How does co-working work?

More and more centres are setting up co-working spaces, an idea that is very popular in the USA, but what does it mean and how does it help?


Who is it aimed at?

Primarily, co-working spaces are aimed at start-ups, freelancers and micro businesses (up to 10 staff).

However, they can be used by any mobile or home worker who needs touch-down space on an ad-hoc or regular basis. Many large companies are placing increasing emphasis on flexible or ‘agile’ working practices, which means some of their staff are often in need of these types of services.


Why would you use them?

Salesmen might use them to work and/or meet clients or prospects – being constantly on the move, they may have no fixed abode. Indeed, any mobile staff can use the space to touch-down with head office and colleagues.

Working from home can be isolating and – we all need physical interaction at least some of the time. Discipline and distractions may also be a problem, so it can be good to get out and work in a more formal way from time to time and meet others in a similar situation.

Teams and colleagues can get together and brainstorm or work on a project; ancillary or temporary staff might use space for specific periods.

Start-ups will find space like this useful to explore their ideas, develop their business and get the help and advice they need without investing money they don’t have in office space and professional services.


How does it work?

You simply drop in as and when you need. You can work on your own or with a team. If you need to make calls, you can work in a more private space or a booth.

There will be hot-desks, perhaps more private desks and more communal desk spaces for collaborative work as well as informal meeting areas and at least a shared kitchen, if not a canteen or cafeteria.

You will have access to the internet, usually wireless, and other on-site services like photocopier/scanner, admin support, more formal meeting rooms and networking events.

There may even be more sophisticated services like training, coaching and seminars and business experts to give advice and help.

Charges vary - some are even free – at least part of the time. However you would normally expect to pay by the hour, day or month, on an ad-hoc basis (pay-as-you-go) or at a fixed monthly rate (full time or for so many days usage).


What are the benefits?

A lot of these spaces work like incubation hubs either independently or allied to Universities or other organizations. You will have access to a lot of help and advice – even funding – that you would not so easily find on your own.

It is considerably cheaper than taking any kind of office space and provides an environment where you can meet like-minded people, learn and grow, share knowledge and ideas and tap into networks you might otherwise miss.

In a positive environment like this, what you learn and who you meet might help improve your chances of success or speed up the process.

Even for employees in larger organizations, the time-saving convenience and affordability of co-working spaces can help achieve company goals as well as enable the worker to work in the most productive way possible.

So what are you waiting for? Find your local co-working centre and become part of the tribe or lead your own tribe into a new one if you don’t find anything suitable.


Online resources to help you find space:

Directories for desk space: ShareDeskNearDeskHotdesk UKdeskwanted and its’ related online magazine; deskmag.

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Is this the end of the office?

I read something recently (heavens knows where) claiming that retail property occupancy will not return to pre-recession levels. A statement like this may sound dramatic and surprising, but I think it is a safe prediction and the continuing headlines of failing retailers and the growth of online shopping would seem to bear this out.

Moreover, I also believe the same is true of commercial office space.

The office of the future?

The technology and social factor

Independently of the economic circumstances, we also have social and technological changes that are facilitating a different way of operating: flexible working; cost reduction opportunities; cloud and mobile technology; e-commerce, etc.

There is a lot of discussion around the idea of flexible working and its’ associated benefits. Combine this with the increasing number of start-ups in the recession, many working from home, and the above mentioned changes in the retail landscape, and the net result is that we no longer need so much commercial space.

BT started making changes to their working practices over a decade ago: introducing flexible working options; reorganising internal office environments; and reducing their real estate costs. Combined with other environmental management changes, BT estimates it saved £600m, in a ten-year period.

A number of large organisations are adopting similar practices, including HSBC, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Orange and O2 to name but a few.

At the other end of the scale, small businesses are well ahead of the curve, working from home, a business centre, a cafe or on the move and using cloud and mobile technology to ensure they can work anywhere.

This does not sound like a future where the office is the default workplace as it was in the industrial age.


Is Yahoo right?

On the other hand, this article explains why Yahoo is ending flexible practices and insisting their staff work at the office.

I can easily imagine large companies being wary of flexible working or paying lip service to it but then not delivering. There is always resistance to change.

