A third of businesses quote competition as biggest concern

future of work 300x194 A third of businesses quote competition as biggest concern

Anywhere working?

The recent Business West Survey placed ‘competition’ as the biggest fear for 32% of local businesses.

This is ahead of issues like taxation (19%) and business rates (18%) and shows that although business confidence is increasing, there is a long way to go in this recovery before we can all relax.

Not that relaxing should be an option for any business. Even when the economy is strong and there is plenty for everyone, a lapse of concentration can hurt any organisation. So how do we stay ahead of the competition?

Happy people make happy businesses

One good way is to make sure you have the best staff available and that they are happy. Happy, engaged employees can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: they want to work for you and help your (and their) business grow, thus attracting more talented potential employees, all of which combines to make your business more successful, your staff happier and even more attractive to even more talented potential employees, and so on – you get the idea.

The key to all this happiness and growth is engagement. Your people are your business and they want to be a part of it. They do not want to be just a cog in a machine: they want to be creative, to get and to give more, to be valued, involved and trusted.

A big part of this is flexibility around working practices. In a CISCO report from 2010, 61% of workers globally believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive. More and more, people are looking for choice about when, where and how they work. Flexible working hours, choice about work location and ‘bring your own device’ policies are just some of the ways that progressive employers are engaging with staff to find ways to work that benefit the people and the business.

Flexible working makes people happy

Let’s look at just one example: flexible working hours. In a 2013 CBI survey, 10% of employers said that flexible working was a driver of employee engagement. A global online survey conducted by Chess Media Group last year stated that 80% of people expect flexible working to improve their work and family life balance and 77% of people expect flexible working to improve their work satisfaction.

Many people want work to be part of their life, not the be-all and end of it. They want it to integrate better with the rest of their life so that they spend more time – and more quality time – with children, partners and their wider circle of family and friends. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the above CBI survey also found that 87% of employers said the most important benefit of employee engagement was improved productivity and performance.

This goes back to that virtuous circle of employee retention and attraction mentioned earlier. Engagement between employer and employee is a great way to stay ahead of the competition in what remains a tricky economic recovery where margins and market share cannot be taken for granted.

For more on this: The Future of Work is already here!

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The Future of Work: What do we mean by Flexible Working?

Flexible working was originally concerned with timing. It was about giving staff more flexibility around when they worked. To start and finish earlier, perhaps, or go part-time can help to deal with family commitments or with extra workloads and extending working hours.

Early adopters of flexible working practices include BT, AA, Ernst and Young and Reuters. All found benefits in the process. For example, the AA found ‘absence rates falling compared to other call centres…’ and BT found the ability of 70% of staff to access networks away from the offices meant travel restrictions ‘had little or no impact on the running of the organisation’.

The right to request flexible working for carers and working parents was first introduced in 2003 and extended in 2009. It will be extended again on 30 June 2014, to cover all employees who have completed 26 weeks’ service.

Working part-time

In 2008, an estimated 91% of employees had access to flexible working and the prime form available was part-time work at 73%. Part-time working is a flexible choice as it allows staff to work around other commitments like children or carer responsibilities and businesses to schedule resources around fluctuations in demand.

However, in other research it was found that part-time-hours was behind flexi-time, home-working and time off in lieu in preference of how employees wanted to work. In the main, this was because they could not afford to go part time. This disconnect between what employers offer and what employees need is something that many business need to resolve.

Part-time work and the gender gap

Nevertheless, part-time work is still a useful tool and a potential help for many workers. Sad then that it is only available to 25% of men, as opposed to 52% of women. This is due, at least in part to attitudes – two out of five men are afraid to ask for flexible work options in case it harms their career. So does the above figure mean women have the advantage when it comes to part-time work?

Well no. Many women are working below their talent levels. While the proportion of women in full-time, high level occupation has risen three-fold over the last twenty or so years, there is no change at this level for part-time work. Downgrading skill levels accompanies the transition to part-time hours for 29% of women in high-level positions and 40% of women in intermediate positions.

On the other hand, a quarter of women (24 per cent) working part time would prefer to work full time, but said there were no opportunities for full time work with their employer. The estimated cost of under-utilising women’s skills is estimated to be between 15 and 23 billion pounds or 1.3 to 2.0 per cent of GDP.

