Working from home

Managers tend to think that they are more productive when working from home than their staff are in similar circumstances.  A few years ago I wrote a paper on working from home and part of the data-collection activity was a survey – and the survey bore out the fact that many (but by no means all) managers do conform to this stereotype.

I work from home quite a lot, and I have to say that for me there are a lot of advantages: fewer interruptions, a dedicated desk, and a very short commute.  In order to connect me to the corporation I have good communications, videoconferencing, a very fast remote network connection, and a telephone “extension” from the corporate system.  The benefits combined with all of the technology (much of which wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago), I believe that I can get a lot more done in a shorter time – essentially, I am more productive.

But this comes at a non-financial cost – without the day-to-day interactions with colleagues I lose out on the snippets of information which are taken for granted, passing the time of day by the kettle, or the idle chitchat which builds and fosters working relationships.

As with pretty much everything, there are trade-offs.  As a manager I recognise the savings to the company, and as an individual I recognise the potential benefits to my work/life balance. But I don’t think I could do it every day.

Am I alone in my views on homeworking?


Monkeys in trees

Monkey in a tree

Spider monkey in a tree

I would hesitate to say that I learn everything from primates, but there are two interesting simian analogies which I use quite frequently. So today I will share what monkeys in trees have taught me.

Monkeys are risk averse

It is said that a monkey clambering through the trees will not let go of one branch until he’s securely holding another.  In the case of environments where a predator may be lurking on the ground below, that’s probably a good philosophy.

But it has also been used to describe situations where someone won’t let go of one thing until they have something else to cling to – be that a security blanket or a relationship.  But we don’t have the same predators – unless the security blanket prevents the monsters under your bed from launching an attack?

Equally, in the corporate environment, Continue reading

Hats off to customer service

When I checked in to  hotel yesterday the front-desk agent greeted me with a “welcome back” (always nice) and then told me that I had left a pair of trousers behind last time – so they had had them dry-cleaned and pressed for me and they were in my room.  They didn’t have to go to all that trouble, but the fact that they did means that I feel that they’ve taken care of me and I’ll tell people.

And isn’t that what customer service is about? Retain existing customers, and hopefully use word-of-mouth to generate new custom too.

It reminds me of another hotel where I have stayed three times – a week apart for the first Customer servicetwo, and then a year later.  On the second stay the head doorman opened the taxi door and without missin a beat greeted me by name – I was impressed.  Then, a year later, as I arrived the same guy opened the taxi door, recognised me and greeted me by name and seeing I was alone asked whether my wife would be arriving later.  Whether he has a phenomenal memory, or whether they have a clever CRM system, it doesn’t matter – it made me feel special.

And after yesterday’s blog about upsetting the boss, perhaps this is the counterpoint because the same concept is portable: without disappearing up the boss’s bottom, if you can make him feel good, keep some of the hassles away, and turn him into your advocate (using word-of-mouth advertising on your personal brand), that can only be good.

Sadly, that’s an idea that I don’t think Jamie has quite understood.

Oh, and before I forget, I’ll play te game: the hotel brand in question is Hilton. And I’ll tell you which properties if anyone asks.

How not to impress the boss

I was in a team meeting today when one of the team, seemingly unimpressed with a reorganisation, made his views crystal clear. To spare the blushes I’ll call him “Jamie”. And before I comment on both what he said and the wisdom of saying it, a few other thoughts.

Foot in mouth

It seems that Jamie was not too impressed with the way that certain parts of the reorganisation outcome was announced at the team meeting – essentially the structure of the management team.  Whether Jamie felt slighted or simply disliked the process I am afraid we shall never know because once he said to the boss “your man management style leaves a lot to be desired” the conversation took a very different path.

I don’t have any problems in disagreeing with my manager, nor in having someone disagree with me.  It’s normal and can promote a healthy discussion – but I don’t agree with personal attacks in a public forum.

Professional disagreements can be raised and discussed professionally, although I try never to back anyone into a corner in public – far better to leave them a face-saving way out and make a friend than the other way round and create the opposite.  And if I were to have an issue Continue reading

Do you want to hear something new

This is the question I have been posing the researchers at a conference: for the attendees, is it better for them to learn something new or for them to get validation that they are already doing the right thing?

Maybe I’m being a little mischievous – it’s not an ‘either/or’, but rather a continuum.

In lots of ways I prefer to learn something new – but today I’m at the other end of the spectrum. Today I’m listening to presentations about an IT security issue and whilst I hear about different companies doing it their own way, I have not yet heard anything that I didn’t know. And this is good news – I don’t have to panic and make a drastic change.

Isn’t this a little counter-intuitive? I’ve come to a series of presentations with the underlying hope that I don’t learn something brand new (unless it’s a game changer).

I call it validation and reassurance.

Am I right?

