Tag Archives: Email

Coronavirus to Karunavirus

Feeling like the “wrong kind of doctor” (I have a doctorate in organization change), I initially felt helplessly inadequate in my response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Thinking of all the family, friends, and colleagues I knew who were fighting in the front lines of medicine, I questioned my career choice.  With the exponential increase in COVID-19 patients across the globe, what was I doing with my life?  

Instead of consulting, teaching, and writing, shouldn’t I have been practicing?  Thinking of the brave souls who practiced medicine, I wondered about my contribution.  To be sure, for big chunks of my career I had used my biomedical engineering background and my doctoral studies to guide leaders in healthcare, but when I asked myself what would Mother Teresa be doing, I recalled my meeting the saint a month before her death.  A life lesson emerged from that experience:  “We can lead best by serving the needs of our community and by following the lead of those we serve.”

So my heart turned to those I knew in healthcare – at Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, UW Health, UCSF, SF General, and Stanford Health Care – and I found my own way of serving them:  with compassionate and supportive listening.  I recalled a review I had written a decade ago about Dr. Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for StoneThat India Currents review, titled “Hippocrates Made Human,” centered on the following question from this empathetic novel:  “Tell us, please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”

I realized that by being in dialogue with my family, friends, and colleagues, by sharing my words and listening to theirs, I could support those who were fighting the good war.  Finding my voice on email one early morning, I checked in with all those I knew who were fighting the good fight for my own family. Later that week, my wife (Mangla) and I looked beyond our own circle of healthcare providers and sent varying versions of the following email to friends whose children were at the front line:

Hello Friends

We’ve been thinking about you all and praying that all are keeping well.  

Here’s a note that we’ve sent to the many clinicians who take care of our family 

“Thank you for the outstanding care you always provide to our family.  During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’d like to also thank you for heroically being of service to all of your patients.  Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

We know that each of you has at least one family member or friend who has been similarly heroic.  Of course, we are all so blessed (or at least we hope each of us is) to be taken care of by doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and the countless others (public health experts, researchers, biomedical engineers, administrators, supply chain clerks, et al) who serve behind the scenes.  A heartfelt thank you to all!

Friendship is truly a lovely word.  And words are keepsakes, keeping us close in good times and distressing ones.

And here is a word from Sanskrit that is always much needed:  karuna.  Given that we can all use more compassion in our lives, you might find of interest this website highlighting compassionate acts: karunavirus.org.

In Friendship … Mangla and Raj

Some responses came immediately as if from next-door kin:  “Thanks for sending this note, Papaji! Yes, [we] are staying healthy.  I’m trying to see the positives. [When we] go on our daily walks, I can’t help but be reminded that Spring is happening all around us. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the birds are chirping louder every day, my indoor seedlings are just about ready to be planted outside, and the air is cleaner.”

Some emails read as if they were Western Union telegrams – surgical sentences and grammatical errors suggesting distracted medical battlefield urgency:

  • “Thank you so much my friend … desperately needs this as it has been certainly overwhelming for all of us.”
  • “Will catch up soon … knee deep into COVID-19 as I and in our command center this and next week.”
  •  “So thoughtful of you to reach out … much appreciated … more careful response to follow.”
  • “Doing fellowship in Infectious disease at Stanford … warning … worst is yet to come … brace yourself.”
  • “Thank you … I hope you and the family stay safe.”
  • “In the front line now treating patients and attending on them … but praying and hoping for the best … work has doubled.”
  • “Thank you for this thoughtful note … I’m doing well (on nights right now, delivering babies) and have been in good health.”
  • “Coronavirus is causing a lot of stress for us … Stay safe and wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.”
  • “Thanks … that’s very nice of you to say.”
  • “Sorry for not responding sooner … keep waiting for a moment I can put some thought into my response … silly me.”
  • “Thank you very much for the thoughts, the support, and your friendship … hope you and your family continue to all be healthy … hope isolation doesn’t keep you from the grand baby!”
  • “Until calmer days…”

And then there were the responses from Dr. Megha and Dr. Pooja.  In these letters from two sisters whom my wife and I had known since they were little girls in frocks, I could hear the distant thunder of war against an invisible enemy:

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for your very kind words and touching email, and for thinking of us during these uncertain times. This has truly been a humbling experience thus far and I can only pray that this is soon behind us with minimal loss….

