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
As part of HP’s happiness at work initiative they have listed 25 new places to work. I’ve repeated the list (minus a few of the less relevant ones like the Eiffel Tower!) below with my comments in blue:
- The garden. There’s nothing like an English summer. And even if the sun shines, you can still get some work done in the garden. With the new Intel® Next-Gen Wireless-N technology in your PCs and a compatible network, you can stay connected at over twice the range and five times as fast as you can with current wireless networks. I often work in the garden, but in the UK its often too cold or too windy even when it’s sunny so a conservatory is essential. Also good luck with trying to ready your screen unless like me you invested in a outdoor screen. Also forget the high speed wireless and concentrate on getting high speed ADSL!
- Shed. Garden sheds have moved upmarket. Companies like Green Retreats and The Garden Escape can turn the humble shed into a smart office with insulation, electricity and double glazing. Best of all, you can take the office with you if you move house. With a second battery charger or notebook docking station, you can plug your Notebook in and start working immediately. Definitely, I am just in the process of getting my wife Debbie a garden room which will be used for work and play. We are moving my lab server and her laptop in there and it will be super insulated so they should be enough to keep it warm, and I get off-site backup as well.
- Coffee shop. JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in cafes and coffee shops. Many offer wireless networking so you can get online. I often work in Coffee shops, Cafe Nero is my favourite as I love the chocolate cake. Find a time when it’s quiet and try forgetting the wifi, its just another distraction.
- Beach. With HP’s 3G Mobile Broadband you can work on the beach just as easily as in the office and still get online. Just don’t get ice cream on the keyboard (although if you do, the Mylar layer we put underneath it should stop it becoming a disaster). I live by the beach but I’ve not had much success working on it, but I often snuggle down in the sand dunes for a conference call while I’m out walking. You need a outdoor screen on your laptop though. One thing I will be trying is doing some dictation using Dragon Naturally Speaking out of the wind in the Dunes, miles away from anyone. Normally though for me working on the beach is low tech, a book and a phone.
- Airport. They make you rush to the airport hours before the plane leaves and then you have to sit around and wait. Why not use that time to get some work done? Most airports now how have wireless networks so you can get online, and companies like Priority Pass will give you access to lounges with business facilities, even if you’re not flying business class. I don’t fly internationally that much, I fly nationally once a week, but for me short flights and laptops don’t mix but they are a great place for having a chat, reading a book or processing email on my Blackberry. For long flights I prefer reading and DVD movies.
- In bed. If you get a broadband connection with wireless networking built-in, you can work anywhere in the house. Including the bedroom. No thanks
- Library. Public libraries are quiet and full of studious people. Just like an office ought to be (but usually isn’t). The British Library in particular has a very good business section. I love working in libraries, but I prefer to choose a book at random and then just find a comfy chair and read for an hour. It’s a great escape when the girls are out shopping
- Home office. See our article: The A-Z of the perfect home office. I’ve written plenty about this already and I’m redesigning mine now.
- CEO of the sofa. P.J. O’Rourke’s book of the same name shows how much work you can get done from your own living room (and it’s very funny to boot). Definitely, I do all my feed reading in my recliner in the living room during family TV hour in the evening and I’m definitely getting a Sofa or a recliner in my new home office.
- Park. Personal trainers are turning Britain’s parks into fitness boot camps; why not turn your local park into an office one? You can make phone calls and have inspiring ideas while taking a stroll and then do your email from a park bench, using an HP Voice Messenger Smart Phone. Starting to repeat myself now, we have a great park 5 minutes walk away, but a parks for fun and for reading, not much IT here for me. Although I might admit to doing a bit of email processing and a few voice notes on my Blackberry if I’m waiting for the kids.
- Hiking. Take along an iPAQ or a Smart Phone and you can stay in touch and get some work done even while you are enjoying the view. Get a padded Notebook carry case to keep your system safe and secure. I do a lot of work while out walking, listening to podcasts, recorded conference calls that I’ve missed, making voice notes, thinking. I don’t do too many phone calls because of the wind on the coast.
- 30,000 feet. With an extended life battery, you can use an HP Notebook for nine hours or more without recharging. Plenty of time to get some work done – and watch a DVD – on a long-haul flight. See above – Airports
- In the bath. Churchill had a habit of giving dictation from his bath tub. It might be a good place to think and talk, but we recommend against using anything electrical in the bath! I read for half an hour (at least) in the bath most nights, but normally fiction.
