Sam asked me a couple of weeks ago to blog about my new Office. I’ve been resisting because I wanted to spend at least a month working in it before I felt ready to really comment on how it’s changed my life. Seems a bit of a bold statement “changed my life” but I don’t think I’m overstating it.
I’ve always been very focussed on workspace design, I can remember over 20 years ago convincing my boss to radically change our office around and – inspired by the book peopleware – I’ve been working to improve the working environment of my teams every few years since then. I’ve previously written about the great opportunity I’ve had in the past to design a couple of offices from a pretty blank sheet of paper and I think we did a pretty good job and I learned a lot.
Last year though was the first time I’ve ever designed a workspace for myself and it’s been great fun. I started with these objectives in mind.
- I wanted a space that I felt was my own, the rest of the family, friends and colleagues would be very welcome to visit but it would be on my terms and I wouldn’t be storing any of their stuff.
- I wanted a space that allowed me to seamlessly and easily transition from work to play to exercise. I suffer from a rare form of arthritis and low intensity, varied but long days are a must for me. The ability to work for an hour, chill for 20 minutes, work for another 30 then exercise for 20 suits me perfectly.
- I wanted to feel as relaxed as possible throughout the day, so the space had to feel less like and office and more like a holiday home.
- I suffer a little from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I wanted as much light as possible
- I wanted to be able to able to work in a range of different positions, seated, standing, exercise bike, sofa, to keep my joints and muscles working and moving and it’s just more fun
- Collaboration and team working are important to me so I wanted to be able to have effective virtual and physical meetings
This is how it turned out:
- I decided to build a conservatory, it was a pretty cheap option, addressed the SAD issues, has been plenty warm enough through a cold January with mostly no heat required during the day and radiators at night. I’ve invested in window blinds that have been essential and have worked well. I’m waiting to see how many days this year I’m driven out of the room due to lack of roof blinds in the summer. Roof blinds are expensive and the top investment priority right now is to turn our old shared office into a great lifestyle space for Debbie, and that’s where I will retreat to on hot summer days as well.
- I’ve got a huge glass wall (between conservatory and lounge) that has roller blinds behind it to turn it into a massive whiteboard, it also works great for tacking up A3 slides that a group of people can scribble on together. I have a Bluetooth eBeam (electronic whiteboard) that suckers onto the glass for virtual meetings.
- I’ve got a 4 seat sofa that I retreat to whenever I’m on the phone, I just love sitting back and looking up at the clouds on those long conference calls, with my Tablet PC on my lap when I need it. I’ve a wireless DECT headset that lets me move freely around the whole house (thanks to a repeater).
- From the sofa I can watch conference DVDs and downloads, PowerPoint presentations etc on my 27” Dell high res display which is attached to a media centre PC so I get to watch TV as well. I’ve previously struggled to watch more than 20 minutes of video on a computer, but the big screen “TV like” experience from the sofa makes hours at a time practical. The big screen is great for watching while doing the ironing as well.
- I’ve got an exercise bike and it’s perfectly positioned for watching the big screen too.
- I’ve got all my favourite reference books and books i’d like to read – right there in full view to remind me not to buy any more for a while and hopefully to inspire me to chill out and read for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Previously I’ve been a dedicated user of 3 displays and It’s still a great setup, but this time around I decided to go for 2 screens, one 27” 1900*1200 and the other 1280*1024. I’ve loved the extra screen real estate from the large screen and as I’ve already mentioned it’s enabled the “work from the sofa” scenario, further helped by a wireless media centre keyboard and remote.
- I don’t have a desk chair right now, I’m loving using a – cheap – exercise ball. It’s great fun and I can feel it strengthening my back already.
