Some thoughts on the future world of work

I have been absolutely useless at blogging recently, largely because there has been so little time and head-space for it. If I thought I was taking a career break to take it easy, I was very much mistaken!

Although Semester 2 has just started, there was no real Winter Break for the EMA cohort, with intensive courses all through June and July. We just finished one on the Secret Life of Organisations, which I found utterly fascinating and will probably be the broad domain for any future research, if that’s the route I decide to take.

While reading the final set reading for the course, Workplace 2025–—What will it look like? by Linda Gratton (Organizational Dynamics (2011) 40, 246-254) I came across the following paragraph:

[At] the U.K. telecom company BT ,…flexible working has been embedded across all the corporation through home-based working, flexible and part-time work, and job sharing. BT found that the real win occurred when senior executives became role models for flexible working, and when it was conclusively shown that those who work flexibly are up to 20 percent more productive and significantly less likely to leave the company . This wide-scale adoption began after a series of trials in which BT employees began to discover new and more flexible ways of working, with the real shift coming from measuring output instead of measuring input. At first, employees working from home or working flexible hours found it difficult to escape the engrained attendance mindset. However , once the metric of value had been explicitly inverted from time to output, then flexibility became more acceptable. A second breakthrough came when the executive team at BT decided that it was the responsibility of the employee to present a business case that illustrated the personal, collegial and organizational benefits of working flexibly . Over time, these initial experiments became custom and practice, with over 20,000 people from all generations working on tailored flexible working programs.

I’ve highlighted the three sections I think are particularly salient. Firstly, flexible working isn’t some kind of sop to working women, or a way to appear progressive. It makes a difference to productivity and staff turnover, two crucial factors for any organsiation, public or private. Secondly, I believe we have to move away from a mindset where presence and process is all that is measured, towards one more focused on outcomes and outputs. I admit this is not easy in an organisation where there is no money coming in, like the one I used to work in, but I truly believe it is worth the effort. Measuring our worth to an organisation by the amount of time we spend at a desk, or the number of pieces of paper we move from one place to another just seems anachronistic. Thirdly, there is a cultural change that is necessary and the senior management have to be on board with that. I have been lucky enough to have a number of managers, since the very earliest days, that trusted me to be working out of the office when that is what I said I was doing. And of course, they saw the results. But it is still the case that people have called me when I am working from home and said “sorry to bother you”. I’m WORKING, it’s fine to call me! For some, there is an implicit assumption that if you are working from home, it’s because there is some other priority. Sometimes, often in fact, I work from home because work is my priority and I can do it better there.

Gratton’s article (very interesting if you can get your hands on it) highlights three major factors that will affect the future of work: technology, globalisation and carbon. The third of these is another reason why working outside the office is going to become so important. How many times did I think, as I stood on the train to Cannon Street, squeezed in with hundreds of others, ‘Why are we all doing this? Why are literally millions of us all spending 2 or more hours a day travelling to and from an office to do things we can do as well, or better, walking distance from home?’. There are of course reasons to go into the office – meetings, interaction with staff and colleagues, for example – and occupations where you can’t work from home, but for a large proportion of us, it’s an option. And think of the impact it would have on any major city’s public transport and road systems if hundreds of thousands of people were removed from rush-hour.

Looking to my future, I’m still not sure what it holds. But I’m pretty sure I want to work in a place that allows me to organise myself best to deliver what is expected of me, rather than somewhere that focuses on desk- and clock-watching.

Photo by Nancy Phillips used under a Creative Commons license

Crowdsourcing research ideas

It seems incredible to think so, with more than a year left on my visa, but I really have to start thinking about what I’m going to do after my course finishes. Decisions I make in the next couple of months will need to take this into account – do I do an internship? If so where? Or do I undertake a mini-thesis, maybe with an idea of going on to further study, i.e. a PhD. If I do research, I’m pretty sure it will be somewhere in the political communication/digital media area.

This is where you come in. Is there some research that would help you? Is there something specific where you have thought “it would be great if someone could look into this”? If I am going to spend time on a PhD, or even just a mini-thesis, it’d be good to do it with something that would be useful to people in the field.

Do leave me a comment, or send me a tweet at @euonymblog or @antoniam

Photo by Nancy Phillips used under a Creative Commons license.

Startup Weekend Melbourne Women Group Photo

New tricks

I came to Australia three months ago with a desire to learn new things. That wasn’t just about my course, but I wanted to develop new skills in other areas if I could. I wanted to see if 20 years in the public sector had made me unfit to work elsewhere, or whether the skills I developed there would have a broader utility. I got answers to both those questions this week, in quite different ways.

Firstly, I have taken a step towards my (pipe?) dream of working for myself, by being taken on as a media and communication consultant by a small business in Melbourne. The ‘i’s aren’t all dotted and the ‘t’s aren’t all crossed yet, so that’s as much as I”ll say for the moment, but it is incredibly exciting.

Secondly, I took part this past weekend in a Startup event – a weekend in which teams get together and develop a business idea with some sort of prototype and then pitch it to a panel of judges, all with expertise in tech, business and startups. For the first time in Australia, this Startup Weekend was completely targeted on women. Most hackathons or startup weekends are lucky if they get 10% women attending, but this one showed that there are motivated and most of all talented women out there, and they are keen to get involved.