- Walk and talk. Dictate replies to your emails while you walk using the HP iPAQ 514 Voice Messenger. Yep, I do this on my Blackberry a lot and am about to try converting to text with Dragon NS.
- Restaurants. Eat. Think. Work. I’m a home worker so often I see little point travelling to the office for a meeting, let’s meet for lunch or breakfast – much more relaxing and fun.
Dave Pollard gives us his idea of how one might aspire to spend the day:
So, for example, a 24-hour day might be allocated to the following important activities:
- 9 hours a day for sleeping and personal hygiene
- 2 hours a day for physical exercise — running, meditation, working out, yoga, hiking etc.
- 3 hours a day for play — learning things you love, having non-competitive fun, just paying attention and being in the moment, and expressing love and joy in different ways
- 3 hours a day for conversation — not small-talk, conversations with intention (this time could include meal-times)
- 2 hours a day for reflection — thinking, reading/watching/listening to actionable information and stimulating entertainment content, and deciding, thinking ahead, considering what it all means and what needs to be done as a result
- 2 hours a day for creation — writing, model-building, sketching, composing
- 3 hours a day for action — first/next steps towards doing important things, productive actions that make the world a better place
It sounds good to me, as I look down the list I feel my life is pretty out of balance, how come I don’t spend 3 hours a day for play — learning things you love, having non-competitive fun, just paying attention and being in the moment, and expressing love and joy in different ways! Then I read a bit more of his post where he points out:
This leaves no time at all for urgent, unimportant actions:
- 0 hours a day doing work that isn’t one of the above types of activities
- 0 hours a day for administration, paperwork, ‘non-value-added’ work
- 0 hours a day driving to and from places
- 0 hours a day shopping
- 0 hours a day waiting
- 0 hours a day for chores
- 0 hours a day for small talk
- 0 hours a day for reading/watching/listening to mindless, unactionable stuff
Ok so now I get it! But the first list is actually really useful. I’m going to write down – perhaps tomorrow – how I would like to spend my days and track how well I do for a few weeks, actually for me (like Dave) it’s less about work life balance so much, but more about balancing the Low High urgency and importance matrix.
I’ve already posted on the topic a little Work less – achieve more, and my productivity category has more posts as well.
I already have energy saving bulbs in my home office (and the rest of the house) but this Christmas I thought it was time to make a bit more of an effort so now I have my centre desktop monitor plugged into one of these plugs. I then have an 8 way extension cable plugged into the other socket into which I have plugged my:
- Second monitor
- Third Monitor
- Desk lamp
- Behind monitor lamp
- Camera charger
- External CD writer
This way when I switch on my centre screen all of the above power on, and when I power off my centre screen they all magically power off as well. During winter this isn’t much of a big deal as I need my computer gear to heat the office but for 3/4 of the year it should help.
I still leave my desktop PC (and my lab server) powered on 100% of the time, since it’s doing too many jobs while I’m not using it:
- print server
- Foldershare “server”
- disk to disk backups
- Image backups
- laptop synch
When I get my gas central heating replaced in the spring I won’t need the extra heating so I will consider powering it down, and my lab server will move into – and heat – my wife’s garden office.
I’m looking forward to moving the lab server out of my office and into Debbie’s. Without it my Office is essentially silent, it won’t be as hot in summer and I get high speed off site backup.
Although I was aware that I was being exposed to a lot of EM radiation in my home office I didn’t really give it much thought, that is until I read this article – The Gathering Brainstorm – in the Ecologist magazine. I then did a quick count and found that I was being bombarded by:
- A WIFI access point less than a meter away
- A mobile phone 30cm away
- A laptop WIFI 30cm away
- A DECT phone 50cm away
- Another laptop WIFI 2M away
- A WIFI Access point 5M away through a wall
- Another DECT phone 3M away through a wall
- A wireless keyboard and mouse
I decided it was probably too much of a risk given the current poor state of research, so I made a few changes:
- Switched the two laptops in the office to wired connections
- Disabled the WIFI in the office and now only use the one that is 5M away
- Set my Blackberry to autoforward calls automatically to my landline as soon as it’s plugged into power
- Moved the DECT phone a lot further away
- Switched to a wired keyboard
- Switched off Bluetooth, I hardly ever use it anyway – prefer wired headsets
This list now looks a lot better:
- A DECT phone 1.5M away
- A WIFI Access point 5M away through a wall
- Another DECT phone 3M away through a wall
- Wireless mouse
I do a lot of work while out walking, normally this takes the form of phone calls, dictating notes, listening to recorded teleconferences and listening to PODCASTS. While at home I found that I could scan my RSS feeds with my laptop resting on the handlebars of my exercise bike (which is in the living room). Finally I often watch VidCasts or TV programmes downloaded using the BBC iPlayer while on the exercise bike.
