There's nothing so satisfying in business as finding a way to blast away a road block to productivity. When the same barrier - 'middle management is the weak link' - pops up in two a high profile reports around the same time, it might pay to listen. Two recent messages fit well together. The first is that middle managers, unwittingly perhaps, inhibit productivity through lacking the right skills (for more, see Australian Institute of Management report).Read More
Work design is a daily activity. In running any business, everyone who is putting effort into that business will be contributing to the overall design of the work. There will always be a minimum of two dimensions, a who - the person doing the work and / or asking for the work, and a why, the purpose of the work. Part 1 of this post was about becoming more aware of the current work design, part 2 looks at those two main dimensions, who and why.Read More
There is another saying that I like to remember - 'you can't manage what you can't measure'. The risk here is that we will 'measure' the wrong thing. That's probably true, And it's also possibly true that we won't quickly discover that we are measuring the wrong thing. If we are open to measuring lots of things at once, and open to deciding that one measure is better than another, then we can fine tune as we go along.Read More
Everyone agrees: the shift from bad, unsafe work to good safe work is important, it's how we get there that's the challenge. Last week I went to Erik Holnagel's workshop in Melbourne on shifting from Safety I to Safety II. The basic idea here is that safety is a limited concept in that it's only a little of the time that things go wrong - most of the time, things go things go right. If we don't pay attention to how that is happening, how can repeat our successes?Read More
In Australia last year Todd Sampson's appearance on the ABC programme "Improve My Brain" caught people's attention. In the programme, Sampson looked at the science behind brain performance and what could be done to increase it. There has been a real focus recently on getting better value out of our grey matter and one focus is getting smarter in business about decision making, leadership, what people do in teams...Read More
It makes sense that anything that might have led to a safety incident is a good starting place for prevention. The tricky thing is that there are only so many resources to fix the things we believe are our current problems, so the other, less obvious things, the ones which haven't yet caused us much grief, go low down the priority list. If we don’t pick up the near failures, how can we get to safety by design?Read More
Near miss reporting is really a missed opportunity for understanding the consequences of work for people and designing better work. The list of reasons above, though these can be refined further, show how many barriers we have to overcome to get better at this. I'd love to hear about case studies where there is true excellence in near miss reporting. My belief here is that even the best systems miss opportunities...Read More
Just yesterday, I was at a client's desk, watching a tall, well groomed lady manager squirm around on her new mesh chair, yet she was quite happy to say she had huge workload, and spent long hours at work. She insisted she was otherwise fine. She didn't name what I was seeing, and there wasn't much of a connection at that time between what she thought was a minor problem and the reason I was checking out her work...Read More
When people work off-site, taking a look at how paper fits into your workflows can open up new ways for your people to participate – and boost productivity. Here’s just one scenario. One of your managers is in a hotel room in London, getting ready for a meeting tomorrow. Then she realises: those carefully annotated notes are sitting in a binder on her desk, back in Canberra, where it’s currently 3am.Read More
Who really is the mobile worker? I'm asking this because if you want to control risk around mobile work, you have to know what mobility adds to the work and how this fits with decisions about the time and place of work. A bus driver, a mobile hairdresser and a consultant are not all mobile in the same way. The mobile bits of work are not often not what they seem. Consider Fergus, the National Park fee collector who I wrote about recently in my blog.Read More
In Deua National Park, NSW I met Fergus, who is afee collector for parks and wildlife NSW. Talk to Fergus and you find out so much more. Of Scottish descent (well at least his father was Scottish), a bearded and motorcycle mounted Fergus would be a formidable sight if you had just woken up from a night's boozing around the camp fire. You could imagine one of his kilt clad forebears cresting the hill and raiding an enemy camp, taking no hostages.Read More
Taking a break fits in with my ongoing efforts to get this worklife balance equation going. Fritz (2013) talks about how doing something which involves mastery and learning results in better recovery. So does thinking positive, not negative thoughts about work or better yet, disengaging the mind from work. It makes sense that people who love their work, and who get better and better at doing it find it easier going, not harder...Read More
I enjoyed a very successful online meeting with some of my human factors friends a couple of days ago and it was a first-time experience using that videoconferencing format for at least a couple of the participants. Some of you out there will be spending time in teleconferences, and more recently meetings online using tools like GoToMeeting in your day-to-day work. Some of you will even be seasoned pros.Read More
Seasoned conference goers have mastered this art. There are a couple of rules here. One is "attend all parties", another is take some time out to reboot at some stage and to keep your energy levels up. There are always expectations that we have about what we going to get out of the event, disappointment that we didn't meet certain people, or get to certain presentations. I think it's partly because we're so busy the rest of the time...Read More
As we move around more and more, it seems likely that some of our contact with others while away from the office is likely to be while we are in travel mode. This isn't just talking on the phone, but literally meeting more than one person at a time remotely while we are moving. One option is to refuse meeting when you are in a public space and sometimes NOT meeting is the most sensible choice, but sometimes it's worthwhile just trying to see how it goes before you pull out.Read More
There is pressure reduce the size and floorspace of buildings. Employees still need to be continually responsive to projects, visible to other people to collaborate when necessary, yet highly productive, so it's no wonder that new ways to support people shifting between these modes are appearing. There are some job roles where people have to do very concentrated work, not just for some chunks of time during the day, but potentially all day.Read More
There are some fairly unusual job titles out there now. Have you ever heard of the word 'placemaker'? [I can't complain as I call myself a 'work strategist'. Come to think of it, I rather like the way the word 'placemaker' is like 'pacemaker', it makes me think of putting the heart into place]. The title placemaker is used in urban planning and it really makes sense when you think of the village square or 'Piazzas' you find in Europe.Read More
The social aspects of work are becoming more and more important to think about when looking at the mental health of people in the workplace. It's basic human nature for people to want to connect to other people. Sad to say, not everyone you want to work with will be working in the same place. And you might not want or need to be with people all of the time. There are different ways in which people talk about the idea of 'place'.Read More
The evidence is out there that sitting too much is bad for our health, and even worse, too much sitting is "killing us", and so with our best interests in mind, we have been asked to get up and move around. But that does mean that those of us who use computers or tablets or our smart phones as a platform for work become power hungry. This is not an easy problem to solve sometimes. I'm looking for evidence that when businesses design or buy things like buildings or mobile technology, there is a decent understanding of just how much this influences people's patterns of work.
