Study Shows Marissa Mayer’s No Telecommuting Policy Was Wrong All Along

Working from home increases productivity study says

Working from home increases productivity study says

In the finance industry, this question is not as relevant (yet), but startups who want to provide flexibility and good morale within their companies, often offer work from home days, or hire remote contractors.

A few years ago, you would be hard pressed to find jobs offering remote options, but now, a search on LinkedIn or Craigslist will reveal that more and more jobs are offering employees partial or fully remote jobs.

In 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer enacted a no work from home strategy because she concluded it is bad for work culture and efficiency. But according to Peter Cohan in a 2013 Forbes article, Mayer had it all wrong. Harvard Business Review agrees, as does US News, and the Oxford Journals.

In fact, two Harvard students in conjunction with Chinese firm Ctrip, ran a comprehensive 9-month experiment with employees who could work from home, and employees who couldn’t. The results of the experiment would be surprising to Mayer.

So what were the results of the experiment? First, the performance of the home-workers went up dramatically, increasing by 13% over the course of the nine months. This increase in output came mainly from a rise in the number of minutes they worked during each shift, which was due to a reduction in the number of breaks and sick days that they took. The home-workers were also more productive per minute, which employees told us (in detailed surveys) was due to the quieter working conditions at home.

Second, there was no change in the performance of the control group (and there were no negative effects seen from staying in the office). Third, the rate of staff turnover fell sharply for the home-workers, dropping by almost 50% compared to the control group. The home-workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and less “work exhaustion” in a psychological attitudes survey. 

With startups like WeWork sprouting off-site locations in the U.S. and beyond for working remotely, the work from home philosophy has gained more not less traction. Since Mayer first created a media storm with her policy, studies have suggested she was wrong.

And people working from home may be sharing a collective chuckle at her expense.



How Different Is U.S. Work Culture From Japan’s?

Though this semi-documentary is from 2009, I believe Japan’s work culture resembles this in 2015. Long hours, the betterment of the group are both things that Americans at work have also adopted. Luckily for us, work culture today in the U.S. is increasingly incorporating mindfulness and other methods of decompressing from a long day. In that way, the way the Japanese work and the way we are working today is very different.

What do you think?

Video source: OMF via Youtube

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London Seeks to Capitalize on Fertile Japanese Fintech Market

England Courts Japan

According to Accenture and Partnership Fund for New York City, the United States’ global investments in fintech ventures tripled from $4.05bn in 2013 to $12.21bn in 2014, and is on target continue its upward trajectory. Now, the trend is catching fire with our neighbors across the pond.

In the span of about five years, venture capital investment in London’s fintech sector has exploded. Expanding from approximately £24 million ($37 million) during the entirety of 2010 to a staggering £312 million ($474 million) through the first half of 2015 alone, it’s clear that the capital city represents one of the world’s cornerstones in finance technology. Now, London mayor Boris Johnson is seeking to engage in strategic partnerships in order to facilitate the expansion of some of the UK’s most promising fintech startups into Japan’s thriving economy.

Not surprisingly, Mayor Johnson prioritized financial technology during his recent trade visit to Japan—the Asian goliath has invested over $180 billion in 19 different UK startups over the last five years alone. As one example, the e-commerce company Rakuten recently engaged in an investment of some $18 million into Currency Cloud, a firm based in London developing API software to make end-to-end international payments more efficient.

More recently, major fintech players such as WorldRemit have started on their own expansion into Japan. WorldRemit allows low-fee money transfers between countries, a trade which represents a sizeable portion of the global $580 billion market for remittance services. They have also taken the approach of establishing local offices in Japan with a dedicated director in order to maximize what is seen as an extremely fruitful opportunity.

Adding to the rush for fintech expansion in Japan is the approach of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will be hosted at the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The demand to improve and evolve the country’s cashless payment infrastructure already exists but it has been accelerated by the massive demand which these sporting events are expected to create.

