Creature Comforts

Changing ways of working is about changing the mindset, adopting new tools and finding ways of what works for the individual.

I love caddisfly larvae.  This is probably down to reading Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’ back in my dim and distant kindergarten years. The only time they are prettier and more charming than hermit crabs is when man interferes but I admire their ability to make a home for themselves out of selective detritus. Possibly a bit like the average desk user….

desk image - organised chaos

Many, many moons ago I had an allocated desk. It was a regular sized, regular desk, with a phone, a chair, a pedestal and a pinnable area.  It had just enough clear surface to house my laptop, my forearms and a re-purposed tile sample as a coffee mug coaster. My excuse was how my workload needed to be managed. There were a series of trays (in/out/pending/not sure), really big projects had really big files that sat separately. There were reference books; the company culture, company standards, a few novels I’ve been given but not taken home. The pinboard was covered in….stuff. In my defense, it was all work-related stuff; no family photos, no toys, no plants, no Star Wars figurines balanced across the top of the monitor in regimented chronological order.

At the end of the desk was a 2.5LM storage unit. It was full. Full of samples for old projects, printed reports, paper catalogues and trade magazines. There was even a pull-out filing rail holding a filing system for all work in progress or had been completed in the last 12 months. Once an active job had been completed, it would be filed. Every Christmas I’d go through the files and shred anything created before the previous Christmas. In effect, at the end of each year there would be 24 months of filing to go though.

Then there was the stuff in, on and behind my pedestal. Moods are fickle. Fancies vary. Where one end-user had seven pairs of shoes in her pedestal (not including the commute’s gym shoes and the pair of heels she had on her feet) mine related to breakfast fads and fancies, which happened at the office because, sometimes, caffeine just isn’t enough.

fb post - stuff on desk

A pretty bad FB update….the clothes were (slowly) en route to a homeless shelter.

One day I had an epiphany. It coincided with a lessened workload therefore space to think. So I chucked everything out. Everything.

  • Filing? The business had more computers than people, a network and our team had online filing. Who needs to keep paper copies, too? It all went. All in one go.
  • Trade Mags? Scan & electronically file anything you’re going to use, URL bookmark companies/products of interest, register for online magazine issues and chuck the paper copies into the recycling bin.
  • Samples? I used them once in a blue moon. Off it all went to the local primary school to help out with their arts and crafts.
  • Trade catalogues? They change every year. Trees give you oxygen, you should love them above the printed page. Recycle what you have and never accept another paper catalogue or price list again.
  • In/Out trays? This turned into an A5 notebook for actions to complete.

These days, I have reduced further still.  Six months ago I was getting through a standard A5 book a quarter. These days I’m working on reducing this to one book per half year as I wean myself off the unbelievably cathartic, deeply satisfying and emotionally rewarding act of crossing items of a list. Admittedly, sometimes with lots and lots of crossing-out along with accusations of having a marginally psychotic gleam in my eye. I blame the caffeine.

asana monkey thing

There have been years of trying different task management platforms, of looking for ways to combine a preferred way of working with whatever is available (and free), all in an effort to streamline effectively – and not have to carry everything around.

There’s an online project management tool now replacing that A5 book of mine. It cross references by task and by calendar giving multiple ways to track progress. It rewards every ticked item with flying unicorns, narwhals, hummingbirds, rainbows and some kind of flying monkey-buffalo thing. Silly? Possibly. But it does give one an enormous sense of gleeful satisfaction.

These days, everything is on GDrive. Nothing is kept on my laptop. The obvious positives are that I/the team can always access everything – and we can work anywhere.

One of the more challenging aspects about workplaces is that people ‘nest’ their desks, like I used to; it marks their territory and gives them comfort. Generally, a heavily personalised/covered desk is a sign that the end user will find any change to their workplace challenging, even if they get to keep their desk. It is hard to let go of all the ‘me’ that surrounds them; but letting go is liberating and confidence building.