The central premise to Yahoo’s argument is the importance of face-to –face interaction, which is undoubtedly crucial. We rely on personal contact to share information and ideas, to coordinate effort, and build relationships that enhance performance and productivity.

But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. What is required is that employers work with employees to create the right environment to balance proper office time with colleagues, managers and clients with the flexibility to work around family needs and beneficial logistical outcomes like reducing car journeys and avoiding rush-hour traffic, etc.


So what about the office?

The commercial property market as a whole will, of course, recover. Although retail and office space may not be required as much as before, the empty space will be put to other use.

As investors gain more confidence, we can expect much of this space to be converted into hotels and living accommodation and some, hopefully, refurbished to provide state of the art office facilities, whether this be conventional lease, serviced office licenses or new, hybrid arrangements.

In fact, this process has already started, though it will take a while to really gain momentum.

And, despite some organisations’ resistance to change, it seems to me that we will continue to need lees office space and that even businesses that have benefited from the situation, like the serviced office sector, will have to keep adapting to keep up with the ways people want to work.

However, I do not believe that the office is dead. It still has an important role to play in many organisations and while many may get along very well without, for the foreseeable future, many more will not.

The future contains the office, but the office of the future simply does not contain everyone working in the organisation.

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In the age of the agile worker, nothing it seems is fixed…

In the age of the agile worker, nothing it seems is fixed…not your job, your place of work, or the hours you work. So, what are the changes that will lead us to abandon the old ways of thinking?

How many jobs would you like?

Increasingly, these days, your job may not be a job. Often people combine contract and freelance projects with more regular employment, or have a main job, but do a variety of things on the side.

So many of the people I know in business have multiple income streams. My main job is running the Colston Office Centre and I love it, but I also host wine tastings and work front of house at a variety of events and functions evenings and weekends. I also help on one or two marketing and copywriting projects, plus little ad-hoc work for various charities, in my spare time.

Some of this activity earns me a few extra quid, but mainly it is about developing my skills and interests and doing things I enjoy. I also meet more people, learn more and find that all the activities feed into, and are enhanced by, each other.

I think many people are fed up with idea of long days at a desk doing what you hate. We often hear about work/life balance, which is a phrase I hate because it implies work is not life. It is and it should be enjoyed and add value to your existence.

And, if we expand you job into your career, again we find less people sticking to the same task (let alone the same job) for life. Many want to change around, move on, learn, gain skills, develop ideas and get more out of their work.

Of course, this is not all about unlimited freedom and choice – our society is not quite that enlightened yet. It is also a response to the economic situation and to the desire to balance work with the other areas of our lives – family, friends, hobbies, etc.

So our job is often something of a moveable feast and even our goals are more likely to change throughout our careers. For example, children can change the way not only mothers but also fathers feel about work – so much so that some dads opt to stay home.

Moving through time and space

Many of us still have a fixed location for work, but changes have already occurred and are likely to continue apace.

More companies are waking up to the benefits of flexible working for employees. It is part economic imperative and part social pressure. When employees truly have flexibility over when and where they can work, not only does productivity and engagement increase, but there are savings to be made on office space, utilities and equipment costs.

Organisations like BT, Microsoft, HP, HSBC, for example, have adopted some or all of these practices. Flexible working means less staff on site at any one time; hot-desking takes advantage of this and of other absences (like illness and off-site meetings); space can be designed around this fluidity so that, even if you work in only one location, the chances are your work space is a movable feast.

That is without the growing army of entrepreneurs and employees that work from home, coffee shops, hotels, client sites, co-working spaces, airports, trains, even the car.

This means that even having your own desk is no longer sacrosanct, never mind a regular office environment.

Open all hours

Potentially this is the biggest change: the idea that we can work when, where and how we like. However, it is not yet common practice, or even that common.

The legacy of the industrial age – of hours spent at the workstation – lasted right through the end of the last century and into this one. Many entrepreneurs, freelancers, mobile workers, etc are fully aware of what is open to them, but far fewer employers are similarly enlightened.

You can look at flexible hours as a sign of change, but even if your employer allows you to start late or finish early, he will still very likely be monitoring your hours in some way and expecting those hours to amount to something.

