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Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Op/Ed

1 in 5 agents on your team are at risk of burnout – how to retain them

(EDITORIAL) When your productive team members are at risk of burnout, you may lose them to another brokerage or another industry altogether.

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A recent Gallup poll shows that seven out of 10 employees feel unengaged with their work. And while researchers and HR departments have put a lot of energy into figuring out how to increase employee engagement, less attention has been focused on how to best support those employees who are already engaged. You may think being a broker or team leader is different than a Fortune 500 CEO, but in the sense of employee engagement, it’s the same.

Workers who are less engaged are actually less likely to quit (or switch brokers) than those who are engaged, but are stressed out about it. These losses are also harder for companies to bear, as highly engaged workers are generally the most productive and valuable to the team.

A study by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence surveyed over 1,000 U.S. employees to learn about engagement as it relates to burnout – burnout being, of course, the point of no return when an employee or team member is so stressed and exhausted that they can’t take it anymore.

Burnout has both physical and emotional symptoms and can lead to sleep problems and depression. Once an employee is burned out, they may need a lot of time to recover to previous levels of productivity, or worse, may give up and quit altogether. They may float to a different broker, franchise, or even another industry.

The study found that two out of five employees are highly engaged, but with low levels of burnout stress. These employees, categorized by the researchers as “optimally engaged,” had positive emotional health and contributed positively to the company. Unfortunately, one in five workers had high levels of engagement, but were at high risk for burnout. These workers represent the “engaged-exhausted” group,” and while they were very interested in their work, they were also very frustrated and stressed. This group had much higher turnover than even unengaged employees.

This means that all brands are at risk of losing some of their very best employees because they are overworked (and unsupported).

While some companies have helped their employees to reduce stress through wellness programs that encourage exercise, good nutrition, and mindfulness practices, the Yale researchers say that these programs may not do enough for highly-engaged workers.

Highly-engaged workers (or agents), across the board, reported having access to crucial resources such as supervisor support, rewards such as good pay, and recognition for their work. The biggest difference between optimally engaged workers and exhausted-engaged workers was the demands of the work itself.

In a nutshell – workers at risk for burnout simply had too much on their plates.

So while a company can expect to increase engagement, or reduce stress for engaged workers, by being supportive and offering resources and fair pay (or a better percentage), the make-or-break-it factor when it comes to burnout is the sheer volume of work.

Keep demands realistic and goals moderate. “Stretch goals” tend to stress people out more than motivate them.

If you give someone extra assignments or put more on their plate, re-delegate some of their other work to someone else or provide more assistant support. Encourage breaks and lunch breaks if someone is spending too much time at their desk.

In corporate life, the takeaway is to not overwork your best employees. But in real estate, it takes an experienced team leader or broker to spot impending burnout and address it by offering better support so another brokerage with better support doesn’t swoop in and snatch your most productive team members.

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Op/Ed

Using filters to ignore contrary opinions creates dangerous echo chambers

(EDITORIAL) We limit our growth when we accidentally create echo chambers – and most of us are guilty as sin…

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I don’t know if you remember the big to-do a couple of years ago when Lifeway Books removed Jen Hatmaker’s books from their inventory. Apparently, Lifeway Books decided that Hatmaker’s affirmation of same-sex relationships went against their doctrine.

I’m not here to argue the merits of Hatmaker or Lifeway’s decisions. At the time, I remember wondering why Lifeway was so scared of an alternative point-of-view. Lifeway is not the first company to ban a book because the ideas go against their own beliefs, it’s just the first company I could come up with as a starting point.

That brings us to today. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the newest social media filters. You are now allowed to filter out unpopular topics or opinions on your social media feeds. Personally, I love this feature. I purposely turn off pages that say, “I bet I won’t get even 1 share.” I turn off other pages that always share very questionable news. I’ve even turned off some friends who have very different political philosophies than I do.

But in some ways, I worry that I might be living in an echo chamber. An echo chamber is defined as “a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system.”

Am I creating a system where I only hear people who don’t challenge my beliefs?

I especially worry about some of my friends who can’t see any way but their own. They won’t admit that they might be wrong or that someone else might have a solution. In our current political environment, there seems to be an attitude of not willing to give up an inch, just in case we lose our rights. With an attitude like that, neither side will be able to get anything done.

When did it become okay to stop listening to the other side?

Why are Americans (society?) so willing to only listen to ideas that are comfortable to them? We have become so polarized that no one wants to hear contrary opinions. Sometimes, it takes contrary opinions to find the media via, or middle road.

I encourage you to open your social media feed to people who think differently.

No, not your racist uncle or cousin who only posts fake news. But people who do talk about ideas and politics who may not be in your corner. I want to know what my representatives in Congress are thinking, even though I disagree with much of what they do. Let’s talk about our differences and try to find middle ground.

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Op/Ed

How calendars can stop your procrastination, boost productivity

(PRODUCTIVITY) As the old method of pen-to-paper planning comes back in style, see how its use can help with time management.

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My favorite part of writing for this publication, by far, is the fact that it always has me keeping my eyes and ears open for inspiration. The simplest comment from a friend can snowball into an idea that becomes beneficial to others.

Such was the case this past weekend when my best friend, Haley, stopped by to help me unpack my new house. Haley is a graduate student, pursuing a master’s in interpersonal communication, and is a much smarter version of myself.

We got to talking about what was on tap for Haley’s final semester and she told me about a workshop she’s creating for the graduate school on the topic of how using planners/calendars helps with time management. The girl has an affinity for pen-to-paper planners, and has created an organizational structure for her daily life through their use.

Naturally, I thought, “hey, sometimes I attempt to give people advice on time management and planning, let’s bounce some ideas off of each other.” Haley then gave me a rundown of the bullet points she’s planning on covering for her interactive workshop.

1) Take everything as it comes. As a new task pops up, put it down on your calendar (whether paper or electronic) so that you don’t forget to do it later.

2) With these tasks, schedule deadlines for yourself. It can be tough to be self-motivate and have tasks completed by your own assignment. However, putting them down in writing will help you stick to them.

Only work on something if you’re being productive. If you stop being productive, you should take a step back and work on something else for a while,” says Haley. “This is why my personal deadlines help because it makes me work harder but I still have my own time.”

3) Schedule out your week starting with events that you cannot change. Start by writing down your work schedule, then appointments, meetings, etc. Then schedule in tasks that have more flexibility in time.

4) After doing this, take all of these tasks and prioritize what must be completed first and assess how much time each task will take. Be sure to give yourself an appropriate amount of time for each task.

5) For bigger projects, considering breaking them down a bit. “For bigger projects I break it down into steps, normally using a concept map to understand the core aspects of my task and what needs to be accomplished within each of those to make it more digestible,” says Haley. “Once I have the pieces, I place the pieces into my weekly schedule of events I cannot change.”

All of the pieces of this puzzle come together to create a calendar that will help you juggle every aspect of your life and boost your productivity. By implementing these ideas in my own planning, it has definitely helped me to become more of a self-starter.

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