Business is starting to pick up and there are signs of tentative growth in many areas of the economy, but it would be unwise to assume the worst is over.

Telework and other flexible working methods can help a young company avoid painful and sometimes fatal growing pains. I have seen many a successful micro-enterprise founder as it tries to grow, most often this is either due to the founder being unable to adapt to managing a larger organisation or the cumulative effects of infrastructure changes imposing constraints on company resources.

In the latter case the growth pattern is not governed by sales or staffing, but by infrastructure. The point is that moving offices is time and resource consuming, expensive, and generally intensely irritating for all involved. Although good planning and project management can significantly reduce the disruption of a move, don’t forget that the person responsible will be using their time and resources, probably to the detriment of other activities.

Some of the issues that commonly arise when the business premises are nearing capacity:

  • Postpone recruitment until new premises are available.

A lack of office space means that it is difficult to recruit the people you want, when you need them. Trying to pack people into an already crowded environment is not a great incentive, and generally impacts the productivity of all concerned. Postponing essential recruitment until space is available can mean lost opportunities in markets and recruiting talent.

  • Recruit too many new staff because space is available

The aftermath of the first issue. Having moved into a larger office, there is a temptation to be too lax in recruitment criteria which can result  in underemployed and unsuitable staff.

  • Moving office can result in a 5% reduction in annual productivity.

Just consider the process of moving, even using professional movers. Preparing key papers and documents, securing key electronic data, finding lost items, resolving unforeseen infrastructure problems, and re-establishing a workable comfort zone. If something can go wrong it will, and if disruption lasts for less than 5 days you will have done well.

I have known fast growing companies that have been forced to move 4 times in two years, and the cumulative strain on business has been significant.

  • Opening a branch office causes management crises

To exploit new geographic opportunities some organisations feel it necessary to open a branch office. This can often result in duplication not only of infrastructure but administration as well. The challenge of suddenly having to manage a team remotely can be catastrophic due to lack of experience with remote management.

Flexible working methods offer remedies

Cramped conditions are not conducive to productivity, so why not use hot-desking and telework for established employees and free up some real estate to enable the new recruits to spend their induction in less cramped surroundings. At minimum it will provide time to find the best possible accommodation for the future, at best it will enable a seamless path for expansion without the need for new premises.


For those readers interested in this topic, I notice a new article on the topic on the BBC news site, Simulated brain closer to thought and the source project Blue Brain Project referrred to in my original posting.

The quote from Prof Markram is very telling

“It’s not a question of years, it’s one of dollars. The psychology is there today and the technology is there today. It’s a matter of if society wants this. If they want it in 10 years, they’ll have it in 10 years. If they want it in 1000 years, we can wait.”

With Telework  very much on the agenda again driven by the desire to be a good corporate citizen and reduce commuting carbon footprint, reduce real estate costs and improve general productivity. The only problem is that many home environments are unsuitable for dedicated teleworkers, and in some cases local legislation can be very unfriendly to home offices, insisting that they comply with health and safety regulations applicable to formal office environments.

Home environments can be unsuitable for several reasons:

  1. A simple lack of space.
    The kitchen table may be good for a couple of hours but not as a permanent environment.
  2. A family at home.
    The excitement of having a key family member permanently accessible can prove too much of a temptation for some partners, and the discipline involved can cause family strains.
  3. Infrastructure.
    Despite massive investments many areas still do not have access to consistently good broadband communications. This can give problems with video conferences, and SaaS environments.
  4. Your home may be fine but neighbours may not be adapted to a working environment. It is surprising how distracting lawnmowers, pumps, drills, barking dogs, pools etc. can be when trying to work.
  5. An office at home can lead to being always accessible. For many this is not an issue or can easily be controlled, but continual binge working can be dangerous for your health both physical and social.

