My company is going through one of it’s regular turns – where we want our people to be working in the office – in a shared location.

There’s lots of advantages

It helps us collaborate

There’s lots of studies that show it’s better (I’ll add a link if I ever find them)

There is, of course, another view. It happens to be one I share, but I’d welcome your comments.


I’m surprised I have to repeat myself about this, but as I said in 2009(!) Homeworking builds team work  – and communities


Oh, those nice open plan, shared spaces that aid collaboration? Not *everyone* thinks they do. [PDF]


This is the question posed – but not answered – in the brilliant post On whether Knowledge Management matters by Brad Hinton. I was alerted to this by a timely tweet from @johnt

He posits:

Based on my own observations and discussions with people, perhaps the only people who care about KM are the KM-ers in the industry itself.

He suggests that we perhaps celebrate the odd success of bottom up initiatives, rather than recognising that they symbolise general apathy from the executive.

In as poignant comment, he adds

I really doubt that senior management has any interest in KM because KM is often about empowering a workforce, or at least flattening the structure via networks and network platforms. There is a perception that this weakens the authority of “those in power” and it also permits workers to have greater freedom to make choices

I think he’s probably painting a gloomy picture, but I wonder if KM – with its ability to stimulate and empower people in the team – is seen by some seniors as challenging their “command and control” approach.

My firm is revisiting our KM strategy, and I’ll be watching carefully.

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crowded escalator

Homeworking. Good for everyone?

While looking for some reference material the other day, I came upon a 7 year old report on teleworking in BT [PDF from SUSTEL].

I commented in a tweet

I still think teleworking is positive for co. and people

It is quite important to me to share this view, as in parts of the company there is an increasing focus on co-location. For certain roles, for certain teams, for some of the time there is a really good case to be made for co-location.

A colleague, who is a fellow editor of an internal blog, who – coincidentally – I have never met, made the following valid observation.

agree but need to understand intangibles-impact of never meeting your colleagues f2f-need to be able to travel

Is homeworking isolating?

I thought about this a bit, and realised

  • it is well over a year since I’ve seen a member of my team
  • it is over 9 months since I have seen a colleague I am working with

So, why am I not feeling the impact of isolation?

BT equips its homeworkers with good technological support. We use teleconferencing extensively throughout the company, and use a variety of tools in the Unified Communication area to improve working.

Glancing at Office Communicator, for example, I can see if a colleague is in, taking part in a call, or can drop them an instant message. That can be seamlessly converted in to a call using my VOIP client which gives me an internal extension in the company.

Doing that makes it easy to just have a quick chat – and lets someone politely say they’re busy, too.

Don’t I miss the face to face? No, because for years my “watercooler/coffee machine” chat has been on the company’s internal newsgroups, where people can share banter, tips, or even ask for recipes. So, you can glance at that while you’re waiting for a call host to join or some code to compile.

Now, the company’s internal social networking is improving, we have an internal blogging platform where all sorts of individual groups share experience and activities, and even MyBT, which gives an internally and externally visible individual portal into our online world.

So, who are your colleagues?

I can “talk” to far more colleagues than I ever could when I worked in an office nine years ago.

Many of my BT colleagues are visible externally, blogging and tweeting away – BT even publicised the online life of some of our graduate entrants for a while – one of whom now edits another internal blog with me.

This publicly visible face of many of my colleagues means I can build relationships, which foster teamwork, with people I wouldn’t normally meet; I know more about many of them than I would about a colleague at the other end of a building.

I also learn from people in other businesses; some businesses I have worked with, like IBM; some I haven’t like SouthWest Air. This has improved me as an employee of my own company.

What does it cost for homeworkers?

Like all businesses in this downturn, BT is being careful of its expenditure. Business travel costs real money; having your people homeworking *saves* real money, too. The Work Foundation‘s report said

  • The annual cost to support an office-based worker in central London is
    around £18,000. It costs less than £3,000 a year to support a
    homeworker. On average each homeworker saves BT £6000 a year
  • Improved retention saves c£5m a year on recruitment and induction

Do you want to meet your team? Or someone else’s?

