If you’re anything like me, your phone overflows with apps. You have folders of apps to tell you the weather, to help you with varied transportation options, and to make sure you get food at lunchtime.

Even if you’re not like me, and you clean out your phone, your download trail might exhibit the History of the Mobile App—every hot new thing having been tried at some point or another.

How amazing would it be to use all those apps without having them installed on your phone? And without having to use another app to use those apps.

Assist, a WeWork Golden Gate member in San Francisco, has been getting a lot of love and attention lately because it lets you do just that.

Assist Gives You the Information You Need, Without All the AppsFounded by CEO Shane Mac (previously built Gist and Zaarly), CTO Giovanni Vatieri (previously an engineer at Zaarly and Frontback), and Robert Stephens (former CTO of Best Buy and founder of the Geek Squad), Assist is a simple concept:

You text your request to Assist, which then delivers to you the best options to suit your needs and location. Need a ride? Tell Assist, which will then tell you how close the nearest Uber, Lyft, mass transit stations, or other services are to you, as well as the costs.

“We take all local services and make them available in any messenger app,” Mac says.

Basically, if there’s an API for the information, Assist can suck that data in. They’ve integrated about 35 services across 10 categories so far, and continue to expand.

It’s not 100 percent seamless yet. Services have different settings in their APIs.

With Uber, for example, you have to authorize Assist to work with your account, and then your Uber account will be charged for all rides.

Assist Gives You the Information You Need, Without All the Apps

Other apps allow Assist to be the middleman—with Postmates, for example, the user would pay Assist (via Stripe, Bitcoin, or another secure method) to pay the company. That means you don’t even need a Postmates account to use the service.

Some apps, such as OpenTable, only allow Assist to access the information. So you can find out where there are restaurants with available reservations, but you have to then make the reservation yourself.

Assist is available on most messaging platforms, including plain old SMS, Facebook Messenger, Slack, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

Messaging has become the portal, and an increasing amount of our time on mobile has moved to messaging apps.

“People don’t really want more apps,” Mac says.

Research last year from Forrester backs that up, showing that users spend 85 percent of their time on their smartphones using apps—and 84 percent of that time is in just five apps they downloaded from the app store.

The solution, says Mac, is to think of messaging as the browser, and bots being akin to the URL.

“It’s a new kind of search result,” he says. “We have the intent of the user and bring back the best possible options.”

Eventually, a layer of artificial intelligence will begin to learn a user’s preferences and start delivering results based on a previous pattern of behavior. Even destinations could be predicted based on time of day and current location, such as if you get a car ride home every day.

Assist Gives You the Information You Need, Without All the Apps

Assist recently raised a $5.5 million A round, after killing their own app and disbanding their human call center last year. The team decided to bank on total automation—something Facebook and Google are now talking about.

And the companies providing the services don’t really care if you’re using their apps or not. Their purpose is not to get more app downloads.

“They need more frequency, they need more users, they need more growth—and they don’t really care where it comes from,” Mac says. In fact, in cases where Assist is handling the payments, it’s an extra boost to the services because they are reaching people who don’t even have accounts.”

According to Mac, “Every business in the world is going to have a bot—they just don’t know it yet.”

Many businesses don’t update their websites now, so having an intelligent bot that can evolve and predict behavior will be more useful.

Just be careful. I’m pretty sure this is how Skynet will start: setting up our Uber rides.

Photo Credit: Sarah Gerber

Welcome to “How to Thrive at Work,” a new series by Creator and Thrive Global about how to enhance your productivity, well-being, and happiness in the workplace.

It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: Your social calendar fills up right as end-of-year work deadlines loom. Office parties, staff volunteer days, and other worthwhile but time-consuming events cut into both your workday and your downtime, making it that much trickier to hit all your project deliverables and get your gift shopping done on time. Wait, isn’t this supposed to be the season of joy?

It can be. There are ways to successfully integrate work and life while staying motivated and inspired. We tapped three career and well-being experts to share their best work survival tips for this season and beyond.

Say yes to things that truly make you happy. This time of year, “joy” can feel scripted—cue the over-the-top decorations, nonstop Christmas music, and gifts you neither need nor want to buy. And we feel incredible pressure to live up to the spirit of the holidays. To create a season that will truly make you happy, learn to say no. “You don’t have to attend every function. You don’t need to put yourself in financial stress. You don’t need to succumb to the pressure,” says Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work and co-founder and CCO of Plasticity Labs, which helps organizations increase at-work satisfaction. By paring down to the events and activities that mean the most to you, you’ll be able to put your attention where it matters most. “We feel most fulfilled and rewarded when we are present with the people we’re closest to,” says Camille Preston, Ph.D., CEO of AIM Leadership, a management development and coaching firm. “Focus on the sentiment or the emotion in these moments.”