Now this may sound like I’m rubbishing telework, no far from it, it means that the telework location needs to be carefully thought out. In the early days of the telework movement there was a lot of focus on telecentres or telecottages. These would be centres local to the teleworkers’ homes where they could work, share expensive equipment, high speed internet connections and at the same time have access to shared expertise and training. There were variations on this, satellite offices operated by employers close to where the employees lived, office centres where facilities could be rented by the hour, day, week or whatever period is needed, or more recently individual companies offering to rent out one or more desks in their own underutilised office environment.

For various reason the telecentre has not become a major part of the telework scenario, although in some countries it is stronger than others. The main reason is that technology costs have come down to the level where they do not need to be shared, and the systems and communications are sufficiently reliable not to need a technician at hand all the time. However shared office centres have gained a lot of custom especially for the mobile teleworkers who need to have access to quality facilities in many locations, but in general these facilities can be expensive to justify for many would be teleworkers.

The final category is that of office sharing, and this is gaining increased attention as companies need to cover the costs of unused office space. This may be because it was surplus to requirements anyway, or their own telework programme had liberated space, or because of staff reductions, whatever the reason it makes sense to use it rather than just let it be an overhead. There are quite a few web-sites offering information on these offers, and in many cases the costs involved are similar to the real cost of setting up and maintaining a home office.

If you are putting together a telework program, considering requesting telework from your employer or just setting out on your own business, I suggest you take a look at the sharing option, it overcomes a lot of issues associated with working from home whist retaining many of the advantages.

Here are a couple of sites as an example:

If anyone know of other sites around the world offering similar services, or have experience of using them,  do let me know.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comedic Brits and twits

March 18, 2009

What is it with the British comedy establishment that they should have so openly embraced Twitter? Yes there are plenty of celebs on there, but why is there this very noticeable cluster led by Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Russell Brand, Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Jimmy Carr, (and quite a few more) and the latest addition Eddie Izzard that are comedians or actors with a strong comedy background.

Perhaps it is just me and the fact that I am fond of British humour and recognise them more easily than I would American, French or Dutch humorists. On the other side I don’t notice that many performers from other genres, theatre or music. No sign of Bowie or Jagger, and most of the rock heavyweights are missing, or perhaps they are  just lurking. So why so many heavyweight Brit comedic entities?

Perhaps it the nature of the comedy profession and that of twitter that match each other so well. The comedy professionals are probably involved in a wider range of professional activities than most (real portfolio workers), ranging from performances in clubs, major tours, celeb shows (quizes etc), sitcoms, writing, interviews, documentaries, movies, etc. Much of this is done solo, unlike rock bands that need a large crew to support them, so perhaps this means more time to research and communicate whilst on the move. The final possibility is of course that these individuals are more aware of their own “brand” and have greater control over it than the equivalent rock or movie star.

Of course personal branding has become a key feature of the social media environment, and is set to become more important as more of us move towards portfolio working, where a reputation is not built around a single profession, but rather around a personal brand encompassing multiple activities.

It is quite possible that my view may be totally biased by my interest in comedy. I’d certainly be interested in any observations or comments on this.

What if (1):

March 7, 2009

  • Conspicuous consumption goes out of fashion.
  • Politicians put the common good before the private purse.
  • We use personal instincts for trust rather than rating agencies.
  • Contentment became more important than a new BMW.
  • Scientific advances prioritised helping humanity rather than shareholders.
  • Bankers felt honoured to be entrusted with our money.
  • Tabloid editors realise that shareholders are taxpayers too.
  • Knowledge capital were more important than financial capital.
  • Social networks stayed that way.

Click here for an access code to Microplaza (limited number).