What I am talking about here is a change in attitude that replaces hours worked as a method of measuring staff, and concentrates instead on performance. If an employee is making a positive contribution to the business and if they deliver to brief and to deadline, then when, where and how long they work becomes much less important.

As various studies have shown, giving genuine flexibility in this way creates happier and more engaged staff and improves productivity. This is because we all respond well to being trusted and being given responsibility for our actions. Our lives also improve if we can better balance work with family and social needs.

A possible downside to this is often seen in the current ‘always-on’ culture of mobile technology and the blurring of boundaries between work, social and leisure. Certainly some may suffer from this – I know I like to have clear delineation. But I am old school and, while I might need some time to acclimatise to these changes, I don’t see younger people having the same problem.

Another important benefit from truly agile working is less commuting: fewer journeys to work; shorter journey times when you do go, due to travelling out of rush hour; reduced stress; cheaper fares and less petrol costs; fewer parking spaces required by businesses; reduction in parking costs for employees without a company space and so on.

All this saves individuals time, reduces congestion and decreases environmental impact. By creating a much more fluid working environment, companies can genuinely help to reduce their carbon footprint through these practices, increase productivity and boost profits.

Who and what are you working with?

The concern with different working habits is what happens to the team, to communication and to the development of relationships, not just with each other but with senior management and clients also.

Here is where technology plays an important part. With VOIP telephones, Skype, Google Chat, mobile devices, cloud software, etc., everyone can connect with everyone else wherever and whenever they are.

It also helps if your data is freely accessible. Whether this is in-house, in the cloud or in a hybrid set-up, it is important that everyone can update and see updates, input and share information from home, on the move or client sites as well as in the office.

Investment in technology, from IT infrastructure to suitable mobile devices and security protocols, will be required as well as training to ensure employees know how to work and what is expected of them.

Like everything in life, the key is balance. We are social animals and benefit most from physical contact. As long as absences and technology-enabled contact is countered with regular, physical contact, teams can be coherent and strong.

Needless to say, there are often limits to how much you can put these changes into practice.

Businesses will often need a central admin core at all times. Sectors like manufacturing and catering do not lend themselves to this style of work and any direct sales force will usually have to stay within regular office hours.

However, that still leaves a great number of workers who can benefit from connecting with colleagues, clients and data from more than one place.

Who do you think you are?

Increasingly, people are rejecting money as the focus of their lives and looking for more in the way of self-development. Whether through family and friends, networking, studying or through the way we develop at work, there has never been so much flexibility about how we live our lives.

Of course, in difficult economic circumstances, this is tempered for some by concerns about job security and compromised incomes.

Nevertheless, there does seem a shift away from chasing dreams toward creating them; an idea that pursuing more personal goals, rather than the traditional goals society creates (a good job, salary, house, etc,) can be more fulfilling; and that family and social needs are more important than money, per se.

There is more choice than ever about who we work for, how we work and how work balances with the rest of our lives. We are demanding more and there are more opportunities do things differently.

In the age of the agile worker, the only thing that is fixed is the belief that we have to stick to the old rules.


For more information on this, here are some interesting articles:

Changing office space and working practices from Flexibility

More space with less property from Flexibility

Britain’s Young Strivers not afraid to start up from Business Matters:

Spaceless growth, hidden opportunity from The Agile Organisation:

An earlier blog

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The Benefits of serviced offices

Some people work from home, some also use cafes, hotels and client sites and some are constantly on the move. However, if you feel your business needs an office space, then a serviced or virtual office will give you many benefits.


Your local business centre will provide very flexible terms: facilities are available for an hour, a day, month or year; you can grow and contract as business demands; and you do not need to commit further into the future than you can realistically see.

This is great for your business as you can react easily to economic or other environmental circumstances, you need never pay for facilities you are not using and your growth plans can be accommodated without moving buildings.

Costs are manageable

There is a wide variety of services to choose from to meet your budget and requirements, including a virtual office, hot-desks, co-working space and dedicated office suites. You can use these on an ad-hoc basis or on a more regular footing, temporarily or permanently – it’s up to you.

Whether you work from home, but want more professional space occasionally; or you are working on a specific project or contract; or if you want to test an office environment to see if it’s right for you, there will always be an option to exactly suit your needs at a business centre.

