institution, so I tend to think we are in a nimble and innovative, quick-moving culture in general… It gave us focus at a time when [it was hard] to know which end was up.”

On finding the right job. You want to find something where you can dive in with conviction, she said. You find the passion in whatever it is that you’re doing, and you just keep pushing.

Never stop learning. “I was really fortunate to have leadership and mentors who always encouraged me to keep learning and growing, taking classes,” Swedberg said. “I got my MBA going part time, thanks to the guidance of a past CEO.”

It’s okay to show vulnerability. “That was one of the central themes of our content to educators throughout the pandemic, which, mind you, in an academic setting can be a place where guards are typically up and sometimes there’s a formality to what you share and how you behave. Educators often feel like they can’t open up or be themselves because they’ve got to be the leader of the class, and they can’t show this vulnerable side to their students. The last 18 months showed us that that connection and empathy and understanding are what is keeping students engaged… making sure people feel like they can bring their whole selves. Establishing that level of honesty and openness with your peers, people you manage and your upper management” is essential.

On the importance of processes. “Building in process for a very small team became really important,” Swedberg said. “We didn’t even have a content management system [early on]; we were typing out, ‘please change in the third sentence of paragraph four the semi colon to an em dash…’ Implementing a CMS is not news to anybody, but it’s reassuring to hear that even an outlet like this [had to deal with that] and now we’re flying with real-time content updates.”

On being smart about your time. We have the HBP brand and umbrella to live up to, but at the same token, we have to understand—and this is strange for an editor to say—when something is good enough,” Swedberg said. “’How many times should we really look at this?’ So there were steps, for example, like my personal review of every piece of content, sometimes twice, where I just had to step out and trust my team, so I don’t need to look at every little last thing. I want to reassure you that quality is super important to us, so these process changes are not at the sake of quality, but we’ve just had to find ways with a small, scrappy little team to tighten and trust each other, and to cut the number of cycles… we’ve actually adopted agile methodology for our team, so we do things like have a refinement meeting, and we’re adapting it for editorial needs.”

On the importance of analytics. “One of the best practices that we’ve embedded is an analytics meeting for our editors, so that they can really see their work and how it ends up performing out in the world,” Swedberg said. “You start to hear them thinking and observing, ‘Oh, this thing did really well—let’s do more of those. I love when I hear they’re getting insights from the data. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what will keep us going and [allow us to] make an impact. We have KPIs and metrics that we’re accountable for hitting. We use Adobe Analytics to measure and monitor our web content. We do get help from our friends on our web and marketing teams. They will do the helpful work of serving up that data to us… But it’s ultimately the newsletter editors’ responsibility to make sure we’re always testing something, whether it’s a subject line or what color a button is or a different approach to an editorial lead-in.”

On future staffing. “Over time, I’d like to bring in editors [who are] really jazzed by [analytics] and eventually ask one editor to own it and bring those insights to the team. That’ll be better long term, but for now it’s sort of like a democratic, let’s-all-make-sure-to-keep-an-eye-on-it kind of thing. For now, we have a great dashboard that gets pushed to us once a week, and we can look it over and talk about it as a team…” We’re also trying to ensure that people see paths and growth for themselves. We’re also bringing in more junior positions, affording opportunity to lots of different types of candidates that may not be seen as coming from traditional or typical backgrounds.

Make decisions based on data. “I’m a content is king advocate for life, but I increasingly see that content needs to be coupled with really amazing and engaging visual and technical experience,” Swedberg said. “So we’re seeing a lot of need for UX professionals, and frankly, it’s hard it’s hard to find people right now in that space same with analytics.”


‘Align With Brands That Share a Mission’; Sustainability Gaining a Strong Foothold

Sustainability is coming up more and more in media circles today. I just read about the newly launched Music Sustainability Association. Vogue Business features Sustainability as one of its primary verticals next to Technology. And the Financial Times has just published “Managing Climate Change,” which is “on course to be their largest pink paper report in decades in terms of advertising revenue.”

Almost 3/4 of their audience recently told Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. Findings from the Deloitte Global’s 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey show 26% of both generations ranked protecting the environment as their top personal concern.

“They want to align with brands that share a vision and a mission with them and they’re willing to pay more for that—and that’s where sustainability comes into play,” said growth strategist Robyn Duda. “If we don’t start doing it now, there’ll be a disrupter that comes in and turns things upside down.”

But it’s not just for the young. “Creating sustainable events is no longer a bonus, it’s a must,” writes ExpoPlatform. “That’s the opinion of experts and world-leading organizers who have spoken to [us] as part of our latest series on the future of our industry. But this isn’t just about cutting emissions—it’s about securing a business model fit for the future.”

Here are some places that I’ve seen these efforts highlighted:

Create products with a sustainable focus. The Financial Times has seen a tenfold increase in request in proposals (RFPs) year over year from advertisers seeking to align themselves with the FT’s climate, sustainability and ESG content, says Brendan Spain, VP of advertising for the Americas at the FT, Digiday reports. Of the advertising RFPs the FT has received, about 40-50% mentioned climate or sustainability as a contextual alignment request. The RFPs coming to the FT are for editorial sponsorships of verticals like Climate Capital and Moral Money, as well as branded content in sectors like luxury and finance, Spain said. “Marketers are trying to appeal to more environmentally conscious consumers. Signaling these priorities to employees, partners and shareholders has become as important as marketing to consumers.”

