Christmas stress

So, Denmark is defacto closed down again due to Covid-19.

Quelle surprise.

And just in time for the Christmas holidays?!

Or maybe not given that obviously a lot of people were caught off guard yesterday evening when scrambling to malls to get the last presents before same malls with only a few hours notice closed until early in the new year.

That will be a potential infection bomb, but I digress.

Over the last few weeks, I have had the discussion with many about how to get the Christmas presents under the tree this year.

Black Friday showed us that ecommerce was not the safe bet due to delivery issues, so I told people to head to the stores and get what they needed in good time.

Also in relation to potential new Covid-19 restrictions: Get it organized while you can.

I hate it when I am right about something like this, but what can you do?

At the end of the day nothing beats a Christmas present you actually have in your hands and can check off your list as one less stressful thing to worry about versus something that are more or less lost in the mail.

Now we’re in a Catch 22 of sorts:

Ecommerce has had – and still has, I suppose – quite huge issues with logistics, and there are very little big stores to get anything from in a physical sense.

I feel for you.

What to do? Dunno. But it’s time to get creative.

And while your busy figuring your Plan H (or whatever letter in the alphabet you have reached about now) out in order to be ready for the joyous night, ponder the fact that for all the digitalization we cherish and bet our farms on, it still comes down to physical factors;

Being able to actually get the things you want. In your hands.

It’s very old school, I know, but at the end it’s what matters. No matter the fancy tech.

Nothing is stronger than the weakest link.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Qualify for WFH

There are a lot of fallouts from Covid-19, once we have the vaccine(s) and things start heading back towards some kind of normal (whatever degree of pre-pandemic behaviour that might turn out to be).

One of the ones I am most curious about is the Working-From-Home (WFH) phenomenon. How much of that will stick, and how will it pan out, once it’s not a 100% necessity anymore?

WFH policies after the pandemic will be made difficult by two things: A plethora of ways people have administered it during the pandemic, and employers inability to dictate what employees in reality do when they’re out of sight.

It is going to be a ton of ‘fun’, and I don’t think it will be possible to go back to the old ‘command-style’ model of employment in the past, where employers could just belch out orders and employees would comply – few questions asked (but unlimited eyes rolling behind the managers back).

Personally, I have never been a big fan of top-down orders. But on the other hand I don’t think we’re suited to too much independence, if we are to achieve great things as teams, companies and society as such. So what to do?

Deutsche Bank has circulated an idea to tax WFH due to the associated decrease in costs by not using commuting services, lunch on the go etc.

I think the idea is stupid and not the way forward. Frankly, it’s the kind of idea that a bank would come up with.

What we might be looking at instead is qualifying people for WFH privileges.

Instead of just sending people home and letting them decide for themselves, we might need to make sure they have the skills and the mindset to make it on their own, before we let them. Have them spend some time in the office, delivering on their tasks, cooperating with the team etc before moving to a more flexible schedule.

The concept is not new. It’s basically the cornerstone of bringing up children. As a parent, you don’t let your kid go to school on her own, before you’re absolutely sure she can handle herself in the bustling traffic.

It’s not only about trust. It is also about having routines and the experience to ensure that you can still perform, no matter where your team is located.

I fully realize that there are a lot of companies that already operate remotely, and are very good at doing that. My point is just that there is a difference between being born this way and having to learn and adapt to it.

Most fall into the latter category (no, your company is not Automattic), and it is those it will be interesting to follow, as Covid-19 transforms back into a ‘new’ normal.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Customer loyalty during a crisis

A lot of people say that there is never a time as good to start a new venture as in a time of crisis.

Maybe it’s true. I don’t know. But lets assume it is. What are the things that makes it different and perhaps even better?

Normally, most would suggest that the reason it is a good time to start is that you can put pressure on the ressources you need to get going; vendors are hungry for cast and talent may not have the opportunities and bargaining power they had before.

I am not sure that goes for the tech sector, though.

But what I do find interesting is when it comes to customers and customer relationships. Maybe that’s where the real differentiator is?

When I look at my own personal spending patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have largely gone one way: Down. I have cut out a lot of the day-to-day personal operating expenses – the little guilty pleasures – that I have been used to. Simply because I haven’t been able to venture out in the same way.

