Think of your workforce as customers

Think of your workforce as customers

It's interesting to see what people in a workplace come up with when given a glass of wine and the opportunity to speak freely and it amazes me just how different people are. I am a member of The Hub coworking space and at the Town Hall meeting yesterday in Melbourne there were fifty odd small to medium size business owners. Each person acts as a small corporation, and the word 'odd' would pretty much sum us up. Odd in an interesting way, as opposed to strange, as we are an inspired and creative bunch.

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Learners and teachers: how managers can grow productivity

Learners and teachers: how managers can grow productivity

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).

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Where do we start with work design? Part 2

Where do we start with work design? Part 2

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.

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Where do we start with work design? Part 1

Where do we start with work design? Part 1

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. 

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Good work is more plus, less minus

Good work is more plus, less minus

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?

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Attention is 'missing in action'

Attention is 'missing in action'

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... 

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How do near misses turn up in your world?

How do near misses turn up in your world?

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? 

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Missing near misses: motivation problem or attention problem?

Missing near misses: motivation problem or attention problem?

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...

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The 'near miss' for office work can save money

The 'near miss' for office work can save money

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...

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How work design will help you quit paper

How work design will help you quit paper

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.

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Would the real mobile worker please stand up?

Would the real mobile worker please stand up?

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

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Remote for some

Remote for some

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.

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Live to work or work to live?

Live to work or work to live?

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...

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Health is coming from a camera near you

Health is coming from a camera near you

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.

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Shifting personnas through the day

Shifting personnas through the day

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...

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New rules for meetings

New rules for meetings

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.

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Working in a fishbowl

Working in a fishbowl

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.

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A place in space or lost in space?

A place in space  or  lost in space?

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. 

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Together alone: a 'sense of place'

Together alone:  a 'sense of  place'

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'. 

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Running out of batteries

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!