‘Beam me up': working nearer home

We only need to go back a few centuries to find artisans, specialists working from home, in small communities, earning money from their skills and even bartering to exchange skills where relevant.

Then along came the industrial revolution that meant moving to cities for work, being paid by what you could do in an hour, and breaking jobs down into highly specialised, but not highly skilled elements. These ideas of proximity, presenteeism and the commoditization of the worker are still prevalent even today when we have moved back away from the industrial era to the digital age of choice, democracy and meritocracy.

In the digital age, we can almost transport ourselves to work in an instant by moving from the bedroom to the study. Even further than this though, we are almost ‘beamed’ into work by picking up our mobile device.

Through these devices, we can access and work on data, catch the latest updates, exchange information and video call the team. It is not matter transportation, but it is the next best thing (assuming matter transportation is a good thing, which, after The Fly, is far from certain).

However, we are social animals and for our own benefit and for best performance at work, we need to work physically together at least some of the time. So, how do we move the office closer to home?

There is already a trend in Bristol of turning empty office space into residential developments. The recession saw a lot of businesses moving out and the continuing development of residential may further encourage organisations to migrate. The Enterprise Zone by Temple Meads is also helping this process, moving business to the hub of the transport network – a logical step in the right direction.

We also have a lot of office space on the outskirts of the city which is handy for the motorway network, but not so handy if you live in the heart of the city. So, would it make sense to see more space in the suburbs, particularly the sort of space that agile workers need: fast, flexible and connected?

We already have a host of third places like cafes, libraries, community centres in the suburbs, but when these places are not quite suitable, we may see more touch-down space appearing: business centres, coworking spaces, business hubs providing a wide range of services.

Of course, we cannot beam ourselves to these spaces, but crucially neither do we have to take the car. Because we are working in the cloud and are not location dependent, we can choose the space to work from that is nearest to us. We get out, we mix, we work, and we choose where to work based on type of work, personality, time of day, mood and energy levels.

What this is about is not the death of the office or a completely virtual existence, it is about choice: making choices based on efficiency, personal taste and best practice for the whole team and the objectives at hand. And that freedom to choose has other benefits not just related to performance, but about health and happiness through balancing our work with family and social life and other interests.

We may not ever be able to beam up to work, but hopefully the importance of being at work in terms of a set location and set hours, will be replaced by the idea of being at work wherever and whenever you are.

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What is the best office space for you?

And how will you know? 

The best office space for you may not be what you thought.

Your office of choice?

We spend nearly a third of our lives at work, so shouldn’t we think about the environment in which we conduct that work? If not, we will continue to have our working environment imposed upon us.

It’s not just about comparing open-plan to private offices, either; there is much more to it than that. For example, how many different spaces have you worked in? Some traditional layouts are completely open, some split down into cubicles or a bull-pen; there are also team offices, individual offices or a mixture.

Nowadays, though, we talk about touch-down space, booths, team tables, collaborative space, coworking, etc. Some of the traditional spaces might be formal and highly regulated with direct supervision. The modern ideas are more likely to be informal with more remote or self management. Presumably, either types of space can be noisy or quiet, lively or dour, disciplined or lax.

Of course, these are just some of the physical, proximate options. What about connecting remotely to work and collaborate; Google Hangouts, Apple FaceTime, Microsoft Lync, conference phone calls and the like? These add a whole new dimension to the way we work.

A recent article highlighted some of the problems with open-plan, like exposure, insecurity and disrupted work patterns, for example. On the other hand private offices can be isolating, discourage knowledge-share and enforce hierarchies.

Another view, researched by IDA, is that enriched environments (art, plants, furnishings, etc) are always better than lean environments (utilitarian), but better still is an environment where we have a choice about the look and feel of that space. This suggests that even a seemingly great environment will not draw such good performance from its users if it is imposed upon them.

What’s best for you?

Well that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? How do you know, has anyone ever asked you or given you options? If you’re used to being employed in an office environment that is imposed upon you, you have some ideas about what might work best for you, but you may not have experienced it. I thought home-working would be great until I had to do it for four years, where I discovered I hated it (partly, of course, because it was imposed).

We all benefit from choice and even the best option may sour if it is the only option, day in and day out. For example, I now enjoy working from home because I do it only part of the time, when it suits me, whereas at other times I need to be with people and perhaps in a slightly more formal, energetic environment. Working to suit our preferences and the state of mind we are in is highly beneficial.

