“Anytime, anywhere, any device”: Working smarter in a knowledge world

Last week was fun. A couple of enjoyable dinners, an interesting day at the BSI KM Standards Committee helping to shape the UK’s response to the latest draft of the  emerging ISO KM Standards and a thought provoking day at Quora Consulting’s flagship Smartworking Summit. I will focus on the latter as it impacts the former.

Why are you here?

As I said in answer to that direct question posed to me by one of the speakers during his address:

Because John invited me for which I thank him.  I am also here as the discipline I focus much of my time on (Knowledge Management) relies heavily on the right environment to facilitate the sharing of knowledge. Also as a member of the BSI KM Standards Committee which is looking at ISO standards for KM I am keen to seen something in there that reflects the move towards smarter working.

I coud have added that, following the lead of Professor Clive Holtham and Victoria Ward, I have been banging on for a long while about the importance to Knowledge Management of an effective physical environment, it’s one of the indicators I look for when performing a Knowledge Audit or Assessment at any organisation.

The event:

The very well attended senior level event (of the near 200, 75% were C-Suite Directors) was held near St Paul’s and had as it’s focus in the morning “unlocking the full potential of women at work”.

quora-summit-pmThe afternoon comprised a series of breakout sessions. I went for the “Creating productive workplaces” session facilitated by John Blackwell, Quora’s founder and CEO.

As an aside it was nice to see Euan Semple again who was cofacilitating a round table session that draws on an interesting piece of work he is doing and was entitled “Building Bridges, dismantling siloes”.

Interesting fact of the day from Wednesday’s Smartworking Summit – collectively, the registered delegates interact with over 80 million employees on a daily basis – impressive!

Smartworking in context:

Statistics released by the Department of Work and Pensions and The Office of National Statistics are terrifying for the future of the UK economy which has already seen productivity fall by 17% over the last 10 years. These stuck out:

  • The UK will need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years but only 7 million people will be leaving schools and universities during that same period. And further, 70% of those graduates will be female.

The Summit’s premise was:

“…there are only two realistic ways of plugging this 6.5 million job vacancy shortfall – encourage people to remain in work beyond the conventional retirement age and crucially, attract far more women into the workplace.”

The morning speakers drawn from some of the UK’s largest employers shared their stories.

I liked:

  • The ‘Come Back’ returnee programme for a 12 week period which helps Mums rejoin the organsation after pregnancy leave.
  • The carers work programme wherein flexible working hours (often in chunks of 30-60 minutes) are offered to remote workers who look after those incapable of doing so themselves.
  • The bottom up shadowing programme wherein senior staff are mentored by young employess on the use of Social Media.
  • Anytime, anywhere, any device. The strapline of a programme at a financial services firm who are faciliting a blend of working practices and estimate that 40% of their work will be done flexibly.
  • That Cabinet Office and BSI recently launched a Smart Working Code of Practice.  PAS 3000 gives recommendations for establishing good practice for the implementation of Smart Working, against which organizations can be benchmarked. It covers changes to working practices, culture, working environments and associated technology.
  • The following quotes:

On expecting staff to focus for 8 hours a day: “You can’t leave your life at the door”

On the imposition of a dress code for the office: “How about we trust you to do the right thing?  If you look in the mirror and ask whether you can get away with wearing this it’s probably wrong”

On the need to change mindsets: “What the boss does gets copied”; “It’s great to talk, its better to listen”; and “Climbing the greasy pole to reach the corner office”.

I was surprised by:

The results of Quora’s recent survey.  Here’s what they said:

We have just released our latest research publication titled “Creating today’s workplaces for tomorrow’s talent”. This study engaged with just short of 3,000 people to explore the correlations between productivity, employee engagement and retention, and amongst its stunning findings are;

  • In 1990, 10% of the workforce was over 55.  By 2010 that had risen to 26% and, by 2030 the proportion of workforce over 55 will exceed 50%,
  • Just 21% stated that the impact of changes at their organisation are tracked and measured.
  • Only 33% regard their workplace as optimised for productivity,
  • Less than half trusted their manager to do the ‘right thing’ by them,
  • 66% stated the main reason for leaving their job was because they ‘found their managers dull and boring’.

