Different Ways of Working

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been packing up the office in my day job as we prepare to move to a new office building.  The company where I work have been in this particular building for about 15 years, so as you can imagine, we’d all become quite entrenched.

I really liked a great deal about the office we’re in – it’s in an excellent part of Sydney that was easy for me to get to from home(literally, an 11minute bus ride across the Sydney Harbour Bridge). The building itself is nearly 100 years old, is heritage listed by the local council and was built and served as a tea factory for over 50 years.

Being heritage listed meant the building had a certain charm – the original timber floors and beams are intact, the big tea vaults doors are still hanging, there are “chutes” where the big bags of tea would be dropped between floors and all kinds of other unique features were dotted throughout the building.

The heritage listing is also problematic for a high tech company like the one I work in – our meeting rooms couldn’t be properly soundproofed, we couldn’t properly mount wifi points in good locations and as the space requirements changed, we couldn’t “morph” the building because of council regulations on listed buildings.

I’m going to miss the 11-minute bus ride to work and being able to walk out the front door at lunch and literally walk three minutes to Circular Quay and see the Bridge and Opera House while I eat lunch.  SydneyHarbour is very scenic and working right on the harbour was nice.

The new office is in a more modern building in Darling Harbour.

My trip will probably push out to half an hour as I have to take the bus and a train for the next year or so, but then the new tram system will be built in the downtown part of the city, so that will shave 10 minutes off.

Either way, it’s a pretty awesome commute irrespectively – crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge twice a day is pleasant and one of those things you take for granted living here.

What’s interesting though, is the massive changes that are coming to our working style as a result of this move.

In our current office, we have an 80/20 split of people with fixed desks versus people who hot desk.  I sat next to the same two people for about two years and it’s comfortable.

In the new office, we’re moving entirely to “activity-based working”.

Basically, out of the 650 people in the office, around 50 people will be”campers” in that they’ll have a fixed desk whereas the rest of us will be “nomads” and won’t have a fixed desk.

It would be easy to call it “hot desking” but activity-based working is a bit different than traditional hot desking.

First of all, across the four floors of our office, the ground floor will have reception and meeting rooms that will only be for meetings with external parties, so that floor is kind of out of bounds for the most part.

The remaining three floors, you are free to sit wherever you want.

The admin staff “campers” like the payroll people, they’re on that floor, but if I want to go hang out with them one day next week, I’m free to do that.

On our mezzanine level off the void is where one of our subsidiaries will be, but we work closely with them and we’re free to go work in their space if we want.

Then there’s the “main floor” where the bulk of the staff will float. On this level we have something like 10 “collaboration areas” that have Cisco Spark Boards, we have our staff dining area and then we have an outdoor deck where we can also go work or have internal meetings.

On top of that, the building has an outdoor herb garden where our corporate wifi will extend to and the precinct has a variety of cafes and restaurants where we can work from as well if we want.

Plus, we’re expected now to work from home one day a week or two if we want.

The idea of activity-based working is, depending on what you’re doing, the office should be able to accommodate you.

If you’re working in a small group brainstorming or having a video conference with a client, the collaboration areas will suit you, if you’re having an informal meeting internally you can hang out in the dining area, the deck or the garden.  If you just want to chat, head to one of the cafes.

On the other hand, if you need a desk, just pick any one you want, drop your laptop in the docking stand, all the desks have a 27″ monitor with a keyboard and mouse.  In fact, if you’re working on something with a few people, you can grab a pod of desks next to each other and work like that.

There are a couple of big premise shifts happening with this move – it’s a technology shift, it’s a work paradigm shift and it’s a social shift.

The Cisco Spark Boards are like big 55″ TVs but they double as digital whiteboards with video conferencing functionality built in.  You can start writing on the screen, share it with anyone using the Spark or WebEx apps and do a full video conference all at the same time.

We’ve ditched desk phones with the move.  We all have Skype forBusiness and everyone gets a $300 headset that connects to our laptop and mobile.