Both megabanks and the Japanese Financial Services Agency have begun discussions to advance finance technology while also relaxing legislation in order to meet challenges in a number of key areas including:

  • Personal finance (such as budget management and advisory services)
  • Lending and funding (including crowdfunding and other mass contribution platforms)
  • Payment transfers (specifically credit card and smartphone payments)
  • Overall improved focus on customer touchpoint and security tools

Japan’s financial market is both sizeable and unique, containing the second-largest volume of personal assets among all OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations. The country’s $16.2 trillion in total personal assets represents double that of third-place Britain ($7.5 trillion) and ranks behind only the United States ($65 trillion) worldwide.

The United Kingdom and London in particular are eager to gain a foothold in this burgeoning marketplace. While preparation for the 2020 games is in process, the fintech race is also well underway in Japan.

Photo source


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Even With Backlash, Open Office Layout Remains

Bletchley Park codebreakers use open office

Bletchley Park codebreakers use open office

A recent New York Times article suggested that the open office backlash may be a temporary setback, and actually does build a sense of community within the work culture after all. It’s just experiencing growing pains. This is in stark contrast to several articles a mere two years ago, including a Fast Company article, that called for an exorcism of the open office layout immediately.

The idea of changing the physical infrastructure of office space has been an ongoing discussion for decades, though one would be hard-pressed not to see an open office layout in most offices, even in the formerly formal financial sector. With the rise of the startup element in the tech part of fintech, many fintech companies are open office and are most likely staying that way.

There has been some cynicism and critics (with graphs and charts to back up their opposition) who have said that open office has been a way for greedy CEOs to save space, cramming as many worker bees as possible in each square area whilst claiming it is a collaborative bonding. But in many companies, even the CEOs are on the floor amongst their colleagues. What proponents to open culture, like Google, aimed to do with the creation of the wide open spaces, was to disrupt the white collar industries and white collar thinking. In theory, the intention was a good one, though the pushback has been severe.

As open-space offices have spread like wildfire through Silicon Valley (and Wall Street in some instances), complaints abound, and with studies to confirm the limitations of the layout.

The NYT article submits that the layout is a “first-generation” issue that will most likely ease in time because “[g]reater openness is here to stay given our flattening hierarchies, a profound and irreversible shift increasingly reinforced by the ever great flow of digital information across offices.”

Interestingly enough, contrary to the author’s article, opponents or proponents, open office culture is nothing new. Telephone operators, motor pool workers, and even WWII’s Bletchley Park codebreakers used the floor plan decades before first generation grievances started pouring in, and with much less complaining.

Bletchley Park


Has Mindfulness Become Too Popular In Corporate Culture?

How mindful is corporate mindfulness?

How mindful is corporate mindfulness?

According to reports, contemporary mindfulness began when biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn had an idea spawning from a meditation retreat in the late 1970s. This idea grew into a meditation-based program targeting stress and chronic pain at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was employed at the time. That program became the precursor to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week session that includes mindfulness techniques of breathing and walking meditation, drawn largely from traditional Buddhist teachings.

Mindful Work, by David Gelles, a business reporter for The New York Times, catalogues the uprising of a trend of big companies instituting employee wellbeing programs that promote mindfulness — or the act of doing and becoming nothing. In his interview with Atlantic, Gelles explains why so many corporations are jumping on the meditation bandwagon.

“[…] I think the secularization, the fact that it’s a purely scientific practice almost, has made it much more accessible to big corporations in particular.”

With its increasing popularity, one must ask: is it worth the hype? There is ample evidence that suggests that its techniques can provide significant mind and body benefits. Duke University School of Medicine’s research has shown that an hour of yoga a week reduces stress levels in employees enough to cut health-care costs by an average of $2,000 a year. The studies have proven so convincing, that healthcare insurer Aetna sells yoga and other mindfulness techniques as part of its health plans — proof that mindfulness has gone mainstream.

Experts have stated that one of the main reasons the need for mindfulness has come from over-connectivity. The constant sensory stimulation of electronic devices buzzing and pinging and ringing may be causing an overdose of information. Mindfulness provides a good excuse to unplug and disconnect from tech and connect to what’s really important.

Says Gelles, “[…] We are so addicted to our technology that the promise of a technique that allows us to come back to the present moment and stop obsessing about whatever it we just read in our Twitter stream or what we’re about to post on our Facebook page has a unique and enduring allure that is totally understandable.”

