Co-Employment

Shortly after publishing the concept paper on Collective Insourcing that Guy mentioned in his initial post, he and I were sitting at a café on Atlantic Avenue slugging coffee and wrestling with the deeper details of how this thing was actually going to work. (We still are, by the way: slugging coffee and wrestling with details, but progress has been made — at least on the details, if not the coffee habit.) We were trying to figure out the key that would really shift the model from a nonprofit service organization requiring consistent contributed income to sustain itself into something else — something that could (eventually) have a chance at self-sufficiency, something that could be fully member-driven and serve to keep resources growing within the arts field, rather than siphoning out of it.

After many coffee refills and many long pauses, we hit on something: labor sharing.

What if we could create a structure that would not only share hard resources and provide services, but also share the employees providing such services? Read More…

A few years ago I was at the home of an artist friend who also works as a high-level software developer for a small but well-regarded software company. As I was leaving, I noticed that the wall behind his computer was covered with a well-organized grid of multicolored sticky notes, each scrawled with a cryptic instruction. I asked him what it was and he said “That’s my ‘kanban.’” Kanban, I learned, was a simple productivity tool that he and his developer buddies used to get things done: to-dos on the left column, work-in-progress in the middle column, completed work in the right column, color coding to separate categories of tasks. I chalked it up as alpha-geek life hacking and filed it under Curiosities.

In the spring of 2013 I encountered a much larger kanban on a whiteboard in the basement offices of New York Public Library Digital Labs, where another artist-cum-technologist friend works. As he described his team’s development process, he referenced a number of odd-sounding words and concepts like “scrum,” “sprints,” “stand-ups,” and (my favorite) “planning poker.” All of these, he explained, were tools that made up a larger concept known as agile software development, or agile for short. Creating software is a complex undertaking, and the agile methodology allowed his team to break their work into manageable pieces, work iteratively, empower team members, and incorporate feedback on the fly. It sounded a lot like how devised theater gets made, and I wondered whether this alien technology (management methods are really a form of social technology) could be used in worlds outside of software development. Read More…