Join a movement. The growing sustainability movement also may propel virtual events. AM&P Network member Haymarket has become a member of ISLA, a not-for-profit organization that is focused on accelerating the events industry’s transition to a sustainable future. As a member of ISLA, Haymarket will have access to sustainability training for its live event teams, and procurement will be able to use Isla’s carbon calculator to assess the carbon footprint of each event. “The communications industry connects brands with people and, through events and experiences, we have the power the shape a narrative to drive positive behavioral change across a breadth of audiences,” said ISLA co-founder Anna Abdelnoor.

Make it a key vertical and/or newsletter. Vogue Business ran an article last month titled Sustainable Retail’s New Guard. “A new fleet of dedicated multi-brand retailers are hoping to raise standards in fashion for conscious consumption. What can the industry learn from these born-good platforms?” (Separately, they have a Sustainability Edit newsletter.) Endless Wardrobe focuses on encouraging more sustainable consumption habits, they report, asking customers to think about how they will use a garment and then decide whether to rent, buy new or buy nearly new. “When we launch the criteria, it will have different levels so we can focus on providing the education and resources for brands to level up,” explains CMO Hannah Phang. This site has seen sales increase 450% in the last six months, with rental revenue jumping 2,000% in the same period.

Align with editorial groups. “We know that the journalism and information space as a whole is looking for spaces for sustainability, so if we don’t have unique and diverse voices in these rooms, how do we know what to solve for?” asked Sherrell Dorsey, founder and CEO of The Plug, a new member of our AM&P Network. “How do we think creatively about the solutions on the table? We decided to go subscription, and create these revenue-generating platforms in order to ensure our survival.”

Reach younger people. “Half of the workforce are millennials right now,” Duda said. “And there’s enough research and data out there that states what brands they align with. And they want to align with brands that share a vision and a mission with them and they’re willing to pay more for that. It may cost you more on paper right now, but the long-term effects of you having a clear value structure is going to align with your audience of the future. And it will actually reap you growth benefits in the future because you will have a very loyal community around you because you’ve done the right thing. And those who don’t do that will lose ground. “

Reduce your carbon footprint in events. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” said John Capano, SVP at Impact XM, on an EventBuzz podcast earlier this year. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there” Adds Duda: “In events it should include three main areas of focus: society—diversity, equity and inclusion—economic growth and environmental protection. By focusing on these areas, the industry not only considers how people are impacted today, but how they are impacted tomorrow too.”


‘Looking to Build These Relationships’; Programs Such as Aging Media’s Future Leaders Are Win-Win for All

Be it recognition, awards or a mechanism to unearth and spotlight key segments of your audience, programs such as Aging Media Network’s Future Leaders can be hugely beneficial. It’s a classic win-win. Not only does it give deserved recognition to the honorees, but it builds a diverse roster of leaders, webinar/panel speakers, and event attendees – and can bring in sponsors.

Scroll down AMN’s page for their Future Leaders Class of 2021 (sponsored by PointClickCare), and you’ll see an impressive array of names, faces and companies. They’re divided into topic sub-divisions: Home Health and Home Care (14 Leaders); Skilled Nursing (6 Leaders); Senior Housing (13 Leaders); and Hospice (7 Leaders).

The titles range from CEO and founder to VP of finance and accounting, chief design officer and real estate innovation manager to VP, people operations, senior consultant – outsourced agency management, and chief medical officer. The faces are mostly earlyish mid-career.

“The Future Leaders program has provided us a way to connect with the next generation of leaders in the industry we cover,” George Yedinak (pictured below), co-founder, executive vice president, Aging Media Network (an AM&P Network member), wrote to me in an email recently. “It provides brand awareness across our publications and also provides our editorial team with new contacts that they can work with in the years to come.”

Yedinak was kind enough to answer a few questions about their Future Leaders program, which just completed its third year.

Was it hard to launch? What were the keys to getting it up and running?
The launch was difficult. The first year was full of challenges and questions that we needed to address that we may not have fully thought about in the conceptualization stage. It took about 4-6 months of conceptualization and structuring between the commercial and editorial teams in our organization. We just completed our third year of the program and we’ve come to view this as work in progress where each year we may look to tweak things and make iterative changes to continually strive to improve the program. We have another awards program that has gone on for 8 years and learned a lot from that which helped the launch of Future Leaders.

Did entries go up the second year? What have you learned for next year?
Entries in our awards programs typically have risen year over year as the awareness of the program grows and the recognition that the nominees and winners receive rises in stature through recognition by the industry. Awards marketing takes up significantly more time, especially in the first few years to build that awards brand. Just because you build a program, you still have to do a lot of explaining and positioning when it comes to the program for all involved.