Establish vacation time early—and stick to it. Playing the office martyr is an express route to unhappiness and burnout. Instead, be clear in advance with your boss and your team about your time away—and how much support you’ll need when you’re OOO. “Write down guidelines for those specific needs and set up your out-of-office properly,” says Moss, who is also a founding member of the Global Happiness Council. “That means explaining that you will under no circumstances be checking emails while you are away.” Not sure you can keep off Slack? “You are no good to anyone if you take time off and don’t actually use it,” she warns. (Science backs this up: A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association on stress in America found that people who check their email/texts/social media accounts on a constant basis experience more stress than those who don’t. And for those who checked their emails regularly on their days off, the stress level was even higher.) If you can’t turn your work brain off easily, a good start is to remove your work email and Slack from your phone. “If it isn’t a life-and-death situation, it can wait,” she says.

Separate the must-dos from the nice-to-dos. It’s time to take a harsh look at your lists—assess what actually needs to be completed by the end of the year, and delete what doesn’t. “Think in terms of work and relationships that need to be procured or managed,” says Preston. “What must be done is anything that moves the dial or brings you joy.” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at the New School and co-founder of wellness-education program Healthclass 2.0, offers a sanity-saving way to end this year and usher in the next. “Tackle anything that is already overdue—projects, debts, and even tough conversations,” she says. “It’s anxiety-producing enough to be behind on things, but carrying this baggage into a new year only adds to that unease. Cross what you can off this list, and at least set new, realistic expectations for what you can’t.”

Automate and delegate. Preston has a simple four-step formula for creating more time in the day: Collate everything in your brain; eliminate what you can (see above); automate—build once, use many times; and delegate to whomever you can. Do this and you’ll have time to create and celebrate. Preston put this process to use with her extensive holiday gift list (collate): rather than buy individual hostess and other small gifts to hand out all month (eliminate), she bought one case of wine (automate). Then she paid someone to tie ribbons around each bottle (delegate). Now the case of wine is sitting in her cellar, each bottle beribboned and ready—no thinking or additional shopping required. “I can grab a bottle and go for different social occasions,” she explains.

Be deliberate with your time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations, it’s time to lean on your calendar more, not less. “Every Sunday night I look at the week in front of me and decide how much time I’m going to devote to things throughout the week,” says Mehlman Petrzela, who blocks off time for work-related projects, self-care, and everything in between. “I find it crucial to my sanity to get in five to six workouts a week, but this time of year, having that standard creates more stress for me,” she says. “So I block out three days for classes, and on other days I schedule a shorter 20-minute run on the treadmill in my building.” At work, she’s equally detailed. “I feel I can be a better colleague to others if I can be clear on what I can accomplish and commit to,” she says. Social activities get time-blocked as well. “I try to be reasonable about how much I can do and enjoy,” she explains. “These events are fun, but not when attending them makes everything else not fun.”

There’s a reason time-blocking works so well, says productivity expert Kevin Kuse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “Because there are only 24 hours in the day, time-blocking forces you to be realistic and to say no to things that aren’t a priority,” he explains. “We can’t do it all, but we can usually do the things that align with our values. This reduces stress as we don’t have that feeling that we are ‘failing’ or drowning in our to-do’s.”

Set daily work goals. “Prioritize projects and set three objectives for each day,” says Moss. “Don’t make an overwhelming list that feels insurmountable—just slowly and steadily get through your plan.” Moss explains the science behind this approach, known as Snyder’s Hope Theory: “When we feel like we’re accomplishing daily goals at work, we increase our cognitive hope skills by building up a sense of agency. Our brains respond in kind and predict that we accomplish more and with more consistency.” The payoff: These steps increase engagement—and boost happiness and performance at work.

Make it a team effort. “It’s easy to get frustrated as your projects pile up toward the end of the year,” says Moss. Instead of looking inward to tackle your to-dos, she suggests banding together with coworkers to get it all done. “Increase team collaboration to get projects finished,” she says. “See who needs help and create a network of volunteers who can jump in to support each other at work.” Each moment of accomplishment will fuel the next—and give everyone something to feel grateful for.

