Stay at home!


© Foto: djd/


A few questions to the colleague who is coming to office with a severe cold or even flu.

  1. Why are you resistant to efficiently recover but unnecessarily drag your impairment? Why do you refuse to restore your productivity in your own and your company’s interest?
  2. Why are you tangled up in the outdated perception, work performance and quality would be proven by hours spend in the office? They – are – not!
  3. Why do you infect the whole team by incubating them for hours with your sprayed viruses? Why do you intentionally harm your colleagues and jeopardize the productivity of the whole team?

Do you really think that coming to office sneezing and coughing would be an achievement, a sign of commitment, or in any way productive?

No, sorry, to my opinion this is just an explicit mindless, inconsiderate and irresponsible behavior.

So, just stop it … please! Stay at home, take a short break, sleep a lot, recover well, and be back restored and filled with energy.


Right, I’m off then …

View onto the Zambezi river

©1994 Christian Velten


Holiday season. A couple of weeks ago, we had a nice team coffee, and among other things we were discussing our accessibility during vacation … not if but how everybody would be available during vacation.

Honestly spoken, I was completely shocked. It was very clear for me that having a frequent look at my mails or being available for being called would never allow me truly enjoying my vacation and achieving the core objective of any vacation to – believe it or not – intentionally disconnect from work and recharge. For good reason more and more companies today even ban the use of corporate mail if not smartphone during recreational holiday.

Vice versa, I produced incredulous amazement by stating that I was going to spend my vacation without my company smartphone or any other connection to business communication channels. As I am doing for many years and many vacations now.

But how do I smartly manage being off for 2-3 weeks without caring for business email and phone?

Those are the rules I am following with each single vacation for many years now …

  1. Accept your replaceability
  2. Have substitutes
  3. Pre-notify about your coming absence
  4. Have a significant OOO notification
  5. Have your OOO notification one day earlier and one additional day after
  6. No meetings scheduled on last and first day
  7. Have a private phone
  8. Enjoy your return

No one is irreplaceable

The first step is a simple but difficult lesson. Some colleagues seem to think that the world would stop turning without them, at least that business would completely break down. I am afraid to say: this actually is a fatal illusion! No one is really irreplaceable. Or in other words, having your business depending on the availability of single individuals would be extremely bad management. What do you think would happen if you would have to undergo a major surgery including being placed in an artificial coma for 2-3 weeks? Would your team stop working and the business crash? I don’t really think so. And if this situation can be managed, why can’t an ordinary vacation absence be equally? Or are you really missing this competence?

Accept that you are factually replaceable, and enjoy the pleasure of this knowledge.

Have substitutes

I mean, shouldn’t you generally have clearly assigned substitutes in place? You as a team member as well as you as a team leader. Sorry for my frankness, but wouldn’t not having substitutes for your function and responsibilities intentionally jeopardize business continuity and be completely irresponsible? So, you anyhow should have a clear and communicated set of substitution rules in place. This makes everybody’s life easier, not only in vacation times.

Pre-notify about your coming absence

Dropping a kind of “forewarning” 1.5-2 weeks before a longer leave has been proven highly effective in taking pressure out of the situation. I started this measure many years ago as an independent entrepreneur, early informing all clients, team members, project contributors, collaborators and external agencies. So, basically anyone who might depend on me or may have urgent need for support. This prenotification is not only telling about my absence, but also that in case anything urgent should be done or would be needed before, one can drop me a note up to 3 days before my leave, giving me some time to care for late things. This approach always was highly appreciated and resulted in extremely positive feedback, esp. by clients.

My learning has been, that not the absence or unavailability is the issue, but missing information and the perception of being left alone. So, proactively show that you care.

Have a significant OOO notification

Amongst us, “I am OOO.” is not really a very significant out-of-office notification. OK, it is very clear, simple, and provides at least the key message. But joking apart, I personally prefer to provide few additional information, which support the receiver with what he can expect when and by who. Still short, clear and simple. So, I typically provide the earliest day people an expect me to come back to them again, my substitution rules, and a nice wording to not accidentally leave people being peeved off when realizing that I am enjoying my vacation while they need to work hard.

