Why have the meeting then?

Still useful and relevant, 44 years later….

Well there wasn’t anything anyone wanted to talk about!

Why have the meeting then?

It’s the weekly meeting!

This staff training film from Video Arts, Meetings Bloody Meetings,  has been quite influential on how I approach meetings and how I feel about meetings.

The fact that this film is 44 years old and I still think others could learn from it, shows how challenging it can be to change the cultures within organisations. However it can be done.

“I just turned on my TV…”

old TV
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I love this story as reported by the BBC about a small village in Wales which was having persistent broadband outages and it was proving difficult to work out what the cause of the problem was. After eighteen months engineers began an investigation after a cable replacement programme did nit fix the issue.

Eventually after sweeping the village with detection devices they narrowed it down to a single house. What was happening was the person in the house was switching on their old TV at 7am every morning and the electrical interference emitted by their second-hand television was affecting the broadband signal.

They have now promised not to turn on the TV anymore!

We know that there are many potential problems with electrical devices interfering with broadband connections, as well as other devices in the home playing havoc with wifi signals as well. It’s never easy.

Landline now back on…

Well, so I thought we had the same error as before.

I found our phone last week wasn’t working, did all the checks, but still couldn’t get a dial tone or receive calls.

Raised the fault with BT who fixed it in a couple of days.

Yesterday I found our landline wasn’t working, still no dial tone.

I couldn’t raise a new fault, as the old one hadn’t been closed. So I went through a long online chat to get the fault resolved and an engineer visit booked.

However in the end it was apparent that this wasn’t a BT fault, it was a problem with one of our sockets (I think more the filter) that meant that our landline was working, so I cancelled the BT engineer visit.

Old Phone
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

QR Codes at the seaside

QR Codes on the beach

I haven’t done a blog post on my QR Codes experiences for a fair few years now. Partly as I think they are fairly ubiquitous now across most things people do and partly as the problems that I saw in the past about QR Code implementations are much rarer.

In previous blog posts I wrote about QR Codes on bags of chocolate, furniture retailers and on the telly!

You use to need a specific app to read QR Codes, this functionality appears now to be built into the camera app of most phones. Having said that one of the advantages of using a specific app is that it retains the history of the codes you have scanned.

So, the other day we were walking along the beach at Burnham-on-Sea and we saw a wooden lighthouse and we did wonder about the history, so on the promenade there was a QR Code, which we could scan and find out more about the Low Lighthouse.

Across the promenade there were various signs with QR codes that could be scanned. I used my iPhone 8 camera app to scan the code, it picked it up quite easily.

The QR Code provided a short link to a mobile friendly website about the feature on Burnham beachfront.

The QR Code made it quicker and easier to get to the website, rather than typing in an URL.

Slightly disappointed that this wasn’t a secure (https) site. However I thought this was an effective way of using QR codes of providing more insight into the history of Burnham-on-Sea.

Landline was down…

Old Phone
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

…but I hadn’t noticed!

Found out this morning that my phone landline wasn’t working. I couldn’t make or receive calls and there was no dialling tone.

The thing is I have no idea how long it has been like this, the fact that the internet is still working, means I wasn’t suspicious something was amiss. It was only after I was having trouble with my mobile on the Three network that I tried the landline.

I mainly have a landline for the internet, so rarely use the phone for making actual phone calls. I wasn’t expecting any calls either, so that didn’t raise any alarms either.

The support process from BT was quite simple, after I had Googled “BT Line Checker” as there didn’t appear to be a path from the MyBT page. Once I found that page, I had to go through a diagnostic process on the website, which included going out to buy a replacement new phone just in case it was the phone, as well as using the test socket on the master socket.

The end result is that BT Engineers will be out to fix this by Friday…

Though I have no evidence, my suspicions are that this fault may have been caused a few days ago when there was a bundle of BT Openreach vans outside our house where they were working on something…

Work is still something you do, not somewhere you go

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Over the last few days there has been a wealth of press coverage, politicians talking, discussion online about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work.

Hello!

Hello!

Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home!

The headlines in the papers and on the web seemed to indicate that people weren’t working and that they should return to work. This is quite insulting to all those people who have been working, and working during a crisis as well as supporting potentially children in their schooling, as well as avoiding meeting friends and family. The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

At the end of last week, 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.

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. 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.

As a result the rest of the business world and the economy will need to reflect that shift and adjust.

coffee

What sparked my post more than anything else was this Medium post about remote work in the US, Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy.