Among the conclusions are that workplace design needs considerable fresh scrutiny into the productivity impacts of light intensity and spectrum, daylight, sound amplitude and direction, air quality, air temperature, odour, and occupant location and activity, and provision of quiet space.

Lastly, given that the brain takes 30% of all energy input into the body, the provision of nutrition needs a complete rethink.   Considerable attention needs to be given to eating frequent, portion controlled small meals focused on nutritional value.

I am concerned about:

  • The rate of commercial redevelopment that is taking place in London. If the workplace of the future is so uncertain and large organisations are consolidating their sites, making workspace more collaborative and shared, who is going to occupy the offices being developed now?
  • The scarcity of skilled British workers to fill the impending void at a time when the authorities seem to be making it harder for overseas workers to come to the UK.
  • A survey that found only 1:5 believed their leaders would do the right thing.

I took away:

  • The notion that the future cv will evolve from being a list of employers to a list of interesting projects and that 75% of new graduates today are predicted to leave within 2 years due to dull management and an unproductive environment.
  • The revelation that we now have 4 generations working at the same time so personalisation of approach is really important. Generation Rent employees have vastly different value sets from the Baby Boomer employees.
  • The suggestion that the leaders of the future will be Influencers with a focus on outcomes and that some organisations are using Social Network Analysis to identify who they might be.
  • The need to manage nutrition as well as the physical and virtual environment of the workforce. Better nutrition and conditioning = better performance in physical activity so why not in the workplace?the-edge
  • A desire to visit The Edge the greenest most efficient ‘smart’ building in the world when I am in Amsterdam in January. The Edge has proved a big attraction to prospective employees of the building’s tenants who include Deloitte’s.
  • The importance of effective knowledge capture and retention to ensure that, whatever technique is used, knowledge from skilled elders gets passed on.

And finally:

Fast forward two days and I am at Chiswick for the BSI Meeting.  The first person I meet is someone I heard speak a few years back in Amsterdam at SocialNow.

Dana Leeson is a Digital Workplace Architect at BSI helping to transform bsi-spacetheir working practices and environment.  One metric they are using: reduce occupancy levels (from 100% usage of the office by their staff to the mid 70’s).

Theirs reflects similar initiatives across UK government who are reducing the number of buildings they occupy and introducing co-working hubs for many departments.



the future workplace seen from the streets of London and the importance of conversations

Running a portfolio of activities is great. It has downsides though: The feeling of anxiety about what’s next; or guilt at taking a time out to do pro bono work when I could be responding to a request from a prospective client. And like every business marketing and relationship management has its cost.

But yesterday I decided to take a time out to reflect and think about the closing session at KMUK which I’ve been asked to lead. And this is how I ended up walking the streets.

John Blackwell is someone I met many years back while he was an IBM’er.  His ‘new’ organisation Quora devotes much of their time to help organisations think about the future of work and workspace.  Those who follow what I write will know working environments (space: virtual and physical) is a topic I feel neglected in Knowledge Management strategies and implementation plans.

mobile knowledge cafe in the street?

When John invited me to attend an afternoon session run by Street Wisdom at the Royal Society of Arts as part of his Smartworking Summit I was intrigued as the concept has caught on around the globe and seemed to be a sort of Knowledge Cafe in the street. Here’s what happened:

  1. Scene setting: David, Chris and Mel, explained what was about to happen over the next 3 hours.  In a pre-session discussion I’d described my ‘doctrine’ of Orchestrated Serendipity and that was used to illustrate what might happen. This is what we did.
  2. AIMG_3579 1wareness: Having assembled in 3 groups of 6 outside of the RSA we were invited to go off on our own for 8 minutes and observe – our choice, what we see and record. I noticed this pile (and someone’s bed) not 100 yards from this lovely peaceful spot.IMG_3580 1
  3. Slow: Back at ‘base’ we were asked to go off again at a very slow pace to see whether what we noticed is different because we have slowed down. My immediate emotion was of being in a bubble as everyone around me hurried about their business. Certainly I was more attuned to ‘things’ and it felt like I do at airports where I often switch off and withdraw in as a way of coping with the vagaries of travel. My 8 minutes over I return to ‘base’.
  4. Patterns: With my new ‘friend’ Mark from Sheffield I set off in search of patterns. This was interesting. As we walked we reflected on how we had already seen things we’d not normally see. We parted, me to Caffe Nero, he to the pub, both to watch.  I noticed: in a cafe people give themselves permission to talk; no one seems to use a paper map anymore, they use their smartphones; buses do come along in threes.
  5. IMG_3582 1Beauty: If the 8 minutes searching for patterns seemed a bit frivolous, 8 minutes looking for beauty (definition: ‘in the eye of the beholder’) was revealing. Literally 400 years from the rubbish and garden, up a twitten off The Stand I came across this magnificent abode which was being shown to a young Asian Student and his father. Amid the hustle and bustle of The Strand here was an oasis (at a price-1 bedroom starting at £895k!) which was aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Burning question: Fired up and ready to go I returned for my last task assignment.  I was to go off for 30 minutes to answer a burning question.  In my case this was to think about how I was going to run the forthcoming closing session at KMUK.
  7. Plenary: All valuable interventions end with a debrief / reflection session. Here we sat in a circle and shared what we’d seen and done. This was a precursor to a more expansive group conversation among two dozen people drawn from HR/Change/Facilities Management functions.

observations from plenary

The plenary session was stimulating: some worked virtually, others from Academia did a combination of home and away.  Here’s what emerged:

  • While virtual working is hugely advantageous to many, not everyone’s personal circumstances or culture fits.  Last week in Hong Kong I realised that with personal space at such a premium work has to take place away from the home. One virtual worker also noted that as a mother the flexibility is essential for her. She did note though that personal contact is essential to make sure a virtual team functions to its optimal level.
  • The grouping of people around a central office or campus is declining.  One view was that the Google and Facebook campus facilities are the last hurrah for this type of environment.
  • The future is about creating community hubs (closer to where people live) that permit drop out/drop in attendance based on a concierge hotel style service.
  • Current contractual arrangements are too restrictive and Zero hour contracts exploitative and not conducive to creating the element of trust needed for a different approach to task management. We discussed the idea of giving staff ‘space cards’ which they can redeem against usage at such approved venues.
  • No one is training us to work in the new way or in virtual teams and the training should begin in schools.
  • Digital was an adjective, now its a noun and with Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) we are entering an era of extreme customisation of the workplace by the consumer.
  • No one ‘owns’ the topic at a senior level. Like Knowledge Management ways of working and workspace environment is seen as being a horizontal function straddling many disciplines.

my takeaways

  • The next 5 years will see an accelaration in the growth of the generic workspace.
  • ‘No one can speak twice until everyone has spoken once’ was a lovely approach from David Pearl (Founder of Street Wisdom) to ensure everyone in the plenary session got their say.
  • People and conversations matter, in fact they are vital for innovation and knowledge sharing: people share not technology.  I realised halfway through the session how important it is to have the imaginery ‘water cooler’ or coffee station area where you can go to share and be stimulated. By listening to others I was able to craft an agenda which otherwise I might have struggled with.
  • Street Wisdom worked for me when I recognised I had given myself permission to take time to slow down and reflect. It is an effective way of changing mindset and a case of: ‘when you look at things differently, the things you look at change.’
  • And finally, I managed to create a wrap up session for next week’s KMUK event. Watch this space to see what I did and how it went.

one to watch

Re-Imagining Work remains one of my all time favourite videos.  Dave Copin imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open working culture.  It is a great accompaniment to this discussion and one I use frequently to stimulate a debate.