From a green perspective it’s mixed:
- It’s turned the lounge from the coldest room in the house into the warmest, and the conservatory keeps warm with a couple of small radiators with the thermostatic valves cranked down
- All the lights are ultra low power LEDs or fluorescents
- When I suspend my desktop PC, all the displays and peripherals auto power off
- The blinds and glass are both coated to keep heat inside in winter and out in summer
The end result:
- I’m able to work for longer
- I feel much more relaxed
- I feel more effective
- I’m having a lot more meetings at home, and we’ve had a great Carvery restaurant open just on the sea front that’s perfect for business lunches
- It’s much nicer to be able to work and interact (through the glass) with the kids without being disturbed and for them to be able to see when I’m disturbable and pop in for a chat or a hug
- Debbie and I are having more lunches together
- I enjoy doing the ironing
- I’m watching more TV – perhaps the only negative
- I’m getting more exercise
- When I’m not working we have a great family room
- The Sofa is actually a sofa bed, so we have a guest room and the girls love having sleepovers there and watching the stars
- It’s definitely been a worthwhile investment
Years ago I setup a collaborative working environment for my team, the idea was for the environment to be really social, we had lots of breakout rooms, large tables where people could sit together, comfy seats, whiteboards everywhere a library area and of course quiet space for when you needed to concentrate.
Lots of people would ask if they could come and hot desk in the office and in the end we said no because it was getting too crowded. When I saw this article – and the photo above – about co-working facilities for people who wanted to get out of the house, but not into the office – it reminded me of those times gone by.
I really like the idea, of a space where you can pop in and meet like minded professionals in a great working environment with food and drink. For me that’s not the office, I work on global projects with virtual teams so I have little in common with the people in the nearest office, and theres no desk space anyway.
The hat factory is a great example:
The Hat Factory is community office space for geeks and media hackers. We’re a group of open sourcers, video bloggers, Drupal developers, and more who are tired of working from coffee shops and home every day
It’s a really cool idea, and I bet a lot of real social networking goes on here, not just sharing contacts, sending messages and reading blogs! There’s even a video.
Previous posts I have made about work spaces can be found here and about home working here
A couple of weeks ago I heard a manager say that employee morale was not a management issue, I hope I heard wrong, but I don’t think I did.
To be fair though I don’t think the manager concerned really meant what he said and was in fact referring to an employees response to his remuneration was a personal issue. Morale in contrast is much more than a response to remuneration and is very much a management issue.
I am not a great manager, however in my years I have learnt a couple of lessons about morale and the most significant being that individuals often tend to keep their morale troubles to themselves, sometimes grumbling to friends but not always. I always found this really worrying because I know for sure that a persons peer group and manager can do a lot improve morale, if they know about it.
Over a couple of years my team leaders and I came up with a pretty good approach, which is worth sharing:
- Each week everyone in the team (including the team leads and I) posted a highlight report to a shared folder
- At the end of the highlight report they scored their overall satisfaction in the following areas: frustration, too much work, too little work, skills, training, overall happiness
- Our wonderful admin consolidated all the cores into a spreadsheet so that we could spot trends across the 30+ people in the team
I noticed some great benefits:
- Everyone seemed much happier being honest in providing these happiness scores than they were with explicitly going to their team leaders directly, because they were concerned they might be seen as moaning
- The team leads and I found that everyone understood us a bit better and the “what does he do all day” question never seemed to arise!
- We explicitly defined the scores so that a person could indicate that their level of satisfaction required some intervention and how urgent that was
- All the team leaders and myself scanned every highlight report each week and were very proactive and imaginative in addressing the issues, we were also much more relaxed about management because we had a great way of tracking team “health” overall
- Very often we didn’t need to do much because when a person indicated an issue their team mates almost always rallied round and helped resolve it before team leaders got a chance
- Team leaders shared the responsibility for everyone in the team, we often found that the best person to help address a persons motivation issue was not their direct team leader
I’m sure this approach isn’t in any management handbooks but it worked for us so I thought I would pass it on, one point worth noting is that the issue was almost never money!
For me telecommuting means I am able to work, so it’s wonderful and liberating. I do miss the office though and the sort of team dynamics that develops only when you work with people day in day out for years. For anyone contemplating teleworking I have only a little advise:
- Live somewhere you love, so that you don’t get tempted to stay in the house all day
- Meet up with colleagues whenever you can, I like to go out for lunch
- Create a great working environment, one that you really enjoy working in – remember your employer is no longer in control and that this is a room where you will spend most of your waking hours, so treat it with that level of importance
- Put the money you save in fuel in the bank and spend it – without guilt – on improving your home working experience
- Make sure you go into it with a positive attitude, it’s not perfect, but the more energy you put into making it so the better it will be
- Don’t give up on it, technology is moving at breakneck speed and the social down side of working on your own will rapidly decrease as high definition video, combines with high speed networking and multiple large screen displays
There are lots of books on the subject, but I recommend reading the comments on this post from lifehacker and this one from Joel on Software.
and no, the house isn’t mine!
