‘Proposition Q’ and CSR: We’re Better Than This

This week a story I saw in The Guardian, TechCrunch and others really fired up my jets. Basically a few highly influential tech entrepreneurs and investors are funding a proposal that gives SFPD the power to remove homeless tents from the sidewalks of SanFrancisco. Officially called ‘Proposition Q’, to date it has principally been funded by Michael Moritz (Sequoia Capital), Ron Conway (a tech Angel Investor), William Oberndorf (SPO Partners) and Zachary Bogue (Mr Marisa Mayer) who between them have donated more than $150,000 to the Proposition Q campaign (the majority of the current $270,000 campaign fund).

Proposition Q is being sold as an attempt to help the homeless, but in reality they just want to hide the problem: the visible evidence of homelessness. It doesn’t address the issue of homelessness, nor does it provide any alternative accommodation for those who have the only shelter available to them, forcibly taken. There has to be a better way of dealing with the problem than this.

Entrepreneurial Responsibility 

It’s great that these individuals want to do something about an issue that is on their doorstep. Personally, I believe that it’s really important for Entrepreneurs (well all individuals, really) to support causes that are close to their hearts. For example, I am actively involved in the UAE with a charity that rescues abandoned cats and ensures they are cared for and re-homed.

At the other end of the spectrum, high profile tech entrepreneurs and UHNW individuals – Zuckerberg; Gates; Buffett – are committing large amounts to solving some huge social, environmental, education and medical issues. Consider the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which offers grants to causes who apply and has a website full of great statements, such as

We believe that by giving people the tools to lead healthy, productive lives, we can help them lift themselves out of poverty.”

In contrast to spending money to hide a problem, The Gates Foundation works to address the root causes and find sustainable solutions to the problems facing some of the most disadvantaged groups and locations.

The guys funding Proposition Q should be ashamed of themselves. They are not funding a coherent plan to help the homeless, they’re just removing the only shelter they have in a massively insensitive way. Entrepreneurs, especially those who are successful on the scale of Moritz (net worth $3.1bn), have a responsibility to deliver on their platitudes that they want to “make the world a better place”. Homelessness has long been an issue in San Francisco, so why can’t these guys work together with the other Silicon Valley heroes and use their technology and influence to incentivise, fund, sponsor or create shelters and programs that provide a step to permanent accommodation for homeless individuals? I’m thinking along the lines of an X Prize  – get some great entrepreneurial minds to address the root causes of the problem, rather than attempting to hide the evidence of a broken system out of view. In this connected world, if we have the means, we should all work together for the greater good.

CSR = Win Win

In addition to the greater social benefit that CSR provides to the world at large, it also has an extremely positive impact on brand image, making you more appealing to investors and boosting the morale of both employees and stakeholders. The three main wins for enterprises generated by developing socially responsible practices are:


1. Morale & Recruitment

Employees want to feel like they are part of something more than a profit-turning machine, and a socially responsible company attracts higher standard of candidates when it comes to recruitment, as well as improving the morale of both existing employees and managements – the feeling of making the world a better place can work wonders for motivation.

2. Cost Saving

Committing to improving your companies’ stance on environment causes, such as cutting down on paper usage, waste or increasing recycling can help businesses – by reducing overheads.

3. Brand Value

Social entrepreneurship is important in the modern climate – especially when the general public – also known as your customers and clients – are becoming more and more socially aware and starting to base their decisions on charitable and socially responsible actions made by companies. Socially responsible companies are a more favourable option for cause-conscious consumers.

I’m reminded of a Steve Jobs Quote:

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them the tools they’ll do wonderful things with them”

In an increasingly socially aware world it’s time for all of us to take responsibility for our actions and make smarter choices.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Cut Off

When is the work ‘cut-off’?

Last week, news broke that French legislators have passed a law which gives employees the right to ignore work e-mails outside of working hours. I believe that this is great news for two reasons:

1. E-mail is outdated and inefficient anyway.

2. It is important that people are given the chance to switch off when they are not at work.


The New Law

Article 25 of the El Khomri Bill allows employees of organisations with over 50 staff members to avoid reading, responding to or acting upon digital communication which is received outside of business hours. This includes e-mails, messaging applications and collaborative platforms. The law has been introduced in an attempt to combat the effects of work-based stress and to curb the effects of being ‘switched on’ around the clock.