Have your OOO notification one day earlier and one additional day after

OK, it might be a mistake disclosing this ‘secret’ now. At least this might show me who of my appreciated colleagues is actually reading this blog attentively. So, just between ourselves: I generally have my out-of-office notification activated on my last day before my leave already and also on the first day I am back in office. This takes a lot of pressure from the last and first working days surrounding my vacation. I keep control which things are urgent enough to additionally put on my pile on the last day, and I keep control over the first day of my return, esp. creating a buffer for coping with piled up emails. And for my team mates I am anyhow available in the office for late urgent stuff.

No meetings scheduled on last and first day

Same as before. A very simple and efficient measure allowing you to smoothly fade out – fade in. It is in your hands.

Have a private phone

It is about reducing temptation and opportunities. I never take my corporate phone nor my laptop along me for vacation. Clear rule, easy to follow. Taking your laptop with you gives you the illusion of being fully productive everywhere … but you are not. And all the things you actually can do … typically can wait if you are honest to yourself. Certainly I want to be reachable (by my family and friends) and read my (private) mails, so I have a private smartphone and do not mix up things.

Enjoy your return

After your return, enjoy that not everything might have worked as smoothly as people are used to, that they are happy that you are back, and that you have been missed. I mean, come on, this is perfect … you can look forward coming back to office. Could really be worse.

Finally, I would like to share a personal piece of experience with you. In more than 20 years of working life, about ten of those running my own business with being the key contact for all clients, there has not been a single situation where my short-term action was really needed. A proactive absence management assumed.

Honestly spoken, for many years I was fatally wrong in thinking that my general availability would be vital. And it took me some time to learn that (at least felt) being approachable and indispensable during vacation with your family and kids is just an unmasking sign of bad (self-)management.

Fortunately, there is always room for development …

The true reason why younger candidates are favored

If you challenge an existing preference for hiring younger workers over e.g. “best agers” (50+), you get a series of arguments which initially sound somehow reasonable.

  • Younger candidates have more energy and higher productivity.
  • Younger candidates bring along more recent expert knowledge due to their contemporary professional training/university education … and thereby deliver higher quality.
  • Younger candidates are cheaper.
  • Younger candidates are less resistent to change.
  • In an aging society it is more future-oriented to hire younger candidates and develop them internally on the long-term.

As non-involved I can dare to say: all those are dumb stereotypes … if not lies!


The “younger is more productive” myth

It has been repeatedly investigated and proven hat “best agers” on average do show at least a similar productivity and level of achievements while typically being more efficient and delivering higher quality. No more to say.


The “younger is cheaper” myth

Is it? I would like to challenge this assertion by stating that the average “best ager” achieves more with less energy and in less time. He compensates youthful freshness with experience and beneficial learnings from the past. So, I dare to say that a complete and honest calculation will give at least the same if not lower costs for the “best ager”.

And by the way, cheap or valuable, you always get what you pay for!


The “younger provides better knowledge” myth

Yes, sure, the expert knowledge a mid-20s university leaver brings along is more recent. But …

  1. By whom did they get it? From “best agers” being their trainer/teacher, am I right or am I wrong?
  2. Blank knowledge from professional training or university is by far not enough for real life success and best practice. “Best agers” typically provide expert knowledge plus experiences from years of daily working including highly valuable experiences and learnings the youngster simply miss. The overall level of current and real-life knowledge is much higher with the “best ager”.

And by the way, it is impertinent to generally insinuate that older colleagues do not continuously develop their expert knowledge to the state-of-the-art level.


The “seniors are more resistant to change” myth

To my observation, more senior colleagues are not above average resistant to change but in many cases even drive it. And I was involved in quite a few change projects/processes. No, senior colleagues do more dare speaking up for stupid changes and dumb implementations … where many  youngsters just follow like sheep. For me this level of commitment by senior colleagues never has been a bug but a feature. And in most cases it was highly beneficial for the whole change project.


The “younger provides more long-term benefit” myth

Especially the more promising youngsters have a much higher tendency to switch their job if not the company due to career aspirations. Exception proves the rule and there are certainly companies which do a proper good job in developing and keeping their staff. But I dare to say that many companies will benefit longer from a hired “best ager” staying 10-15 years than of a “±30 ager” leaving for the next career step after 3-4 years.