I like caddisflies not just for their larvae’s case-making abilities but also for the fact that they start in one medium (water) and move to another (air). They are not constrained by what they are born into but are released as they grow. They let go of that which becomes unnecessary and take flight.

 

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Ditching the Decs

A bit of fun for Christmas…and how we can give people some joy while saving the business money!

Gather round, Brethren, it’s been a while but the time has come to talk of matters of importance.

Hallowe’en is over. Retailers have turned to glitter, soppy (yet wonderful) adverts are on TV, and they have unleashed merry hell on the eardrums via the seemingly non-stop playing of Slade*. A track, that has, I’m convinced, been played continuously since 1973, the only thing that saves us is the January to November mute button. However, I digress….

In workplaces across the land talk has turned to Christmas.

If you thought how people use their desks is fascinating, just watch them negotiate the office decoration ritual. It’s a wonderful dance of people trying to recreate their personal tastes and usually trying not to trample those of others.

Fairy lights incite debates leading to a rota so carefully orchestrated between glowing pulse, static or psychosis inducing flash that it brings back memories of student flat shares, right down to the anonymous rule breaker who changes the setting with gleeful, mischievous abandon (we know who you are). You learn to love the dancing polar bear that plays one solitary, single, repetitive Christmas tune in faux jazz – while threatening to permanently remove its batteries with a spoon in an appropriately mock stern manner.

People stand on chairs on desks (no, really, I have seen this) to hang decorations from the ceiling. Decoration-making competitions result in a plethora of Santa’s Grottys (sic) and paper chain decorations festooning the motion sensors for lighting and security alarms. One interesting Christmas, blocking the fire route in an office containing over 2000 people, a real tree, about 5ft high, was discovered next to untended lit candles (“Because they are scented and we wanted to know what they smelled like.”) We never could figure out how they got the tree into the building…

It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, quite the contrary.  As a joyful consumer of all things Christmassy, I’m a sucker for it. But not between January and October**. And it is in those months that I have the longest, most drawn out debates about Christmas decorations with end users. Usually because decorations are to be found everywhere in the workplace. Dismembered limbs of fake trees are squirrelled away under different desks; scrawny tinsel and dangling ornaments are in plastic bags in storage units, in pedestals, in wardrobes, on wardrobes. Evverywhherre….

And there is always that one person who leaves their desk decorated all year round. Are they a Seasonal Buyer? Has their own particular interpretation of Christmas joy reached such disturbing levels colleagues are afraid to discuss 24/7 Christmas? Or are they simply too lazy to put them away each year?

And it all has to be moved with them when a space is churned.

“So,” say I to pretty much every department in a business, “this wardrobe…the one solely used for Christmas decorations…do we really need to relocate it?”

“It’s multi-use” they say, using my own language against me “When it is winter the decorations are up so releasing the wardrobes for coats.”

“And how often do you need to access it…?” Say I labouring the point with a thousand yard stare.

It lead me to conduct a study on how much it cost the business to store these increasingly ragged departmental decorations, very few of which tend to be bought with business funds. The maths worked as follows:

  • Cost of a new, fake, 6ft tree with lights and decorations, including square metre costs for one month duration in London’s West End: c.£320***
  • Cost of a new storage unit to store decorations, including square metre costs for 12 months office floor space in central London: £2000 PA.

Outcome: It costs less to buy new decorations each year than it does to store them. Ditch the decs. Keep Christmas fiends happy with new stuff, keep the grinches happy with ritualised seasonal destruction.

Merry Christmas!

—–

*I’m sorry, I can’t link to that track. I just…can’t. Have this one instead. Or possibly this one. Or my personal favourite.

** Yes, January to October. Love Christmas, loathe Christmas shopping crowds. The gifts are bought (and this year wrapped) in October. It leaves more time for eggnog and hobnobbing.

***Allowing for a luxury, pre-lit LED tree at £100 and average quality decorations at £50. Inc VAT. Excl D&I. E&OE.

Bob and the Auditors

To resist change effectively, you need tactics and insider knowledge….

