Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

It’s an amazing digital world that we live in; a world where we can talk to and see anyone, anywhere, through touch screens from four inches to four metres, control machines with thought and operate driverless cars. Tolkien himself could not have imagined such a world.

We are all connected, accessing loads of different stuff on millions of different devices. Some of us are working better, being more mobile, more flexible and more efficient and with more choice about how, when and where we work.

But, as Gandalf might say ‘Is it secret? Is it safe?’

In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo had indeed kept the ring of power both secret and safe. But in the real world, are we keeping the power held in our data secret and safe? In terms of mobile devices, there is ample evidence that we are not.

A recent report from Ovum and Samsung commented on by Insight (I would love to link you to the full report but Samsung do not tell me how) on the Future of Work reveals that ‘around a third of all BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) activity is invisible to the IT department’ and ‘nearly two thirds are not working to any formal IT policy’.

Another report, referenced by Fierce CIO, reveals that 15% of employees (from a survey of 500) felt no responsibility towards security of mobile devices, with 10% not having any form of log-in mechanism in place. Employees also access confidential information on public wireless connections (43%) with many installing six or more third-party applications (45%).

BYOD Policy

Many businesses worry about cloud security, thinking that their data is vulnerable on huge great servers that, actually, would cost the operators far too much money to allow them to go wrong (more on that here). No, the real danger is much closer to home and business owners, IT departments and employees are not always giving these security issues the diligence they deserve.

Every employee with a mobile device and who conducts work on that device should be part of a planned policy that provides best practice. This would include any data stored on the device, how it connects to the internet, protecting the device through log-on protocols and the data through encryption and looking at and approving, if necessary, any apps downloaded. This is true of company devices but especially true of BYOD devices.

The risks are not just about lost or stolen data, but also about viruses and sabotage, data protection issues and credibility with clients and prospects as well as potential legal action. The world is moving forward and there are opportunities to work in ways that better suit businesses and employees and provide far greater freedom and choice. This, in turn, however, brings its own problems and business owners would be well advised to take greater lengths to keep their data secret and safe.

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Q: Who will lose out if we don’t adopt agile working practices?

A: Women, older workers, everyone else…and your business.

The industrial age was about production: a linear model from raw materials, through manufacture or service creation to the customer. For the worker, the focus here is on time present at work with little in terms of motivation or engagement to create a better product or more of it. It is location specific, repetitive and timed.

This model has become obsolete over the last fifty or so years by our move away from manufacturing and the increase of knowledge work, the advancement of technology and changing attitudes to work. For many businesses though, the model is still the default which is bad news for us all, but affects some more than others.

Women at work

Women started working in large numbers during the two world wars, since when we have grown into a society where women often need to work more because fewer families can survive on one income. Yet many women want to work and stretch themselves, but the world of work is still stacked against them: unequal pay, glass ceilings, childcare issues, etc, as a recent Observer article discusses. Agile working can help women in work by offering more flexibility about when and where they work, adopting and adapting technology to support them and introducing sensible part-time options.

Agile working also offers a template for measuring workers by output rather than time spent, which is a valuable tool in creating a more level playing field where wages and conditions are concerned. Businesses need to take advantage of the knowledge and skills offered by women to enhance their competitiveness and benefit the economy as a whole and this is not going to happen unless we move away from a long-expired working model.

Older workers

The story is similar with older workers and this is particularly pertinent to me because, as of next week, I will be in the bracket described by the DWP as older workers, i.e. 50-69. A sobering thought.

Again, the industrial age model is not helpful. It was often about physical work, for which there is a limited life-span. Our current economy, however, relies a great deal on knowledge work, not physical labour, which extends the value of an individual. Combine this with the demographics of an older population, longevity and a projected future shortfall in employees compared to the number of jobs needed and we would be fools to ignore the older worker. That’s me, by the way, in case you forgot!

Older workers bring many advantages, like confidence, maturity, knowledge and experience. They need less training and supervision and, hey, we still have ideas you know. And they can help bring the young guns up to scratch.

Everyone else

It stands to reason that much of what is being described above is true for all employees. We all want more engagement, choice and control over how we work. It may just be about flexible hours, to help with family commitments, but it could be about working where you are most productive or changing environments depending on the task. Technology can help with this, of course, but so can the attitude of employers. Once we are measuring success on the work done rather than the time spent doing it or the place in which it was done, we create a whole new model of working which benefits from the freedom offered.

Your business

I have talked much about the benefits of this approach, but it is worth reiterating. Agile working, according to the Agile Future Forum, offers adaptability so that businesses can better match resources to demand, greater productivity and quality of output as well as attracting and retaining better quality staff.