Since the early 90s we have been living in what many have called the Information Society, although the notion goes back much further than that. Basically it is only since then that access to technology and information have been sufficiently democratised to enable a significant impact on the day to day lives of many people. This in its turn has enabled many more people to be implicated in the creation and sharing of knowledge, and the emergence of an immaterial economy. We are already well down the path (some would say too far) towards an economy where physical goods are the least significant contributor to the economy, meaning the physical content of a product is overshadowed by its knowledge content (R&D, design, marketing, support, etc.. )

Turning to Artificial Intelligence which has long been a favourite theme of Science Fiction, futurologists and technologists alike, we can add some spice. Ray Kurzweil is probably the best known of those suggesting that desktop computing power (if it continues to follow Moore’s law) will have the equivalent processing power of the human brain by 2029, although the ability to transform that power into true intelligence may lag behind. Nonetheless the last few months have seemed to be particularly active in this field with Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom publishing a credible  Whole Brain Emulation – A Roadmap, and IBM’s Dharmendra S Modha’s project to emulate a rat’s brain, suggested to the Singularity Summit that the project was positioned halfway along that roadmap, (Next Big Future) – with the rat-scale model being 3.5 larger than the previous work on mouse brain emulation.

It was estimated that a system 400 times larger than the rat model would be needed to emulate the human brain, with the most powerful machines currently available being able to handle models 10 times larger than those of the rat. With DARPA contributing  $4.9 million to the project, it is clear that this research is leading somewhere, and possibly faster than we expect, even taking into account the probable need for quantum computing to reach full human brain emulation.

This of course takes us towards Kurzweil’s singularity where machine intelligence will start evolving more rapidly by itself, and I question  what will happen to the knowledge society/economy when machines can accumulate and generate and create knowledge more rapidly and more cheaply than a human counterpart.

Will these knowledge machines be creative? Intuitive? Empathetic? Will they become the wealth generating engines replacing talented humans.  Will our values change, with personal knowledge being no longer being a key success factor?

We are talking of potential changes over the next 25 years, and remember that 25 years ago few believed the impact that the Internet and mobile technology would have on our lives and the way we do business. My guess is that these sentient technologies will start having an impact on defence applications much sooner than that.

Given that many policy makers and leaders still do not understand the implications of a networked society, what will they make of the post knowledge society, assuming they are still in charge.

Making Twitter meaningful

February 23, 2009

I first had a look at Twitter a year or so ago, and I must admit that after a couple of weeks dipping in and out, I could not really see the point. At the end of last year I was persuaded by my son to revisit Twitter, but not treat it as a messaging – microblogging environment, but more as a mechanism for searching out new ideas and up to the instant expert reflection. This is of course in addition to the RSS feeds, daily, weekly monthly newsletters, and the occasional bit of serendipity, as mentioned in my previous blog.

For me Twitter has in fact supplanted or at least partially replaced some of these mechanisms, but as usual the main problem is deciding what tweets to examine. Although the people I follow act as a first phase filter of information that might interest me, I still need to examine each link to find that information. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a limited beta test of MicroPlaza a product designed to provide a solution for those who want to use Twitter as the information resource it has the potential to be.

The idea is simple. In the normal timeline (tweets flowing through the network) Web locations are tweeted and retweeted in various compressed formats, along with a short comment.

MicroPlaza pulls this information together and presents a list of sites  either by timeline or frequency of occurrence, including the comments made by my network.

Microplaza Logo

This is fine if you have a homogeneous network that is primarily focused on one topic, but most of us are interested in a variety of things. Enterprise 2.0, telework, UK politics, business issues, social issues, folk music, friends, genealogy and direct family, all influence whom I follow. MicroPlaza enables me to arrange my network into tribes (groups), some of them will exist only in one tribe and others in several tribes according to my selection. I can then review each tribal timeline with the most recent information and postings.

On top of this I can “become” one of the people I follow, and see their timeline based on tweets to them.

This is great. Prior to my day’s activities I can look at those items that were of greatest impact to my network on a certain topic. If I have a meeting on sustainability coming up, I can quickly inform myself of topical items. If I know their is going to be a focus on a certain aspect, I can put myself in the shoes of my favourite expert and see it through their eyes.

MicroPlaza is not the finished item yet, search facilities are being added, and various suggestions will be taken on board based on feedback from the public Beta. As a recent convert to Twitter – I realise the potential usefulness of it but also the overwhelming impact it can have as a time consumer. MicroPlaza gives me an instant view of what is of interest to me on a given topic. For a lot of users this may be the only tool they will ever need to take advantage of the potential of Twitter.