Fully flexible options

In the digital age, employees want and expect so much more. While timing is important (popular choices for employees include flexi-time 51%, job-share 46%, compressed working week 47%, annualised hours 34%), so is location (24% would like to work from home).

Then there are options around the nature of employment. Temporary and contract work are becoming more popular. It allows employees to enjoy greater variety, test out jobs and/or employers, take projects to suit lifestyle, improve their professional network and may lead to other opportunities.

Obviously, there are down sides, such as insecurity of income and lack of control. However, more and more people are looking at portfolio careers, where their income can be made up of part-time jobs, temporary work, freelance assignments, etc., that give a better work-family life balance, greater fulfilment and the safety net of more than one income stream.

Employers find that this approach gives them more flexibility also: to adjust to seasonal or market variations in demand, control costs and test potential employees.

The future of work

Flexible working is very much a part of how the future of work is shaping up. In the recent budget coverage, one of the discussions was around the fact that although various parts of the economy have improved, productivity has not grown. Better employee engagement is one way to improve productivity for business and make a real difference to the economy. It is not just about how many widgets are produced, it is also about how even knowledge workers can be more effective and contribute more creativity and effort to bring growth to a business if only they are given a stake in what that business is trying to achieve.

The statistics for this article have come from Flexible Working: working for families, working for business, A report by the Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce

More on the future of work

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Predicting the future

Predicting the future is, on the face of it, a mugs game. There is no guarantee of being right or even that being right is beneficial.

And yet, we do it all the time. When we create financial forecasts, estimate take-up of an offer, write a shopping list or propose marriage, we are betting on the future. Even if we decide to do nothing and delay a task, we are betting we have the time, inclination or ability to do it tomorrow.

Prediction is also futile because we could never calculate every eventuality, every permutation of cause and effect. The possibilities are far too great.

However, we have to have a plan, don’t we? We have to know what we want to happen in order to take the necessary actions to try and make sure it does: the investor wants to know their money is safe, the buyer needs to know how much stock to order, you want to know what to cook tomorrow, your fiancé wants to know you will live happily ever after.

We understand prediction if we understand there are no guarantees, we have done as much research as possible and our lives don’t depend on the result. This should lead to the best strategy, the best plan for implementation and a back up if the prediction falls short.

All this occurred while I was organising a conference for April called the Future of Work. The first thing I realised was that the title may be a little misleading because the future of work is already here: it is just waiting for us to catch up. And we will. We are creating the future now, as we assess and adopt the new technology and exploit new attitudes and new thinking that make life and work easier and better.

During the research for the event, I came across very different attitudes toward and predictions for the future: from no change (commercial property developers, HP and Yahoo) to complete change (Linda Grafton, Dave Coplin, etc). This effectively means there is no definitive prediction, just a range of ideas up for discussion, which is exactly what I wanted for the conference.

I am looking forward to hearing ideas from the experts about how their clients are working as well as from delegates about how they work or want to work. I hope people will get involved in the discussion, both before and after. This would be the best kind of prediction, where no guess work is involved: just evolutionary changes towards a better future.

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Home-working pros and cons

Anyone who has ever worked at home for any sustained period will know the pros and cons only too well. However, if you have dreamed of being able to work at home, the following may be beneficial.

Just a brief note first: if it is a dream, perhaps because it sounds like a great lifestyle choice or you would get to spend more time with the kids or say goodbye to the commute, then stop dreaming and make it happen. There is more info on this at the end of the article.

The freedom of home-working

Flexible – working at home means you can work round family events, work the hours that suit you, pop to the shops, be in for that delivery, etc. as well as it being easier to work as you get older – I doubt we’ll be looking forward to the commute in our seventies.

Meet family commitments – spend more time with the kids, be at the school play or PTA meeting, take them to or from school, make life easier if your partner does shift work, make returning to work after pregnancy easier.

Less commuting – save money on petrol, maybe even save money on a car, save the time and stress of being in traffic jams, gain an hour or more back out of every day.

Reduce business costs – save on office space and associated costs.

Improve productivity – many people work harder from home because it suits them, they are being empowered to be more creative, they are saving time in other areas or because they want to return the trust shown by their employer and also because they may have less interruptions at home.

Technology – mobile and cloud technology and online collaboration tools make working remotely and, at the same time, keeping in touch so much easier.

However, home-working is not without its problems…

Isolation – working at home can be an isolating experience as phone calls, emails, video calls, social media, etc do not make up for face to face communication.