However, this isn’t just about our mood or energy levels; it is also about what tasks we are doing. We can’t work collaboratively on our own and we can’t do concentrated work with constant interruptions. There is an article here about the importance of privacy, which we all need from time to time; to focus, to work uninterrupted and to share only what we want to share. And, as for collaboration, it seems like an easy thing to provision, but this is an article on the complexity of the issue, which requires space to cater for private and public work, varying technology needs, facilities and security.

Chances are, if you had the choice about the way you worked, you would create something bespoke from the best bits you had experienced, even though you know that the seemingly perfect combination you ended up with is likely to throw up other, unforeseen problems. This, however, will lead to you experimenting and adapting until you get it right. Much better than having something imposed on you, surely.

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Flourish expands with paid search

An article by Melanie Hyde

We have recently expanded our service offering and created a new paid search media division to sit alongside our existing suite of creative and planning services. To take the division forward, we have appointed Melanie Hyde as Head of Paid Search. She joins Flourish from Mindshare Worldwide – one of the world’s largest global media agency networks. 

Melanie has more than four years of consumer and business-to-business search experience in both the UK and globally. She has worked across a diverse client portfolio, including Vodafone UK, Walt Disney, Arla Foods, eSure and Sheilas’ Wheels. In her new role, Melanie will oversee Flourish’s new PPC offering, bringing a wealth of digital media experience with the goal to service with the intimacy of client management of a smaller agency. With an excellent track record of delivering on ROI and improving on engagement on site, Melanie’s goal is to drive Flourish further within the search and digital arenas.

Flourish’s Joint Managing Director, Neil Hecquet comments “We see real opportunity in building our PPC credentials to both existing and new clients, and we are excited to have Melanie on board,” he adds, “we believe there is a market opportunity to provide high levels of PPC service and delivery led by Melanie, and with the wider agency offering we can closely align our clients’ PPC strategies with their digital and content objectives.”

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Chibwe launch Osmium in Beta

A guest artilce by Nigel Legg from Chibwe, one of our coworking clients.

Chibwe Ltd, a Bristol based data analysis and software company, today announced the Beta launch of OsmiumTables.

OsmiumTables is a simple to use, competitively priced, platform for creating topline reports, crosstabs, and charts from survey data in Triple S format.  If your data is not in TripleS, we have built a converter which reads in any CSV file.

We understand the importance of verbatims in market research, so OsmiumTables includes a verbatim management module, which allows you to view verbatim responses by demographic segment, and run text analytics on them – to answer questions such as “are older men using different words to describe our brand?”

OsmiumTables is a web-app, hosted in the EU to comply with data protection requirements.

Having been there ourselves, we understand the financial pressures on independent consultants, so with OsmiumTables there is no contract and you can use it only when you need it.  To get started, visit http://www.osmiumtables.com and register.

Chibwe Ltd was founded by Nigel Legg last year, to develop a number of data collection and analysis applications.  In addition, we are developing a consultancy practice, to help companies manage and use their data more efficiently.

For further information, visit www.chibwe.com, visit the Chibwe page on facebook, follow @osmiumdata on twitter, or contact Nigel Legg on +44 7914 740972.

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Getting ready for the future

A guest post by Glen Maxwell-Heron of My Future Direction

As with lots of other things, the world of recruitment, employment and career planning is changing rapidly. How can you prepare for this and be ready to make a success of your future direction? As Barry said recently in a blog on our website: it is a case of identifying and evaluating your skills and passions, then finding a pathway that matches them in a job that makes you happy and successful. This may well require you to learn some new skills, perhaps learning to think differently as well as becoming better at presenting them and the new you to potential employers. If you need help as you embark on this journey, ask for it!


Identifying and evaluating your skills and passions 

“What do you most love to do?” is a question that most people struggle with as it can include leisure activities as well as more obvious work pursuits. Answering it will take thought and time to make sure you identify all the things that you enjoy doing. It is worth putting some time in to this analysis as it is the foundation stone on which all job searching and career activities are built. So, how do you do it? Over a period of a few days or weeks, carry a notebook and pen around so you can record your thoughts about this when you have them. Don’t worry about organising them at first, just focus on getting the longest list you can, including all the things you like doing in your spare time.

You can then start grouping things together so they start to describe the kind of jobs that you really want to do: working in teams and delivering great customer service could cover anything from working in a shop to telesales to restaurant work to working in a branch of a bank. Do you like working with people? Machines? Data? Doing physical work? Computer work? Working with animals? Medical sector? Charity work? All of these things will describe your ideal job. The key thing is to find something you are really passionate about and use that as a starting point for your research.