Best wishes,

Megha

*******

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. 

That passage was really beautiful.

It made me feel hopeful about the future.

I am working in the ICU for a month and am grateful for the opportunity to learn from this pandemic and care for patients.

I am especially inspired by nurses and respiratory therapists, as they have the most contact with patients. 

Their bravery, compassion, and selflessness inspire me every day.

Wishing you and your family all the best now and always!

Pooja

*******

Gentle reader, even if you are not a doctor or planning a career in the caring profession, as a consumer of medicine you may be wondering about that question from Cutting for Stone:  “Tell us, please, what treatment, in an emergency, is administered by ear?”  Perhaps we can all embrace this universal response — “words of comfort.”

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world, has written this for all of those in healthcare, including his nephew, Avinash, the first MD in the Oza Family.

India Currents #GivingTuesday Fundraiser

India Currents readership keeps increasing but advertising revenues are falling fast. Unlike many news organizations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Our independent, community journalism takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our collective voice matters.

If you read our reporting and like it, please consider making a contribution. Take a minute this #givingtuesday to dontate via PayPal , credit card, or email. If your company would like to match your donation or to document your donation for tax purposes, use our 501(c) (3) Tax ID #83-3257703.

______

Rethinking Email in the Workplace

By Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever

One of the signature trends of technology in the Internet age has been the reversal of technology adoption flows.

In the past, the copy machine, the fax, the mobile phone (before smartphones), and the personal computer all started as work tools and then moved into the consumer realm. With the Internet, and with smartphones, that trend reversed. Unexpectedly, consumer tools such as chat, e-mail, and social networks were brought into the workplace — not by IT managers, but by employees looking to increase their productivity. This path had been greased by the demands of workers that they be able to use their own smartphones (and, to a lesser degree, laptops and tablets) to conduct work business such as making phone calls and sending e-mails.

So the slot machine in our pockets was tossed into the workplace, with unsurprising results. Our work tools began to more closely resemble our consumer products. Chat tool Slack uses numerous techniques that encourage workers to pay attention to it as much as possible and consume as much as possible. The company’s tagline, after all, is “Where Work Happens.” Translation? Don’t leave Slack; you will miss something and fail at your job. Urging us to turn on desktop notifications, e-mail notifications when someone mentions our name, and shortcuts that allow us to post GIFs in the chat channel, the product designers of Slack have clearly read Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked.

Slack is one of many services engaging businesses and work teams using approaches similar to those of consumer product designers. In fact, most providers of work technologies, from human resources systems to document-sharing systems to systems managing customer relationships, now emphasize some sort of interruptive notifications system to alert us to a new message or some other event. The result is a blizzard of notifications and intense pressure to keep many of those notification systems on because ignoring a notification is likely to mean ignoring something that somebody considers important.

This new reality of notification insanity obstructs our concentration not only as individuals but also when we are together — in the flesh, or in a virtual conference. In a study of 1,200 office employees in 2015, videoconferencing company Highfive found that, on average, 4.73 messages, texts, or e-mails are sent by each person during a normal in-person meeting. Seventy-three percent of millennial respondents acknowledged checking their phones during conference calls, and 45 percent acknowledged checking them during in-person meetings. Ironically, 47 percent of respondents’ biggest problem with meetings was that co-workers were not paying attention.

The Silent Start and Other Ways to Rethink Work

Slowing down interruptions and encouraging more deep work is exceptionally difficult when a multitask ethos is ingrained. To combat multitasking during meetings and try to keep meetings meaningful, Amazon mandates that attendees spend the first part of a meeting reading a printed agenda and additional information that sets the table for the meeting. CEO Jeff Bezos calls it “the silent start.” This is very good meeting hygiene and, according to Bezos, a wonderful way to spark innovation and interesting ideas.

It is really up to organizational leaders, such as Bezos, to give workers and their organizations the safe space in which to be creative and productive and fulfill their potential. We advocate that every company create a cohesive productivity policy. Some companies already are performing in-depth reviews on employee productivity and practices, meeting structures, meeting attendance, how quickly e-mails are answered, how documents are shared — all the minutiae that make up the bulk of our working day and can easily create employment hell.