The wifi network that we’re using from Cisco is the first time it’s ever been deployed in the world – it uses hyper-location technology, so we have an app where if you want to find someone we can type in their name and it shows us where they are within a metre in the office, the deck or the garden.  It doesn’t track you in the bathrooms, the prayer room or the mother’s room because of privacy reasons – you’ll just show up as”busy”.

Basically, we’re becoming 100% mobile with fully integrated collaboration tools that allow us to work from anywhere just like we were sitting next to each other.

From a work perspective, it’s obvious to see how this changes the way you think about work.

I’m contemplating more or less ditching my laptop and just getting an iPad with an Apple Pencil.  I could stick my laptop in my locker (it has a power point built into the locker), ditch carrying a pen and notebook and just work off my iPad – I can take handwritten notes, it has my Skype for Business client so it can handle my calls, it has WebEx and Spark clients for video conferencing and collaboration, Microsoft Office on the iPad is excellent for quickly reading documents, slides and spreadsheets, and it’s lightweight.

Plus, if I need to do any heavy lifting with documents or whatever, I can just grab my laptop out of my locker and work from a desk.

And that’s just the physical stuff.

I work with a lot of different people on a daily basis in my role, plus I spend a fair bit of time by myself in the office – this new style suits me perfectly.  I can grab my iPad, go hang out on the deck in the sun and do emails, shoot down to a cafe and work for a bit, and one day a week, I can work from where I am right now – my desk at home, just like I was in the office with all the same tools on my iMac.

Socially, will be a big change.

I’m someone that likes to stick to small groups of people I know.  I’m not really a social butterfly at the office, so this new way of working is going to be challenging for me from that perspective.  The company is taking this “no camping” stuff pretty seriously, so we’re not going to be able to squat in groups, we’re expected to be nomads and move around.

I used the word “challenge” with respect to this because I’m going to challenge myself to be a bit more outgoing and work from different places within the office rather than just huddle around people I like.

I’ve actually decided that next week, in particular, I’m going to avoid the natural tendency that people have when things change to gravitate towards people I know and just go sit in random places.  Just dive into it head first.

Overall, I’m really excited – I like new things and I’m a big fan of change in general.

I also like to change the way I work periodically to see if I’m more productive and if I can find ways to do better work.

I’ve tinkered with this in my business numerous times over the last year – trying to work from different rooms in the house, waking up super early to do work, trying a form of the Pomodoro Method, using different tools, etc…

It’s great to introduce some variety into your day and measure the outcomes – are you getting more done and what’s the quality of your work like?

This is especially true for people building online businesses from home- you’re effectively “living” at work.  I know from experience that this can become monotonous and without noticing, you start to stagnate.

One thing I recommend to people who work full-time in their online business from home is to find different places to get some work done if you can – for me, I loved the public library.  I would grab my laptop, head off to the library and just work for three or four hours in quiet.  I could get up, grab a book, read and then just get back to whatever I was doing.

Some people like cafes or “Starbucks” but I can’t really get anything done in of any consequence in a place like that – I find all the movement and activity distracting.  But if that’s your thing, go for it.  I’m going to try a half day a week at work in cafes working on email and other trivial tasks after the move next week.

Another point that’s come out of this office move is upgrading your technology – I have AirPods and an iPhone X, both of which I really enjoy.  However, the new Jabra Evolve 75 headset that I got from work is pretty badass.

And then revisiting the whole iPad experience is going to be interesting- this will be my fourth iPad.  I had the first generation and that was just a doorstop.  I then bought an iPad Mini which I still rate as one of my top 5 tech purchases of all time for practical usage, but the iPhone 6+ and now the bigger screen iPhone X pretty much relegate it to glorified Kindle reader status.  Then there was my iPad Air 2, which was fine, I just didn’t use it so I gave it to my wife.

Having new technology that compliments the new way you want to work is a winning combination, so I highly recommend you think about it as part of your plan to modernize how you get stuff done.

Either way, it’s exciting to try new things.  It keeps your mind sharp and gives you something a bit different to challenge your brain.

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