Go to the company holiday party—or not. Moss, Preston, and Mehlman Petrzela agree: Deciding to bail on your holiday party really depends on your office culture. You know best whether you’ll be missed (and if that your absence will count against you down the road). But before you blow it off, consider the upside of spending time with colleagues in a more casual, social setting. “Everyone should have a choice about participating in these types of work events,” says Moss. “But community and friendships are important—they can be the difference between loving or hating work.” If you’re dreading making small talk, Preston offers a few conversation starters: “Think about things you might share, and then ask others, ‘What are you most looking forward to this holiday season? What’s a magical holiday memory from your childhood?’ she suggests. “If someone shares of themselves, others usually do the same.”

Find your ballast. What keeps you stable and feeling like yourself? Listening to music? Reading? Dancing? For Preston, it’s physical activity—and that’s why her workouts are nonnegotiable. “Amidst the social whirlwind of this time of year, people let go of the things that energize them and give them stamina,” she says. Big mistake. Huge. Instead, she says, hang onto them now more than ever. “Know what those things are to you and reconnect to them,” she urges. “You might not be able to do them as fully as you want, but finding ways to fit them in is essential.”

Consider working between Christmas and the New Year. True, the office will be a ghost town. But, hey, the office will be a ghost town. More time for you to wrap up 2018 distraction-free and get set up for a productive 2019. “I love to work that week,” says Preston. “It’s nice to have that demarcation of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. You start the new year fresh and ready.”

Graphic by Naomi Elliot

Black Twine, a New York-based “event-inspiration” website that’s on a mission to cure Pinterest fatigue, was just about a year old when its co-founder, Anne Hyun, a member in WeWork 222 Broadway in New York, sent a cold email to a woman she’d never met. Until then, Hyun’s fledgling business marketed to busy millennial moms, supplying them with party “blueprints”: gorgeous photos paired with lists of what to buy (many items in the inspiration photos are shoppable), menu ideas, and a suggested timeline for event prep and execution.

On a hunch, Hyun reached out to Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, who was about to release a children’s book, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes. Hyun wanted Black Twine to work on an event for the book’s launch. “We’ve been longtime fans of Eva,” Hyun says. “She’s such a role model for women, but she’s also a mom, and my two co-founders and I are all moms. [And then there’s all] she’s done for the Asian community.”

It was a risky move—Hyun had admired Chen only from afar—but it worked.

For the month of November 2018, the front windows of Books of Wonder, a children’s bookstore in Manhattan, featured a dramatic jewel-toned archway of balloons surrounding a cutout of Chen’s character, Juno, all designed by Black Twine. “We had never actually done a window before,” Hyun says of her company’s partnership with Chen, which also included styling her book-signing event at the store. “But for us, it was about being able to work with someone who was really inspiring.”

(Above) Anne Hyun, co-founder of Black Twine. (Top) Hyun and Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, in front of a window display at New York’s Books of Wonder.

She stays true to that entrepreneurial spirit while running Black Twine, which she says is a lot like planning one big party. “Managing a business and planning a party both come down to time management,” she says. With event planning, she explains, there are five different things you need to worry about: the decor, the guests, the food, the beverages, and getting all the vendors and different pieces in place. Similarly, she can break down her business into specific tasks—which she then has her team divide and conquer. “Like with event planning, if you try to do it all on your own, you’re going to be in a world of misery,” Hyun says.

Her team is also not afraid to hire others for certain to-dos. “It took us a long time before we were able to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be the ones who put every single product on our site,’” says Hyun. “We’ve gotten more comfortable outsourcing different pieces of work as we’ve grown.”

And when they want to invite someone new to their party (or, um, business), Hyun isn’t afraid to send a cold email. “The one thing that we’ve learned on this entrepreneurial journey is that you have to make your own destiny,” Hyun says. “A lot of the successes that we’ve had have come from that same story, just trying to see what might be out there and giving it a chance. A lot of times it doesn’t work out, but the one time it does, it’s someone like an Eva, which is amazing.”

Hyun’s holiday party survival plan

Keep decor simple. “Place a garland down the middle of a table. It really just makes the table pop.”

Tweak the traditional palette: “One of the color combinations we used this year was sage and wine, which was a play off of red and green. It’s a bit more subtle.”

Ask people to bring booze instead of dessert. “If it doesn’t get used, unlike dessert, it can be saved for your next party.”

Be a good guest. “RSVP promptly. And if you think you can’t make it, a quick ‘No’ is better than a long ‘Maybe.’”