Sharing resources

You share services like leased-line broadband, telecoms and utilities with the building as a whole, saving you money and significantly reducing your time spent in procurement.

You do not have large in-going or exit costs; plus, the costs you do have are – or should be – all inclusive, so you know exactly what you are paying each and every month.

Another benefit is that of saving space (which also saves money) because you rent ancillary space like meeting rooms and hot-desks only when you need them and because the other shared resources (like reception, secretarial support, photocopier, fax, etc.) mean less staff.

Professional reception

Telephone management is also a huge help in saving time. Calls are answered even when you are unavailable so you never miss an important client or prospect contact. Unwanted calls are fielded so you don’t waste time getting rid of sales and other irrelevant calls.

Central reception is also there to meet and greet visitors, clients and prospects, whether you are a tenant or simply using a meeting room at the centre.

Improving your profile

Even if you are only using virtual services you are still adding credibility and a higher profile to your business. You can choose an address that suits you – maybe city centre or out-of-town – and gives your business a little extra prestige.

You can be where your customers are or in among the competition; and you can appear in relevant directories and listings without having to publish your home address; and, if you need to, you can use the centre address as your registered address.

Business support

Many business centres will provide their clients with a wide range of support, which might include networking opportunities with other tenants, other events, seminars or training, meeting rooms, IT support, free consultations with business advisors, marketing opportunities, discounted third party services, start-up advice and more.

So, wherever and however you work, you will find that serviced offices provide a range of products and services that are helpful to your business. Some you may be aware of, others less so, but if there is anything here that interests you, why not get in touch with your local business centre?

You will be amazed at the benefits it could bring to your business.

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What are we building for?

According to Ben O’Connor at GVA, in a recent article, we are very short of premium grade office space in Bristol. Class A space is categorised as premium quality space with high spec systems, high quality finishes and demanding above average rent.

This is a widely held view in the industry and it is no surprise that Ben is urging developers to exploit government incentives and create speculative projects as current demand will quite possibly be exhausted by the end of this year.

As an innovative, thriving and forward thinking city, of course it is important that Bristol can attract the right business in order to enhance the community and our local economy. And part of that is to ensure we can physically accommodate businesses in suitable space.

However, I wonder if we should be asking a different question. Like, what is a city for or how will changes in work habits change the demands made on our city?


What we want for our city

I imagine for most, there would be a consensus around such issues as traffic control, better public transport, green spaces, infrastructure improvements, business support, less drunken behaviour and wanting the water fountains to work on a regular basis.

We want to make our city a great place to live, work and visit and although you will get differing opinions from those who live in the city, those who work here, the many that do both and the visitors, what cannot be denied is that finally, after many misguided predictions, the way we work is changing.


How we want to work

We still don’t have the paperless office and technology has not left half the population without a job, but we do have different criteria, methods and desires for our working lives.

I have written before about the future of work, but in essence, people are looking for more flexibility, a better balance between work and family and to be measured on agreed performance criteria rather than hours spent at a desk.

For enlightened businesses adopting these practices, the benefits include increased productivity, better staff attraction and retention, greater adaptability to environmental changes and reduced property and related costs.

A large office building uses a lot of energy, so the need for less space has environmental and sustainability benefits also.


What should we build?

So where does this leave our office space needs for the future? Are we going to need these new buildings? Should we rather refurbish the existing, languishing stock?

And how should they be designed? Many new buildings are being designed around these new work practices, with fluid space containing facilities for itinerant staff, shared space, meeting areas and more permanent workstations.

These are being designed for large companies, but can the same principles be used for multi-tenanted buildings and the serviced office model?

Firstly, I believe we should put the existing stock to good use. Then, if we are going to use up valuable land and skyline with new buildings, I want to be sure that those buildings are future proof and won’t be left idle and empty at some future date, as so many Bristol office buildings are today.

There is a great attraction to ‘new’ because it is so easy to throw away the old and start again. This does not always mean better though. Another attraction is design for its’ own sake. Again it is easy to design something that just looks good and where there are no parameters.

How much harder it is to design for a variety of uses, not just now, but in the future? Let’s hope there are some developers out there with vision and planning departments that will encourage and promote that vision.