Add to this potential savings in real estate costs, commuting costs and stress, as well as a positive impact on congestion and the environment, and there is a strong business case for adopting agile working practices. As is evident, it is not just women and the older workers that lose out from our attachment to outdated working practices.

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Why should education be different?

Flexible working is not just about technology businesses, the service sector and the self-employed. What about teaching?

Do we need teachers in a classroom, forcing pupils to go to school, parents to have to drive them and the postcode lottery? Could some pupils learn online? Could some education be done remotely – with module elements, webinars and interactive video lectures?

It is certainly a possibility for higher education. According to the Daily Telegraph, a recent study reveals that a third of university students do not believe  £9k a year for an average 14 hrs formal teaching a week represents value for money. It is hard not to agree. Obviously a university campus provides other facilities, but is it all necessary? I am doing an OU course at home currently and, while it will take six years to complete the degree at my current pace, if I wasn’t working I could probably do it in a year. I am finding distance learning pretty straightforward and there is as much interactivity as I need, if I need.

So, are the universities pricing themselves out of existence? Well, cost isn’t the only issue. Nathan Harden believes that technology will do the same to higher education as it has done to publishing, music, etc. This will mean students have the power as consumers, to choose any university in the world, study virtually and choose ever more bespoke learning that ties in with their specific needs and aspirations.

It doesn’t help that degrees themselves are becoming devalued by their ubiquity. So much so, that a Masters or PHD is the new degree. However, if students can benefit from easy access to worldwide lectures and courses and tailor their learning and engage continuously to remain relevant to their career then the value of that learning is increased, not devalued.

Harvard is experimenting with online courses, but cannot agree on how much to offer, concerned as some are that by offering the full course online, they degrade the exclusive college experience. However, students may take this decision away from them, just as consumers did in the music industry. Music listeners don’t always want the whole album, sometimes they just want a couple of songs. They also want choice over when, where and how they listen. Why should education be different?

This is not to dismiss the value of face-to-face interaction, especially in early years, but I think we can expect some serious changes to the way we learn over the coming years.

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Why are you waiting to get connected?

Last Tuesday saw the first of a series of events by Bristol Council to promote the £4.8m of funding it has available for small businesses to upgrade to fibre optic broadband.

Stephen Hilton and Joe Dignan outlined the vouchers they are hoping to use to help as many businesses as possible upgrade to superfast broadband. In a nutshell, as part of Bristol’s status as Super-Connected City, most small businesses with up to 250 staff and £40m turnover and based in the city of Bristol will qualify. It is for install only and not monthly costs, but there were several suppliers present to reassure businesses that the costs were reasonable. Each organisation can claim between £250 and £3,000 and the scheme finishes next April.

Just in case you are wondering, there is no catch – this is a grant, not a loan and you will find more information at Connecting Bristol. Even if you qualify and overcome your cynicism, however, you may still wonder why you should bother.

I have no idea what service you have now, but we have noticed a significant improvement since moving to fibre (which I did before I knew about this scheme, but I am told there may be a possibility to retro-claim). Speed is better and our clients have no restrictions. We could also create dedicated bandwidth for clients, within their own VPN, if they so desire. This is not relevant to everyone, but may be useful for some.

The main benefit of the speed is to get your business working faster, more efficiently and giving you more flexibility. Streaming and data transfer are quicker and easier for a start. Many organisations are moving to cloud and VOIP phone systems are becoming more popular. Both require a little more bandwidth and might be adversely affected by more limiting services.

Additionally, this capability makes remote working easier – whether you are using intranet, cloud services, VOIP phones at home, video links, high-speed broadband is far more efficient. Your staff can integrate with your data and systems wherever they are, whenever they need and on any device. The ability to manage a dispersed team could, in turn, save you money on office, utility and transport costs.

However, the benefits are not just for your business. The more organisations that sign up, the more infrastructure gets built up, not just by BT but by other suppliers as well, which benefits the community and will give more businesses (and even residents) the chance to upgrade, even after the voucher scheme ends. My building is right in the centre of Bristol and we don’t even have Fibre to the Cabinet. So the more sign up, the better served everyone will be.

So, what are you waiting for? Go to the Connecting Bristol website and upgrade your broadband now.

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Why aren’t we more disruptive?

A t Open Coffee this week the conversation took its usual twists and turns; from online geographic games and their educational potential, through looking at ways to measure mental ability from jack of all trades to polymath, all the way to issues around political correctness. We like a challenge at OC!