Water-cooler chat – the other benefit of proximity is the casual, accidental meetings that provide light relief and sometimes a spark of an idea. Yahoo and HP quoted this among the influences on their decision to bring everyone back to the office. While this extreme stance may have received flak, there is no doubt that social interaction is an important part of employee engagement.

Technology – we stated above the help technology gives, but it comes at a price and has to be integrated and managed to benefit all in the business. Communication is reliant on connection, which at home may not always be great.

Communication – and anyway, communication is more difficult with a dispersed workforce in terms of dissipation of message and speed of response.

Management of teams – how do brand values and culture stay aligned and how do projects stay on course when half the team are not in the office on a regular basis?

Trust – successful remote working relies on trust, empowering employees to work how they want and judging on results, looking for feedback and ensuring they are kept in the loop.

So, what is the answer?

As ever, it is about compromise. Few people will want to work in the office or at home all the time, but the flexibility and freedom to choose empowers them to work better for themselves and for the business. Employers need a clear plan and to collaborate with employees on how they will be managed and ensure that the business works in terms of IT, communication and performance.

For more information about the Future of Work, especially if you want to change the way you work:

The Future of Work

Microsoft Business Reimagined

The Future of Work…unlimited

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What does Agile Working mean to you?

Agile working can be described as fluid, flexible and adaptive and it asks the questions of when, where and how work should be undertaken and how the value of the work should be assessed. Many companies have already seen the benefits of flexible working, which include happier and more productive employees and real estate cost savings. However, agile working is not just about timing, but about place and interaction and seeks to measure value based on output rather than time at desk.

But what does this mean to you?

Does it mean working from home or just working at the office but around your other commitments? Does it mean working from anywhere when you are on the move?

If you are negotiating with your employer or looking at how to manage your employees, there are a number of things you could look at.

  • where work will be done: home, office, client sites, third places, on the move or a combination.
  • when work will be done: only during working hours, around family commitments, when to turn off.
  • how it will be done:  what devices, connections, data storage, back-up and security will be required.
  • how will you communicate: telephone, meetings, email, video, etc.
  • what is the relationship: how will you build trust and measure results.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at all these issues in more detail. In the meantime, what does agile working mean to you?

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The business case for Agile Working

A significant number of businesses, large and small, are embracing agile working, not just to follow government guidelines on being flexible about when employees work, but looking at how and where they work. The benefits are not just in cost savings but also in better employees and business performance. In this, the second in our Future of Work series, we look at agile working and it’s benefits in more detail.

What is agile working?

Agile working is more than flexible working, because it is not just about time. Many companies will allow staff to start the day earlier or later or work around childcare issues. However, this is not enough. To be truly agile, companies are looking at empowering employees to work where and how they will perform best. This may involve the office, but may also involve other places of work that fits individual needs and lifestyle. Agile working can be described as fluid, flexible and adaptive and it asks the questions of when, where and how work should be undertaken and how the value of the work should be assessed.

So what are the alternatives to a full time, private office?

  • Home working – this is the first choice for many for convenience, avoiding the commute and working around family life. All that is required is, ideally, a separate working area, good broadband and at least one mobile device. Virtual office facilities can be utilised if needed, even a complete virtual desktop, with software, email, etc as part of a package or simply using Google, Dropbox or similar. This is easily manageable for freelancers and mobile workers, start-ups and small businesses.
  • Co-working – this is an open space with workstations, informal and formal meeting areas, possibly some smaller booths for concentration and support facilities like copying, fax, admin support, etc. Most will have mentoring, business support services and events, acting a lot like incubation hubs which make them suitable for per-start and start-ups and particularly those in creative and technology sectors. It is a very flexible form of space and low cost.
  • Mobile working – there is usually a specific reason why people are mobile and sales representatives is the obvious example, although regional managers, exhibition company workers and trades people are further examples of those who are rarely in one place. Just as for the home office, there is an array of services available to make working on the move easy and affordable, like cloud products and telephone answering services. Additionally, mobile workers may need hot-desk services, meeting rooms, cafes, etc to touch down and meet with colleagues and clients. Mobile workers may have no fixed base, work alone or be a part of a larger company.
  • Third places – an array of additional places to work include cafes, libraries, trains, client offices, etc.

