Apps & Humans Building Trust People Skills Time Awareness

Apps & Humans #2: Descendants of the Apps

In Apps & Humans #1, we talked about human personality traits that we can assign to applications.

This time we go in the opposite direction, identifying features specific to applications that we can reverse engineer and transform into desirable human behaviors.

What do we want from an app?

Using apps for so many years, we’ve developed certain preferences and expectations about them.

Typically, we want an app to:

  • Have a user interface that is intuitive, easy to work with, uncluttered by things we don’t use.
  • Be performant, allowing us to get the results quickly, with the minimum amount of effort from us.
  • Be compatible with other contemporary tools and technologies.

The user interface: interaction patterns

In human terms, our “user interface” is about how we present ourselves and how we interact with others.

It starts with how we greet each other: from a simple “hi”, we can perceive a message, which can be anything from “I’m happy to see you” to “I’m in a bad mood, leave me alone”.

When a problem arises and people need our help, do we simplify life for them, or do we complicate it?

In the workplace, we have many interactions and we depend on each other.

Confusius Media Player
A slightly confusing, non-standard user interface.

If our “user interface” seems too complicated or unpredictable, people will tend to avoid us when they can and won’t be so cooperative when we need their help.

We can choose to be “user friendly”.

The performance: reliability and productivity

Just as we want our applications to be fast and stable, others rely on us to respect our commitments and be mindful of their time.

We can focus on:

  • Negotiating realistic expectations related to what we can deliver.
  • Making the effort to deliver on time.
  • Notifying in advance those who are affected if we are unable to deliver what we agreed upon. This gives them some time to adapt and respond to the situation.
  • Being less of a bottleneck to others:
    • Responding to emails without too much delay, or at least sending a short reply with an estimation of when we can deliver a complete answer.
    • Sometimes we need to specifically ask if others are blocked waiting for our tasks to be finished. Human communication is never perfect and it’s useful to clarify this, especially for long running tasks.
    • Knowing when others are dependent on our tasks, we can adjust the priority (or discuss priorities with the appropriate people), so that the least time is spent waiting. It also helps to avoid deadlocks (two parties which are blocked waiting for one another to finish their tasks).
    • Keeping in mind that there may be additional tasks we need to take care of, like submitting timesheet information, participating in various surveys or training sessions within the company. These may sometimes seem less important, but they are part of our job too and some of our colleagues (e.g. from management or accounting) depend on us to deliver them on time.
  • Sharing valuable information that we already have to those who need it.
  • Preparing for meetings so that everyone’s time is used efficiently.
  • Doing our own research before asking for help, so that we don’t ask questions which we can easily answer ourselves.

The compatibility: adaptability and cooperation

Think about a game you enjoyed playing 10 years ago. If you would play it today you will probably still enjoy it, but you’ll realize how much things have changed, how some other games made better decisions in terms of user interaction, or simply how much the graphics capabilities have improved tremendously.

My point is, our knowledge may become outdated. I think we all need to allocate some time for learning, to keep up with changes in our fields of competence and to be open to other tools and technologies than the ones we are used to.

Another point is collaboration: we want apps to exchange files in various formats and be compatible with one another. In human terms, people are more likely to enjoy working with us if our collaboration style can accommodate theirs.

Conclusions and recommendations

Our go-to apps can simplify work for us by behaving in certain ways that we expect and appreciate.

By adopting some of these behaviors and pairing them with human qualities like humor or kindness, I believe we can make the workplace more enjoyable for everyone.

People Skills Time Awareness

Tick Talk. Preparing for meetings

The “Groundhog Day” experience

The online meeting starts with a blank screen, as usual. The presenter is late. Hopefully we’ll end this meeting fast, so that we can all go back to the actual work.

Excitement rises as we see the shared screen. The presenter is here, but why don’t we hear any sound?

“I cannot hear you, can you please check your microphone?”, says one of the attendees, as others rush over to the chat window to write the same thing.

“Hello? Does it work now?”, says the presenter’s voice.

“Yes, loud and… well, I can hear myself with an echo while I speak”, responds the attendee.

Variations to this scenario may include switching devices, replacing batteries, changing cables, rebooting, installing updates, sharing an older version of the document etc. All during the meeting.

Is this familiar?

I’m writing this because it matters. Whether we are the presenter or the audience, not optimizing the time we spend in meetings is damaging for all participants.

  • It is frustrating for the audience, which can interpret this as lack of preparation, lack of interest or even disrespect from the presenter.
  • As presenters, we can lose the participants’ engagement over work-related tasks that require their attention or their mobile phones. Note that attention span is in decline.
  • Switching back and forth between meetings and other activities requires even more time for all of us, let’s make better use of it.


GOOM - The Gods Of Online Meetings
Never angry the GOOM!

For presenters

As presenters, we can:

  • Send the meeting agenda and other instructions to all participants as soon as the documents are available.
  • Identify who are the people that actually need to join the meeting.
  • Make sure that the participants know who is essential and who is optional to the meeting.
  • Try to set a realistic duration for the meeting.
  • Reserve the meeting room in advance (if reservation is needed).
  • Arrive in the meeting room well before the meeting is scheduled and check for common hardware issues:
    • Battery status for all devices (computer, mouse, headset, remote for projector etc.)
    • Cables and connections
    • Internet access
    • Microphone
    • Camera
    • Projector (if needed)
  • Prior to the meeting, preload any documents that will be presented, to minimize staring at loading screens in large groups.
  • Be concise.

For attendees

As attendees, we can:

  • Go through the agenda as soon as it is available.
  • Research the subjects, if needed.
  • Prepare questions, if any.
  • Check who the participants are and suggest inviting others, if they are directly impacted or would have a better understanding of the topics.
  • Check if our own hardware and software are suitable for the meetings: eg. don’t install software updates or required browser plugins right when the meeting starts, do this in advance.
  • Make sure we join the meeting on time.
  • Ask our questions and be concise.

Conclusions and recommendations

Staring at loading screens during meetings
Staring at loading screens during meetings

Optimizing the time needed for meetings seems like another task on our list. If we want our meetings to be faster and less painful for everyone, it’s worth remembering that the time we invest in preparing is time saved for everyone else.