Make a list of the transferable skills (both business and soft skills) that you have acquired so far in your career. Include skills acquired from your hobbies and private life that will be useful in your new future. Building up some relevant new skills and experiences, maybe through voluntary work, is also a smart move; it shows you are motivated to change, willing to invest your time to achieve what you really want as well as helping you to build up a portfolio in your chosen new sector.


Presenting the new you

If you are about to embark on a significant career change then, unless you are already well connected and active, you are going to have to get your experience and expertise known and market yourself. Being social media ‘savvy’ for job hunting is essential these days and a strong LinkedIn profile is vital. It is well worth the time and investment to learn how to make LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ etc. work best for you and your job search.

Once you have decided what you want to do and got your social media profiles sorted out then network, network, network! Networking is seen by many gurus as one of the most important tools you can use alongside your portfolio. People in networks are generally happy to help: they can spread positive things about you, introduce you to new people and organisations, or provide good advice.

However, just like Twitter, it works much better reciprocally. Build a network that allows you to help other people in as many ways as possible – often it is only small things that are needed but the pay-off can be big. One of benefits of doing some 3rd sector or charity work is to build up your contacts in a new sector, but don’t forget to maintain contact with your existing network as you never know who knows who and who might be useful to you in the long run.

It is said that getting a job is a full time job in itself and this is particularly true in the case of changing sectors. You will need to invest significant amounts of time finding people to talk to, meeting them and asking them for help to achieve your aims. Down be downhearted if progress appears slow – you never know when the breakthrough is going to happen. You have always got to be smiling and upbeat when you are talking to your contacts: people respond better to happy people.


Do you need help?

If you have the chance to create a new future for yourself, it’s important to remember that work is best seen as life’s friend not as its enemy. As with all valuable and long-lasting friendships, it is a relationship that needs working at constantly and sometimes you need help to get it right. Good quality careers advice can take you through the steps above as well as using some proven tools to help define your next move. This may well involve skills inventories, some character or interest profiling, CV analysis, job analysis and information interviews to find your true passion and where the opportunities lie within it. Once your professional and personal goals are clear, then the process can be designed and implemented to achieve these in a way that brings both professional and personal fulfilment – whatever your future direction.

Posted in Agile Working | 1 Comment

Does the office need to prove itself?

This was one of the questions asked at the recent Business Insider Breakfast and it got me thinking that, while I talk a lot about remote working, it is not for all and there is much the office has to offer: it just takes a slight change in focus.

Not where you go

The office used to be the default place of work, but now the office is not so much a place you go as wherever you are: with cloud, mobile devices and greater connectivity, the modern office is at hand anytime, anywhere. Work can still be carried out at the office, of course, but it could also be done at home, at the library, at the coffee shop, on the train and countless other third places.

So the way we view the office has changed: for some it is still the place they would rather be, although it may still seem a bit soulless at times; for others it is the place that is a pain to get to and from every day, or a place that ties them into a set working pattern that does not sit well with the rest of their lives.

So, what is the office?

The office is not the point. The office is a meeting point. It is a means to an end. It works for some, not for others and even those it works for need more from it.

According to Richard Jelfs, of Seco Tools, Boden have a rubbish HQ. What is important is the clothing and what their customers want from them. The staff delivering the product and service are more important than the accommodation. On the other hand, Seco’s new building was built around generating high staff engagement – using design, layout, acoustics, etc to create a collaborative, fluid workspace that encourages interaction.

Whatever view you take, the important thing is that the office does not need to be the huge drain on income and the status symbol it used to be. The Boden example is almost inverted snobbery, whereas companies who spend money on the space, do so knowing they will save on the amount of space they need (as not all staff will be in the office at the same time) and are creating a space which will help improve staff happiness and welfare and, therefore, performance.

The other important aspect is that, whatever way you go, the decision has been made through sophisticated and genuine engagement with employees to assess their needs, how they want to work and create a suitably supporting environment. The office as a physical space then becomes the admin hub, the place from where systems and processes emanate; a place for idea-generation and knowledge-share, to engage face-to-face. Around this hub everybody works in the best way for them and the organisation and the office begins to make sense again.

So, yes, the office does need to prove itself. It needs to be cost-effective, it needs to work for the business and everyone in it, it needs to improve performance and it needs to help focus business activity on the customer. And it doesn’t matter if it is for 5 or 500 people, the principles are the same. How difficult can that be?

Ok, so it is a tall order, but unless businesses want to waste money on things that don’t work well for them and risk going under or allowing their competition to beat them to the prize, then someone is going to have to work out how best to work.

