Monthly Archives: September 2012

//September

I am leaving home!

I tried commuting and didn’t like it. I have tried working from home and I like that even less! At least when I got to work there were friendly faces to greet me.  With pressure on work space like never before most employers are looking to home working as a solution but generally I find it frustrating and unproductive.

For a start there are far too many pleasant distractions and when I finally do manage to convince myself to get down to some serious work there is always something or someone to interrupt me. Apart from my wife who likes to come in and say hello once in a while – that’s OK; there’s the postman, the door to door salesmen (including annoying children in the afternoon trying to raise money for their school play or other such activity).

Then there’s the telesales people that I never knew existed. How can a stocks and shares advisor in Hongkong ever know that suddenly I am working from home? I suppose they used to call our abandoned landline before, but now, if my wife is not around then they’ve got me to make up their statistics by answering their damned calls.  

Even the parcel delivery people seem to know I am working from home. Recently I find myself taking in all kinds of stuff, not just for us but for our neighbors too (I am beginning to think they are secretly writing “call at number 16 if there is no one at home” on all their internet orders, or perhaps even worse my name and address is on a ‘dump it somewhere nearby database’).

Luckily, my children left home years ago but to be honest I simply cannot imagine how young parents could ever successfully work from home.  I remember when I was very young my father had an office on the ground floor of our London town house. It was a nightmare. When we got home from school we always had to be quiet, even in the garden. This kept up until one day my Mother finally kicked him out and he found his own office space thirty minutes drive away.

Apart from the loss of productivity, working from home is not cheap too.  In the winter months, which is most of the year, here in Belgium, I need to leave my central heating system on all day just to keep my office room warm. Sitting on your own in a cold kitchen at lunchtime, instead of the hustle and bustle of the works canteen is pretty miserable. And the resulting crumbs from eating at one’s desk instead are simply unacceptable. 

No, the solution to the squeeze on corporate office space is not working from home but from a micro office in a nearby town.  It can be a single room above a shop, even a quiet corner of a public building. It really doesn’t matter.  As long as you are working out of the house then you are as good as working on the moon, no one will disturb you. All you need is a high speed internet link for vpn access to the company server and Microsoft Lync or Skype to connect to everyone else, then who cares?  If you can, try and ensure your office hideaway has no parking spaces nearby then you won’t get disturbed by unwanted visitors or delivery people asking for directions to the place they cannot be bothered to look up on their GPS systems.

So my prediction this week is that home working will not replace office working but micro-office clustering probably will. Buildings will be converted or purpose built for the sole use of home workers, no longer welcome in their corporate head offices and desperate for a place where they can get the job done without the mind numbing solitude of being alone all day in the same place where they spend all night. It’s simply a question of economics. A new form of society will emerge, one where people work together every day but none of them from the same company, unless purely by coincidence.

So for me, for now, either renting a desk in my book-keeper’s office or the upstairs room of the local lingerie shop, is the solution to a problem that’s been frustrating me for far too long.

Have a good week

Harley

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Time to go home

You rub your eyes to try and see the screen better. It’s then you notice how quiet the office has become. Your back is aching, so you decide to take a little stroll. Most desks look like their keepers will return at any moment; half empty coffee cups, screens blinking waiting for a response. And yet one or two are so tidy you could be kidded into thinking that they will remain deserted for several weeks or more.

It’s then it hits you. Just how tired you are. How you feel that something is wrong. You’re working all the hours that God gives you and still your work is never done. You haven’t had a moment to yourself for ages. Your requests for some support in the office seem to be falling on deaf ears. You’re beginning to think that you are being used.

You go back to your desk and look at the spreadsheet again. You’re never going to be able to finish it tonight so you press Ctrl S and lock the screen. Time to go home.

You imagine your wife sitting alone, watching TV. The children in bed again without a “good night” kiss from Dad. You decide that tomorrow you will have another word with your line manager.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Have a good week,

Harley

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Oh no! Not another team building event?

The great thing about the recession is that many companies are cutting back on their team building events.  If there is one thing I hate its artificial attempts at team building. When I die I would like to be remembered for my ability to bring together fragmented individuals and to form them into a team that   can deliver exceptional results. So you might wonder why I hate ‘team building’ events so much?