The true reason

I think there is another important point which is typically less mentioned but more influencing the preference for younger candidates within a hiring process.

Younger workers are much easier to influence and to manipulate. They challenge instructions and decisions by their line manager (who is also their hiring manager) much less. And just to avoid any misunderstanding: to my opinion this is bad, at least with  advanced, innovative, forward-thinking companies. But unfortunately there is a fatal correlation between leader quality and the tendency to hire team members which are better qualified than oneself.

“Best agers” are not more difficult to lead. But they are more resistant to bad leadership. So they are less likely hired by bad leaders who cannot stand to be constructively challenged.

Check it! Just watch the leaders in your own working environment. Which of them would you rate as better leaders and which as worse? And what is the average team age of the better … and what the average team age of the poor leaders? *

You see, what I mean!

* OK, and please kindly ignore any constitutional bias, e.g. by type of job or team where the average age is unavoidably lower. 

Do not let your customer doing your QC

I call it the “Microsoft principle” … and it is a mess. For many years, Microsoft is quite famous for delivering half-baked software, which is subsequently improved by patches and “service packs” based on customer findings. Microsoft lets its customers do the quality control (QC) for them.


Change of scenery. A couple of years ago, I attended a lean processes workshop. To make a long story short, the resulting “optimized” lean process basically included an abandonment of the pre-delivery inspection process step and a shift of the final QC to the customer. To be fair, some new QC cross-checks were included at handover interfaces within the process … but the proof that the product is finally OK was factually handed over.

I was surprised finding myself alone with speaking up and insisting: “this is simply crap!

At this point I need to admit, that my horizon of experience had been different from the others. Before joining the pharmaceutical company (I was working for at that time), I had had my own little service business for about 10 years. So, I knew by heart, that customers typically wish if not clearly expect to get a product of reliable high quality delivered for the money they pay. And I think, they can expect to get the same. Also I myself do. As a service provider it had always been a wonderful and tremendously satisfying experience getting customer’s feedback that he is vice versa satisfied and happy with a high quality, error-free delivery. I tell you, it is really great to enjoy your own appreciated product.


Certainly, a customer needs provide an explicit confirmation of proper delivery which by design requires some kind of  cross-check on his side. But this is not what I am talking about. Ideally he should not find anything. At least no careless mistakes or faulty deliveries which typically would have been identified and rejected by a proper pre-delivery QC.

Change of scenery again. I recently worked with an agency where I typically had to check every delivery several times. In my view, I was doing their work. And we are talking about mistakes which were obvious and would have been solved by a simple pre-delivery cross-check at the agency before reaching my desk. And I found myself asking, why I am doing a part of the job I am actually paying for? I clearly expect (just in case any current of future collaborating agency might read this) a reliable, rock solid product which is finally QCed already before landing in my inbox. This agency was simply annoying me.

Would this be the basis of a long fruitful collaboration?

I do not really think so.


Altogether, delivering properly QCed products might be better for business than being “over-lean”. Do not play Microsoft until you are in the same monopoly position.

Satisfy by quality … and enjoy satisfaction and success!

What are Trappers famous for?

zur deutschen VersionYou might have asked yourself already, why I selected “TrapperPhD” as my online nickname?

The story behind TrapperPhD …

To make a long story short … during my university time my nickname was “Trapper” (honestly spoken, one out of a couple). And after finishing my doctorate, “Trapper PhD” was a logical consecutive consequence … but also a tribute to “Trapper John, M.D.”, a famous TV series in the 80s of the last century (when I grew up, “those times long ago”).

Last not least, I like this name because I like the qualities, trappers stand for.

What trappers are famous for …

  • they are successfully using and sharing knowledge of at least two worlds
  • they make the best of slender resources and possibilities
  • they are pragmatic and often need to flexibly adapt to changing conditions
  • they are real businessmen (entrepreneurs) not just managers
  • they start well-founded changes only
  • they are lean for good reasons
  • they are results-driven
  • they do not give up, but also know when to stop … for them vitality management is essential
  • they are palmy in operating independent as well as part of a team
  • they love nature (OK, they have no choice, but take it as a romantic presumption)
  • they can make fire without an iPone app
  • they can communicate without a Blackberry
  • they make it to stay in touch with friends over great distances … without Facebook
  • they depend on optimism
  • and … for them, results are more important than good looking

Be a Fish!