Businesses dependent on workers commuting to offices were finding revenues were falling and falling fast. Some were those provides food and drink.

Starbucks attributed the loss of some $2 billion year on year to deserted urban office corridors

Then there was business travel.

…in the air, white-collar workers previously kept a parallel economy buzzing, with business travel accounting for 60% to 70% of all airline traffic. While leisure getaways have also been obliterated, it turns out the bigger punch is the Zoomification of business meetings, a cancellation of business travel that analysts expect to persist for up to two or three years.

Then there are the changes in real estate, with some companies ending leases early, not renewing, or even cancelling new offices.

Pinterest turned heads when it announced it would pay a $89.5 million contract penalty to cancel its lease on a flashy new 490,000-square-foot office building planned in San Francisco.

In the UK we know that train companies are now looking to see how they can reflect the shift from five times a week commuting to the office, to a model where people will only travel two or three times a week to the office.

Yes there is a real issue with the loss of footfall in places like London and Manchester and this needs to be thought about and dealt with. The shift in the working population away from the heart of the cities will result in major changes across the economy, as well as direct impact on the city centre economy. However I do fell that this is also a real opportunity as well to reduce the dependency on commuting and mass daily migration from the suburbs to city centres.

Paddington Station

Last week the BBC reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

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. I discussed this more in an earlier post on changes to my office working.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

This view was echoed in the FT opinion piece (paywall) by Sarah O’Connor, Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’ and good luck to whatever replaces it.

The article talks about the rise and fall of Pret.

The rise of Pret has mirrored the rise of London and, until recently, they both seemed unstoppable Yet last week, Pret said it would cut 2,890 jobs, almost one-third of its workforce, after the pandemic wiped out “almost a decade of growth” for the company.

As with many other people, when the call came back to head back to the office, thought, let’s be honest do we need to go back to the office, travelling on trains and buses as well as going out for lunch? The coronavirus is still there, infection rates are rising in some parts of the country and there is still no vaccine and no cure.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Isn’t it time to start thinking differently about work and the nature of work?

Well some of us have been talking about this for a while now.

Back in 2016, Lawrie Phipps published a really interesting blog post on the nature of work, Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

The coronavirus lockdown forced many people to work from home, and though many found it challenging, some thrived. We became better at using tools such as Teams and Zoom, and many found they were more productive, though some didn’t.

Of course working from home is not for everyone and this is where thinking differently about work and the nature of work needs to consider not just working from home, but also working from an office. The office doesn’t have to be the office, it could be an office.

I do hope that we could start not just working from home, but working locally as well, maybe in physical hubs, or other co-location workplaces. That way you can still work from “home” by working locally, but you also get the other benefits of working in a space with others Of course this isn’t new either. Many companies already did allow staff to use local flexible meeting spaces for meetings and working. There are quite a few companies that can provide offices and desks to hire, though these are suffering just as much in the lockdown as well, but when that’s less restrictive there are possibilities.

Of course the economic challenge in all this is how these shifts impact on workers, both those who are now remote working, and those who were previously employed in all those support businesses. The economics shifts we’ve had in the past, in the main de-industrialisation, were often managed badly. As industrial and manufacturing jobs disappeared and new service and office jobs grew, this wasn’t evenly spread across the country, and the end result was areas of high unemployment, slow economic growth and poor social mobility. At the same time saw excessive wages and costs, and where demand for workers could not be met, we saw large rises in commuting, as well as huge increases in house prices, which then resulted in even more commuting.

As we have this paradigm shift in working patterns, we need to think about how we manage that shift to reduce the impact on workers (as well as businesses) that use to depend on other works commuting to the office, drinking coffee and having lunch.

Changes to my office working

In the last seven days I have managed to get to our offices in Bristol twice and worked there instead of working from home, something I have been doing since March when we all got locked down. It looks like I might go to our office now and then to work. However what is the future of office working, not just for me, but for everyone? This got me thinking about my office working experiences in the past and into the future.

When I was teaching back in the 1990s, I had a desk in an office, it was my desk and though it was occasionally used by part-time lecturing staff after hours, generally I was the only person who sat there… Well I say sat there, during my working week I was spending over 50% of my time in the classroom and then I was having coffee or lunch, or going to the library, attending meetings and other stuff. I don’t think I had that much time sitting at the desk. So it became as most desks do in teaching staff offices, a place to put my coat, my marking and other stuff. It was more for storage than for doing stuff. I should also make it clear that there was no computer on that desk nor did I use a laptop. If I wanted to use a computer I had to go somewhere else, so even less time at my desk.The office had phones, but I didn’t have a dedicated phone. I remember also the shared office was rather busy, so it wasn’t conducive to working at a desk due to the noise and constant interruptions.