How does the sponsorship work? What do they get?
The sponsorship for our Future Leaders program is heavily focused on branding for our sponsor and very similarly in other awards programs we’ve developed. Our awards programs look to focus on some of the positives of the industries we cover: people, programs and more. That positivity has been something many of our clients have been excited to support, especially over the last 18 months. Each sponsorship opportunity on our awards program is custom depending on the goals of the sponsor. Besides branding opportunities, there are ways we create custom content pieces associated with the program that aligns with our sponsors, whether they are Q&A pieces, ebooks, branded landing pages with content or social media posts, it’s a way to purposely extend the content, leaders and program to our audience. We are just starting to integrate the awards programs into our in-person and virtual events where possible.

Is there a plan to keep past winners involved? That seems to be a mistake often, that these programs don’t take enough advantage of the winners – have them speak, pursue volunteer opportunities, write articles, etc.
There’s a plan for our Future Leaders program to certainly develop an alumni network that can meet at our events as a start. Our editorial teams are looking to build these relationships for content and stories that align with their goals. There are a number of ideas around the program on continuing to extend involvement of the current and past classes of leaders. We’ll take a break and get some feedback from all stakeholders and look to make those iterative improvements.


CODiE Awards Swag Boxes Give Judges a Winning Smile and Cambium the Type of Relationship It Covets

How would you like to get the following email from a judge in one of your awards and/or recognition programs?

“Thanks for the honor of being selected as a CODiE judge again this year and for the over-the-top, amazing swag box that arrived yesterday! Every single item is amazing and is already or will shortly be used. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.”

Jenny Baranowski, managing director, CODiE Awards, for SIIA, was overjoyed to see that email and many others like it. The company behind that swag box is Cambium Learning Group. They partnered with SIIA’s long-running CODiE Awards to give Ed Tech category judges “a sense of real pride in being part of the awards process and that their expertise was valued as educators and as professionals,” John Jorgenson (pictured here), CMO for Cambium Learning Group and an SIIA Education board member, told me recently.

With Cambium being a long-time supporter of the CODiE Awards, Jorgenson approached Baranowski earlier this year to do something special during such a tough time for everyone. “It would be cool if we could design something branded as being part of the CODiE Awards for the volunteer judges,” he told her, “where they could be proud of their identity as an expert reviewer. Cambium really values our relationship with SIIA and really values the CODiE Awards. Nominees go through a rigorous process and so winning a CODiE is a big deal. It means something.”

Cambium had experience in the swag world before, having launched a new brand In November 2020 and creating swag boxes for their shared services team. “They just loved them,” Jorgenson reported. “We like to support awards that really recognize quality products that are making a difference,” he told Baranowski.

Jorgenson was “not looking to make it all about a sponsorship per se.” He wanted to “focus more on the judges and honoring their volunteerism and time dedicated to the awards, while also providing a reminder that they are part of a meaningful community that they take pride in being part of.”

Included among the swag items were many CODiE-tattooed products including: socks, a peek-a-boo pouch, a bluetooth speaker, pens, water bottle and moleskin notebook. There was also a card that gave a definition of the word “judge” and said, “Thank you for providing your expertise and helping shape the future of education and the growing world of ed tech as a whole.” The whole box was CODiE-branded. Judges were clearly moved.

“This is the kind of sponsorship that I care more about. People don’t remember the logos on the bags they get at the shows and things like that,” Jorgenson said. “That’s just kind of throwing money at things and trying to get your logo in front of people to raise brand awareness. I’m much more interested in forging relationships with organizations and people that are fighting the same fight we are, believe the same things we believe, and are trying to make an impact—which is what we’re trying to do. I’d rather support those relationships.”

Of course, Cambium wants value. Any sponsor would. But Jorgenson said that he has faith that these actions “will lead to expanded relationships and opportunities for everyone… I think it’s a great story, because it really isn’t about us, or even about SIIA. It’s about the judges and the CODiE Awards; what the CODiE Awards stand for and why they’re important.”

Baranowski could not be more pleased with how everything turned out. It’s the classic win-win-win situation. “The judges are the backbone of the CODiE Awards. They mean everything to the program and to the nominees. To be able to work with long-time partner and collaborator Cambium Learning Group to enhance the judging experience, especially coming off 2020 where teachers and administrators already had overflowing plates, was everything.

“Receiving wonderful emails from participants expressing their gratitude for the judging process and the unexpected swag box made my year,” she continued. “It enhanced the CODiE brand and community in a great way and being able to share that feedback with Cambium showed that thinking outside of the sponsorship box can be really rewarding. I’m very grateful to Cambium for sharing this vision and helping support the community in a really fun way. Now the challenge is, how do we top it in 2022?”

Jorgenson was clearly touched by the emails from the judges.

“Jenny forwarded some notes and comments that she received from the judges, and they were just really grateful, excited and proud,” said Jorgenson, “so that made all of us here feel good. This whole COVID-19 thing just continues to play out in front of us, and nobody knows what’s going to happen next, of course. But we’re absolutely committed to the SIIA organization and will certainly be involved in the CODiEs going forward. Hopefully we’ll do something next year that kind of ups the ante a little bit.”

That should have everyone flashing a winning smile.