Participants signed up as either Hackers (developers/programmers), Hipsters (designers) or Hustlers (everything else). No prizes for guessing which I was… I was with a team called First Curled Problems, which is a customised site for people with curly hair. You may laugh, but it’s a big market, and one that suffers at the hands of, for instance, shampoo manufacturers and ill-trained hairdressers. I worked on research, both background and market (which meant talking to curly-haired women and counting hair types on a trendy Melbourne shopping street). I knew I was going to learn lots, meet useful new people and, given the subject of the project, probably have better looking hair at the end of it. Well I have all of that, plus, and I’m still stunned about this, we won!

You’re the type of crackerjack team that can take a crazy idea like this and actually make it work

(comment from one of the judges)

It’s not just a prestige win, either. We get co-working space and mentoring/advice to develop our idea. Check back in a few months, especially if you’re curly, and we may have something to show you!

If you want to see more about the weekend, there was loads of tweeting going on and all of the projects were really interesting.

To express opposition to those shaving off their beards because Conchita Wurst won Eurovision

When beards got political

So Eurovision is over for another year, and the bearded drag queen won. I didn’t particularly like the song, but, especially as I carry out some research into the political and socio-historical importance of Eurovision, was glad to acknowledge the win as a symbol of how far we have come in recognising the rights of people to love whoever they want within an adult, consenting relationship and to express themselves in ways that challenge norms.

Well, how far some of us have come. Papers and news sites are today carrying stories of Russian men shaving off their beards in protest at the participation of Conchita Wurst and of course the win. Maybe they weren’t the only ones.

Well if they can use beards as a political protest so can I. I went to a website where you can add a beard to your picture, and that’s what I’ve done. And I’m now going to use it as my avatar in solidarity with Conchita Wurst and what her win stood for. It would be rather cool if some other people did that too.

 

Boathouses on the Yarra

Melbourne – my perfect city?

I listened to a podcast the other day asking why there is a cultural divide in Australia between art and sport. This came a couple of days after I had had a bit of a Melbourne love moment. I was in town, and had a coffee in Federation Square, the heart of Melbourne’s cultural quarter. I was killing time before heading to AAMI Park to watch some rugby league. I headed down from Fed Square to the river and took a photo of the boathouses with the backdrop of the Melbourne Arts Centre. As I was walking along the river bank, I heard some bells, so went to investigate. There’s a set of bells there, marking the centenary of Federation, and I found out that there’s a website where you can go to compose your own music for them. Here’s the competition winner

From the bells, I walked towards the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which if you are a cricket fan is one of the the great venues. As I walked over the bridge towards it, I realised that I could see all the outer courts of the Rod Laver Arena. So basically, you can come and watch the Australian Open for free (though I bet it gets crowded). As I was standing there, I heard singing so went to investigate that too. Turned out it was coming from the bridge itself, a project developed using voices from Commonwealth countries for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.  As I was googling links for this post, I found that the same people that did the bridge have been commissioned to do a soundscape for outside AAMI Park as well.

So this city has an incredible sporting precinct which it has filled with incredible public art.  I love that this city is so cultural – art, theatre, music, interesting films and *so many* festivals – there’s basically something going on all the time. And a sporting fan would never get tired – rugby union, rugby league, so much Aussie rules, basketball, a Grand Prix, a Grand Slam, the Melbourne Cup, The Boxing Day test…

I think I might have found my perfect city.

Olympic village 2012

The sociology of sport

There are many things to love about Melbourne: its cultural activities, its coffee, its food, its parks. But one that I am going to really enjoy while I am here is its obsession, and that is the word, with sport. It proudly stakes its claim as the only city in the world to have both a Tennis Grand Slam and a Grand Prix. This weekend I went to a rugby union match on Friday, an Australian Rules football match on Sunday and I could have gone to Rugby League on the Saturday, if another Melbourne stalwart – incredibly changeable weather – hadn’t been threatening. The UCI track world championships were held here in 2012 and may be again next year, and there are two football teams. When you wander down Olympic Boulevard, you have the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Cricket Ground and AAMI Rectangular (Yes! Rectangular!) Stadium, all fantastic venues, within a few hundred metres of each other.

Given my own interest in sport – watching, not doing – it was good to combine it with my research interests today.  I was giving the first presentation of my graduate career, as part of my  elective course for this semester, which is called Mobility, Culture and Communication. The course is predominantly a sociological assessment of the what, how and why of mobility in the contemporary world and how that affects and is affected by issues of culture and communication. For the presentation, we have to choose a site and analyse it in terms of the themes of the course.

I took as my site the London 2012 Athletes’ Village which I had the privilege to work in during the 2012 Games. I was looking at how the athletes and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) bring a sense of identity to the village, and how the organising committee works to create a sense of community in that same space. Here’s the presentation on Slideshare.