Benefits of agile working

Many organisations have already seen the benefits of flexible working, which include happier and more productive employees and real estate cost savings. BT’s own Workstyle case study (Flexible Working, 2007) clearly illustrates many of these points:

  • 70% of staff are flexible workers
  • Home workers handle 20% more calls and take 63% less sick leave than office-based staff
  • 99% retention rate following maternity leave
  • Over €725m a year saved through reduced office estate
  • €104m a year saved in reduced accommodation costs from home working

For small businesses and start-ups, the adoption of technology is fairly straightforward and low cost and the economic climate is not slowing down start-up rates: according to Start-up Britain, there will be over 500,000 start-ups this year, as opposed to 484,224 in 2012 and 440,600 in 2011. For larger companies, the cost of the IT infrastructure required to facilitate agile working are more than outweighed by the savings made.

According to research undertaken by the Agile Future Forum (AFF) in 2013, most value created by agile working is in adapting to fluctuations in demand, increasing quality of outputs through training and attraction and retention of staff with flexible work patterns that increase engagement, productivity and happiness.

Costs can also be saved by avoiding the time, stress and fuel involved in commuting, which reduces the carbon footprint of the business. In turn, for the wider environment, these actions use fewer resources and ease congestion, helping to substantiate any claims a business may make concerning corporate social responsibility.

This still leaves the question of how dispersed teams should be managed, which will be discussed in the last blog of the series: Working in the future, now.

For our first post on this subject, go to ‘Future of Work’ and the last post is ‘Working in the future, now’.

Posted in Business Development, Information Technology, Real Estate, Serviced Offices | 3 Comments

HP join Yahoo in the office

So, Meg Whitman, CEO HP, adds to the furore sparked by Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo, back in February, by placing the emphasis on employees being at the office together, at the same time to engage, collaborate and innovate.

And who could argue? Yahoo’s share price has risen in the months since the announcement and it may well be on the back of an increase in activity at the company. HP has not banned home-working, but Whitman wants to put the emphasis on working together ‘during this critical turnaround period’.

The point, of course, as is so often the case, is about balance, and about timing. I don’t know of anyone who is recommending only tele-working for all, forever. The whole point of agile working is fluidity – the clue being in the word itself.

Agility is about speed, ease of movement, changing direction, being nimble and alert. The agile worker can move easily and quickly from job to job, location to location, colleague to client. He has the back-up, infrastructure and support to achieve this. There will be times of the day or, more probably, week and month where the agile worker will need to be in the office. Over and above this, there will be periods where, strategically, he will be in the office more than not, perhaps because of a specific project or situation. That situation may well be changing the fortune of the company around, as with HP.

In general, we do not occupy the extreme spaces of ‘this’ or ‘that’, we live in the lines in between. We are a social animal and it will be a sad world that sees everyone working alone inside their heads without any physical interaction. This is apart from the fact that not everyone chooses to work remotely. Some like the 9-5 of an office. Some want the office, but hours to suit other aspects of their lives. Some want a mixture of office and home. Some want to be in the office as little as possible.

The important issue here is not that anyone believes any one method is absolutely right or wrong, but that management have not yet figured how to balance the needs of the workforce with the needs of the business. In a corner, they revert to an Industrial Age, dictatorial approach that they know and love because they believe it works. Far better for the CEO to ask how do we resolve the given issue and maintain employee happiness.

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Three months free office space for start-ups

While business confidence is improving and the government have created some useful programmes to help SME businesses, we are still working in a difficult economic environment and we need not just a strong feed of new businesses but to look at how we ensure the success of these enterprises.

This is why the Colston Office Centre is extending its’ business support services to provide office space free for 3 months to all new businesses. If you have recently started, or are about to start, a business, you will enjoy 3 months in our co-working space with business address, IT support and hosted email, accountancy advice, business strategy consultation, Growth Accelerator assessment and a marketing review.

Whatever businesses entrepreneurs are developing in terms of sector, size or style, this represents an investment by us in the future success of Bristol. Whether working alone or in a small team, we promise to provide start-ups with an environment conducive to giving their business every help possible.

This offer is open-ended and will be available for the foreseeable future. There are no commitments required from the businesses, so once the period is up – they can carry on with some or all of the services at our normal rates or finish without further obligation. Anyone interested in taking advantage of this trial should get in touch with Barry Harvey on 0117 317 8090.

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Theo Paphitis Award-Winning Bristol Entrepreneur launches do it LIVE!