Anyway, one of our number took it upon themselves to raise the idea of disruption, which has been something of a recurring theme of late. Disruption innovation is capable of changing markets and value networks – think email, plastic and desktop publishing. This led to asking why we are not more disruptive. Why do we accept our lives so willingly, its rhythm and routine, the social norms that we all too rarely question, when we do not work collectively for any single goal?

Obviously, this led, in turn, to looking at the contrast with termites and ants, who work together tirelessly for a communal objective, i.e. survival of the colony. On the face of it the human race has no such overarching strategy – we appear very much look after ourselves. We are far more individual, at least close up, and self-aware than our insect friends, and yet we follow expected patterns of behaviour without a thought. We do not question, or believe we would not be able to change things even if we did.

So, we scrabbled around for an idea to explain this collective behaviour and came up with this: if we were all disruptive, there would be chaos. Though, as a race, we do not consciously work together toward an unspoken objective, perhaps our subconscious behaviour is rooted in maintaining order. Society is a very complex construct and needs understanding and acceptance of the ‘rules’ to be stable. The order achieved by most of the populace provides a stable environment against which the few disrupters – innovators, criminals, activists – can operate (the criminals perhaps are a necessary by-product). The innovation they create takes us forward, but at a pace whereby the innovation can be assimilated and do most good. (We are not sociologists or philosophers, so if anyone can corroborate or counter these random thoughts and enlighten us, please feel free so to do).

So, a few can innovate – Newton, Einstein, Jesus – while we provide the right environment to support progress. But what if we can use these innovations to change our environment? Technological innovation has given us the internet and innovative thinking has presented different ways to use it. Could we do away with imposed social order and create our own?

The Guardian featured an article, this weekend, by David Runciman, who was talking about this very thing. People are so much more interested in technology than politics – it is far more exciting – but he argues that, ultimately, technology could never replace the machinery of state – after all Google cannot fight a war or maintain infrastructure, even though it can make a driverless car. He acknowledges that technology has led to ad-hoc instances of political campaigns, but this is not a realistic alternative to our political system.

However, I can see ways in which technology could give us control over certain aspects of the state. We can all see an increase in the number of community groups, charities and social businesses that are working in the spaces that government doesn’t do so well, like the big beach clean-up at Portishead and the redevelopment of Headley Park and Playground. A lot of these are using social media and the latest web technology to reach the widest audience (See Neighbourly for more).

Teaching is a profession that could be done virtually, at least in theory (assuming one parent at home all the time), but would we still need the state to control the curriculum. Could we choose what we taught our children, would parents be sufficiently knowledgeable to know what their children were good at, what work was needed in the community that their personality and interests would be good for? Would we do any worse than the current education system?

Could we do away with parliament and ministers? Could anyone suggest a law or change that could then be electronically voted on by the populace? Could planning applications be done the same way? If a certain level of acceptance or positive votes is reached, approval is assumed.

Is the role social media played in the Aran Spring important? Are there other instances where citizens can effect change in their countries? Collectively, could we boycott or oppose certain products, companies, state bodies, laws in sufficient numbers to change minds? The aim might be to force organisations to change to protect the environment, civil liberties or stop greed or discrimination.

Several years back. Lorries were blocking the motorways, people were protesting and there were queues of desperate motorists at petrol stations where petrol was running out fast. This was because petrol had hit £1 per litre. Crude is cheaper than it was then and now petrol is around £1.30, so why are we not protesting now? Nobody wants chaos, but maybe, although technology cannot replace the state, it can help us find ways to define and express our collective voice and be just a little more disruptive.

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Two years of your life wasted in traffic jams

Why sit in traffic when you could be working, taking the kids to school, chatting to a colleague via video or a dozen other things that would make better use of your time? Commuting does not count as time at work but neither is it leisure time. So, why do we put up with it?

According to Inrix, in 2013, the UK was behind Belgium and the Netherlands only, in terms of congestion, with a score of 16.1, which means an estimated 29.6 wasted hours in congestion traffic per month. This represents around 4% of the total hours available to us each month and, in an average working life of say 50 years, equates to around two years sat in the car going nowhere.

At a more local level, Tom Tom reported last year that Bristol is the second most congested city (behind only Belfast) with journey times 66% longer in the evening peak period than during the day. And Bristol Cycling Campaign chairman Martin Tweddell, in the Bristol Evening Post, estimates that congestion costs the city around £500m per annum.