A couple of days ago, I had lunch with a colleague, and we once again reflected on the question why big companies work internally like they just do. That one might get the impression of a stone field, where the stones are obvious to everybody … but are not moved away by anybody.

But perhaps this is basically the wrong attitude.

Later the picture of a fish leaped into my mind. A fish who moves through wild and troubled whitewater. People like us would probably say: well, let’s take out the stones first. This will calm the water and make our way easier. But the fish … gets ahead without difficulties and without our strategic approach. And finally reaches his goal even against the stream. On top of that, he most likely reaches the goal more efficiently and faster as if he would have waited for the calming of the river.

He just swims.

He does not moan about the troubled water and that this was caused by the last reorganization. He is not annoyed at the “not well elaborated structure” of the river. He does not stop in front of each stone philosophizing if this particular rock is at its right place or how this could be changed.

He just swims … around the stone, passing underneath, passing over, or perhaps sometimes vaulting it. But always with a smile. And finally reaching his goal.

I also resolved to be more like a fish in the future. Not to wait for big changes and ideal conditions. Not to be annoyed at wrong corporate structures and management decisions. But just to lead the way every single day, by using existing possibilities and opportunities, to bring things forward. Not to moan about the drawbacks of actual conditions, but to use their odds. Not to wait for the big changes and improvements, but to take the small steps. And to never lose sight of the virtual goal. Because the stones are neither the goal nor the mission …

Addendum: One saying should not be missed in that context: “Only dead fish swim with the stream!” Well, in fact this is not completely true. Fish always swim to where the food is. And they actually do not really mind if they have to swim with or against the stream to reach it. But this should now be enough of animal allegories … 😉

Better chat without chat

From time to time, the team I proudly belong to does some customer surveys to optimize our inhouse services. One request we consistently get is the need for a live online chat as extension of our customer support portfolio.

This is an understandable wish, as the advantages of live support and communication by live chat are evident.

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Time for a testimony. Dear reader, I apologize if you are one of the sufferers and ask to kindly not take it personally, but to very honest … I usually switch the preinstalled text chat tools off. Why? Because they are just unefficient and get on my nerves. When it rains, but it pours. And on top of that this tiny little text chat window pops up with messages like “just to say hello” or “what are you doing?”

There is one more fancy attitude of text chatters. “May I call you?” … …. …. Come on!!! Maybe I am utterly daft, but …

  • If you want to call me, why don’t you just do it?
  • If you are afraid for possibly disturbing me, why do you let an annoying chat box pop up on my screen?
  • Isn’t this like asking “may I disturb you” while you have done it alreay by speaking it out?

To me a text chat window appears much more offensive than a phone call would ever do. I like people, and hearing someones voice is much less annoying than dry text messages on the screen. (at least for most voices) And I am always free to not pick up the phone in case it does not suit me … with a chat tool I do not really have this choice as the tool always shows that I am there. This suggests that I am available, and puts some mean subliminal pressure on me not to decline. So, in case you would like to call me. Just do it, please! I will either answer the phone, or call back ASAP.

Yes, I am live available already at any time … by phone. Aaaahh… phone! Dear generation-Y-timers, this old-fashioned voice-thing, you remember? I can be reached by phone as easy as by text chat. But no one ever would call me during working time and asking “what are you doing at the moment?” OK, perhaps my boss could legitimately. But even he does not, because he knows that wasting my time is neither in mine nor in his interest.

With phones people chat live since ages just by simply talking to each other. Well, let’s have a look at the core features of phone communication …

  • Individual – you have live communication with a human being, not with an anonymous system
  • Realtime – you get a quick answer at the time you have the issue
  • Guidance – more complex issues can be solved step-by-step
  • Communication best practice – this is real life knowledge sharing at its best

Weird … somehow having a déjà-vu feeling …

Heavily looks like that phone does already what chat claims to provide. So, is chat a redundant functionality? To my opinion it is even worse. Chat does not offer a dispensible functionality only, it offers even less functionality as phone at lower efficiency resulting in lower productivity.