We battle-weary commuters come to know the patterns of our rush-hour comrades, not least because they mimic our own, right down to seat preference; anything over a year of taking (nearly) the same train, and targeting the same seats, leaves you knowing many of those you travel with by sight. Or you may break through the etiquette barrier and actually start conversing.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, works in the city doing strange, incomprehensible things with global finance. He has more understanding about what I do – not least because he has an allocated desk, works in an office environment and has a rigid hierarchy structure reinforced by the provision of enclosed offices.

Recently, Bob and I met while striding down the platform to ‘our’ carriage.

‘Glad I saw you,’ he called out across the herd of stampeding wildebeest that are commuters on their home run, ‘I need your help. But we’ll talk when off the train.’ He performed a ‘never know who is listening’ finger wiggle at his head, narrowly avoiding clocking those nearby with his old-school attaché case.

A few minutes later we sat opposite each other. Initially, I was lost as to how he needed me. Our professional lives are polar opposites. I have no global interests worth financing (apparently, holidays do not count). Our work place theory debates have ended with his comedic sneer and a mock raised eyebrow. Then I twigged.

‘Oh God,’ I said, ‘You want to know how to stop the change, don’t you?’
‘Yep,’ he said, grinning, ‘You’re going to be my informant!’

Dang…..

His office has the work place consultants in. Strangers have been seen slowly walking through the offices, stabbing away at tablets while wearing broad, not exactly reassuring smiles while they scrutinise.

The train arrives at the terminus, our home station; we are last off the train and drag our heels up the long platform.

‘We’re having a storage audit,’ Bob said, ‘they want us to go paperless.’ He pulled a face. Bob went on to tell me that his field has contracts as thick as phone directories and as plentiful as the tomes stored in  L-Space. They refer to them ‘Oh, quite often’; his tone of voice and body language hinted otherwise.Bob's contract

‘I’m not bothered about a desk,’ he said, ‘I can work anywhere, but the contracts are a different thing. Is there a way I can argue for keeping them, what’s the lingo?’

“You want me to give you insider information,” I said “you want to know how to use their language against them as a resistance technique?”

Bob does not squirm very often (nerves of viperously competitive steel, that man) but I warrant that he does not get questioned about his work preferences that often, either. At least not by someone who knows this field, knows how to push his buttons and has a friendship that means a work place related grilling can be far more robust than those I have at work.

It turns out that his employer wanted everyone to transition to agile working; the cost efficiencies were attractive. Only the hand at the consultant’s tiller didn’t seem to be very strong.

Everyone has gone to non-allocated desking, however there are now more desks than there are people, the majority have successfully pushed to retain non-standard desks and chairs citing:

‘Questionable unique needs.’ said Bob.
“Despite the fact that the best solution for adapting to a desk lies with knowing how to use your chair properly.” said I, with dogmatic fervour.

Ultimately, allocated desking remains, albeit unofficially.

It’s a merry dance we lead, encouraging people that change has its benefits. In brutal honestly, I have probably heard every reason going why people cannot change and why the work place should remain static, or even revert to times gone by. There are times when I have been momentarily stunned, and times when the only way to stifle a laugh is to bite down hard. And the unfortunate fact remains that for every end user’s timed-to-the-minute report proving why change is not possible, any work place consultant worth their salt has a way around it.

When change reaches the individual, it needs a darn steady hand on the tiller to deliver that change effectively for the business, the stakeholders and the end users. Given the choice, none of us want change – unless we are leading it.

In my experience the best way to deliver change is for the client to have strong leadership in delivering the change message – and a commitment to sustaining work place change beyond the length of the project – combined with a bottom-up engagement and communication strategy. Engaging with a select, fair and representative group of end users ensures they feel more part of the process and are more ready for new working methods. The consultants will need a clear instruction of end goal, remits of the end users areas of influence, and a steely determination to challenge resistance while they guide people forward.

One person cannot carry a successful change, but they can certainly whip up support for resistance.

So, did I become Bob’s informant? Of course I did, the man stands his pub round without prompting.