Anyone you read my blog knows that I am a big fan of multiple monitors. In Vista support for multiple monitors is slightly more restrictive, here’s a summary:
- Multiple monitors attached to a single card – no problem
- Multiple monitors attached to multiple cards with the same driver (which normally means the same chip set family) – no problem
- Multiple monitors attached to multiple cards with different drivers – no support for Glass
or more details check out this link
I used to laugh at the idea of the paperless office, over the last 20 years I have presided over a number of projects that I thought would reduce paper but actually increased usage, so I am pretty cautious now. However having seen for myself that the combination of a desktop scanner, 3 monitors and a Tablet PC can almost totally eliminate paper from my lifestyle I think there is a viable way forward. I have written a few posts on this topic myself, and have just come across a useful discussion of the topic over at Silicon.com, this comment was particularly useful:
Andy Jones, a director at Xerox Global Services, explains a crucial change in the way we use paper. “Thirty years ago paper was the definitive record of so many things that happened within business. Today it is increasingly the case that the electronic record is the definitive copy, while paper is becoming much more a work-in-progress medium,” he says.
I agree with the work in progress role of paper, and its this role that multiple monitors and a Tablet PC address. The Tablet is great for sketching, note taking, review and markup as well as reading on the plane/train. Multiple monitors avoid the need to use paper as a reference copy while you work on another document on a single PC display.
tags: paperless, tabletpc, multiplemonitors
I am a big advocate of well designed workplaces, so I was interested to see this post about the Workplace Advantage activity at Microsoft. One of my favorite principles is to provide a flexible environment that the teams can change easily to suit their evolving needs and I have written about my experiences in this area before if you want to check them out. I do agree though with many of the comments on this post that workplaces need to have different zones that allow people to work quietly in isolation when they want to and to do adhoc and intensive collaboration in other areas when that’s needed. The relative degrees of quiet work and isolation change over time as do team sizes hence the need for flexibility.
Recently though I have been working from home and I have realized the benefits of Workstation design as well as workplace design, so I think it’s also pretty important to provide some way for people to dock laptops into different styles of workstations and to work in private “offices” when they need to. In my case I like to work with three screens which is now easy to provide in shared work areas for laptop users by using devices like these from Matrox.
Readers of my blog know only too well that I love screen real-estate having 3 19” screens and I certainly would never go back, what amazes me is the fact that the productivity benefits are truly amazing and yet are largely un-tapped by most businesses. According to Microsoft Research you can expect between 9 and 50% improvements in productivity, which equates to an ROI of significantly less than 1 month for most people. In my case these are the main benefits I see:
- I am more relaxed
- I am bout 30% more productive for about 2 hours per day and 10% productive for another 3 hours (I work a short day)
- I hardly ever print anything, in fact I have purchased a Tablet PC (TC1100) in 18 months just from the savings in ink cartridges, let alone the savings in time, space, paper and increased security associated with not using paper.
- My desk is paperless, meaning its much easier to focus, tidier and more productive
- I can manage interruptions much better, instant message conversations can be placed in my right monitor while I work uninterrupted on my other two. when I am sharing my screen in a web conference or watching someone else share theirs I can still have a screen for IM conversations and another for reference material or note taking.
I use my desktop PC for about 4 hours a day, it’s very important to me. You can see a picture of it in this post, here are the details of how I have it setup.
- Dual Core processor
- 4 GB memory
- 2 * 2500MB hard disks, one backs up to the other every night using a robocopy script, the scripts also does a backup of the SQL server databases.
- 4 head Nvidia Quadro
- 3 AG Neovo 19” TFT displays, DVI
- Sennheiser USB headphones
- 100Mb wired network connection to the hub
- Vista 64
- Connected PC backup
- Carbonite PC backup
- Maxthon Browser (free), the best browser, see my other posts
- Skype (free)
- PamelaPro for Skype – provides recording of Skype calls and voice mail
- MSDE (free), ie free SQL server database
- Synergy (free), allows me to use desktop keyboard and mouse to control my Tablet and my Laptop, useful when I don’t want to use RDP connections
- X1 amazing desktop search products (free, in version from Yahoo), I have tried them all, this is the best for serious searching, I have 10,000 documents that I regularly search through
- DAEMON tools virtual CD drive (free), for mounting all of those MSDN ISO images!
- Ultramon, to make best use of those 3 monitors
- PowerShell (free), the new shell from Microsoft
- WinDirStat (free) to keep an eye on my hard disk useage
- VMWare Workstation v5.5
- VMware Player (free)
- VMware Console (free) , for accesing Virtual Machines running on my Server
- Microsoft Virtual PC console (free) for accessing Virtual Machines running on my Server
- MSDN (free) download manager
- FoxIT PDF reader (free) , my pain PDF reader, very quick
- Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 (free), for when FoxIT PDF reader has a problem
- RSIGuard, to make sure I don’t work too hard
- Foldershare (free), for synching up copies of the kids files onto my PC’s F: drive before they are backed up
- Nero Express (free), for DVD writing
- Microsoft Intellimouse and keyboard software
- MindManager viewer (free), for viewing maps embedded in web pages
- MindManager Pro 7
- Microsoft ActiveSync (free), synch to Windows Mobile/SmartPhone (not currently used)
- Blackberry Desktop
- WinZip, compression and archive manager
- SmartFTP (free), upload client to Streamload, my large file sharing service (lets me send DVD images etc by email)
- Filezilla FTP client
- Robocopy (free), command line utility that I use for all disk synchronisation and backup
- Inctrl3 (free), utility that watches and records what happens when you install software
- Regmon and Filemon (free), utilities to monitor registry and file activity
- Process Explorer (free), task manager on steroids
- Sun’s JVM (free), Java Virtual machine
- Microsoft Reader (free), eBook reader
- Citrix ICA client
- Windows Live Meeting Client
- Sametime web conferencing client
- Interwise web conferencing client
- WebEx web conferencing client
- iShadow multi-window RDP and ICA client
- K-Lite Video Codec pack
- Dot Net Framework 2, 3, 3.5
- Silverlight 1 and 2 runtimes
- Flash runtime
- Acronis – full system disk image backup
- Allwaysync - bidirectional replication of data between laptop and desktop
- AVG AntiVirus
- Microsoft Defender (free) – anti-spyware
- Maxthon (free). Ad, popup and everything else blocking
- Firefox (free), for comparison with IE and Maxthon
Telephone, Audio, Music and Video, TV
- Audacity for general audio post processing, conversions etc
- Levalator – levels audio levels in WAV file recordings
- Windows media player
- Winamp for music (free), because it is integrated with Skype
- Media Player Classic
- Cool MP3 Splitter for 2 click splitting of MP3 files into segments by size of time
- Xilisoft WMA MP3 convertor
- Skype (free), for calls to international land-lines and for recording conference calls. I use the phone for everything else
- Pamela for Skype, records to WAV and MP3, records Skype calls and Skype Voice Mail
- DTMF Dial (free), for when Skype DTMF fails me
- DigiGuide UK TV guide
- Quicktime (free) because my camera produces quicktime movies and I download some
- Logitech video camera drivers
- Canon printer drivers
Pictures, images, scanning etc:
- Microsoft Flash (free) for screen captures and simple image editing, scale, crop, format conversion etc, it shipped with HTML Help a long time ago
- SnagIT screen capture
- Paint.NET (free) for more complex image editing
- PaperPort Pro for scanning of all of my paper, it really is a great product
Notes and research
- eWallet for everything I need to remember, cards, licence keys, cars etc etc. Syncs with my Tablet and my Treo 650
- OneNote 2007 for all other types of Notes and records
- Notepad 2 (free), instead of Notepad
- NetSnippets, integrated with Maxthon my main browser for capturing and storing web pages
- Work 2007
- Powerpoint 2007
- Excel 2007
- Windows Live Writer for blog writing
- Camtasia Studio for multi-media authoring, screencasts, videos etc
- MindManager 7 for most of my idea generation and meeting notes
- CmapTools (free) concept map drawing software
- OpenOffice.org v2, for comparison to Microsoft Office, and to get around issues with readonly fonts in PowerPoint
Collaboration, Email, RSS, IM and Organisation
- Twhirl twitter client
- Lotus Notes 7.02, my companies email system and my master contact database
- Microsoft Outlook for personal email
- FeedDemon for RSS reading
- Doublelook, extracts my Notes contacts and copies them over to Outlook