Often those of us who are professionally mobile as workers, consultants and the like, are hard pressed to find a power point when needed. You might have noticed there's a trend towards quietly removing them in public coffee shops such as Starbucks. I think one of the problems Starbucks were experiencing was that people would come in and stay most of the day and not buy enough coffee. There are people who have made arrangements with the owners of their favourite coffee shops that as long as they buy coffees with sufficient frequency, they are welcome to sit and welcome to plug in, but that doesn't mean all of their other clientele follow the same rules. People even blog where the best coffee-powerpoint combinations are. I've taken to going to small restaurants in the slow periods and having a meal.
There is another trend to make up for this. If you haven't seen the vending machines you can buy a device to fit your iPhone or other mobile to get that much-needed power boost, you soon will. Much like you would buy a snack if hungry after hopping off the plane or bus. Another option I've seen in an airport in the UAE was a pay-to-recharge station near the seating in the airport lounge and better yet, in the street at a 'charge bar' .
Each time I'm involved in a workplace design which seems to have too few power points, I try and negotiate a few extras, perhaps under the front edge of seating or perhaps as a power bay in some nook somewhere. In theory, designers shouldn't need encouragement to install them in buildings where there are formal mobile work patterns such as activity based work (ABW) but sometimes it's little things like the height or placement they get wrong. I spoke with the manager of the Virgin guest lounge in Sydney recently when I discovered that you could only fit the Apple rechargers at either end of the lounge and not in the middle because of the way the power points were set into the work tables. Or the walls. I've had the same thing happen on planes, happy that there is power, unhappy that I can't use it. I just switch off and read a book.
Now I don't think that batteries are particularly interesting, but I am aware of just how much influence they have on my ability to work quickly and effectively as I move between different locations. Innovations in the performance of our mobile devices and battery consumption goes will often heard first in the magazines of organisations such as the IEEE, not necessarily information that people from procurement will have when they choose what to buy for mobile work. So while we wait for battery performance to finally match our mobile needs, we become expert in spotting the humble, free power plug tucked away on the side of pillars, behind sofas and next to appliances - and hope for a better mobile future!
More and more, I'm struck by how much you can learn about someone and the way they work merely by watching and asking some simple questions. I can make an interesting comparison between what goes on in our household of two teenage girls when they are asked to create a simple reminder of something, and the "write on my hand" approach which Annabel Crabb, political commentator, takes for simple record-keeping. We worked out early on in the piece that neither of our children were inclined to pick up a pen and paper to to write something down. It's frustrating as a parent to see them forget things, but if everything has to be recorded on a smart phone, and that means having a smart smart phone, an expensive one, that either means paying for the right type of phone and apps, or living with the results of not remembering. Frankly, we are leaving that one up to nature.
Speaking about nature though, Annabel rights literally on her hand. I can remember doing this as a kid, but never consistently as an adult. I can sympathise with her when she talks about "those of us who have experimented widely with loosing every other potential repository for small but crucial pieces of information".
Most of us have experimented a little and found some of the options wanting. The phone with the flat battery, the inkless pen, the scrap of paper that can never be found again or at least not when the scribbled details are required.
There are other options. Voice recording a note, usually on a phone (another flat battery story in the making), sending an email to yourself, getting someone else to write it down for you, asking them to send you an email, the list goes on.
Let's return to Annabel's preferred option. She is after all, a journalist and words are her stock in trade. With the skin compatible pen, she talks about writing notes on her leg at a dinner party. Now this would not work with trousers or wearing stockings, and perhaps it is best suggested as a summer activity. It might also be a little awkward for guys unless they shave regularly. Going back to Annabel's strategy, apparently a hand mirror was not enough to read her script properly, and of course some of the letters rub off on the sheets overnight…
She does raise an interesting point though. How we capture an idea, a phone number, something we have to do on-the-fly says something about the idea of workflow and also our individual work styles. Once you look at the definition of workflow, even a basic one, it becomes obvious that the simple act of writing on your hand is a sign of a much more complex idea. Some of these definitions are really much closer to talking about the whole system of work, not just about recording an idea.
Is writing on your hand a sort of countercultural approach to technology? A bit like the slow-food movement. Or even the idea and have a phone at all movement. I'm not sure that people make this a strategy that they have thought through, or at least not thought deeply about. I do wonder though what the next step is in Annabel's capture system, perhaps she goes straight to paper, her phone or one of those note taking apps.
If you are intrigued by human nature, ask your friends and work colleagues this simple question: how do you write down ideas quickly to remember them later? I've created a simple survey. It's a little bit of fun but I'm sure the results will be interesting!