However I have never managed to do any real computer input while on the go, so I was intrigued by this new workspace design from Steelcase. I’ve seen custom designs like this before but this is the first productised walk station I’ve seen.
I’m currently re-designing my office and I don’t think it will include a Walk Station as it would take up too much room, but it’s very likely that it will include an exercise bike. I’m also seriously considering Dragon Naturally speaking to decouple me from my desk a bit more and reduce the reliance on my hands (shoulders, elbows, wrists).
I’m currently brainstorming ideas for my new home office, I spend about 6 hours a day in it right now, so its the most important (time wise at least) space in my life. Debbie and I currently share the room and I essentially have one quarter of the wall space, Debbie has two walls and the whole family share a wall of storage.
Now that I have insulated, lit and boarded out the loft we have a lot more storage space and Debbie will soon be getting her own garden room, which will be part office, part craft space and part chill out space.
Bottom line is that the room will become a real home office for me with lots of potential to create some more varied working environments, spread out a little, tidy up a lot etc.
I’m currently looking for inspiration, good sources here:
- Home office warrior setups
- Scott Hanselman’s home office
but right now these are a few of the things on my mind:
- a very comfy chair that I can relax in and read and work with my laptop on my lap
- a small two seater sofa
- an exercise bike
- a coffee table where I can lay out books and magazines I am reading
- a meditation cushion
- some plants
- an ioniser
- new art
- a larger central screen – I currently have three 19″ screens – but I work with a lot of large complex spreadsheets, presentation slides and documents and I would definitely benefit from more space probably 1600*1280 would do it
- a 4th small 1024*768 screen for screen sharing on web conferences, many people still have 1024*768 laptops and this would provide them with the best experience. My desktop has a spare video connection and I have a spare screen so it just space that stopping me
- reduce the amount of wireless radiation in the room, I currently have a wireless access point, 2 wireless laptops, a mobile phone and a DECT phone in the room and that’s a lot of radiation
- more inspirational visibility of books
- clearing the scanner and printer out of sight, I hardly ever use them, but they are important for the rest of the family
- a Polycom Skype communicator, once Polycom release Vista drivers
Tom Davenport is spot on, with this post:
Here’s a next big thing: companies will need to redesign their workplaces to better fit the needs of knowledge workers. The idea that we should spend our workdays in boring cubicles — either in big downtown buildings or suburban office parks — is increasingly out of kilter with the way people actually work and how they want to spend their lives. It doesn’t take into account our needs and abilities involving mobility, social networking, stimulation, and fun. I’ll bet that the best knowledge workers will be seeking out companies with workplaces that offer more to them.
Anyone who reads my blog knows how passionate I am on this topic and over the years me and my teams have done lots of experiments in workspace design that have proved just how much untapped business and personal improvement is available for companies willing to innovate and allow their teams to design their own working environments. Tom points to a good case study that seems to address at least the first tier benefits:
Of course, companies frequently undertake initiatives involving new work environments, but none is as visionary, well-planned, and well-executed as Capital One’s “Future of Work” (FOW) program. This program was implemented on a pilot (but substantial) basis in the company’s Richmond and McLean, VA, campuses. The FOW program combines a variety of different office environments with a strong emphasis on mobility and mobile technologies. There are quiet sites, coffee bars, team rooms, and accommodations for working at home. The program has already yielded substantial increases in employee satisfaction and self-rated productivity, and Capital One has lowered its costs at the same time
In my home lab I’m always flipping between VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server (and clients), with the announcement of a new version of VMware server it looks like another flips on the horizon. Probably when I update the lab hosts to Windows Server 2008.
Windows Server 2008 is looking very cool for a home lab, with the ability to publish terminal services sessions over HTTP to the Internet, Seamless terminal server windows, multi-volume disk encryption (finally a secure home environment).
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: