I can work anywhere

I can work anywhere, there we go, enough said, let’s move on.

Well, maybe the question, shouldn’t be can you work anywhere, but how can the environment improve and enhance your work. 

There is probably a deeper question about the nature of “work” in there, but I’ll leave that for the moment.

The pandemic has completely changed the concept of the workplace and patterns of working. There has been a lot of press and political rhetoric about people returning to work, though what they mean is much more about returning to the offices where people can work.

Back in September 2020 there was this article on the BBC News: Warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office.

Dame Carolyn said the UK’s offices were “vital drivers” of the economy, supporting thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. “The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.

This tweet echoed my thoughts on that article.

What would you rather have? A better work/life balance or the knowledge you’re keeping Pret open? Unbelievable.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle now, both staff and businesses are seeing the potential benefits (and the pitfalls) of working from home. This shift in working patterns will not go away, despite the feeling that the pandemic is “over”. This doesn’t mean that we’re all working from home permanently as we were under lockdown, but it does mean that we’re very likely not to go back to the way things were.

Waterloo

When I visited London in July 2021 and it felt deserted, almost apocalyptic. There was no one around as I went into our London office on that Monday in July. Coffee places were closed and the trains were deserted.

On more recent visits, London does feel quiet on a Monday and a Friday, though pre-pandemic, Fridays were often quieter anyhow. During the middle of the week, London feels very busy and crowded. There are queues for sandwiches and coffee. Having said that, looking into the office windows by our office and on the way into London, we can see many empty desks and meeting rooms.

However what does this all mean for the nature of work. I am reminded that work is something we do, not somewhere we go.

meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

I remember a Twitter discussion, where someone was asking why anyone would work from the office one day and then work from home another. Their thinking was that the nature of their work was similar day to day, so why would you keep changing your location for working? I think this is a fair point, and for some roles where the day to day routine is repetitive then working in the same location can make sense.

For many people, including myself, what we do changes over the day, during the week and over time. Sometimes my work is about reading and making notes, add in there writing. Other times I am facilitating workshops, attending meetings, running meetings, having conversations, and so on. Throw in their online versions of these as well to complicate the mix.

My working pattern vary week to week, so each week I could be doing something different, and sometimes in different parts of the UK.

The pandemic certainly has changed my working patterns and I have a lot more online meetings (and events) in my diary than I did pre-pandemic.

I do like to consider I can work anywhere. I don’t mind if I am at home, in our different offices, at Caffe Nero drinking coffee, on the train, even sitting outside in the sun!

Having said that, the environment in which I work can impact on my productivity and what I do or produce.

I don’t really find having an online meeting sitting at a desk in the office, effective. I much prefer to do those calls in a meeting room where I can shut the door and control the external noise (also means I don’t necessarily need to wear a headset either).

If I have a lot of online meetings, than most times I will work from home, no one to interrupt me, and coffee easily on hand. Of course this changes during the school holidays, when I will more likely commute into the office to avoid disturbing the rest of the household.

When it comes to (online) presentations, a lot depends on where I am. In one of our offices, you can’t turn off the air-conditioning in the meeting rooms and it can be quite noisy, so in those circumstances, I will probably present from home (luckily for me I have decent broadband now). In one of our other offices I can turn off the air-conditioning in the meeting rooms, so have used them for delivering online presentations.

When I need focus, I am much more flexible, I am quite happy to sit at a desk (home or office), though I will sometimes prefer an external location, a place where I can drink coffee.

For mundane administration or processing of e-mail,  location becomes even less important. This is the kind of thing I can do on the train, drinking coffee, or waiting for a meeting to start.

If I have a day of online calls and meetings, then I really don’t see the point of commuting to the office and sitting at a desk with a headset, or hiding away in a meeting room.

Though I have participated in many online workshops with tools such as a Miro board, I have to say I am not really a fan. If, given the choice, I would much prefer to meet in-person and run that kind of workshop.