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The Serviced Office – it’s always there for you, even when it isn’t

This is because, with a serviced office, you have a complete armoury of services to help you run your business, whatever that business is and whatever stage on its’ journey you have reached.


The office that isn’t an office

Would your day be easier if your phone calls were answered for you? Important calls never missed, unwanted calls fielded?

Or maybe you would benefit from a credible business address in a location that’s just right for your business, with mail forwarded to your instructions?

With a virtual office you gain a professional business presence even when you are not there. You spend less time on the phone unnecessarily and you never miss an important call – from a client or prospect say – just because you are with another prospect or client.

So, if you work from home and want to improve your business presence, save valuable time and use facilities like meeting rooms, hot-desks and business support services from time to time, then a virtual office could be the answer.

Of course, for larger companies, a virtual can be a good way to set up a regional or local presence to test new markets or products, so it isn’t just for start-ups and micro businesses.


The office that is only there when you need it

A traditional office only really has two settings: on and off – you either have an office or you don’t, and if you do, the chances are you are going to have it for quite a while.

In a business centre, you have total flexibility of tenure, but you also have a wide range of services to choose from that you can use – and pay for – only when you need them.

This gives you real control over costs and cash-flow. If you have specific work or specific periods that require certain solutions, you book for that period and your outgoings correspond to your income against those particular projects.

So maybe you need a hot-desk for the odd day, or one day a week or for a project: you walk in, get wireless access to high speed broadband, a workstation in a co-working space and all the on-site facilities you might need.

Perhaps you need somewhere to meet clients and suppliers or to conduct a professional pitch: would a meeting room, bookable by the hour, with wireless and audio visual aids at a reasonable cost be useful?

And again, the size of company is irrelevant. These services have value whether you are a solo entrepreneur or a large corporate with an agile workforce.


So, do you even need an office?

Using the services above and the latest technology, it is perfectly possible and practical to work from home. You don’t even necessarily need the aforementioned services: you could use coffee shops, libraries, client offices and more.

It very much depends on the nature of the business and your own nature. Some of us need the discipline and contact of an office. They are also good as a hub for contact and admin and they are good for learning, brainstorming, networking, collaborating and socialising.


The (nearly) permanent office

If you decide you do need an office, then you still want to keep costs manageable and you still need flexibility and adaptability.

A serviced office gives you exactly this control.

You can rent monthly, quarterly or annually; you pay one monthly fee that covers rent, rates, utilities, furniture, cleaning, reception service, maintenance and all service charge costs; and you can grow, or contract, to meet the needs of your business.

You can even drop out for a while, if you need to - we have had clients do this and come back stronger than ever.

The license is very simple, with a small deposit requirement, short notice periods and no dilapidation charges. This means no borrowing, no surprise costs and no long-term commitment.

And you’re sharing services that a company in conventionally leased premises would have to provide themselves, both in terms of space and staff: switchboard and manned reception to meet and greet; kitchen facilities; and access to secretarial services and meeting rooms.

This is great for your cash-flow and the agility of the business.

Not only are you saving time (no facilities management role and the use of our telephone management service) and money (no borrowing or solicitors fees, for example) you are not committing to any term beyond the immediate needs of your business, which dramatically reduces risk.

So, a serviced office is always there for you: saving you time; saving you money; and providing the agility to keep your business thriving, even in the most difficult circumstances.


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Making room for business growth

I notice the faint smell of newly-painted walls as we heave boxes of books into the new office.

That smell always marks a new beginning for me, a blank canvas or at the very least, a change of scenery. In our case, it is an indicator of business growth. We walk into our new offices, much larger than the last, and can see the material evidence of business growth in front of us.

We are the Business CoPilot, a Bristol-based business coaching practice, and we’re particularly receptive to signs of business growth. We work with businesses of all sizes to help keep them on or support them with their business flight plan.

As business coaches, we understand the value of support in business. Being a business owner can be lonely, and when something is troubling you, it can be difficult to talk to your regular support network of friends, family and so on. What you might need at that point is a business expert, who not only understands your issues, but can give you practical advice on how to resolve them. This is where we come in.

