The past two weekends I attended events sponsored by the local public library. The events were live and in person. Both felt novel and yet, a reminder of how things used to be at the same time. On some level it feels strange to have so many activities available after two years of lockdowns. It also feels strange to navigate social situations, especially ones with lots of people.

One of my favorite things about the public library is its diversity. The library has something for everyone. After all the lockdowns I have a new appreciation for both the variety in library collections and in the patronage. Libraries attract all kinds of people and manage to serve them all in some way or another. Attending these events the past two weekends evidenced that.

I’m always impressed by the adaptations made by public libraries to remain a relevant and viable part of the communities they serve. It’s funny to me that the iconic symbol of a library is books, yet they only represent a fraction of the collections, services, and programs offered by public libraries. In recent years I’ve noticed articles on new and innovative designs to make public libraries attractive and welcoming communal spots.

In my local district they recently removed late fees for the first 30 days. For a certain part of the community late fees represented a barrier to borrow books. I read about libraries in another district acquiring portable hotspots to loan to people who don’t have internet connectivity. Some libraries now carry naloxone in case of an overdose emergency. It never ceases to amaze me how welcoming and prepared libraries are to serve all their patrons.

Another thing I love is how a good public library always makes me feel like I belong to the community. I hope other patrons feel that way, too!

There’s an App for Everything!

About 10 years ago I wrote a post “There’s an App for that.” Back then it seemed that no matter what I wondered about or pondered, there was an app for it. Or the promise of one coming. Whether I needed to monitor my sleep habits, automatically count calories or know if I was stressed out, an app was available.

Flash forward 10 years, now it seems there really is an app for everything. The other week I received a promotional for a free pilates class. However, I wasn’t able to register for my first, promotional class without first downloading the app and then registering. This required me to create another login and password. I found this a little bit annoying and tedious. Before I commit to creating a login and downloading a customized app I like to know if I’m going to use the service more than once. I feel this is a minimal requirement.

Last week I went to the local hospital for an ultrasound. A day or two before the appointment I received an automated text message to remind me. The text also included instructions for, you guessed it, downloading a special hospital app to check in for my appointment. I think I can also check results on the app, too. Since it’s rare for me to visit the hospital for any kind of procedure, fortunately, I didn’t download the special app.

However, when I arrived at the hospital, I was surprised at the manual effort required to register. The admin took my healthcard. Then she used a pen to handwrite my information on a piece of paper I took with me to the appointment! It’s as if processes have no middle ground anymore. As though all process inefficiencies halted to jump ahead with a slick app. This means the options are sleek, streamlined app OR clunky, manual, repetitive, and inefficient process.

I took the paper from the admin and went to the waiting room. The whole time wondering would an app have improved the experience? Would I still have received a piece of paper with my name handwritten on it?

Though I don’t have the answers to these questions, I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Making the Most of the Hybrid Workplace

There have been new developments since my previous post on the hybrid workplace in December 2021. Back then, we had only started our two-day a week pilot. Little did I know that right after that post went live, another lockdown descended. We stayed in full remote work mode for another three months and restarted the pilot at the end of March. Coincidentally, I got Covid a week or two into the pilot. I ended up working remote for at least another month until the “covid cough” subsided.

Since starting the pilot in earnest around May it’s been an interesting experience. I try to make the most of my “in-person” days by booking meetings with others also in the office. We sit distanced, but we’re mostly in the same room. The mask requirement is lifted, although I still wear mine in public areas.

For one recurring weekly meeting, I booked a room for anybody working onsite last week. One person showed up. It was my first time meeting him in person since the project started in August 2021. Everybody else was remote. They were projected on a large screen. However, nobody else turned on their cameras. All we could see the entire meeting was a row of colored circles with people’s initials.

As we start to embrace the hybrid environment more, I wonder if people will become more strict about when it’s appropriate to be on camera. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on camera for every meeting. However, is that really so different from being in-person for every meeting? On the one side, being on camera can be exhausting. It’s hard to read body language and keep a good angle, especially when I’m working between multiple screens. And of course there are the occasions when I might get something to drink while the meeting is happening. On the other side, it can also feel exhausting to talk or present with almost no interaction.

I must confess that I get a little frustrated sometimes by the row of muted circles and lack of response. This is especially irksome when I’m presenting. Sometimes I don’t even get a digital response such as a thumbs up or clapping.

As we move forward with the new environment, I suppose we’ll strike the right balance of on camera, on site, and online time.

Tiny Pause

In 2009 Toronto started charging five cents for plastic bags at retail stores. The reduction in plastic bags was significant, exceeding the prediction. I learned this while collaborating with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) to implement a number of “green” initiatives at the condo tower I lived in.