Of course one aspect of “going into the office” which can be difficult to recreate online, is that ad hoc meeting or conversation, the happenstance of someone you need being in the office on the same day you are, chatting with other people, as you make coffee, and so on. I do use tools such as Twitter, Yammer and even Teams for this kind of thing, but it is not the same. For somethings the online is better (think about sharing news and links), for others in-person is better for me.

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Reflecting on the changing nature of work does mean that desks, offices and rooms which were ideal for the way we worked in 2019, are now not fit for purpose.

We might want to consider how and where people are working and then reflect on creating effective environments that enhance and enable productive working environments.

This might mean, more social spaces to encourage in-person interaction. Organisations which have a high level of online calls and meetings, might want to consider creating more acoustic spaces for people to do this. Where people do a lot of presentations, a TV studio type space might be the answer.

Of course the patterns of working with people potentially coming into the office for a day a week or a few days in the week, does mean that offices can be quite busy in the middle of the week and much quieter on Mondays and Fridays. 

Organisations may want to start thinking about how they will encourage people to come into the offices on those quiet days, what incentives could be in place, so that when people plan their weeks, occupancy of the office can be spread more evenly over the week. This could be travel passes (alas taxable), doughnuts, financial incentives. Or go the other way and use disincentives.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important.

What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future.

No more Internet Explorer

Spider Web by Daniel Orth CC BY-ND 2.0

Spider Web by Daniel Orth CC BY-ND 2.0

Microsoft has retired its web browser Internet Explorer after 27 years

Internet Explorer’s popularity was dented by the launch of faster browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, as users seized on new applications to navigate platforms including Google Search, Facebook and YouTube. The rise of smartphones then arguably delivered the fatal blow, with Apple’s pre-installed Safari browser and Google Chrome on Android phones helping to shift internet access and usage into the mobile realm.

As a Mac user I remember the frustration of web sites being Internet Explorer only, which was compounded when I started using mobile devices.

I do like this animation of web browser usage over the years (you certainly see at one point the dominance of Internet Explorer).

Has 15.5 fixed My Photo Stream?

In a previous post I mentioned I was having issues with My Photo Stream having upgraded my iPhone 13 to iOS 15.4.

I noticed that photographs I had taken with my iPhone 13 were not being uploaded to My Photo Stream and shared across my other devices.

This was an annoying bug, as I did use this feature a lot, using photographs I had taken on my iPhone and then using them with my Mac.

I did try a temporary fix my changing the camera mode, it was set to High Efficiency, so I switched it to Most Compatible.

However this wasn’t a real fix, as though some photographs were uploaded to My Photo Stream, not all were.

I have now upgraded to iOS 15.5 and though there wasn’t a mention of fixing this bug, I did notice that yesterday all my photographs were uploaded to My Photo Stream, but I was still using Most Compatible mode. This morning I switched to High Efficiency and took a few photographs and allwere uploaded to My Photo Stream.

screengrab of iOS screen showing My Photo Stream working

So here’s hoping that bug is now fixed.

Wazing the wrong way

I do like Waze and I find that it is quite accurate in terms of arrival times, usually provides effective routing and I like the live traffic updates. I remember once it took me on what felt like a weird route out of Reading, but it took just ten minutes, whereas if I had taken the route I would have taken without Waze (as I didn’t know Reading very well) it would have taken at least thirty minutes. Waze took me down quieter less busy road, so I was out of Reading very quickly.

Recently though it got very confused when I was travelling on the M4 westbound and then got caught in a traffic jam between junctions 12 and 13. There had been an accident and the lorry involved had spilled its fuel onto the carriageway. The police then closed the motorway, so that it could be resurfaced and directed traffic off at junction 12. Well too late for me as I was already way pass junction 12 and close to junction 13.

Of course with the motorway closed, Waze was updated and the M4 westbound was shown as a red and white dashed line indicating the road was closed. Of course Waze didn’t realise I was heading westbound and just assumed I was on the other carriageway and heading eastbound. So it was inaccurately telling me to head to junction 12 and come off there.

