Social Enterprise

The Weekly Round-Up: Secrets of techie happiness

And the mysteries of creating a sense of wellbeing in the workplace...

Facebook, Twitter, iPlayer, gossip at the coffee machine - all these distractions threaten to interfere with the productivity of our hard-working techies.

Thankfully, the smart IT worker has a cunning plan to avoid the diversions of the modern office: shunning all human contact and making lots of little to-do lists.

Chalk up another victory for the geeks. Oh, yes.

Productive techies like to get in early, prefer working on their own and make lots of lists to stay on track and record progress, according to research carried out by the IT Job Board.

The Round-Up reckons it's these lists that define a geek. If only because the Round-Up is itself a huge fan of them.

The Round-Up has a particular weakness for electronic lists on expensive touch-screen gadgets and suspects most techies do too. Especially those ones that you can tick off with a nonchalant flick of the finger, and then watch slowly fade away. Heaven.

The best kind of gadget-based lists also let you see the tasks you've already achieved. Just for the sheer satisfying hell of it.

Sixty per cent of IT staff polled for the research said being able to see progress by ticking off tasks helped them boost productivity. After confirming this fact, they then rushed to their desks and ticked off "respond to survey" on their to-do list.

The same proportion also claimed working on their own upped their productivity, and said they were able to get more done in the morning. Presumably when it was still dark and the light dwellers hadn't managed to make it into the office.

What makes techies despair?

Lack of clear instructions, of course.

In the same way a badly worded functional specification document or poor syntax in code can lead to failed projects and programs, the lack of clarity in task instructions for a techie can be a blow to productivity.

It messes up their lists too. They hate that.

In contrast, one of the biggest motivators is successfully completing a project and "knowing I've done a good job" - cited by 86 per cent of respondents. It also lets you put that list to bed.

So a clear message to IT managers: create a culture of praise and reward for good work.

And give us clipboards. Digital ones, obviously...

What else, apart from lists, makes people happy? Social media, apparently.

Mucking about online with friends, preferably during work hours, makes us smile. Who'd have thought it?

Social networks and instant messaging can improve users' sense of wellbeing and make them feel more satisfied with life, according to another survey, this time by none other than BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

According to the research, two-thirds of people said pretty definitively that having access to technology makes the world a better place.

But the current pace of technology change is also proving a concern for some, according to the report, quoting one respondent as saying, "I think aaargh! It's advancing so much, as soon as you learn one thing, that's going to be obsolete."

Spoken like a true CIO.

On the plus side, the report added that for many respondents it was clear that, in a relatively short space of time, their relationship with IT "had changed from one of fear to one of joy". That's probably only the people who have just realised that as a result of the wonders of IT they can shop, talk to their mates look at funny pictures of cats while being in the office and apparently working hard.

All these findings remind the Round-Up of the three stages of technology as cited by the late and very, very great writer Douglas Adams.

Adams suggested that anything that already exists when you're born is ordinary and part of the natural way of things.

Anything invented between time of your 15th and 35th birthday is sexy, exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

Anything invented after you've passed 35 is an abomination and against the natural order of things...

The old adage that the computer in your car being more advanced than the technology used to send men to the moon? Not far off the truth, it seems.

To this day, Nasa still uses elements of technology that powered the moon landings of the 1960s and 1970s, while the International Space Station relies on processors dating back more than two decades.

When Nasa upgrades the processors used on the space station next year, it will be its first major avionics computer redesign in the 12 years it has been in orbit. Just speccing out and procuring the three Pentium chips for the upgrade has taken years.

Yes, the Round-Up did just type 'Pentium'.

As the space station is constantly in operation the process of moving from old to 'new' kit was compared by one of the engineers to driving your car down the road at 80km an hour and changing the tyre while still moving, which is actually slightly less exciting than the reality of a space station whizzing around the Earth at a gazillion miles an hour. But never mind.

If Nasa doesn't need new technology, maybe you don't either. So next time the new lad in marketing demands an iPad for essential client presentations, just hand him a print out of the article, preferably on dot matrix perforated sheets and tell him to buck up.

Meanwhile, the full and fascinating story about how space agencies use ancient technology to hurtle astronauts and satellites at far distant rocks and gas clouds at terrifying velocities is mere click away.

Elsewhere on silicon.com this week: download silicon.com's excellent iPhone app, find out whether whether it's time for the IT department to grow up.

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