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.

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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 work 300x176 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysFlexible 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 19 150x150 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysAnd 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 In Glass 150x150 Theres more to flexible working than bunking off on FridaysAlso, 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.

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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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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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