Only about 60% of chat requests I myself get at work do have a work-related objective and result in a solved task, compared to 95% finally productive phone calls. And the average attentiveness a text chat conversation needs for me is estimated in the range of 12-15 minutes, compared to average 5-6 minutes for a support phone call regarding a similar issue. I found some posts in German newsgroups on real life experienced duration of (business-service) chats and phone calls. They confirmed a strong tendency for text chats to take longer (at least doubled on average). This loss of time is inevitable as typing a text certainly takes longer than saying it. Plus the time it takes for submitting and displaying the message on the other side. More than that, our human brain is able to digest and work with a message while we hear it already. With chat you have to wait for the message to be finished, then it is transmitted, and then you start to read (and think). Phone is true interactive discussion. Text chat is playing Ping-Pong.

But with phone you cannot do such fancy and auxiliary things like file and desktop sharing, I can already hear you say. Sure you can do those things with phone communication! Even better! As both hands are free for working with files and desktop (esp. when you are working with loudspeaker or a headset). Very similar to working with Skype1 e.g. (see below). And by the way, yes, you can do “conference calls” with a phone.

Let’s directly compare live text chat with live phone …

Text Chat Voice Phone
Functions text chat, live communication, short-term, individual guidance voice2voice, live communication, short-term, individual guidance
Auxiliaries conference (tool dependent), file sharing (tool dependent), desktop sharing (tools dependent) conference, file sharing (with add. tool), desktop sharing (with add. tool)
Productively works on …
  • Blackberry,
  • smartphone with QWERTZ
  •  iPad/iPhone with Bluetooth QWERTZ
  • PC, Apple, …
  • Laptop, Netbook
  • Blackberry
  • smartphone
  • iPad/iPhone
  • PC, Apple, …
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • Laptop, Netbook
    (with Sykpe e.g.)
  • mobile phone
  • landline phone
Connection via …
  • cable network
  • wireless network
  • landline phone
  • cell phone
  • cable network
  • wireless network
Communication efficiency
(range = 1* (snailmail) to 6* (interactive talk))
  • 3*
  • easy
  • limited to text input
  • Ping-Pong-communication
  • 5*
  • easy and efficient
  • true interactive real-time communication
  • closest to personal talk
Productivity factor
(range = 1* to 6*, values based on individual, non-generalizable data)
  • 3*
  • 60% of sessions work-related
  • 10-15 minutes average session duration
  • 80% success rate
  • quick connect, time loss by typing input and waiting lags, constricted input via keyboard/mouse/QWERTZ
  • 5*
  • 95% of sessions work-related
  • 5-6 minutes average session duration
  • 95% success rate
  • quick connect, interactive support, need for an additional tool for file/desktop share
 (based on the Swiss industry average personnel costs per hour = € 37.05 (2009 data 1))

calculatory productivity factor = x / %-work-related / %-success-rate

  • € 7.70 per support chat (~5 support chats possible per hour)
  • € 16.00 per support chat incl. productivity factor
  • plus internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for applications or application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present
  • € 3.40 per support phone call (~11 support calls possible per hour)
  • € 3.80 per support phone call incl. productivity factor
  • plus phone and/or internet connection fees depending on device used and individual contracts
  • plus optional license costs for auxiliary applications or auxiliary application services
  • no setup/device costs as device generally present

Too much biased to your taste? Well, sorry, the facts just speak for themselves. As a logical consequence of these facts I clearly need to stick to the phone.

But there is an auspicious eye. As I am strong advocate of multi-channel strategies, I have no issue with redundancy. Each of us should use the channel he personally prefers, even if it might be text chat and even if it might be less efficient. But also be still open for the channels other prefer!

So, even I will start to occasionally switch my chat tools on for internal customer support. Because I want to be were our customers are. This is no inconsequence, this is customer-oriented behaviour and tool-independent knowledge culture. But I will feel free to also share the knowledge how people on the other hand can reach me best.

So, I tell clients asking for a live chat support: “No matter! … I have a live chat tool in place already where you can always instantly reach me!
I call it phone.”

Do you also favour phone over text chat?
Or quite the contrary?
If you really prefer text chat, tell me why and try to convince me!

1 Comment: Skype is another story. In this post’s context it simplified fits to the phone category. But unfortunately in some companies blocked for dubious security reasons.