The Unspoken Secret of Web Professionals

There was a time when I didn’t have any employees. In fact, there was a time when I was an employee.

So I know what it’s like to pretend to be busy, to inflate my productivity in reports, etc.

Now I have employees. Normally, I’m a real laid back kind of guy. I don’t like to micro-manage. I like to let artists do their work, unbridled.

But here’s the thing. I can’t shake the deep feeling that web professionals have this nasty habit of faking commitment. You know why? Because I used to fake commitment when I was working for people.

So let’s paint my picture of paranoia (I’m normally not like this, seriously). We’ll lay out the facts:

1. Working online removes temporal boundaries

The web professional can work at 2am just as easily as 8am. This is great. But it also creates a seductive time-warp in which the web professional thinks he or she can run an infinite number of side projects.

2. Working online removes spatial boundaries

Being close to one’s co-workers creates a sense of accountability to work. A person is expected to focus on his primary responsibilities when in an office. Sure, sometimes that means “faking it” – but spatial proximity enhances focus and singlenes of mind.

3. Working online creates infinite possibilities for making money for yourself

I admit it. I’ve suggested in the past that the best road to success online is to work for yourself.

Nothing like stabbing yourself in the back, eh…especially when your employees read everything you write;-)

So what do you think? Is my paranoia justified? Is it unjustified? Are there methods and structures to utilize these facts about the realities of online work to your advantage?

Help! I think I’m about to go delusional;-)

14 thoughts on “The Unspoken Secret of Web Professionals

  1. Just had that feeling (without any evidence).

    Related Follow-Up: Monetization: Writers are the new slaves

    … Hello! What is happening here?

  2. Markus…you missed the mark on that one. No worries though. I knew all along that people were working their asses off when performancing was down last week.

  3. Markus,

    nope, Ryan’s not talking about performancing’s downtime. Good point on writers being low-cost slaves though (even those who charge 20 cents a word or more are essentially providing cheap labour).

  4. Chris, great points!!!

    • TV show = scheduled project. Ads sold, show on air, everybody happy. After showtime you party.
    • Website = living project (May have a lifetime or not). Definitely needs ongoing work. Problem: How to explain to the client?

    Monitoring success for ‘web professionals’?

    • Writing: Words? Very bad instrument! Writing for words means loosing focus and being talkative to a point where you loose readers.
    • SEO: PI growth in percentage over time? Newspapers make you click >20 times to see all pages and pics for one article. Very bad user experience.
    • HTML?
    • CSS?
    • Database?
    • Service levels?

    “However the next week you will hope for six or seven per day because you need to see X grow.”

    • No real editors and publishing houses out there who know what quality means.
    • Everybody is talking about ‘user generated content’ and ‘behavioral targeting’.
    • Writers are the new low cost slaves.

    Remember that actual offer: 5 articles/week, 250+ words/article, 55$/month?

    PS: I have the feeling that between the lines Ryan was talking about the downtime last week (and how his ‘web professionals’ handled that situation). Maybe we are sliding off track?

  5. I know the feeling Ryan. And as Markus mentions above, it’s a different reality when you do business online because traffic is so critical, so anything that brings more of it is necessary. Whenever you reach your goal, you need more. And so on.

    I have worked in television and in the magazine industry and I find monitoring success or productivity to be much more finite and measurable. At least it feels that way. When you have a TV show, you work until it’s done. When you work in print, you work until the magazine is finished and move on. Employees have defined goals and it’s easy to see where things are slowing down or where someone needs a reminder to re-focus and get moving.

    But online, your employees bring pageviews. When you own the business, it’s again another ball game; your growth, profit — even existence — relies on getting out content and/or a service. Your employee (a blogger, let’s say) could write five articles in a day and you would be happy. Five articles = X pageviews. However the next week you will hope for six or seven per day because you need to see X grow. In the mainstream media, this is level of productivity is virtually unheard of, as a journalist could work for a week or more on one story alone.

    You also have an incredible amount of passion when it’s your own business, and it’s often unreasonable to expect your employees to feel the same way. You can get things done quickly because you know the direction and you don’t need to pause to think. Your employees, however, might have different ideas or do things differently than you. Not necessarily worse, but different. That can be frustrating or difficult to measure for online businesses.

    I find this issue to be a bigger stress for online-only businesses, as productivity is everything.

    Interesting discussion topic.