The process begins with a free 121 meeting, during which we discuss your business, where you are and where you would like to be. As the coaching relationship progresses, we sit alongside you to help keep you to your business flight plan. As CoPilots, we don’t take the controls away from you, but instead provide ongoing support and advice to help you get the most from your business journey.

We chose to come to our new offices here because they were right in the city centre and very cost effective. Barry, the manager here is also very accommodating to our needs. Colston Office Centre isn’t just about renting offices, though. The aim is for it to become a hub of peer support, with businesses of all types operating from here and providing support to one another.

To find out how we can help you grow, call us on 0117 317 8147, visit our website or email to arrange a free 121 meeting.

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Students say ‘no’ to the office

A new survey by StartUp Britain, as highlighted by Business Matters*, declares that ‘63% of students* are now looking to start a business’, ’…70 per cent…believed a laptop was the most essential piece of equipment for starting up.’ and ‘…only 0.3% believed having an office was important…’.

Well, I don’t know where the survey is, I can’t find it online, but I hope they didn’t spend too much time or money on it just to get these nuggets.

It is obvious that students will be concerned about their chances in the job market and want more control over their lives. Equally clear is that, as they are growing up in a highly technological age, they understand the relative ease with which a business can be started.

You might not expect me to say it, but of course they don’t need an office.


Who needs an office?

Business is hard enough; patently any business should not be burdened with unnecessary costs. And with mobile and cloud technology getting more sophisticated all the time, an office could easily be described as an unnecessary cost.

For some this will change: as they grow and gain staff they may feel they want a hub: a central space to share knowledge, spread ideas and keep control administratively. It is also true that not everyone can or would like to work from home.

However, for many, it is clear that an office will not be required.


How will we work?

Well I have talked about the future of work a lot, so suffice to say that we are entering the age of the ‘Agile Worker’. Someone who may have no fixed abode, who may use third places like business centres, coffee shops, hotels, libraries, etc., to work and meet people and who uses cloud and mobile devices to facilitate this.

This is why many business centres are adding new facilities: they need to develop their services to accommodate these new styles of working. Things like hot-desks, co-working space, ever-more flexible arrangements, networking and learning events, business support and more.

And it isn’t just graduates.

Larger companies are looking at the benefits of giving employees more flexible working hours and spaces and reducing real estate and utility costs. Indeed, many have already gone through this process and seen staff productivity increase and costs go down.


A laptop and a dream

So does this say anything about the people that will be looking after us in our dotage?

Well, it probably says they are as naive as every generation before them. How many of us didn’t idealise our future and see it all laid out before us at that age?

It also says they are somewhat cynical about their chances of getting work and aware that, regardless of how we got here and the fact that it wasn’t their doing, they are nevertheless victims of this latest recession.

But mostly it says they are aware of the opportunities, aware of what technology enables them to do and aware that the old rules just don’t apply anymore. They are not burdened with traditional career planning, traditional ways of running a business or traditional ways of working.

They see the world as one big melting pot. Through the web, they have the world at their fingertips and through social media and mobile phones, their support network is always close at hand.

Those of us a tad older have had to get used to these ideas, but these students have grown up with them.

Intuitively, they know the whole world is within their grasp: of course they believe they can make it on their own; of course they know they only need a mobile device to be able to work; and of course they realise they don’t need an office.

*Business Matters article

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Are you an agile worker?

Having talked about the future of work, it seems only fair to provide an example and give those of you who want to work this way the opportunity to try it out for free and provide valuable feedback at the same time.


How would you like to work?

While working from home suits many, there is still a need to get out: to network, meet clients, prospects and clients, to work uninterrupted for a while, and to have the facilities required to make this easy.

And even if you have an office base, but only visit every so often or are on the road a lot, the same services could be very beneficial.

So, a wireless connection to fast broadband would be good. Access to meeting rooms and a telephone* if you need it would also help. Free tea and coffee, even better. And the possibility of getting some free business advice may well be useful.

Onsite facilities which may also  prove helpful include fax-to-email, photocopying facilities* and secretarial support*.

Colston Jelly

We have a regular monthly Jelly at the Colston Office Centre - completely free, it is an easy way to try our co-working space and meet like-minded people.

