None of the above?

I always smile at, so called, ‘surveys’ – they can pretty much say what people want them to say. 85% of people surveyed thought their new shampoo made their hair chintzy. (126 were surveyed). So 19 people didn’t? And who exactly are these 126 people. And why 126?


At the weekend in the Sunday Times magazine there was a Yougov survey about how people travel to work. As you might expect there were some pretty standard answers – 53% went by car, 15% were on foot, 12% on a bus, 7% on a train, 5% on a bike. The Tube accounted for 4% and just 1% used their motorbike.

In all surveys you then get the sweep up clause of ‘other’ – in this case they amounted to 1% – possibly they went by boat or helicopter?

Which leaves us 2%. They weren’t content with falling into the ‘other’ category – they responded ‘not sure’. This clearly is of concern. It wasn’t suggested that they spoiled their paper – it was they really had no clue as to how they got there. So this either suggests telekinesis or time travel

Or that they are like me and leave the house in a car, arrive at the office in the same car – but have no recollection of anything in between?

The business workplace is changing

I was sent a really interesting article in the week about our changing methods of working. The article coincided with a day of meetings I had – four of which were in coffee shops. Twice in Costa and twice in Starbucks!


Our lives are now so blurred between work and rest as to be unrecognisable from when I started out 30+ years ago. When I think back to those days a telephone box was how you contacted the office if you were out and about. Now we carry mini computers on our telephones wich allow us to do email, browse the web, read maps, news and all manner of other sci-fi things.

Coffee shops have grown wise to our need and desire to be ‘connected’. There are now more laptops and ipads in Costa in a morning than newspapers. I can do my email on the move. My interview with Richard Baker at The Nottingham Post yesterday was typed directly into an iPad (and he can do proper shorthand!).

I grab a few minutes between appointments to catch up on mail. I hardly get any letters now. I get junk mail – which goes straight into the bin. Even if I can’t get wifi my phone can become a personal hotspot – allowing me access to the internet wherever I have a phone signal.

This is just the beginning and it isn’t difficult to see that we are going to be demanding connections all over our cities. Those that can offer this will almost certainly get ahead…

A Nottingham Institution!

I have two really distinct memories of July 1979. Firstly the smell of hops and barley being boiled at Home Brewery – where I started my first job. Secondly the smell of ammonia from the ‘ozalid‘ printer we had in the office – which produced architectural prints. Unmistakable smells; good memories.

The original Home Ales sign – still there – but hidden!

On the first day I started work I was taken into Nottingham to become ‘equipped’ for my drawing office career. It was Monday 2nd July 1979. And John E Wrights was the ‘shop’ concerned. It was like an Aladdin’s cave of drawing and art material. I was bought a Rotring rapidograph pen and an adjustable set-square! I still have the set square but the pen has long since gone to pen-heaven. They both took some getting used to.

Yesterday I had reason to go to the John E Wright’s – I needed some large plans printing. I was reminiscing. The shop hasn’t changed that much – in 33 years. The man behind the counter told me they had been there for 50 years. The business was started by John Wright in 1900 – above a pub in Nottingham. They served the architectural community – printing plans predominantly. The business was later expanded to include selling materials – including artists materials. They moved to ‘Blue Print House’ in 1962 – I’m not sure the youngsters will get the name!

It is good to see these sort of shops still going. They have adapted (a lot of digital display material is now produced). But they have a foot firmly in the past too – I bought some scale rules (an ‘eighth of an inch’ – if you must know!) and some sketching pens.

It took me back and made me smile!

How life used to be…

A generation ago, the world was a diiferent place. Before you imagine I’m on a grumpy rant, I’m not. I’m just in observational mode!

When my father started his job of work, jobs were pretty much for life. It was post-war, we manufactured everything and the UK ruled the world. You worked and if you were good you got promoted to ‘middle management. You even got a gold watch after 25 years service. But the real win was in the retirement fund. A Pension was what most people worked for! You carried on without the pain of working – but getting paid, on the basis of your salary on the last day you worked!

How life has changed.

Pensions are not quite the same – a final salary pension scheme is now almost unheard of. And a job for life would be a rare commodity indeed. The current generation are chasing fewer jobs – the majority of which are in the service sector as our manufacturing base has virtually disappeared. The nature of this work is that it changes and so what you learned to do a few years ago might well be irrelevant now. People move on – shifting careers

We certainly don’t rule the world. The Americans might like to think they do, but I suspect it is more the Chinese today.

It is incredible to think how this has all changed in sort a short time period relatively. And the funny thing is that I don’t think this a cyclical thing. We are not going to be able to afford to return to the old ways. The financial mess the Country is in will take generations to correct. We’ll all have to work longer…

Happy days?

An expensive Tuesday?

Bank Holidays are pretty disruptive. This may be a slightly grumpy perspective, but it’s true.

For some reason we had to close our office down yesterday – to add to the closure on Monday. Something to do with someone’s birthday?

The UK usually have 8 days off as Bank Holidays but this year we got to have 9. And the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has calculated the cost the UK economy as £2.3bn per day in lost productivity. The problem has been exacerbated this year by five of the days being in April, May and June.