A Bristol young entrepreneur who caught the eye of a Dragon aims to give small business owners the tools to create and control their own marketing in one day.

New Picture Theo Paphitis Award Winning Bristol Entrepreneur launches do it LIVE!

Theo Paphitis presenting award to Danny Maddocks

Danny Maddocks believes that a great website is essential for every business to market themselves online, and he should know – Danny was given an award by Dragon’s Den business expert Theo Paphitis for his unique approach to online marketing.

Now Danny aims to give Bristol business owners the benefit of his expertise in a one day event called ‘do it LIVE!’. He guarantees he will take someone with no web experience, help them create a personalised website and give them the tools to use it to market their business forever. No jargon, just easy to follow techniques that have been tried and tested by Danny and his clients.

Danny says “I give busy business owners the power to take control of their marketing, by sharing the skills and knowledge that can create successful websites in one day.”

He added, “A small business needs full control over how a website looks and feels with without hiring developers or paying someone each time it is updated. There’s no magic to this, you just need to know how to get it right first time.”

Danny promises that everyone who attends ‘do it LIVE!’ will leave at the end of the day with a fully functional website created using WordPress, as well as being given a selection of premium tools included in the price. And if they are not happy, he refunds the cost of the course.

Danny is an experienced trainer who teaches business people the right skills fast, in a relaxed and friendly manner. He gives his clients the hands on experience and technical know-how to easily update a website, publish blog posts and upload photos and videos, as well as connecting them with the world of social media.

Danny is the founder of www.TheBristolShop.co.uk, a freelance web developer at www.doitontheweb.co.uk and the creator and founder of www.BabysFirstCalendar.co.uk.

For further information about the do it LIVE! workshop please visit www.doitlive.co.uk


do it LIVE!’ with Danny Maddocks is being held at the Colston Office Centre (bottom of Christmas Steps) on 20th June 2013, 9:30am – 17:30pm. Price from £195.

For more information and to book, please visit www.doitlive.co.uk

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Setting up office

However and wherever you work, there are a few basics to cover that ensure you are working efficiently and comfortably.

Whether office based, home-worker or mobile-worker, there are common elements to the working environment, like location, furniture, comfort, IT set-up, etc. that we all need to think about.


If you need an office, should it be near clients, prospects, competition, transport hubs? Do you need city centre, or out of town?

Maybe you are mobile, so have you a few places set-up that you are know are easy and comfortable to work in? It might be your home office, perhaps, or a co-working space when you need, or a client site. Somewhere, at any rate, you can walk in instantly and work.

When you work at home, do you find this isolating at times, is it easy to get out and meet people. Is it somewhere you are happy to meet clients and prospects?


In an office environment, you basically need a phone and phone line, computer and broadband. Though you may only need broadband if you use a VOIP phone. But what happens when you are out of the office – at meetings and out of hours, for example? Can you still respond to email, phone calls, work on your data, access information?

If you are an agile worker or working from home you are perhaps more likely to be aware of these issues and have a more flexible, cloud set-up. Obviously if all your data is in the cloud, you can get to it anywhere you have a mobile device and a connection.

But with more than one person, how do you ensure communication to deliver a consistent business service and image, especially if all working from different locations?

At home, one issue might be broadband – domestic services are often not reliable or fast enough for work purposes.


Space – is there enough, can you spread out or are you stuck under the stairs like Harry Potter? Is there room for you and for storage without having to bend over backwards to retrieve files or step over/around things? Is there room to meet clients, prospects, suppliers?

Ambience – have you enough light, preferably natural, a window for a sense of space? Is it too noisy or even too quiet? Does it feel good to work here, are you happy and motivated? Is the décor up to scratch?

Furniture – think about ergonomics, a comfortable environment for your body and your mind. Is everything at a suitable height without strain to reach or get to?

Working practices

This is more relevant if there is more than one of you. How do you work – open plan, bull pen, offices, etc?

How do you communicate, control noise, make sensitive calls, have confidential meetings, collaborate with colleagues, integrate with mobile staff?

What hours does everyone work – set or flexible? How does this work with clients and operations?

Is your data all digital or physical? Do you need a printer/fax/scanner to work?

What is your reporting/process structure and how does this work in the environment you have choasen to work in?

This is fairly rudimentary summary, but it shows that wherever and whatever your place of work, there are a number of issues that will affect how you work.

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