Where would I like to travel to? To work with “my” team? No, most of us spend a huge proportion of the day on the phone; I’d like to work somewhere I’ll learn something new.

Next time I do travel to London, and have a morning or afternoon spare, I’ll try and blag some desk space at Osmosoft‘s office space in Westminster Telephone Exchange.

There’s a community I’d like to belong to.

What’s your view of homeworking

Image Credit:Jasoon

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trust sculpted

Having a quick glance at Hugh Macleod’s excellent blog, from last week, my attention was caught by his humanification bit where he chats about a previous posting:

4. You’ve already done “efficient”. We’re living in a post-efficiency world now. We already know how to make things better, cheaper and faster than the previous generation. We already know how to squeeze our suppliers till the pips squeak. We already know how to build systems that maximize profits at every stage of the production and selling process. We’re already outsourcing our stuff to China, and so is everyone else. Been there. Done that. So where does the growth need to come from? What needs to happen, in order to save your job?


5. The growth will come, I believe, not by yet more increased efficiencies, but by humanification. For example, take two well-known airlines. They both perform a useful service. They both deliver value. They both cost about the same to fly to New York or Hong Kong. Both have nice Boeings and Airbuses. Both serve peanuts and drinks. Both serve “airline food”. Both use the same airports. But one airline has friendly people working for them, the other airline has surly people working for them. One airline has a sense of fun and adventure about it, one has a tired, jaded business-commuter vibe about it. Guess which one takes the human dimension of their business more seriously than the other? Guess which one still will be around in twenty years? Guess which one will lose billions of dollars worth of shareholder value over the next twenty years? What parallels do you see in your own industry? In your own company?

The comments on that post led to this post which was talking about how Lee Bryant viewed “humanification” – or as he put it “Humanising the Enterprise

By elevating the individuals in the organisation above systems, and by re-balancing the relationship between people and process, we can create a social fabric that lives and breathes the values that large companies are trying to instill in their organisations. We have the tools and the ideas to do this in ways that were not possible before, and we are in a position to finally move beyond Taylorism and the factory model to a new era of genuinely people-powered organisations and networks. We know how to create rich and purposeful social networks as vehicles for collaboration and co-operation. We know how to aggregate ideas and negotiate common language to create better forms of information organisation and retrieval. We know a lot more about what is possible when people trust each other by default; and we also know a lot more about how to engage in debate and deliberation with people who agree with us and people who do not.

In my own company there are ongoing tensions about achievement, performance, reward – and there’s a perception that there’s not as much trust as there could be. Let’s hope we do trust our people – and deliver what Lee and Hugh seem to think is achieveable.

Image Credit: doctor paradox
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Quincy Market

Why can’t we have a chip shop?

Having come back from a lovely holiday in Boston & Iceland, I wondered if I had any inspiration for a blog post. I do, a little.

In Boston, I stayed near to Quincy Market, an old market hall, now jammed full of fast food outlets. There must be over 50, serving pizza, teriyaki, clams, lobster rolls, steak sandwiches, moussaka, sorbet, hot dogs, burritos, caramels, ice cream and way more stuff.

At home, in the little Highland village I live in, we have no fast food outlet. A couple of pubs will let you get food to take out, and the wood-fired pizza restaurant will give you pizza to go.

Why so many in one hall in Boston, and none in an entire village?

Well, there could be all sorts of reasons – yes, there will be more customers, as Boston is a busier place. But why in that one hall?

  • It’s a good place to buy fast food – so customers will come from some distance.
  • It’s a good place to sell fast food – so suppliers will come from all over
  • There’s a wide range of things to buy – so a customer can meet their needs there
  • If you can’t sell a meal there, you could still sell a dessert, a drink, coffee – as there are so many suppliers and customers together. If there’s a lot of demand for something, you betcha there will be people starting to provide it. [Like, clam chowder. *Lots* of places sell that in Boston!]

We don’t have the outlets crowded together, pulling the customers way into the Highlands – so we don’t even get a chippy!