For a few years now, tech giants like Google, have been providing internal courses for employees called “search inside yourself” — a term that may have seemed over-the-top hippie less than a decade ago. EBay has meditation rooms, and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has introduced regular meditation sessions in his new venture, the Obvious Corporation, a startup incubator and investment vehicle. And the techniques are even on trend outside Silicon Valley; the mindfulness movement can now be found in every corner of the corporate world.

But the practice of mindfulness has mindlessly become big business. For an example, Lululemon, one of the largest retailers of yoga gear, that urges people to turn off their brains for 60 seconds by visualizing a dot, pulled in revenue upwards of $1.7bn in 2013.

The danger of the growing popularity of mindfulness in the corporate world is the competitiveness of the business culture. This dynamic may water down the benefits and taint the ideas behind the Eastern teachings. The fear is that the more Western capitalism employs the Eastern techniques of yoga and meditation, the less the latter has to do with the former.

Photo credit Beyond Career Success

Finance Becomes ‘Ohm’ With Meditation

Financial executive meditates in the morning

Financial executive meditates in the morning

In fintech, it’s meditation that is disrupting the status quo.

For the past 20 years, Peter Ng, the executive charged with investing tens of billions of dollars for Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund sits quietly. He does this by sitting and saying a word (or mantra) inside himself. The chief investment officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, does a total of 40-minutes of meditation a day, split in two 20-minute sessions.

Over the past ten years, meditation has spread from a niche practice into something akin to jogging or yoga.  And now, it has been incorporated into corporate life. Google and General Mills encourage the practice of mindfulness to help make employees more productive by offering it within their company walls.

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with $150bn of assets under management, is a stalwart defender of the activity. “Meditation, more than anything else, is responsible for whatever success I have had,” Dalio said. “When I meditate, I acquire an equanimity that allows me to see things from a higher-level perspective and that allows me to make sensible decisions.”

Backed by clinical trials on the neuroscience of the effects of meditation, the idea that meditation can help anyone find a greater sense of equanimity is well established. Next year, as part of its MBA program, Georgetown University will offer accredited course led by Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk who heads the World Community for Christian Meditation.

As a long-time proponent, practicer and instructor of daily mediation, Mr Freeman is also aware that its spiritual component can steer people away. “Meditation is an aspect of both a universal and very old Christian tradition that can be shared with anyone and understood in a secular way,” he says. “For some people, its distance from formal religion provides a comfort zone.”

Of course, there are skeptics: that high-powered Type A financiers could possibly set aside their egos while meditating, produces some scoffs from cynics. It’s true that some finance executives financiers still see the “New Age” activity as too bohemian. Lord Leitch, chairman of Bupa, the private health provider, and a former insurance executive, says meditation can be slightly polarizing. “Sometimes I get weird looks when I mention it in passing. Clearly it’s not for all. Still, I think we should be open to techniques that can help in life, and this is one of them.”

More importantly: how do these high stress jobs leave time for the daily practice?

For Sean Hagan, who began meditating 30 years ago while at JPMorgan, the answer is easy: it comes down to priorities. “[…] meditation helps you focus, which is a good skill, and it encourages a one-thing-at-a-time approach, which helps slow things down,” says Hagan, “Therefore, it’s really straightforward for me. It gives me a lot of benefits, so I prioritise it.”

Others, such as Philipp Hildebrand, vice-chairman of BlackRock and a former head of the Swiss National Bank, who has meditated for seven years has said about meditation, “It’s a pause that refreshes. In some ways in the financial world, it is a must.”

As irregular as it may seem, financial executives are looking to yoga, meditation and other mindful ways to ‘get clear’. In preparation for high intensity financial pressures, it may be precisely because of the potential for crises that more are turning to meditation.



Belfast Becoming a FinTech Destination

Belfast becomes fintech hub?

Belfast becomes fintech hub?

The emergence of fintech continues to reach all ends of the Earth. Extending beyond the typical financial destinations of the world, the sector is now creating revenue streams for areas that certainly could use the help.

Of all the countries benefitting, Northern Ireland may emerge as the largest recipient of the boom.