I spent over a year working for a Museum and then I did have a desk and I spent a fair amount of time at that desk. It was also the first time my desk had a computer on it as well, which got used extensively for communicating and writing. The desk also had a phone!

In 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and I remember talking to my line manager and he was clear that I didn’t need to come into the office every day and to spend some time working from home when I wanted to. This was the first time I started to change my working patterns from going into the office on a daily basis. Though initially based in Radstock we then moved to dedicated offices in Keynsham. I was responsible for dusking for the office I have to admit I went slightly overboard I had a L-shaped desk with an attached table. The office wasn’t really big enough for it (and the other desks), but the result was I had loads of desk space and a table for meetings. I did use two computers at the time, a PC and a Mac so I had two screens. My job meant that I wasn’t in the office everyday, so I got use to working from home, but also out on the road as well.

In 2006 I joined Gloucestershire College, this time I had a dedicated desk, but was “allowed” to work from home one day a week or so.  It was when I moved to Gloucestershire College, that my thinking on “having a desk” changed quite a bit. Initially I was based at the old Brunswick Campus, and I “borrowed” a desk in the library office from a colleague who was on maternity leave as my “allocated” desk was at the top of a tower block quite a hike from the library where my team was based and worked.

Gloucestershire College
Gloucestershire College by James Clay

When we moved to the new college building in the Gloucester Docks, the office space we were allocated was a lot smaller than before. I recall having a discussion with the team about desking. The main feedback I got was that people wanted to have a desk so they could put their stuff and work somewhere. As the majority of the team were customer facing (working with staff and students out in the library and elsewhere in the college), some were part-time, it was apparent to me that if I gave everyone a desk (and it would be a small desk) that they would be empty most of the working week. We also had team members from other campuses coming to the Gloucester Campus and needing somewhere to work (and leave their stuff).

So rather than have twelve small desks, we made a decision to have only six big desks and a fair few large cupboards. We would have a clear desk policy and people would store their stuff in the cupboards. We also then had the space to have a sofa in the office as well and a coffee table.

It has to be said, partly down to the C-shaped aspect of the office, that I had a “separate” desk in a part of the office. However I was very clear to the team that they could use my this desk and was also equally clear, that if I arrived and they were using the desk, they would remain at the desk and I would find somewhere else to work.

I was also quite clear that we would review the situation in six months and if it wasn’t working we would change the space. Well, what happened, after six months we actually gave away two desks out of the six to new admin staff.

Even with a job in a college, I still worked from home on a regular basis, usually when I needed peace and quiet, but the job also entailed working across multiple campuses, so got into a routine of being able to work at a range of desk situations.

In my next job I had a variety of desks in various locations, but spent a lot of time moving between sites, travelling, but also working from home. Due to building work, I never did get my own office before I left.

When I started at Jisc in 2015, I wasn’t allocated a desk as there wasn’t one, but after an office re-shuffle, I did get a desk. Though it was “my” desk, I kept it clear, so on those days when I wasn’t in the office anyone could use it, and they did. I could tell because they re-adjusted my chair!

A year or two later, the situation changed and in the Castlepark office we moved completely to hot-desking. My only complaint about that was we had to use a booking system to book desks, and though I see why people think this is necessary, the reality is that it results in more empty desks. I wrote this article in 2016 on library PC booking systems, but the essence of the article is the same for desk booking systems.

In the new offices at Portwall Lane, though there was still a desk booking system, however like the London office there was a range of working spaces that didn’t need to be booked, so the space worked much better.

Before the covid-19 pandemic and in my new role at Jisc, I found I was working less with a team and more remotely, though not necessarily at home. I would work from home, but I was also travelling a fair bit, usually in London at least one or twice a week, but also further afield as well. I would quite happily work in a hotel room, or a coffee shop or on the train. There was a range of tools that I used to communicate and collaborate and it was quite simple to sync documents through online storage. I did much prefer attending meetings in person, though I was often given the choice of attending online. However I found those mixed-mode meetings never worked very well, so depending on my role in the meeting would determine if I was online or in-person in the room.