Well I couldn’t as I was stuck westbound. 

Eventually after the police started letting traffic through on the outside lane pass the accident, well the fuel spillage, Waze caught up and worked out I was heading westbound after all.

iPod no more

Apple have announced that they are going to stop selling the iPod once the current stocks of iPod touch run out.

Since its introduction over 20 years ago, iPod has captivated users all over the world who love the ability to take their music with them on the go. 

Today, the experience of taking one’s music library out into the world has been integrated across Apple’s product line — from iPhone and Apple Watch to iPad and Mac.

I never had the first iPod which was announced in 2001.

The first iPod I got was the 4th version that could show photographs. I used it extensively for podcasts as well as music.

As part of a MoLeNET project at the college I was working at we got a range of iPod devices. We also used a range of 3rd edition iPod nano devices.

I used a 6th iPod Classic, on this I could add images and video, as well as music.

Later we got the iPod touch for the project, which was used for much more than music. I used that for apps, videos and web access.

However now I listen to music on my iPhone and through my Alexa devices. Most of the music I also listen to now is through streaming services, rather than download or rip from a CD.

I always liked the iPod and though technology has moved on, it was something for me that was highly innovative for its time. Though the concept of an mp3 player wasn’t innovative, the way that Apple interpreted the concept was innovative.

So did you have an iPod and if so which one?

Blue is the colour

This week I was presenting at an online conference and though I usually use my iMac in-built microphone, for this event I was using a Microsoft Surface. I was asked if I had an external microphone I could use as the quality wasn’t very good with the in-built microphone. I do have an external Bluetooth headset I sometimes use for calls, but I have found it can be unreliable when I need it most. So I went to the garage and dug out my old external Blue Snowball USB microphone.

It certainly has a retro feel to it’s look and when I say retro I mean 1950s retro. I’ve had it for a fair few years, well over fifteen I think. It was called a Snowball as it was white ball, well over the years the white plastic and discoloured somewhat, so it is now a faded yellowish white colour. However it worked perfectly and the feedback I had was the quality was excellent.

Think I might start using it more.

If you want one, you can get one at Amazon.

Trackpad not clicking

I got my MacBook Pro out and was looking at a few websites and I realised that my trackpad was no longer ‘clicking’.

The tap to click was working fine, but the click had stopped working.

It was a bit disconcerting, but the MacBook was still usable.

I thought was my trackpad broken.

However…

When I did a restart I couldn’t click on my name to log into the MacBook Pro as tap to click didn’t work on the user login screen.

I had to get a mouse out to log in.

I did wonder if I would need to get it fixed, but first I did a Google search.

One possible resolution was to reset the SMC.

The system management controller (SMC) controls how a Mac manages power.

      1. Shut down your Mac.
      2. On your built-in keyboard, press and hold all of these keys:

Shift  on the left side of your keyboard
Control  on the left side of your keyboard
Option (Alt)  on the left side of your keyboard

      1. While holding all three keys, press and hold the power button as well.
      2. Keep holding all four keys for 10 seconds.
      3. Release all keys, then press the power button to turn on your Mac.

I did this and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the trackpad was working again.

Temporarily resolving an issue with My Photo Stream on my iPhone 13

I have managed to resolve an issue having taken photographs with my iPhone that My Photo Stream was not then updating across my devices.

It was in the past week that I noticed that photographs I had taken with my iPhone 13 were not being uploaded to My Photo Stream and shared across my other devices.

I first did the usual trick of going into settings for the Photos app and turning My Photo Stream off and then back on again, however this made no difference.

What was weird was that the photograph I had taken weren’t been uploaded, but the edited versions from Snapseed or Instagram were being added to My Photo Stream.

This photo of the Bristol Harbourside didn’t upload.

This version I edited with Snapseed did.

