It’s crazy to think back to how I used to work. Just a little more than six years ago I had my own desk, with my own desktop PC and my own hard wired phone line. Next to the desk I had a cupboard which contained around 8 or 10 lever arch files full of ‘important’ documents I might need to reference - but invariably never did. I remember feeling like I couldn’t work properly at someone else's desk, even if the computer I was logging onto gave me the same access as my own would have. It just didn't feel right. It was like trying to thread a needle when wearing boxing gloves. I worked slower and I just didn't feel productive!
In the last 6 years so much has changed. In theory, I’m now able to work from anywhere in the world at any time. I’ve got a work smartphone and a laptop and because we use Google Drive I can pick up everything I need to do my work on any computer and frequently use my smartphone to edit documents and slides on the move, write and publish blog posts, and communicate with my networks using Twitter, WhatsApp and Messenger. The feeling I used to get when working away from my desk just doesn’t exist anymore, which is a good job - because I don’t have one. I have adapted and evolved and I feel comfortable with it.
So, I’ve got the technology to let me work anywhere and at any time, but in reality do I? I’ve certainly got used to working from home and I’m always connected to colleagues and my wider professional networks via Twitter, WhatsApp, Messenger, LinkedIn and email. Since starting work with Bromford I’ve worked at home for at least one day per week, but apart from casually noodling around social media for interesting articles to read in the evening, my working day has largely conformed to the 9 to 5 format and has largely centred around either my home office (aka the box room) or kitchen table. So what’s stopping me?
We’ve been thinking a lot about the way we work recently. We recognised that whilst more and more organisations are providing staff with the technology to work from anywhere and at any time, many still adopt a working culture which ultimately prevents it happening. We felt a little uneasy with this so we decided to start working differently. We designed six principles to help us challenge some of the assumptions people still make about how to work productively and we published them in our Lab-ifesto.
Taking inspiration from the Lab-ifesto we are testing how #MartiniWorking - working any place, any time, anywhere (the slogan adopted by drinks brand Martini in the 80’s) could work for us. At least twice a month we are making a commitment to work somewhere inspirational which isn't the office or home. If you believe like me that inspiration is everywhere that opens up a lot of possibilities. Last Friday I decided to test this out for myself. I had a test write-up to do, a blog post to write, and some work planning for the following week; here is a diary of how I got on:
Friday Morning - I took the opportunity to sort out a few things I’d been putting off, like fixing my energy tariffs and finding a new broadband contract, so it was late morning when I booted up the laptop in my home office. The kids were at home, so I needed a place where I could shut the door (and hide). Usually, if the kids are at nursery I’d have worked from the kitchen table. I used the hour to read and send a few emails and plan some of the work I needed to get done. I decided to set myself some target outcomes.
Friday Afternoon - I worked from Shrewsbury Library; once home to Shrewsbury School and the place where Charles Darwin started his education. I found a wifi login so I didn't even need to use the laptop sim. In many ways the enforced silence (actually I’m not sure if it is enforced these days or just culturally observed), oak panels, stone walls and vaulted ceilings felt quite institutional, but as I started to take a closer look I could start to see inspiration in the most unlikely places - The spines of books throwing light on colour palettes relating to specific themes and genres or graffiti left by 19th Century students in the old Sixth Form rooms on the top floor which prompted me to ponder whether any idea is really new; the graffiti was like an 1840's style Facebook check in. I remembered that I had also seen Roman tagging and graffiti in Pompeii and this made me think - ‘innovation isn't always about doing something new, it can be about finding ways to do the same things better'.
Friday Late Afternoon - I worked from a coffee shop. The library was useful for getting my head down, but it was a bit quiet up on the top floor. I needed to get a little energy. I’d been working on a slide deck to illustrate some test results for a round 2 ½ hours and I was starting to lose steam. I felt like I needed to remind myself that the world still existed outside so rather than move to the more 'lively' lower floors of the library, I decided to get a coffee. I continued to work on the same slide deck I’d been working on in the library and because I’d worked from that coffee shop before I auto-connected to the wifi - which was nice.
Saturday Morning - I took the kids to their swimming lesson and started to write this blog post on my phone whilst I looked on with my coffee from the comfort of the swimming pool coffee shop. It was a useful way to spend half an hour and as the kids were off doing their own thing anyway I didn't feel like it was interrupting my family time.
Sunday Evening - I’d written most of the detail on the test write-up on Friday but I still needed to make the slide deck look pretty, so I sat on my laptop in front of the TV for an hour and did some formatting.
On the whole, the experience was really positive. I got the work done that I had planned to do and because I’d been more flexible than usual on when I worked I also managed to balance work around non-work activity too. Even after this one episode of #MartiniWorking I can see that as this way of working becomes more established and the boundaries between work and life get more fluid and perhaps even blurred, there are some things that I might need to be conscious of moving forward:
Choose the right location for the right type of work - busy, quiet, public, private;
Be disciplined. Starting work later than usual might be great, but remember that you will need to start at some point. Likewise, know when to draw the line and stop again;
Choose locations which don’t damage your pocket - coffees and lunches out can be expensive;
Remember it’s about outcomes and not hours. Get good at working out what is a reasonable level of output, and get comfortable quitting once you get there;
Understand your working, learning, playing and giving (WLPG) blend. Work out what outcomes you need from each in both the short-term and the long-term. Make sure you are achieving the outcomes you set yourself. If you aren’t it's time to re-evaluate the way you are working.