Of course people also tend to ‘add’ to the Bank Holidays – so taking this week off ‘costs’ you just three days from your holiday.

From a business perspective this is quite tough, especially at the moment. In case people who decide this sort of thing, we are in a recession. The only way out is for us to work and produce. In truth we can’t really afford it.

There are some who benefit of course – 15% of the economy – the shops, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions do reasonably well. Sainsbury’s has sold 364 miles of bunting and 146,000 flags with week-on-week sales of Union Jack cake stands up 2,783 per cent and Union Jack teacups up 5,588 per cent!

But a word of warning – we might get 8/9 days, but Greece have 12 days and Spain 14… If ever there was a reason to reduce the Statutory holidays (or at least spread them out) surely this is it? It takes a while for the momentum to start again after 5 holidays in six weeks!

Work Life Balance = pah. And in case you wondered, I did work yesterday!


Apparently it wasn’t a “Birthday” we got the day off for – some kind of 60 year thing… Apologies.

A new way of working?

There’s a new word – “freeroamer”. It’s used to describe a laptop or iPad user who doesn’t have the restrictions of an office (with its incumbent commitment and rent!). Instead he or she runs a business from one of the plethora of coffee shops which now have free wi-fi.

Most people who know me realise my day starts in Costa Coffee (it used to be Starbucks but they don’t have wi-fi at my local store). I can get an essential caffeine boost, breakfast, warmth and a connection into the world through wi-fi. I have noticed an increase in numbers of people logged in this way. They aren’t necessarily chatting on their phones though – it seems to be email…

Then if I call later I can do a meeting – get good coffee again and if we need it – plans or documents on my iPad. The coffee shop is a great meeting place. We don’t even have to wash up!

It’s become a new way of working. There are some statistics which suggest 1.3 million people now work this way. Of course it offers the ultimate in flexibility. And perfect conditions!

And there’s a new class of worker too – the Bleisure Brigade – those blurring business with leisure. People who work flexible hours (not like the Cvil Servants in my blog yesterday) but also in flexible places. They can move from coffee shop to coffee shop. The key element is the wi-fi connection. It has become critical now – and the coffee houses have finally grasped it. Free wi-fi and Costa-Lot coffee!

Business Attire

I saw last week that Mark Zuckerberg made the headlines for wearing a hoodie to a major business presentation. Of course my ‘geek hero’ Steve Jobs wore his black turtleneck tops, jeans and trainers (sneakers that should be?) for most of his latter keynote talks.

When I joined a professional office in the early 1980′s a suit and tie were de rigeur. Then we seemed to go through a series of ‘dress down days’. And then back to the suit and tie.

Now we seem to again be in a state of flux. I probably wear a tie less than I wear one. But I always wear a suit. Jeans would not be acceptable in the office. I will generally put on a tie where I know the client will do. Some clients don’t wear ties and so I probably wouldn’t. If I were presenting though – I would wear a tie.

A wise old friend (and client) of mine once asked me why this was. Why did I need to wear a tie? His view was that it was about ego. That it made me feel important. It gave me an edge. It put a marker down that I was in control – and occupied a higher place.

I can see his point to an extent, but I’m not sure I totally agree. I think it shows respect. I think it also gives an impression that I have made some sort of effort. That I was bothered.

He would always say to me that my advice (to him) is no different if I am wearing a suit and tie or jeans and tee-shirt though – and this is right. It isn’t different.

Fair point?

The Office of the future?

I had an interesting lunch last week, hosted by Insider and with a theme about what working practices are currently and what they might look like in the future. I was part of a panel of people from various sectors in the Midlands.

A Google meeting room!

The early part of the discussion was centred around what the market is doing and the general consensus was that this was a tenants market, except perhaps in Grade A space – where the lack of supply has kept prices and deals up. This wasn’t the interesting part – as we all knew this!

The ‘panel’ did consider some interesting questions – notably what we actually do in the workplace. Much of our offices a now open plan and have become places to collaborate, but sometimes we need some protocols or strategies to allow people to work – mine is to employ an iPod! But there was a serious point, workplaces need to provide acoustic spaces and private areas – staff also need ownership. The latter can be a desk or a helping choose colours on the walls.

We touched upon The Equality Act and how that might stifle the office environment. I have strong view about this particularly legislation.

There was some amusement when a discussion ensued about the ageing nature of the workforce. The reality is that it is going to be difficult for some people to retire due to the pensions deficit. Some enlightened employers have recognised this and have installed quiet spaces. – perhaps even spaces for people to power nap (wasn’t that an 80′s thing?). Rest and recuperation may well become part of our working day, some days I feel I need it now!

Inevitably there was a section of the discussion that focused on ‘sustainability’ which generated some interesting comments. There was a very pragmatic approach which suggested that it is not always possible to build the greenest building because it can’t be afforded. Or that the users socially won’t use it. Sustainability is something that encompasses green technology, but can also be sustained in both economic and social terms.