I checked back through my iPhone camera roll and there was a range of photographs missing from My Photo Stream.

It was working fine on the 16th April, but had stopped updating on the 17th April.

Doing an initial Google search didn’t help, with most references referring to turning My Photo Stream off and back on again, which I knew didn’t work. I powered off the iPhone and back on again, that didn’t resolve the issue either.

My Photo Stream was working fine on other devices. Took a photo with the iPad and it was uploaded to My Photo Stream. On the iPhone if I created an image with Snapseed it was uploaded to My Photo Stream. 

That got me thinking that the issue wasn’t with My Photo Stream or the Photos app, but was with the Camera app.

Now doing a Google search I found that others were having a similar issue. It appeared to be related to the 15.4 iOS update.

Going through the settings for the Camera app I checked the formats setting.

Settings > Camera > Formats

To reduce file size, capture photos and videos in the High Efficiency HEIF/HEVC format. Most Compatible will always use JPEG/H.264. Cinematic video, 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps and HDR video require High Efficiency.

This was set to High Efficiency, so I switched to Most Compatible.

As a result the next photograph I took was uploaded to My Photo Stream.

I switched back to High Efficiency and the problem came back. It was apparent that the HEIC images were not being uploaded to My Photo Stream, though they were with iOS 15.3 and earlier.

So for the moment I have a temporary fix, so when I take photographs with the iPhone 13 they will upload to My Photo Stream.

“Meetings are a waste of time”

meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

It was with some recognition and amusement that I read a recent article in the New Statesman on a study of meetings involving 76 companies and 25,000 employees.

It’s confirmed: meetings are a waste of time 

I had shared my own thoughts on meetings with colleagues a week ago, which I had written in January 2021. So it was nice to add to that discussion with this article.

There are some interesting lessons to learn from the study.

The most common meeting structure is one in which junior employees do the work of providing information to a manager, then wait and watch while others do the same. Mostly, it’s a performance – one that cements the social hierarchy of the company and the authority of its managers.

I have been in many of these kinds of meetings. However as a manager I did try and avoid these and have more structured reporting and meeting as a result.

I find that often meetings are held because people don’t prioritise reading reports and want to be told stuff. Highly inefficient and also pretty ineffective way of sharing updates and information, more so when it has to be cascaded down (and across) the organisation.

There are tools out there that can automate reporting (such as JIRA) and be used to create triggers that can then result in a meeting or conversation to solve the challenge or issue. Otherwise it can be slow waiting for that fortnightly meeting to share a challenge that you didn’t even know was a challenge until it got brought up in a meeting!

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Meetings are also expensive.

…if a manager uses a two-hour meeting with 18 colleagues to make some decisions, they’re spending person-hours equivalent to one person doing an entire week’s work.

This kind of resourcing impact is often missed by those involved in organising and running meetings.

I am not sure even if meetings are the most effective way of making decisions.

The article says when one multinational was asked about trialling meeting-free days:

managers at one multinational did what managers do: they called a meeting. Then another. Then another, and another, and another, and… “They actually had 17 recorded meetings, at an average of two hours… 34 hours of their lives, they spent to decide whether they were to opt in!

At the end of those 17 meetings, they still hadn’t made a decision!

envelopes
Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

So does reducing meetings increase e-mail, well the study found that:

…the reduction in meetings didn’t lead to an increase in the other great stressor of white-collar life: email. 

Add to that the quality of email communication and collaboration rose as well.

In fact, employees’ satisfaction with how they communicated rose. More hygienic meetings lead to more hygienic communication elsewhere.

As you might expect I also have some thoughts on managing e-mail.

It doesn’t mean we should never have meetings, the study was about reducing the number of meetings, raising the quality of meetings and improving communication overall. With the aim of improving performance and productivity.

I do think as well as reducing meetings you should also look at how you structure and run meetings as well. Thinking about the purpose of the meeting, the urgency, the importance and who needs to be there.