The policy — or we can call it a performance enhancement plan (PEP) if you need an HR-friendly buzzword — could signify both management’s willingness to allow employees to design their work experiences and the willingness of employees to take ownership for the creation of a healthy environment that promotes productivity, balance, flow, and, as a consequence, work satisfaction.

For example, what if your company had a policy to actively discourage employees from checking and responding to e-mails every five minutes, and instead set up the e-mail servers to batch-receive e-mail messages on the hour or the half-hour? (This is entirely possible and almost trivial to implement.) What if companies had a warning system baked into calendars to alert employees that they are allocating more than 20 percent of their time to meetings, and highlighting transmission and reception of messages on weekends or e-mail threads that extend beyond five round trips? What if the system alerted users who overuse “reply all” in environments that don’t generally need it?

We could, in principle, build a work-satisfaction index — a single number that rates an employee’s state of work fulfillment and a manager’s adherence to these kinds of policies. Using the same tools that increasingly track productivity and monitor what employees do, we could easily make visible the unhealthy practices that lead to so much work frustration and discontentment.

Some companies have ad hoc versions of systems that work by giving employees maximum freedom. Netflix, for example, tells employees to take as much vacation as they want to and as much family leave as they want to, and even to show up at the office when they want to; its only requirement is for employees to be top performers.

Best Buy for a while had a “meetings entirely optional policy” as part of its Results Oriented Work Program. That policy was discontinued in 2013, but many employees and managers felt that it worked extremely well by allowing people to design their work engagements and minimize imposition of time-wasting distractions. The core message of all this should be “Design the work environment you need, and we will back you up and let you deliver. Just be sure to deliver.”

Building such a culture of freedom takes a particularly strong stomach, for CEOs, managers, and employees. It necessitates that all of us take personal responsibility to banish FOMO, to avoid interruptions, and to silence our inner technology demons. So far, we collectively have remained unsure whether such drastic approaches could work over the long haul, because the broader pressures to be always “on” amid job uncertainty are so great.

As employees, we should always ask what the realistic expectations are for our roles and the culture of the company. If that culture goes against our notion of designed freedom of choice and flow, then we should vote with our feet and find work somewhere else. As leaders, executives must begin paying more than lip service to notions of holistic approaches to employee and organizational health.

For the most part, in a white-collar environment, productivity, engagement, and workplace satisfaction are closely related. Productivity is a measure of the output achieved per hour of input. Note that this is a ratio of one to the other, not an absolute. Numerous studies have shown that beyond a certain point, working excessive hours yields rapidly diminishing returns. True, that balance may shift, for instance when we are under looming project deadlines. But, as when we’ve crammed for exams at university, we need a break afterward: time to recharge our energy and our well-being. This too must be baked into the work environment.


Vivek Wadhwa is Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley and Harvard Law School. This post is partly derived from his book The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.

Dealing with Rejection from your Top College Choice

You’ve opened the letter, read the email, visited the portal. The response is not what you were hoping for. You’re disappointed, and this is a very fair reaction.

Applying for colleges is a long and hard process, one that takes up a lot of your time both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, a lot students feel that not getting in to the top college of their choice is embarrassing or a reflection on them as a person. We want to make sure you know right away:

That is not the case.

The number of students applying to colleges is skyrocketing. UCLA had a 5.7% increase in freshman fall 2018 applications this year, and those numbers are similar across many college admissions departments. Colleges have a very tough job selecting students to join to their campus, and the hard truth is that they will have to send rejection letters to thousands of very deserving students.

Do you know what the great news is?

You will get into plenty of other schools. You probably already have! You will get to open acceptance letters to some other truly great colleges and decide which of those is the best fit for you. It is important to remember that you still have some big decisions to make, and that come time to start at your new college, you will still feel just as excited stepping foot on to the campus you get to call home for the next little while.

For now, take some time to feel disappointed. Dealing with rejection is an important part of life as we grow up, and it is natural to feel sad when things don’t go the way you wanted. Give yourself a few days to feel those emotions, but make sure to talk it out with someone you trust (parents, siblings, friends or your guidance counselor are all great options).

Most importantly, don’t dwell.

After a few days, it is important that you get back on track. You will be getting acceptance news, and when you do you will need to decide how you want to make your acceptance decisions. This will be a wonderful time and one that you have earned with all your hard work, so enjoy it and treasure the moment!