Teambuilding – suddenly it all went right

Tuckman's group development stages

I spent last week in a hotel chairing a series of design workshops.  I don’t know much about the detailed design, but I had to be there to sponsor – and to make a decision if there was impasse or argument.

Because I didn’t know enough to take a hugely active part, I brought together an international team of users, techies, and the software suppliers.  At the end of the week we had completed everything we set out to do, and all participants thanked me for a well run, focussed, and successful week.  I just ran it as I would want someone else to run it if I were a participant, so on this Saturday afternoon I’m reviewing what I did that made the week successful: Continue reading

There are only three questions

“There are only three true interview questions.” This headline from Forbes caught my attention this morning and I thought it might give me some insight, but the essential take-away is that interviewers only really need to determine:

  • can you do the job?
  • will you like the job?
  • will you fit in with us?

It occurs to me, though, that these are pretty much the same questions that need to be answered at the beginning of any relationship – the words may differ slightly, but the sentiments remain the same.

The interview I had for entry to my MBA programme was essentially the same: will I be able to do the work? will I enjoy it and stay to the end? and would I fit in with the Henley ethos?

Perhaps the same is true when we enter into any sort of contract with a service provider (eg car insurance, cellphone airtime): can they provide the service I want? do I like they way they provide it (can include the price)? and do I like their company image (especially important with ethical providers)?

And as a final thought, could a first date be deemed an interview for a second date (and so on)?

It might take us more that one question to elicit the answer to these three basic questions, but fundamentally can all “relationship” commencements be boiled down to these three?

Is working from home more productive?

I work from home a lot and I believe that I can be more productive because I’m not interrupted by colleagues, I can dedicate more time because I don’t have much of a commute (it must be all of twenty hards from my bed!), and I am more motivated because I can balance my home/work priorities. But is this typical or not?

Two academics have come up with very similar theories about travel and homeworking:

  • (Hills) less travel = better work = less stress = higher morale
  • (James) travelling less = more time at home = balance of home/work priorities = less stress = better performance

For anyone with a daily commute, I’m sure all will agree that less travel does mean less stress. But it’s probably not unusual for the “less travel” to be translated into “longer hours” because it is easy to be sucked in to long hours at home – especially if your partner is out at work and children are either absent ordo not disturb the work – but whether this is voluntary through happiness, or unwillingly driven through peer pressure (the need to demonstrate that one was actually working) is questionable.  And I am aware of a number of managers who equate productivity with physical presence rather than judging outcomes against objectives (although, fortunately, my manager isn’t in that camp).

But I have found that when I’m not in an office I stop getting the day-to-day colleague interactions – they might have been categorised as interruptions, but they also hold the  news and gossip that I might otherwise not hear.  WIthout face time, it’s hard to make the same network of contacts – only recently did I meet someone I’ve been emailing and talking to for six months, and since meeting (putting a face to the name?) we have been far more productive together.

Not everyone can dedicate room to a study/home office, not everyone has the luxury of tranquil solitude during the day, and not everyone could work from home.

Whilst I genuinely believe that I am more productive when working from home, I don’t think I could do so all of the time.  And maybe that’s the key: a pragmatic balance for all elements which make us productive? Balancing outputs with outcomes, productive tranquility with news-laden interactions, travel with … well, you get the idea.

And having spent the last few years at least trying to work this balance – two or three days at an office, and the rest of the week at home, it certainly seems to be the best of both worlds.

And it makes “dress down Friday” so much more interesting!


The sublime art of miscommunication

Or ‘how not to communicate’.

In the last week or so I have both watched and received some bungled efforts at communication.  I will be charitable and consider them as bungled because the alternative – deliberate and considered activity – would be disappointing.  I think we can all learn by others’ mistakes, so what went wrong?

  • THE AMBUSH: a committee member dropped an unexpected bombshell. Some other members of the committee had foreknowledge, but the chair was surprised.  The committee should have been a place of collaboration, and whilst I feel sure that there are times when the ambush tactic is useful or expected (politics, law courts), its use is hugely divisive.  On this occasion the member should have shared his subject matter with the chair beforehand and run the risk of getting support! Continue reading

Less is more

Today I undertook an exercise in trying to get a complicated message across in just two PowerPoint slides without resorting to smaller fonts.

The slides had to stand alone and persuade the senior management audience without any voiceover. What made this challenge more significant was that my original presentation was 14 slides.

We are bombarded with data every day, and we can be tempted towards information overload when given the unlimited canvas of PowerPoint, so maybe two slides isn’t such a bad practice?

What did I learn in the process?

  • two slides did get the message across and it was easily digested
  • I had to be creative with the slides
    • coloured panels (to separate thought group)
    • brief bullets (three or four words is a challenge, but can create powerful statements)

More than the obvious, I learned that it is possible to abbreviate without losing sense, to condense without losing meaning, and to reduce without losing impact.

Detail rightly has its place – and yesterday’s blog was all about ensuring complete communication – but in other places I am now convinced that less can certainly be more.