The TEA representative explained by forcing people to take an extra step, i.e., pay five cents per bag, required people to think about what they were doing. It forced them to take a tiny little pause. Ultimately, this had a big impact. She mentioned this strategy as something we could use in the building. Or even how this strategy could be used to eliminate single-use plastics. For example, if somebody had to ask for a straw instead of including it automatically. Or if people had to request plasticware for take-out and delivery orders. Requiring people to take this little extra step could result in reductions, similar to the plastic bags.

I love this idea of changing something small, but big enough that it makes people think. And even more importantly, change their behavior in a positive way. I’m always looking for ways to implement this strategy at work and in my personal life.

Last week I finally had my car repaired from the fender bender. They also repaired a chip in the windshield. The chip was a new claim. When I arrived at the autobody shop, the admin had a blank paper form ready on her desk. I watched as she kept leafing back and forth between multiple pages in my (paper) claim file to fill it out! The information on the claim form was very basic. It included things like name, address, make/model of the vehicle, insurer, policy number, etc. In my mind, it was all the information that should have been kept in one central location. Even better, if she could have auto-populated the form based on my electronic file. Or at the very least printed out a label with the details. But no, she hand wrote everything.

Watching this process, I felt challenged to come up with a tiny pause for this diligent worker, so habituated to her routine. For me, using the paper form would be a tiny pause. However, maybe in this scenario, the tiny pause would be to eliminate paper forms. Or place them somewhere inconvenient to make the electronic option seem more appealing.

Summer’s Swan Song

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a summer purist. I cling on to the last days of summer right up to the autumnal equinox. Although the signs of summer waning appear much earlier. Right around this time, in mid-to-late August, the sounds of summer change. It’s always when I notice the crickets chirping through the night, or at least I can hear them above the perpetual hum of everyone’s air conditioner. The persistent singing of the cicadas in the hazy heat of summer is a favorite of mine. Somehow, the siren song of the male cicada signals the start of summer’s end and also the epitome of this glorious season.

Other favorite sounds of summer include children playing outside. Balls bouncing. Bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades scraping along the pavement. The joyous shrieks, giggles, and talking late into the cooling summer evenings. All these sounds have been there all summer, but they feel different in August. Perhaps it’s because they’re more noticeable now when it’s actually cool enough at night to keep the windows open. Or maybe it’s because I’m more aware of the nights darkening sooner and the slight chill in the mornings.

The weather in August is perfect for ripening tomatoes. Hot, sunny days and dark, cool, longer nights are the magic recipe for making tomatoes red. For weeks we’ve been watching the green tomatoes grow bigger, but not redder. Now, every day we see bright, red tomatoes peeping out of the greenery. I won’t get enough to make tomato sauce this year, but I’ll be gorging myself on tomato everything for a few weeks.

Late last week I opened my curtain one morning to see brown leaves all over the lawn. On Friday I went hiking at a park 30 minutes north. I was surprised to see a blush of red spreading through some of the trees already. Contrary to the relentless, forceful momentum of spring, who arrives despite the occasional blizzard or cold blitz to take center stage, summer seems okay to share the spotlight with fall. As if even summer outdid herself by blazing too bright and too hot for too many days. Days are hot, and even still a little humid. Nights are getting chilly and fall is already starting to turn the leaves, a gentle transition from one season to the next. But summer’s not over yet, we’ve still got three glorious weeks left.

Quality Customer Service

I’ve blogged several times about poor, frustrating customer service experiences. They often result in a lot of wasted time. Usually the resolution feels unsatisfactory or anti-climatic. This is likely because it takes so much effort to get to the outcome.

Positive experiences, by contrast, are resolved instantly and seamlessly. The unexpected and gratifying results often surprise me.

Recently, I needed to order a replacement piece for a water bottle. I couldn’t find it on the company’s website. I photographed the part and attached it to a good old fashioned email inquiring how I could order one.

The reply came twelve days later. I learned the name of the replacement is a “collar.” I also learned the company was presently out of stock, but had a few extra. They offered to send me one, for free! All of a sudden the slow, response time became an afterthought. I replied with my address. The following day the piece was in the mail.

A few weeks ago I ordered some new underwear from a new company in the States. It’s always risky to order underwear from a new company without seeing it. Despite the costly shipping fees, I took the chance. When it arrived, I could tell it was the wrong size even without opening the packages. I felt irritated about the mistake because I used a tape measurer to check with their sizing chart. All I could think about was the effort and cost of returning everything.

I contacted the company, yup, through email. They responded the same day with an offer to replace everything, for free! The order was small, so apparently not worth their time and effort to handle the exchange either. Before confirming the new size, I perused the comments section on their website. Comments seemed divided between those that had a perfect fit, or the same issue as me where the size was too big.

Last year I noticed a lot of wear and tear on a wooden toy I like. I contacted the company to learn more about caring for the toy to prolong its life. It’s at least ten years old. Again, I reached out through email and attached pictures of the damage. Surprisingly, the company offered to send me a new one. Just like that! I wasn’t even complaining. Perhaps good customer service also depends on being a good customer.