 

A few weekends ago, I was at my business partner’s birthday gathering, lightly facilitating some sharing of his impact—what we appreciated in Edmond, what we saw in him that he might not see in himself. A friend of his commented that most people don’t get this level of appreciation and celebration reflected back to them until they are dead. At funerals, people give themselves permission to bring their emotions, to reminisce about favorite memories, to share the life-changing impacts that person has had on them. It feels cathartic and connecting—but the person who has passed isn’t hearing a word of it.

Why we should skip ahead to the good stuff

Too often, we wait until there is an ending or closing to say kind words, or we don’t give appreciative feedback at all. The ending doesn’t have to be death—it might be when a beloved employee announces she’s leaving a job. Heartwarming emails pour in in response to the farewell email, or some words are said at the company all-hands, or people write emotional notes of appreciation.

When I left a recent job, I received brief but beautiful emails from people I had interacted with only once or twice, sharing that even in their different function, they were inspired by seeing me show up as a senior woman at the company. I hadn’t known that. One of my direct reports showed up a few minutes late to our last one-on-one because she was writing a letter—a handwritten letter! I was also presented with a foam board with more notes from the engineering team and other coworkers.

Take the first step in creating a culture in which sharing appreciation and gratitude in the moment is as natural as showing up for daily stand-ups or checking email.

I treasure those words. They reflect to me what I already know, which is that in an imperfect system, I have lived and acted true to my values and what long-term success means to me. At the same time, I wonder what might have been different for me if I had deeply known the appreciation throughout my time there.

The impact of appreciative feedback

A few months ago, Edmond and I conducted a few dozen interviews to find the patterns in frustrations, pains, hopes, and dreams of engineers, tech leads, engineering managers, CTOs, and VPs of engineering. What struck us is that so many people cared deeply about doing well and were trying to do their best, but we heard this over and over again:

“I don’t even know if I’m doing a good job.”

When I reflect on moments in my own career that I’ve received meaningful appreciative feedback, a few come to mind. In written feedback at Google, at a time when I struggled with a feeling of having “snuck” in through their internship program (rather than the normal full slate of rigorous interviews), my manager told me the work I was doing was on par with what was expected of more-senior engineers. That gave me a concrete calibration of how I was doing, so I was able to leave behind a lot of those feelings of uncertainty. A year or so after I left Google, I had lunch with a senior engineer who had been my mentor there. He mentioned in conversation that he felt like my career was a rocket ship and soon he would see me as a CTO of a large tech company. He showed me a glimpse of how he saw me as a leader before I saw myself that way.

There was also the time after I returned from my second maternity leave. I felt like I was doing all right, and as I transitioned from four days a week back to five, my manager told me, “It feels like after your maternity leave, you leveled up a huge step. I bet a lot of people didn’t even know you were working only four days a week.” The impact was that I had a better sense of the perception people had of me and my work—and that rather than just doing all right, I was kicking ass.

In each of these instances, something that was clear as day to the other person was obscured for me, and by sharing what they had seen or noticed in me, it shifted how I viewed myself.

Kicking off the gratitude loop

Companies are starting to catch on to the importance of expressing gratitude. Anil Dash, the CEO of software company Glitch, wrote on Medium about how Glitch fosters a culture of gratitude, and Camille Fournier shared how they did this at Rent The Runway. And Jen Dennard of Range Labs, a company that facilitates better communication and strengthens relationships among teams, wrote about building a culture of gratitude through high frequency and gratitude catered to each individual. Edmond and I try to express gratitude when we feel it and also reflect in our monthly debriefs with a prompt around what we’re grateful for.

When I started training to become a coach a year ago, the coaching skill of “acknowledgment”—noticing something positive about the other person and saying it to them out loud—was the most difficult for me. It felt awkward, inauthentic, contrived. Positive feedback in the form of “good job” felt like a pat on the head—condescending, almost. I imagine it feels that way for many people—and so we shy away from it, hoping that people already know what we appreciate about them.

I’ve found that more-specific prompts guide me and make it feel more structured and less awkward to share appreciation and gratitude.

  • What quality do you see in this person that they might not see in themselves?
  • What is the most noticeable change you’ve seen since you started working with this person?
  • What qualities do you most appreciate about this person? What do you see as possible for them if they lean into these qualities more fully?
  • What is your favorite memory of this person?