    Chris Hogg
    Digital Journal

  6. My understanding of Ryans rant is that he is talking about ‘web workers’ and their clients who both don’t know how to fix a framework of specifications.

    This becomes esp. painful if both (or more) sides don’t know what they are talking about. You have a business guy who wants a website to sell products. The IT guy is talking about service levels. Some finance guy is saying ‘too expensive’. Now the poor so called ‘Web Professional’ has to fulfill all their needs.

    ‘Requirement specification’ from the web worker side and ‘client side specification’ is the whole thing which has to be written down in a contract to achieve results. Agreeing on those specifications is a must and will definitely help both sides.

    Communication is the key but in a professional matter and not only via phone or mail. A ‘Web Professional’ will know when to end the communication if the other side is not willing to understand his/her needs.

  7. When I decide to work for 14 hours straight or so, I don’t get anything much done. But when I work for a few hours, rest a while then work again, I find myself more productive. And you are so right about your first point, Ryan. I think sometimes we think we’re superhumans. It’s hard not to over-commit at times.

  8. As Markus says, project management is your friend

    Discuss what you want doing, when it can be done for, understand what they need to make that happen. So long as you get done what you need it doesn’t matter that they spend all their time playing on pogo sticks while wearing a clown uniform 😉

    Now all that said, I used to work in the public sector and there were people there who had “being busy” down to an art form. They had time sheets, time and motion studies, ISO and all the other “quality” buzz words but the flaw was managers were paid according to how many people they managed so used to recruit as many people as they could get away with. They were highly efficient according to the KPIs but in reality achieved very little.

    What matters is results ultimately, right?

  9. Ryan, all this what you are talking about is why such a thing as ‘project management’ was developed. Sharp milestone definitions and the rest is up to the team or the individual.

    And yes, Ahmed is totally right, you have to build a network of trust.

  10. Funny post, this one.

    The ‘slacker’ culture is something that comes easily to web professionals and to corporate whores, but like the piece says, us web professionals find it easier to get away with it.

    Incidentally, the daily reports are an excellent method of ‘padding it up’.

    So what do we do? Pay for performance?

    Ideally, you build trusting relationships and find hardworking people who take pride in their work, find people who would genuinely be interested in doing what you’d pay them to do (as opposed to doing it just for the money).

    Alternatively, just learn from experience and not trust people so quickly.

  11. Interesting post. I don’t have much experience with “being the boss”. But I think daily reports might help. These reports should have all the tasks the employee completed for the day and how long it took them to do each task.

  12. I think the anonymity of the Internet affords some people a certain amount of flakiness. They don’t have to face their employers. No one is going to reprimand them after showing up to the office late or playing Tetris when they should be putting the proper cover sheets on their TPS reports. I can tell you I worked all day, but how do you really know? I have worked with my share of flakes and it took a long time for me to find someone I trust enough to handle FWJ.

    BUT I also believe that for every flake, there are two really good, hard workers out there. (I like to think I’m one of them. Heh.) Many of us know we have a good thing here and want to do whatever we can to keep our employers happy and those working at home paychecks coming.

    For sure, be a little paranoid. After all, you do have to look out for your best interests. But don’t let it consume you unless you know for sure you’re being ripped off.

  13. I know I feel sometimes that others might think this of me. Working at home is nowhere nearly as easy as I thought, what with the distractions and the temptation to think “oh, I can do this a bit later.”

    I find that the main thing that helps me is that if i have an urge to do something else than work, it’s better I do it because that’s just my mind saying I need a break. I did a test back in early 2002, when I got my first (and only to date) book contract. I tried two different work schedules regularly and measured my performance:

    (1) Sit in my apartment and work 16 hours “straight” on the book.
    (2) Do 4-8 hours of work, go out and shop, have dinner, see a movie, then come back and work. Total time in that day: 8-10 hours.

    Guess what? I often was more productive using schedule 2. As well, going out and unintentionally eavesdropping on public conversations helped me with dialog for my short stories/ novellas.

    But the problem now is that I HAVE TO have “too many side projects” just to make a living. Finding a single good blogging gig isn’t that easy, even with my experience. I don’t fake commitment, but I do overcommit sometimes b/c I have a hard time saying “no” to friends/ close colleagues.

  14. Just pay your employees according to their accomplishment, that way, they’ll get paid for what they do, not for the time they claim it took them to do something

    But that’s the way it usually work online eh?

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