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There’s more to flexible working than bunking off on Fridays

Flexible workingFlexible working is an approach to business that works through employee engagement to achieve shared goals that work for the organisation and its workers.

However, flexible working can be slightly misleading. It is used mostly to account for timing of work and suggests the idea of going in late or ‘working from home’ on a Friday. The term encompasses more than that: it is also about where and how you work and how your work is measured. For this reason, I actually prefer the term ‘agile working’ which is broader in scope.

That said, the flexible working legislation that was updated in June is undoubtedly helpful in promoting the idea of looking afresh at how we work.

Working nine to five

Dolly Parton made the nine to five seem like a good thing, but that model began in the industrial age and has not moved on. Today we are looking for something better.

We are looking for more flexibility, certainly, but a truly new way of working stems from engagement. We want to be creative, share ideas, have an input, have a choice and balance work with other important aspects of our lives – particularly family.

And we want to be measured on results. As Dave Coplin at Microsoft says, ‘we tend to measure productivity and process, rather than outcome’. Sitting at your desk and looking busy for eight hours a day does not make an effective employee. Ensuring your workers are fully engaged and working in a way that suits them will not only completely fail to compromise your business, as many employers fear, it will actually improve productivity, well-being and staff retention.

Losing the nine to five means losing control

Flexible working does not lead to anarchy. For a start, it doesn’t suit many people. Sure, most may benefit from shifting the working day an hour or two forward or back occasionally, but a lot of people like the regularity of an imposed place and time of work – it helps with discipline and focus and to delineate work from home.

office-designs-19And if the alternative to the office is home, then this does not suit everyone, all the time. It can be lonely and isolating working from home. Other problems include discipline and distractions – children, your partner, daytime TV, the chocolate you know is in the fridge, etc.

So, not everyone is going to go AWOL at the same time. However, with a percentage of your staff working different hours, extending your business day, this could be extremely useful. What if you could deliver customer service for longer than the normal eight hours? If you have staff happy to work at different times you could find you have an advantage over your competition dealing with customers out of hours and responding more quickly to their needs. If your competitors are already doing this, however, then you are the one who is behind.

Bear in mind also that it does not mean people are never in the office. There will be a need to have regular catch ups and meetings, face to face. It may also make holiday cover easier. KashFlow have talked about the idea of the ‘workation’. This is when people go away but stay working and is mainly beneficial to the self-employed, but there is merit in anyone staying in touch. Not for the whole holiday or indeed for every holiday, but just in a light-touch way. Or perhaps some could take more paid holiday, but be ‘on call’ and keep up with the basics. With the ‘millennials’ (or Generation Y) influencing the workplace in years to come, their ‘always connected’ approach to life could work well in situations where having staff out around holiday time can compromise a business.

future of workAlso, with the technology available these days, not having all staff in all the time does not have to be a problem: the wide choice of online video options, Voice over IP telephones, mobile devices with increasingly sophisticated video apps, email, sms, not to mention a host of off-the-shelf and bespoke integrated software systems make sure of that and you may not need such a big office.

Other benefits

Happy, engaged, cared-for workers are not just more productive, they also stay longer and take less sick time. Improved staff retention can save organisations a lot of time and money and create a more stable business. Plus, when you are recruiting, these policies attract better quality staff.

There may be savings in real estate and associated costs, because less staff are in the office at once and need less space. There is also a positive impact on commuting. If you are bearing any travelling costs for you or your staff, these will be reduced. Even if not, some of your staff will be grateful for a chance to reduce their costs (in some circumstances, could this even replace all or part of a pay rise?). This, in turn, helps with congestion which benefits the local community and economy as a whole.

So flexible working isn’t a perk, or a fad or even enough in itself: flexible working is part of something bigger, an approach to business strategy and staff engagement that could make a significant difference to your business.

Posted in Agile Working | Tagged | 3 Comments

Marketing professional in exchange for free office

I am looking for a marketing professional to help with a new project for 3 months. While I cannot offer a salary for this work, I can offer a free office for the duration.

The Colston Office Centre are looking to extend their business support programme in order to make a real difference to solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants and micro business owners. We want the small business sector to grow and we are looking to put a wide range of services that will help: marketing opportunities, referral networks, sound advice and guidance, training and more.

We believe this is an important area of the economy that is not getting enough support. And we know, because we are such a business. The government has put a lot of store in start ups, which is admirable, but less in helping small businesses in the service sector to grow.

In order to assess interest in the community and prepare products and services that meet the needs of small business owners, we need someone to help do the groundwork: research, idea development, social media activity, building relationships with potential collaborators and helping to shape the website that will deliver these services.