If you want this type of feedback, ask for it. Before your next one-one-one, take a moment to consider these prompts and share a piece of appreciative feedback. And then, in whatever way feels comfortable for you—perhaps in the same meeting, or in a Slack thread or email request—tell people that you’re looking to better understand your strengths and the impact you have on the those around you, and would love if they could answer one of these prompts. Take the first step in creating a culture in which sharing appreciation and gratitude in the moment is as natural as showing up for daily stand-ups or checking email.

Jean Hsu is a cofounder of Co Leadership and a member at Berkeley’s WeWork 2120 University Ave.

Celebrity stylist Karla Welch knows the importance of having a style uniform—and what happens when you try to fight it.  

Welch, dubbed the No. 1 power stylist by The Hollywood Reporter—with clients including Amy Poehler, Ruth Negga, Karlie Kloss, and Zooey Deschanel—recently booked a crack-of-dawn flight from Los Angeles to New York for an event at WeWork 205 Hudson. Bleary-eyed at 3:30 a.m. and prepping for her flight, Welch packed exactly one outfit: a dress. At the last minute, she threw in a favorite pair of jeans. Just in case.

When she landed in New York, she slipped on the dress to wear to the panel discussion about WISHI, the on-demand personal-styling platform she co-founded with stylist Cleo O’Hana. But the dress was all wrong, she says. Backup jeans it was.

Celebrity stylist Karla Welch’s own style uniform consists of three items: jeans, a blazer, and a white T-shirt.

That’s the power of a personal style uniform. “It’s a security blanket,” says Welch, who wears a white shirt, jeans, boots, and blazer during most of her nonstop days spent styling clients, consulting on advertising campaigns, and designing custom pieces for Justin Bieber’s world tours.

There’s a reason uniform dressing is catching on: When you streamline one aspect of your life, it frees up your brain to focus elsewhere. When you’re busy or building a company from the ground up, says Welch, “your mind is needed for other things.”  

At WeWork, Karla Welch shared the stage with fashion names like WISHI cofounder Clea O’Hana (left) and B Sides Jeans cofounder Stacy Daily (right).

Famously, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama have all admitted to wearing nearly the same outfits every day; now entrepreneurs and ambitious workers are following suit (while ditching the suit). How to begin? First, take a deep breath. “The thing is, it’s just clothes,” Welch says. “You don’t need to stress out.”

Keep it supersimple. Ask yourself, What are you looking for? advises Welch, who says it’s the first question she poses to clients. For example: “clean lines, not too fussy, something to move around the city in.” Creating a style target helps narrow your options. Welch’s own uniform consists of three items: jeans, blazer, white T-shirt. Yours could be a slight variation: stylish trousers, say, or sweaters during the winter.

Consider your days. Are you in and out of meetings? Does your commute feel like it’s 100 degrees, even in the winter—except when it’s not? Your uniform should be adaptable and feel comfortable in a variety of situations. “A uniform is a time-saver so you can do better things,” Welch says. It should never be a source of worry.

Start with what you have. Uniform dressing seems like a minimalist endeavor, yet it’s easy to think you need to buy a new wardrobe. Don’t, says Welch, who advocates wearing pieces for years. Start by shopping your own closet. It’s less expensive and more sustainable—plus, creating a style identity from familiar pieces you already own makes it more likely you’ll stick with it.

Ask one crucial question. Pick items that make you feel powerful and build from there. Ask yourself, “Do I feel good in this item?” If the answer is yes, add it to your rotation. If the answer’s no, consider donating it.

Look to the greats. Channel inspiration from artists, cinema, and celebrities. Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons dresses almost exclusively in black, save for the occasional white shirt. And the artist Georgia O’Keeffe was notoriously rigid with her self-created wardrobe—so much so that her iconic androgynous silk, cotton, and wool outfits have been showcased in museum exhibits.

Solicit a second opinion. If you’re at a loss, hire an expert. It might be a better use of your time than opening 47 shopping tabs in your browser and searching for the right piece. On WISHI, each user is matched with a professional stylist. You send photographs of your wardrobe, and the stylist sends back suggestions from your own closet and from online stores.

Beat back boredom. Growing up, Welch wore a school uniform, but instead of resenting the predictability and sameness, she says, “it pushed me to be creative.” The same goes for an adult uniform. “The goal is to feel confident, not bored,” she says. “It takes a remarkable amount of confidence to wear something over and over again.” And if repetition can breed success, then a uniform could be your strongest style move yet.

Photos by Lori Gutman