A Financial Times article from June profiled the fintech effect on Northern Ireland. The capital, Belfast, has felt the brunt of the boom. Many, including FT profile subject Paddy Cosgrave, believe that the coming years could bring a new tech-centric identity to the country in desperate need of revenue beyond public spending. As the popularity continues to grow for the country, many are starting to warm up to the idea of Belfast becoming a new fintech beacon.

Cosgrave’s MoneyConf summit, a two-day conference profiling emerging tech, serves as an ideal example of Belfast’s emergence in the field. In just four years, MoneyConf ballooned from 400 attendees to over 22,000 from 110 countries last year. Cosgrave is noted for making Dublin’s Web summit a signature event in Europe, a distinction Belfast would love to have as well. With industry heavyweights like Apple, Google and Forbes among its participants, MoneyConf certainly looks poised to earn a similar distinction.

Locally, this pleases both government and residents.

The increasing interest in fintech has attracted Northern Ireland’s inward investment agency, Invest NI, to tab the sector as a key field in the country’s revenue evolution. While all of Northern Ireland hopes the boom brings new businesses stateside, they are also quick to celebrate homegrown businesses that made this possible. That includes Newry’s First Derivatives and Belfast’s Wombat Technologies. Invest NI relayed to FT that Northern Ireland currently employs 3,500 people through the sector. Additionally, they estimate that 75 percent of the jobs are held by graduates receiving competitive salaries.

A large number of factors certainly could shift Northern Ireland’s stance in fintech. However, with multiple cities capitalizing on the country’s alluring features for business, there is hope for sustained profitability. If the country can reap the benefits of fintech, as well as its emerging film and television sector, it could significantly increase its UK economic output from its current two percent.

Tech Forcing Finance to be More Human

Tech Humans

A recent article from TechCrunch’s David Klein focused in on how technology is forcing finance to humanize its approach. This may not be a sector-wide conclusion, but Klein makes some intriguing points. The finance sector faces difficult decisions to keep pace with the evolving landscape where technology, competition and a new generation of potential business all can break or build many financial institutions. As Klein opens with a quote from Bill Gates, “Banking is necessary – banks are not,” he notes that this is now viewed by many as the unofficial beginning to the shift in financial technology. Just over 20 years from his proclamation in 1994 and Gates’ words are finally showing its validity.

Since fintech began gaining mass exposure in the market a few years, the shift in finance has come in several key facets: regulation, technology and consumers.

On the regulation side, banks are experiencing previously unheard of levels of regulation that they must adhere to. Klein mentions that what used to make up ten percent of a bank executive’s day can now take up to 75 percent. With traditional banking is bogged down in compliance matters, other technology has stepped in to fill its void. Klein mentions that consumer lending has seen the most benefit from the shift. If this trend continues, consumer lending may soon have company at the financial disruption table.

When it comes to technology, Klein notes that technology has allowed numerous fintech startups to enter the fray that traditional banking once held near complete control over. The article goes to note how online distribution has made this all possible, while lending platforms undercut banks with lower cost-bases. However, nothing matters more to the modern customer than getting exactly what they want. By having online exclusive platforms, these startups are able to provide customization to consumers than branch banking struggles to keep pace with.

Building on that point, the consumer themselves are key in the potential sector shift. The new generation of banking consumers are ones that grew up in the recession, hearing nightmares about banking. In addition to this, they are the first generation born into the modern technological landscape. When offered a solution on platforms they understand or going with the rapidly antiquated option, the choice appears easy. As Charles Moldow, a general partner at Foundation Capital told TechCrunch, “I believe this [market encroachment] will happen across lending (consumer, real estate, SMB, purchase finance), payments, insurance, equity and beyond.”

Klein adds that current banking faces three options going forward:

  • Adopt the central tenets of marketplace lending (well-priced products, intuitive technology and top-quality service with a relentless focus on the consumer);
  • Partner with the disrupters; or
  • Be relegated to the shadows as marketplace lenders continue to take market share.

Certainly, anything can change in the progression of the industry, but the evidence does indicate that a change could be on the horizon. It remains unclear how more “human” finance becomes with the latest technological boom, but the time for evolution appears to be now.


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