The thought of anyone trying to make me bond with people that to be honest I would hardly bother to cross the road for is enough to make me want to leave the company. And although I may have a reputation for organizing events and activities, this is because I like having fun; especially with people that I respect and enjoy being with. There is a difference.

If you think paintball is great fun, then by all means organize a paintball event for those that want to give it a try. But don’t ever think that rolling around in the mud and inflicting pain on one another will ever turn a group of disconnected individuals into a well coordinated and engaged team in the office.  If your colleagues think you are a prick and you behave like one, then no team building event will ever change that.

I believe that real teams (groups of people that work together to achieve results based upon distributed skills and trust) are built by delegating responsibility wisely.   If you want results then encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and deploy them for their natural ability and desire to learn new things and to become useful. For example; if you need someone to test the team’s results, choose the most anal person you know. Make sure they are proud to be detail oriented and that they enjoy finding fault in other people’s work. If anything gets past this person, then you can be sure you’ve got a great product or service. No customer will be anymore difficult than they are. And now the great thing is; that everyone will accept their behaviour because it is their function in the team.  Their so called ‘weak point’ will become the strongest link in the team’s chain.

One sign of a really strong team is that they tend to organize events for themselves without asking for a budget. In fact once there is a budget involved, I find that any notion of team building effectiveness drops proportionally by the amount of money donated by the company. As a manager I am fully aware that the best team events are the ones I am never invited to.  If a team is ever going to gel together, then you can be sure it will only happen when the bosses are away.

So talk about fun events, talk about doing things for charity but never talk about team building. Just the words ‘team building’ will most likely put off the very people you most want to bond with. Even natural disasters can only bring disconnected people together for a short while. Rest assured when things get back to normal, they will go back to behaving just like they did before the earthquake struck.

Have a good week,

Harley

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When I say it doesn’t matter…

When I was a teenager I found girls behavior very difficult to understand: for example, when they said ‘yes’ or ‘perhaps’, what they often meant was ‘no’ or ‘extremely unlikely’.  I spent many an hour trying to work out what was going on in their minds. No matter how hard I tried I could not find any logic. My male advisors reassured me that it was pointless to search any further because there wasn’t any. 

At the age of fifty five I find that what I observed all those years ago is in fact not gender related at all and that the biggest culprits in misrepresenting ones true feelings are indeed men. We like to give the impression of being rational and logical and open speaking; but if only this was the case in reality.

Every day I observe businessmen remaining polite and neutral on the surface while deep down suffering extreme disappointment or even anger.  This is especially true in the classic boss / subordinate relationship. So when I hear men say “It’s alright, it doesn’t matter’ in fact I know that there is a good chance that they are in fact feeling the complete opposite. They might leave the room with a smile on their face and offer a friendly handshake, but inside they may feel broken and disrespected. They are likely to moan to their colleagues and later go home to their partners and do the same there. And all the while their bosses say to me “I never realized that he was so upset, why didn’t he say something?”

Communication is complex stuff and we proud males of the species make it so. The next time someone says to you “forget it, it doesn’t matter” remember there is a good chance that it does matter and they won’t forget it, even if you do. In fact it might even come back at you many years later. We humans have a long memory for people that treat us disrespectfully.

In my case if I say “It doesn’t matter” there is a good chance that it does. The only difference is I will often talk about it when I am calmer, sharing my feelings in an open and honest way – when the time is right, when my words can have the most productive impact.  And if I don’t do that, well then you may never hear from me again!

For the last twenty six years I have tried to live by a saying from The Religious Society of Friends or ‘Quakers’ as they are commonly known: “speak truth to power”.  This piece of advice has not always been easy to follow but, by and large, it has served me well.   I have only one proviso though: in business as in personal relationships, sometimes people are not yet ready to hear what you have to say and that sometimes, just sometimes, it is best to wait for the right time and place before they are ready to face the truth you want to bring them. This can be a matter of a few minutes or a matter of weeks or months, even years. In any case – speaking truth to power is right principle; all you need do is to learn to live by it.

Have a good week,

Harley

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