Quality through Competition

I’m sure the outlets in Quincy Market vary in quality. The worst I saw was Good, as you wouldn’t survive in the maelstrom of competition there, if your food wasn’t acceptable. Most of the the experience was Very Good, and the teriyaki experience was Outstanding for fast food.


Trying to rank those outlets from 1-5, say, when looking at my worldwide catering experiences [which include British roadside cafes] would result in everything in Quincy’s market being 3-5 (more probably 4-5, but work with me on this).

Why are they better – because they learn from each other, all the time. If one offers free samples – so will another. If you can get your chowder in a bread bowl in one… another will offer something similar or better.

If you did rank them them from 1-5… the lowest (1 ranked) place would be a 3 against most British outlets – and that makes it a little hard to use a global ranking…

Professional Communities

I won’t apologise for riding my hobby horse again; I think professional communities have a lot to offer – and are one of the best ways you can lift performance, professionalism, accreditation and interest amongst a group.

Lots of professionals

You want a project manager? Good place to find one might be your putative “Programme & Project Management” Community. There’ll be a lot there, and they *should* be supporting each other and helping the level of certification and experience. They’ll learn hints and tips from each other.

Hey, maybe your project/bid manager needs a service wrap? Natch, there’ll be a service designer there who should be able to assist the team.

Lots of demand

As you have all these customers walking up to take services from your communities, you should get a damn fine idea of what these customers want. If you *don’t* have the Ruby on Rails guy, maybe there’s some other service you can provide the customer… while you think “Hmm, might need to get some RoR guys available”.

Explaining ranking

In a community of professionals, you generally have a self selecting group of achievers. There will be folk that are Good; some Very Good; and even a few Outstanding. Generally, if you aren’t at least Good – you won’t have had the wherewithal to make it into a community.

Now, if you force rank the individuals in the community… sure, you can do it. Take the people who’re in external terms good, and mark some of them as, say Generally Satisfactory or (kiss of death) Needs Improvement.

This is Vitality Curve behaviour – particularly if there’s a mechanistic approach to invoking HR involvement in bureacratic Performance Improvement Plans. Which there is, in large swathes of corporate Britain.

Vitality Curve damages Communities?

I’ve alluded previously to my concerns about this sort of approach.

I *need* to look better than you. Rather than spending time sharing my knowledge, or increasing my skills, it might pay me better to game the system.

So, rather than sharing my knowledge with people, I have to consider how I can look best at showing how much more I know than everyone else, and the most public way I can show how I’m sharing this knowledge.

Otherwise, I might not get marked Good, won’t recieve a bonus, and likely won’t get a pay rise.

Even better, if I get the opportunity to use a modified COTS “Performance management” system, and produce reams of impenetrable evidence, I’ll be able to show *what* I’ve done – even if it uses time I should spend on work…

On the other hand…

If you want Professional Communities… maybe let them manage themselves. Professionally. Not with advice from Neutron Jack.

Picture Credit Me!

If you look back, perhaps you can occasionally learn what the road ahead may bring.

JP Rangaswami, MD of BT Design used to work at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, and was a believer in outsourcing – as are we all in this day and age.

He had some useful warnings, listed here: 

But what about outsourcing, which has become Wall Street’s cost-saving darling? Isn’t this one way banks can rid themselves of routine tasks? Rangaswami warns investment firms of the seduction of supposed cost savings. “What I lose with offshoring is far more than I gain,” he says of DrKW’s own experience, which was “focused on the war for talent rather than wage arbitrage. With outsourcing I may reduce the core execution cost but I pay for it by increased coordination and training costs.” DrKW found in some cases that the local offshoring staff had to be spoon fed and that the typical attrition rates of 40 to 50 percent meant they were often training staff to ultimately benefit others.

Rangaswami also urges firms who do embark on outsourcing contracts to “clean up their garbage first,” rather than dumping it onto the vendor, who will most likely charge a considerable premium for the cleansing. “In the current climate, we cannot afford to feed the mouths of outsourcers. The focus has to be on getting rid of the layer of fat and then parceling it off neatly to someone who has the critical mass to provide economies of scale,” he says.

Sensible really. Work out what you’re outsourcing; why; and what the likely true return is.