The Problem With E-mail

I don’t like e-mails full stop. In my opinion people use it as a way to delay decisions and push accountability on others. It also means endless ‘reply all’ chains, mysteries surrounding information they never received, the issues of attachments and the awkwardness of getting the balance between sounding friendly and professional just right.

In more recent times, the rise in mobile devices and the ability to be contacted anywhere, anytime, work-based e-mails have leaked past the end of the working day and have become a round-the-clock venture. It begins with ‘just checking’ on a project from earlier today, spreads into tying up loose ends at the weekend and eventually answering Wendy’s questions about how to get the printer to work whilst lying on a beach in Spain. Further to this, by escaping the time-constraints of business hours, e-mails have become the scape-goat for avoiding accountability – ‘lost’ e-mails are held responsible for missed deadlines and poor Paul from accounting is so lost in a team-wide thread of information that he really doesn’t know what his boss is expecting him to do this week.


The Digital Age & New Apps

The evolution of digital has opened up a wealth of communication methods which have infused the professional world with useful benefits, such as unlimited organisation apps and ways to collaborate on projects. With all of the messaging and collaboration channels available, E-mail is definitely becoming outdated and the benefits of more modern applications and software are being noticed by industry experts, who are using e-mail as their primary communication channel less and less.  For example, Trello and Slack are two of the most popular collaborative, team-based applications available. With 3 million monthly users, Trello offers a workspace designed to encourage productivity and collaboration, whilst Slack, with 1.7 million monthly users, combines all of the useful parts of instant messaging to enable smooth communication between team members. With innovation and productivity channels becoming more and more readily available, it is not hard to see how e-mail is falling behind and becoming less favourable in the eyes of professionals.


The Importance of Switching Off

With so many applications, software suites and communication channels available at the fingertips of employees, it is easy to imagine how projects and discussion can spread into everyday life – outside of working hours. Many professionals use the same devices at home as they do at work, meaning that the communication apps they are using to discuss projects are still open in an evening and during the weekends. This makes it harder for employees to switch off and disconnect from their responsibilities, which can lead to stress, work overload and ‘burnout’; a physical, mental and emotional inability to continue working in a productive manner due to overwhelming stress from the workplace environment.  The ability to switch-off and take time away from work is lauded by industry specialists – and it’s not hard to imagine why – with a French study showing that 1 in 5 Executives are at risk of ‘burning out’.


Resetting the Boundaries

In the midst of the digital age, where information is accessible at all hours, in all places, it is time to begin resetting the boundaries which have been broken by new technologies. Businesses have been taking advantages of the unrestricted access to communication channels – but the adverse effects that this is having on employees should be more than enough reason to re-establish the ground rules of courtesy and personal time. It is important that employees are able to take time away from the responsibilities of their job and spend it however they like. The ability to spend time being creative and unwinding leads to more productive employees and a more focused attitude during work hours, compared to individuals who never truly relax due to committing so much of their personal time to work-related activities.

Throughout all of the discussion surrounding digital means of communication, the good old telephone has been largely ignored – in its original form, anyway – but it could provide the answer to the ‘cut off point’ issue. Since the invention of the phone, an unwritten, unspoken rule has developed surrounding the acceptable times to call. For managers and employees, calling outside of working hours is usually reserved for emergency situations; whilst friends and family tend to keep each other’s schedules and habits in mind when deciding when it is okay to call.

Here is a great clip from one my favourite TV shows: Curb Your Enthusiasm that I feel sums up the concept of a ‘cut-off’.

Given that technology-based communication, such as e-mails can be used negatively as an excuse for poor work performance, a lack of productivity and unimpressive work-ethics, it is to be hoped that, by restricting the times during which these methods can be used, the ways in which they are used may also be affected. By concentrating the permitted usage, hopefully the work produced and productivity levels will also be condensed. In short – if employees are using their professional communication correctly during working hours, they have every right to ignore them outside of those hours. I firmly believe that the out-of-hours ban on work communication should be implemented everywhere – morally, if not legally.