We also have business experts available to give sound advice and help - just book your hour with the expert of your choice for a completely free, no-obligation consultation: get advice on accounting, marketing, human resources and business strategy and more.

This includes advice on funded training for business growth through the government Growth Accelerator programme.

Visit our News page for all the information you need and to book your place, or ring Barry Harvey on 0117 317 8090.


*Charges may apply

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What is the future of work?

Some 30 years ago, it was believed that technology would change the way we work: more automation, more part-time jobs, the paperless office, etc.

Of course, these changes are nearly always more evolution than revolution and often don’t turn out quite in the way originally envisaged.

However, a few large companies have pioneered new ways of working and many more appear to be following suit.


What has changed?

Social and technological developments have contrived to create a situation where workers both want to change the way they are expected to work and have the tools available to achieve this.

With the family model of only one parent (mainly the father) at work being thrown into disarray by the Second World War, women have increasingly taken their place in the workforce. Our economy has grown with this development to reach a stage where many families could not survive without two salaries.

For some time many parents have put up with this, but younger generations coming into the workforce are rightly saying there has to be a better way. They want to work more around their partner’s and children’s lives and create a balance that is good for them and the family as a whole.

Employment law has also evolved to protect women at work and provide far greater flexibility in relation to childcare. The final missing link was the technology to enable and empower a more mobile, flexible, autonomous workforce.


The technology at work

First, came the internet. It took a while to develop, having been around since the 60’s. Then we had mobile phones – although the first devices stretched the term ‘mobile’ to the limit. Networks and electronic engineering developed rapidly, however, and we now have near ubiquitous coverage and pocket sized phones.

Similarly wireless networks and the cloud (again, not new, but newly modified) have given us more choice about where we can work and how we can access our work.

The workforce can now work from home, from cafés, hotels, client premises, trains, planes and automobiles.


Is this the end of the office?

Humans are social animals. For the most part, we need physical contact and work better as part of a group. The office is not going to go away, because it is a convenient base for administrative functions, planning and meeting superiors, colleagues, clients, etc.

However, there is no need to be there at set times, in set places, to perform set tasks in set ways.

The technology now enables us to work from smaller interfaces: laptops, net-books, tablets, mobile phones and from many more locations: anywhere there is wireless and/or mobile network.

Now, a typical flexible worker might work for a couple of hours in the morning, before taking the children to school, after which they put in a few more hours before meeting friends for lunch and doing a bit of shopping, Skype with the team, enjoy late afternoon and early evening with the family before checking emails and getting a couple of jobs off their ‘to-do’ list after supper.

They might have meetings in the office once a week or month, chat with colleagues about projects via telephone, video conferencing, Skype, social media, etc and perhaps hot-desk in the office now and then.


Benefits to the business

It is not just about saving money. Early pioneers in this practice include BT, Microsoft, Orange, Vodafone and Hewlett Packard.

Their experiences, along with a great deal of supporting research, show that while money is saved on real estate, utilities and infrastructure (this is despite money needing to be spent ensuring staff have training and all the right hardware, software and equipment), there are also increases in staff engagement, morale and productivity.

This has a direct impact on staff attraction, motivation and retention; employing the best staff and lowering the churn rate improves business performance and saves time and money on recruitment. It can also change staff engagement; some employees may be happier to work on a self-employed basis, with contracts based on specific projects or terms.

In turn, these improvements make companies more agile: they can adapt to changes in their environment and client needs; service existing markets over an extended area and move faster into new markets; grow when business demands and contract when it doesn’t; and minimise interruption through improved disaster recovery ability.

For organisations seeking to improve their environmental credentials, there are also benefits in reducing their real estate footprint, utilities bills and staff commuting levels. Fewer cars on the road reduce emissions and fuel requirements as well as reducing congestion.


Is this your business?

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of work. As a provider of office space, it means I am going to have to ensure I keep abreast of these changes and offer what businesses will, increasingly, need.

However, with a sea change in how people view their working lives and technology as enabler, we are all going to have to look at the best ways to work.

If we are prepared to measure staff by performance rather than time present and trust people to not abuse the autonomy they are given, then the truly flexible worker can become the norm and we will all benefit.

Posted in Business Development | Tagged cloud, flexible worker, future of work, , mettings, , technology at work | Leave a comment