- Pidgin, for Sametime, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL
- MSN Messenger (free) just in case there is an issue with Pidgin
- Groove 2007
- Polycom PVX, video conferencing client
- C: system disk
- D: secondary data disk
- E: primary backup disk, also stores master copies of DVD’s copied to disk and MSDN downloads
- F: Primary data disk
- Backup, each night:
- C:\documents and settings backed up to D:
- All databases backed up by script
- F: backed up to E:
- F: backed up to Tablet PC and to Server
- F: backed up off site using Connected PC backup from Iron Mountain and carbonite
- D: (MSDN and DVDs) backed up to Server disk E:
Some of the best years of my working life were spent in an office environment I designed to promote collaborative work. It had many of the characteristics of a “war room”. With quiet areas around the sides, tables in the middle and loads of break-out areas, white-boards, flip charts and a design review/presentation area. I described this environment in a previous post. I have generally been frustrated at the lack of discussion about workspace design in the IT press, so I was pleased to come across this article that resonated strongly with my experience:
Recently, many companies in the software industry have been experimenting with putting teams of workers into “war rooms” to enhance communication and promote intense collaboration, explains Stephanie Teasley, an assistant research scientist in the U-M School of Information’s Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work.
Instead of toiling in separate cubicles, workers sit at wall-less workstations in one big, open room. The room is typically outfitted with central worktables, whiteboards and flip charts to facilitate group discussions. While companies expect benefits from such arrangements, workers sometimes balk at the idea, fearing they’ll sacrifice privacy and the quiet they need to concentrate on demanding tasks. The U-M researchers say their study is the first to closely examine the effects of what they call “radical collocation” on both productivity and worker satisfaction.
Teasley collaborated on the project with Mayuram Krishnan and Judith Olson of U-M and Lisa Covi, who was at U-M when the work was done but now is at Rutgers University. The group studied six software development teams at a major automobile company, all of which had little or no experience working in war room settings. The researchers evaluated the workers’ productivity using measures commonly used in software development; then they compared the war room teams’ scores with productivity data the company had collected on software development teams working in traditionally arranged offices. The researchers also interviewed the workers and had them fill out questionnaires at the beginning and end of the project. In addition, they made detailed observations of two teams—sitting in on meetings and conference calls, watching the teams solve various kinds of problems and photographing them in action.
Teams in the war room environments were more than twice as productive as similar teams at the same company working in traditional office settings. In a follow-up study of 11 more war room teams, productivity nearly doubled again, making the war room teams almost four times as productive as their counterparts in ordinary offices. The setting alone may not account for all of the productivity differences; teams working in the war rooms also used techniques designed to accelerate software development. However, those techniques could only be carried out by radically collocated teams, says Teasley.
The before-and-after questionnaires showed that workers liked working in the war rooms better than they expected to and were not as distracted by nearby colleagues as they thought they would be. In interviews, the workers said they learned to tune out distractions and tune in when something important was happening. Indeed, overhearing one another’s conversations and watching one another’s activities probably had a lot to do with the productivity surge, the researchers believe. When a worker was stuck on a software-coding problem, others passing by would stop and offer help. And when one team member was explaining something to another, others could overhear and interject clarifications and corrections. The privacy issue was resolved by having a few private cubicles, equipped with telephones and computers, available near the war rooms. Workers used these mainly for making personal phone calls, such as calling a bank to check on a loan or phoning a doctor’s office for medical test results.
“Although the teammates were not looking forward to working in close quarters, over time they realized the benefits of having people at hand, for coordination, problem solving and learning,” says Teasley. “With the growing push for using technology to allow people to work in virtual teams, this study shows us the value of having seamless access to team members and helps us to envision how technology might best be used to support teams that cannot be radically collocated.”