My Scratch Pad
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My Scratch Pad

Bring your own office

A picture of the three monitors I work on daily at home.

This afternoon I was able to hop onto my phone to continue a meeting so that I could walk up to school to meet my kids. There isn’t anything particularly novel or exciting about this, but afterwards I still had a bit of a ‘Huh, this is pretty great!’ moment.

In the before times, as a family we relied on a lot of pre and post school clubs so that we as working parents could commute to a place of work to fit our working hours in. I often tried to start work and finish work early so I could at least catch some family time before I had to start the bedtime routine.

We now save a small fortune in paying other people to look after our children and we’re able to balance the load of school drop offs and pick ups much more equitably between us. In relative terms I got a pay rise and massively shortened my commute. What a bargain!

Outside of ‘life admin’, this also has me pondering of what ‘work from anywhere’ might look and feel like. I was never a fan of working in my own home, but lockdown(s) have somewhat beaten that out of me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve learned how to compartmentalise work and life at home, or that I’ve given up and accepted that actually there are benefits in being able to design my own working day to take advantage of my own natural rhythms and when it’s easier or harder to focus on task. Perhaps it’s both? Boundaries, even if they’re not at 9am and 5pm are pretty important all the same. When you can work from anywhere at anytime, we should try and watch out for each other and make sure that’s not translating into regular 12 hour days.

I’ve also spent a bit of my own time and money in carving out a space at home that is purpose built for work. It’s nothing fancy, it’s a box room with a door that just about drowns out a dog and occasionally mischevious kids in an otherwise small terraced house. But it’s now equipped with three monitors and a whiteboard. Perhaps because I’ve conciously comitted to this way of working, I’ve been prepared to invest my own time, money and space to help me do it better. But perhaps more honestly, as self identified nerd there’s an extreme likelihood that I’d end up with three monitors regardless.

I think I was introduce to ‘bring your own office’ via this WB40 podcast episode with Julia Hobsbawn. I like it because it implies that each of us should choose the ideal workspace to get the work done. I used to really enjoy finding spaces other than the office to work in, particularly when I felt I’d got a bit stuck in a rut. A new workspace would often encourage new thinking. This is making me a bit misty eyed for places to sit and drink coffee indoors… other than my home.

So, in thinking about the future and how we’re all going to work together when we can feasibly work from anywhere with an Internet connection, perhaps the first step is understanding our own individual needs (what do I need within the broader context of my life) and preferences of workspaces (what do I need to help get my work done)? Then perhaps we can have conversations with others about where there is commonality and work from there.

A colleague sagely observed that some people are just waiting for the old ways of working to return. For things to go back to ‘normal’. There is perhaps a grieving process that needs to take place to help people to adjust to the fact that we probably won’t all be in the office all of the time.

I think we’re all trying to avoid the metphorical ‘two tribes’ of people who either work mostly in the office, or work mostly outside of it. There’s lots of talk about hybrid working where people may go to the office for one or two days a week. I can sort of understand that from the perspective that it makes it predictable that people will be in the office each week, but it still feels a bit arbitary in nature unless there’s value for being ‘in the offce’.

I’ve seen it posited that culture and values will struggle to exist unless we all inhabit a physical space where it can be seen and observed. I remain speculative about this. We’ve already established that I’m a nerd, so it will not surprise you that I’ve spent some periods of time playing online games via the Internet way before it was a thing that was popular and easy to do. Thinking back to the exclusively online communities that formed around those games, they all had their own self devised rules or ettiquette that had to be observed and they were relatively self-organising.

Additionally, there are loads of people I only know via Twitter but have been conversing with for years. But I’ve got a really clear idea of what their values and motivations are based on the things they share or talk about. I’m not saying that we never need to meet in the flesh again, but I think it’s blinkered to assume that culture and values cannot permeate digitally. However, I also appreciate that I’m heavily predisposed to think about things this way.

If we consider the office to now be the place to connect and collaborate, how does that translate into the work we do together. Thinking about the old world, what part of the office 9–5 was deemed connection and collaboration. My assumption is that in the main we weren’t super intentional about this apart from the annual ‘away day’. It was a byproduct of being situated near colleagues.

If we are going to be intentional about connection and collaboration so that we can preserve the space for people to work in an autonomous and asynchronous manner, what might that imply? Should it be the punctuation points of working together? eg. Meeting for the first time, kick off meetings for new work, difficult conversations when things have got stuck, celebrations when things have gone well, making big thorny decisions?

I suspect we’ve all got differing ideas on ‘when do we need to get together?’. This seems like an inherently complex issue as we’re all humans with differing needs that will defy any neat and tidy boxes we try to impose on them.

So perhaps it would be a good idea to deploy some Trojan Mice to experiment with different ways of working together now, with a view to fumbling our way toward the goal of establishing how we should work together in the future?

I also rather like Chris Bolton’s suggestions on different kind of mice.

  • Obvious — Try some things that look like they work.
  • Oblique — Something from the ‘left field’.
  • Conflict — Opposite to the ‘obvious’ and opposes ‘what you know…’
  • Naive — Asking the daft/niave question often challenges assumptions.
  • Failure — Try something that will fail, to learn lessons.

If you’re interested in this I would implore you to go and read his original blog post because it’s brilliantly articualted and seems like blindly common sense in retrospect.

So what mice should we deploy to learn about the forthcoming new world of work? Have you run any experiements at any scale? What did you learn?

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A place for partially formed thoughts or ideas that I’m working through.

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Neil Tamplin

Neil Tamplin

I do digital/IT delivery for @ValleysToCoast. Interested in the spot where technology & people meet. Often learning. Always curious.

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