In exchange, we can offer a free, dedicated office for the initial 3-moth project. After that, depending on the success of the project, we can look at how we might work together going forward. We think the work will take around one and a half days per week.

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When it comes to flexibility, nothing beats a serviced office

Wherever you work best, however you want to work, your local business centre will have the answer.

Flexible office

Whether you need it for just yourself, a whole team or part of a team, a serviced office can work with your business; adapting, growing, contracting just as and when you need it. Notice periods are short and the centre will always help to accommodate your needs as they change.

And there’s no commitment to tie you down. Sign up monthly to stay agile or if things are more settled sign for a year and negotiate a discount.

The other beauty of serviced is that everything is set up for you and included in the price: broadband, telephony, utilities, rates, maintenance, cleaning, furniture – you have nothing to organise or fret about other than building your business.

Going virtual

You can still have the office, it just doesn’t have to be physical: a mailing address, telephone answering, meeting rooms, etc: a professional business set-up at a fraction of the cost. If you don’t want to give out a home address, if you want a personal answer to phone calls that you can’t take, if you want all the facilities of an office without the cost, then virtual is the answer.

In fact you can tie your cloud office solution in with this also and integrate VOIP phones and mobiles and, with a cloud office solution and hosted email, have a completely agile office that enables you to work anywhere on any device at any time.

Dropping in

Touching down, hot-desking, proworking, coworking; there are many names for it but essentially in many centres you can hire a desk for the day and sometimes even by the hour. If you are in town for the day or the morning, if you need to get out of the house for a while, if you need to work with someone on a project then this option could be for you.

You pay only for what you use, ad-hoc or on a regular basis, with a desk and wifi, tea and coffee on hand and some like-minded professionals to talk to and network with. One company helping businesses to work like this all over the country is NearDesk. Among founder Tom Ball’s ambitions are to avoid the ‘insanity of the commute’ and get more people ‘working nearer to home’. Sound thinking for today’s workforce.

Make the most of your stay

Whatever service you are using, there are plenty of other facilities to take advantage of. Meeting rooms can be a great way to see clients, suppliers and prospects in a professional environment; use the onsite copier, fax-to-email and admin, postal and telephone services, if you need to work on the go. There are also likely to be seminars, training and networking events available to learn and mix with like-minded people.

So, whatever your sutation there is nothing more flexible than a serviced office.

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Future City: Bristol – Working for Change

Working for change is not about a change to your business, it is about preparing your business for constant change by making it flexible, adaptable and agile.

Working for Change is a programme that embraces the future of work and the future of business, recognising that the future is already here, especially in terms of constantly developing technology. Businesses that adopt a future mindset understand that the future is always with us and that planning for that future keeps them ahead of the curve.

The programme is a series of events, knowledge-share, guidance and training. The feature event will be a major conference next year.

Who is behind the programme?

Working for Change is lead by the Colston Office Centre in collaboration with a host of experts, mostly from the Bristol community, but also engaging with thought leaders from further afield.

It is aimed at local businesses that see the changes around them and observe their competitors development but are unsure of what to do or how far to take it.

Why should you change?

The benefits are clear. Businesses who adopt more flexible working practices find increases in staff happiness, productivity, performance and retention. On the bottom line, organisations see reduced costs in real estate, recruitment and staff welfare.

Additionally, agile organisations work better, harnessing disruptive talent and ideas to keep one step ahead of their competition and building sustainability into their business. And it is not like any of us have a choice:  our environment will change so it is only a question of whether we change or get left behind.

On a macro level, we are working to help the Bristol community build resilience and thrive.

The programme

By disseminating knowledge and best practice; by pointing to invaluable resources and sharing what local organisations are doing to push these issues forward, we will help you build agility into your business.

Advice – guidance, best practice, resources form thought leaders in their field

Debate – LinkedIn group, blogs and articles based on the latest thinking and horizon scanning

Events – surgeries, seminars and annual conference

Training – specialist training in all aspects of future working: business agility, leadership and strategy, employee engagement, change management, technology integration, managing dispersed teams, etc.

Services – Agile Office (your office in the cloud), coworking space in the city centre, energy audits to evaluate and implement cost and resource usage reductions


To help get the conversation going now, to contribute and learn, join our LinkedIn Group here.

For events, see our news page here. This will be updated constantly as more events are organised. The training programmes are still in development and we will publish these as soon as we have details.

There will be a conference in spring/summer 2015 and we will have more information on this soon.

To stay abreast of the programme, sign up to our newsletter here.

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