Now that my spending has been cut back, I am using the opportunity to assess my future spending with bigger scrutiny. I think more about what I spend the money on, and I think more about making sure that I get the value I pay for. And that I relentlessly cut out excess spending.

Case in point: I have become a cable cutter. Goodbye flow TV and big packages. Hello, select streaming services. Net effect? Minus 50 percent in cost. Per month.

I am not assuming that I am the only one who have experienced this. And let me add more to it:

It’s not that I think I am worse off than before. I think what I have now suits my needs better and more precise, and all the stuff I have cut out were things, I could easily live without.

Let’s go back towards the point about a time of crisis being a great time to start a new venture:

Perhaps it is not so much about the short term propensity towards trying to squeeze your suppliers, partners and employees.

Perhaps it is more about making damn sure that you deliver real value to your customers based on what they define as real value – not you.

Maybe it is about making sure that every single time one of your customers contemplate whether they can live without what you’re delivering, they will quickly move on to the next item on their list, because what you’re doing is an evident ‘keeper’.

If you get that out of starting a new venture during a time of crisis, I think you might just have something that will not only be able to make it through the crisis but actually thrive during and afterwards.

You’re welcome.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The WFH problem

The other day at work we were discussing a whole range of potential themes to dig more into, as the fall approaches, and we’re taking on exploring new, interesting ideas.

One of the themes, we of course quickly came to discuss is “Work From Home” (WFH) as a general trend. I don’t think I need to explain why:

WFH has become a necessity due to Covid-19, and we’re already seeing how different sectors are catching on. As an example real estate agents in Denmark has already started touting the availability of “the home office” as a cool feature of listed properties.

So a lot of things are being done, and people are looking for business opportunities in this New Normal. As they should.

However, I can’t escape the feeling that we have got this the wrong way – at least from a stand point of maintaining our ability to be innovative and creative about things (something fx the Danes have always prided themselves in).

What do I mean?

An awful lot of ‘success stories’ on WFH that I hear have to do with jobs, where you can tick boxes, i.e. task or to do-lists. People find it a breeze to be able to sit at home with little or no distractions and just get stuff done.

I get it.

But what we don’t hear so much about are the proactive, creative processes. Those that are necessary for innovation and creativity to happen and for those task lists to be generated in the first place.

Why?

Because they are infinitely harder to do remote. They crave for people coming together and finding new ways of doing things; of being in the moment, be open and just make a collective go at it.

“But there are a lot of people doing workshops remotely and being quite efficient about it”, you might argue.

Perhaps.

But still: Every article I see about how to fx do brainstorms remotely are ultimately guides into turning the creative process into a…manageable to do-list. And then we’re right back where we started.

I understand a lot of people will say and feel they have good experiences being efficient about creative processes and put real innovation on a formula. I just beg to differ.

I think it’s next to impossible for 99 out of 100 people to remotely ‘plan’ for creative breakthroughs that ultimately end up unlocking entirely new and valuable revenue streams.

I think it takes getting together, deploying all your human senses, be in the moment, let your mind wander, pick up on the little signals in the room etc.

Anyway, that’s just me and how I feel.

But what I am certain off is that we are looking at WFH through the wrong lens; that we’re (again) confusing short term results for long term sustainability.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Launching “A Helping Hand?”

Today, inQvation and a bunch of other leading Danish VC’s are launching the initiative “A Helping Hand” aimed at helping the Danish startup ecosystem through the consequences of Covid-19.

The idea is as simple as its brilliant: Apply and receive 30 minutes of free advice from industry VC experts on how you make sure that your startups make it through this unprecedented crisis.

The initiative reflects in a super positive way on how we think and work at inQvation. Whenever we engage with a startup we do it not only with capital capital but also with human capital;

Expertise and a helping hand in trying to help the entrepreneurs, we work with, become as successful as (in)humanly possible.

Or as we put it:

We. Help. Entrepreneurs. Succeed.

No matter, who you are, what stage you’re at, what industry you’re in and what your Covid-19 related challenges are, apply today for free advice from people who have seen and experienced more than most – and are there to help.

It’s an offer too good to pass on.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

WFH? Not so fast

A movement is forming around the future of work; saying goodbye to the office in return for unrestricted flexibility to work from wherever whenever and however you might choose. It’s the future, damn it!