Despite various ideas put forward to help with congestion, Bristol is not a great place to drive into, out of or around. I have mentioned before that the Council’s strategy seems to be to make driving such a retched and expensive experience that we change our habits and use public transport, park and ride, bicycle or Shanks’s pony instead. Needless to say this does not appear to be working. However, one answer is to focus less on how we travel to work and more on whether we need to travel to work each day.

This is part of the focus of agile working. It is a simple approach to engaging with employees to find out when, where and how they want to work. It can lead to more homeworking, greater use of coworking spaces, especially on the periphery of cities, and use of third places like cafes, hotels, libraries, etc. It thus can reduce real estate and associated costs and the length and frequency of car journeys.

Employers who have adopted agile working principals have seen not only this reduction in office costs, but also greater productivity from staff (for more on this see our ‘Future of Work White Paper’). Yet, these are not the only benefits, there is the wider environmental issue: reduced journeys and journey times mean reduced carbon footprint, reduced use of limited resources and reduced congestion. Not only do businesses and employees benefit but so does the wider community.

This agility, combined with sustainability for businesses and natural resources, is what Paul Allsopp refers to as ‘sustainagility’ and is something we believe Bristol should be talking more about.

With Bristol elected Green Capital 2015 and a member of the 100 Resilient Cities, this is the perfect time to engage stakeholders in workplace change that can transform business, the community and the local economy.

After all, who wants to waste two years of their life?

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Say goodbye to congestion

The future of work is not just some abstract, esoteric idea drawn from the writings of Philip K Dick.

The future is already here and will make a valuable contribution to resolving a problem that Bristol is currently grappling with.

If I said that agile working practices could significantly reduce congestion at no cost to the council, local businesses and the community at large, many would be cynical. And yet, this isn’t even the whole story – the fact is that it won’t just not cost, it will actually reduce cost and improve life for all concerned.

Numerous research indicates that people are much happier and more productive when given choice about when and where they work, which is great for business. And, if even half of employees take advantage of new working practices for half the time, then the number of journeys is cut by a quarter, which is great for the city.

Of course, this is an extreme simplification, but the principal stands: by empowering and enabling people to work nearer to home, we can end the insanity of the commute.

To some, it seems, Bristol Council’s plan is to make the experience of driving to and from work so arduous, expensive and time consuming that it drives people to find alternatives. This is the wrong answer to the wrong problem and it is patently not working.

Better than finding an alternative way to commute is to negate the need to commute in the first place.

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The office is dead, long live the office

This phrase came about to acknowledge the death of the old king and the reign of the new, particularly when succession laws were changed, making transfer instantaneous to avoid insecurity. This was especially important if the new King was not immediately available, perhaps because he was inconveniently away fighting in the crusades.

The transition between the old and new office is somewhat slower, but there are already organisations around that would not recognise the old office. And, as with Kings, there are similarly mixed feelings from the subjects. We liked the old office, almost as much as we hated it; we hate the idea of change, although we might hope the new office will be better, but suspect we will hate it sufficiently to come to love in the end. Well, it doesn’t have to be like that…

The office is dead

The nine-to-five, the drudge, the same four walls where you are merely a cog, the industrial age office is alive no more. The corporate space that does not allow for your personality, where nobody asks for your ideas and would take no notice if they were proffered anyway, is dead.

The office where you don’t talk to anyone, where office politics negates any chance for successful teamwork and where no-one wants you to succeed for fear of highlighting their faults; this office no longer has a place.

The insane commute, missing your kids growing-up and the gold watch are over and done. The office that needs you to be there in order to pay you, but where the only decoration on the wall is some meaningless motivational snippet put up by management during the Jurassic period? This office is dead.

Long live the office

Long live the office where you work, play, create and collaborate. The new office that doesn’t tie you in to set hours, or even to a set place; the space that encourages your ideas and provides the support to see them work, the office that trusts and empowers you is very much alive. It doesn’t care how old you are, what sex, creed, shape or colour you are.

The new office will use the latest technology to connect you to work with anyone, anywhere, anytime and it will not ignore you or take advantage of your good nature, because it is measuring you on your results, not just effort or time spent. It provides ways to balance your needs with those of the organisation, including working round family commitments and saving money on commuting. It uses this engagement with you to make sure you are happy and therefore willing and able to give your best in return.

Talking of commuting, the new office is also all about reducing costs and carbon footprint. So, reducing the commute certainly, but reducing office space requirements and related costs because not everyone is in the office all the time. Also reducing recruitment and training costs because attraction and retention rates increase. In turn, the new office aids wider concerns about reducing congestion and use of valuable natural resources.

The new office is not like the old office and, though it may take a while to get used to, there is every reason to declare ‘Long live the office’.

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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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