With lockdown I was forced, like everyone else to work from home. This means the mixed-mode meeting died and we all had to participate on an even footing. Just prior to lockdown I did publish a post on my thinking about the future of working from home that we might see during the lockdown. Despite having worked from home before, working from home during a pandemic lockdown was nowhere the same thing and I had to adapt quickly.

After five months of working from home, I really felt like it would be nice to return to the office, even if it was for the day. So it was with some relief and a little trepidation that last week I went to our office in Bristol. This was my first time in a Jisc office since March, actually been anywhere for work apart from my desk in the house.

I did think about catching the train, but in the end drove to Bristol, parked and walked the rest of the way to the office. It was nice and sunny so was rather pleasant. It was an easy drive into Bristol and there was minimal traffic. Very few people around as well, unlike when I have walked to the office before. I stopped for coffee at Chatterton’s Café, however it was takeaway only and they were serving through their kitchen window. Nice coffee though. 

Most of the office is closed or out of use, so we are using one floor and only a few meeting rooms. Lots of social distancing and deep cleaning happening. With so few people in, the office has lost its buzz and atmosphere. It feels bleak and rather dead compared to how it is normally. Had a few meetings and lunch with my new boss. The offices closed at 4pm, so I was out of the building before then, walked back to the car and headed home. Even with those restrictions it was nice to work in a different environment again.

So what of the future of office working, not just for me, but for everyone?

The BBC this week reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

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.

Within that BBC article was also a comment about how the changes to office culture, is having a knock-on impact with those businesses who depend on those office workers. This was something I recognised as I was in Bristol this week with a number of local coffee and sandwich places still closed because of covid-19 and it looks like they won’t re-open in the near future either.

As we move into the new academic year I am not expecting to be doing much travelling. Speaking to colleagues in universities across the country, they are clear that they are expecting most meetings (internal as well as external) will continue to happen online. In addition most people have been saying they will not travel to meetings, nor will they necessarily have the budget for travel either.

Personally I am expecting to go to the Bristol office more frequently, but I am not expecting to visit our other offices in Harwell, London and Manchester at all. Well maybe London.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Wazing in and out to Paris…

I spent the last week of July in France and used Waze extensively to ensure we were going in the right direction and to the right place. Generally it worked fine, but I did have a few issues.

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.

So I had used it already to get us down to the Eurotunnel Terminal and then after travelling on Le Shuttle to get us down to the campsite at La Croix Du Vieux Pont.

One quirk was that after taking us down lots of main roads, Waze then directed us down some very narrow country roads and lanes on the way to the campsite. I am not sure if this was faster, but was probably more direct. I did find driving down those roads a little nerve wracking, especially at the end of a rather long drive. However all was well in the end and we got to the campsite safely and in a reasonable timeframe.

I also used Waze to get us to Pierrefronds and back again, this time no issues.

So it was without any concern that I decided to use Waze to get a route to the outskirts of Paris. When we booked our holiday we thought it would be nice to visit Paris for the day. When I looked into this possibility at home, the obvious thing appeared to be, was to do the coach trip that the campsite put on, or catch the train. I didn’t really want to drive to Paris, as mainly we didn’t have the right pollution sticker (not enough time) and the thought of driving in Paris filled me with dread. However once at the campsite we found that due to Covid-19 that there wasn’t a coach trip running. As for the train, I did some internet searching and it looked like you needed to book tickets in advance. I then checked with the tourist information office on the campsite, they actually said not to catch the train, as Covid-19 was causing problems with the timetables. The office suggested we drive to the outskirts of Paris, park and catch the Metro into the centre of Paris.

This sounded like a practical plan. I programmed the car park, Q-Park Saint-Denis Université, into Waze the night before and all was fine.

The next morning we set off. Waze it was though was having none of it, and failed to set a route. I thought nothing of this, as I had been having a few 4G connectivity issues at the campsite and I thought once we got going and into an area with better connectivity, Waze would get sorted. On a visit to a nearby supermarket I had seen a road sign for Paris so we set off.

However despite getting better 4G reception, Waze was still failing to set a route. I think that the routing server was offline. So in the end as we approached Paris, we stopped and I changed to Google Maps to get us to that last leg to Saint-Denis Université. This worked fine, and I am glad I had directions, as I don’t think relying on road signs or even a map would have worked.

Having parked, we caught the Metro to the centre of Paris and made our way to Tour Eiffel.

This journey also demonstrated how much I have come to depend on Waze for getting to places (and back).

Interestingly, coming back from Paris, Waze was working fine!