First of all, I will always be very reluctant to base any long term strategy on a short term experience of what happens, when you make the switch. Add to that that the switch was forced due to Covid-19 and add all the stress elements of anxiety, having to keep kids at home while trying to work etc, and to me it is just a big NO GO!

It’s just a poor way of using data. Almost fraudulent. Especially if you have the well-being of the people, you’re trying to determine the future of work for at heart.

Second, I strongly believe in working together – also in a physical sense. A lot of the work I do and do with others is centered around creativity, open discussions, listening to arguments and finding the best course of action going forward. I find it super hard to replicate sitting at my kitchen table versus being present in the office with the others on our team. But that’s just me.

What is not just me is the thing about workplace culture.

Let’s for a second forget that going completely WFH effectively eliminate all discussion about work-life-balance, because we take away the one thing that keeps things kind of separate for us – the commute. That’s a problem in itself.

No, the real problem is how we create a great company culture, if we’re never together? Culture is not something that happens at bi-weekly all hands meetings or the annual company picnic. It happens every day in your interactions – little and big – with your colleagues around why it is you come to work every day:

You need to see your great colleagues, your need to figure out great solutions together, your need to know and really FEEL that you’re together in creating whatever it is that your company is working to create – the big “why?”

Even though a lot of leaders talk about the importance of having a great company culture, a lot of companies still ultimately rely on people figuring the culture part out themselves and keeping it alive at the water cooler, the small chit chats and whatever else you have, where you can meet informally and bond.

That is super, super hard to do remote. It least if you care about having a team where the “why?” matters.

And that brings me to the final point:

There are lots of roles, where it makes sense to go predominantly WFH; some very well-defined roles, where you essentially have a tasklist, you can work yourself through on a daily basis, be done and call it a day knowing that somehow your contribution fits into the corporate hamsterwheel of things.

But by and large – for ordinary jobs in ordinary companies (and be honest, those are the 99,9 % of all companies) – the “why?” goes out the window during this process.

You can give people all the flexibility in the world that you want. But once everybody starts doing that, it seizes to be an advantage.

And you will be stuck with the downsides;

It will be as easy for your employees to leave as it was to onboard them. Because nothing is going to be holding them back:

They don’t have a real relationship with your company. They don’t really know the people they work with. They (probably) have an even more crap manager than in the office, because managing remote is even harder than in the physical space). And they are distanced from the mission, the “why?”

What’s not to leave behind for greener pastures?

A WFH defacto for work going forward will do nothing else than (1) make it harder for the vast majority of mediocre companies to make great things happen and (2) make it near impossible to keep the people that go the extra mile to see the vision come true as a true team effort while (3) all along giving the false sense of relief that everything is flexible, fine and dandy.

Choose WFH at your own peril.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Cakes, taxes and value

I come from a small town in the Western part of Jutland and aside from red sausages (don’t ask) I was brought up on really good, traditional bakers bread (and it showed).

For the same reason, I have always found Lagkagehuset to be almost a profanity.

I mean: How can someone set up a chain of bakeries in the greater Copenhagen area (and later beyond) offering pretty poor bread at absolut premium prices – and be successful at it?

Lagkagehuset have since been sold to VC funds, moved to a tax haven and are now in the papers for reaching out to get financial aid from the Covid-19 help packages, even though they make their best efforts to not pay tax in Denmark.

As a result people are starting to revolt; not wanting to keep supporting a company who privatizes profit but socializes loses.

Ok.

But shouldn’t you have revolted in the first place due to substandard experiences from over priced products?

I mean: Evading taxes should not have been the real killer in the first place (and quite honestly, I don’t think it will be once the current controversy has died).

Lack of connection between value proposition, quality and price however should.

Lagkagehuset offers a opportunity to study what it really means to have a value proposition and fulfilling a job for the customer. What may be on the face value is not necessarily the real driver.

Obviously, the bread and the prices didn’t matter to customers. If they did, Lagkagehuset would never have become such a success. Maybe behaving responsible does matter? It makes for a funny business and Business Model Canvas, I’ll grant you that.

But maybe it will give some added perspective and perhaps even some pause to how we think about what really drives behaviour and what a great value proposition actually is. It’s clearly not what’s stated in the public Powerpoint deck or on that fancy poster in the shop.

It is both harder, more complex and more irrational than that. Understanding them takes real work.

NB: The cakes on the picture bears no resemblance to those served by Lagkagehuset.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)