What I found really interesting while researching the issues I wanted to cover was that almost nothing has been written about the sociology, or even the social science aspects, of Olympic Villages. Lots about environmental management, engineering etc, but next to nothing about the people that inhabit the space. There is more about the sociology of sport in general (searching Google Scholar for “gentrification of football” throws up quite a long list) but even then, given the cultural and social importance of sport in so many societies, especially the one I currently live in, you’d think it would be more of a thing. Have I discovered my niche?

University of Melbourne

A returning Masters student’s view on digital environments

On Thursday I took part via online conferencing in the European Commission’s Digital Competence Day 2014. I was asked to talk about the digital experience going back to University. Due to the somewhat intermittent nature of Aussie broadband (or maybe the instabilities of the conferencing system) I got frozen out at the end, and I’m not sure how much anyone really heard of it. So I thought I’d write up the main points I was trying to make.

I was last at university in 1993. We didn’t have email then. There was an internal messaging system called the Vax that we used to send ridiculous messages within our group of friends – I think I still have the print-outs in a box somewhere. There were a few computers with the library catalogue, but loads of card catalogues still around. I typed up my essays on a word processing machine (a sort of glorified typewriter that saved the text).

Now the university experience is completely digital. Your interaction with the university administration is completely through the online portal. You enrol, register, get your timetable, pay your fees there. All information about your classes is sent via the Learning Management System. Most lecturers ask you to submit essays through TurnItIn, a system for checking for plagiarism. The library catalogue is online, you can request books online from other libraries, renew online and pay your fees. Pretty much any article you want from an academic journal is available online. You can get serious research done without going near the university. You can send things for printing from home, and access them once on campus by swiping your student card.

You have no option about this. This is the way things are. Digital by default indeed. But there is a lot of help. The library has a student-run IT help-desk. There are Twitter and Facebook accounts to help you and they reply very quickly. The library has an online chat function, which I have used and is incredibly practical. There is even a phone number to call if you need advice or assistance!

The other interesting element is the focus on BYOD – bring your own device. Obviously for a university, the provision of equipment is not a resource option (though there are of course workstations in the libraries that you can book. Online of course!). Space is at a premium and teaching spaces take priority. So the university sees BYOD as an opportunity.

Wireless is available to staff and students in all buildings of the university. There are higher levels of security than logging on to wireless in most public spaces. Each student has an allowance of 1GB of data per week from external (non-University) websites. It is clear what the rules are (no copyright infringement etc) and there are sanctions for breaching these rules, such as a loss of access to the network. The system is designed assuming that most people will play by the rules, and builds in how to deal with those that don’t, rather than designing it so that no-one can break the rules, but making it unwieldy and hard to use.

Of course, a university is different from a workplace. For one thing, work is much less collaborative here. (Something I found when applying and being asked to provide examples of my writing: if I hadn’t had the blog I wouldn’t have had anything to show that was me.) Also, this is a place of ideas, free-thinking, innovation. They can’t lock us into certain processes or tools as that would shut down the very freedom and creativity they are trying to develop in us.

But I do think there are lessons to learn.

Firstly, people work in different ways so providing one way of doing things is counter-productive, in the literal sense that it will reduce people’s productivity. Creating an environment that recognises and allows those differences will, I believe, be positive for the organisation.

Secondly, the leadership challenge is in helping people to adapt to the change. It isn’t good leadership to allow them to avoid or bypass it. That is self-defeating for them personally and for the organisation as a whole.

When I look at the change in the Commission’s digital mindset over the time I have been involved in this, I think we have a lot to be proud of. But we also have a long way to go and I hope we can learn from outside experiences such as this.

Paludiers

Why should you care about traditional foods?

I attended a lecure yesterday by Ken Albala entitled Marketing European Food and the Image of Authenticity. His essential thesis was that consumers are willing dupes in a marketing ploy to present food as “authentic” or “traditional”. We like to believe the food and products we are buying are true to their roots and artisanla and we are happy to take at face value labels, terms and packaging designed to give us this impression. He used humorous examples from Alto Adige air-dried Speck (“air-dried” insofar as the factory windows are open) to Fleur de Sel de Guerande (produced according to traditional methods, but not actually tasting any different to mass-produced Sel de Camargue).

Professor Albala is an entertaining speaker and one who clearly has a wealth of experience and a huge war-chest of stories, and both made for a very interesting hour, in which he made a number of valid points. I particularly agreed with him when he questioned the very concept of “authenticity”.  Authentic at what point? After all, Europe didn’t have potatoes or tomatoes until the sixteenth century, so you could say Colcannon or ratatouille are inauthentic. He compared those that wish to ossify a particular version as authentic to Academie Francaise-style grammarians – food culture, like language, lives and develops and must be allowed to do so.

Where I felt his talk was limited was that it presented a  metropolitan and essentially utilitarian notion of why tradition or authenticity matters, or at least within its European framework. I believe that for many, the idea of protected designation of origin labelling is not (purely) about marketing or even taste, but about guaranteeing traditional ways of life and processes and ensuring continued social diversity in rural Europe. You could argue that the Common Agricultural Policy has always been an essentially social project and that the PDO/PGI/TSG schemes are just a twenty-first century way of dealing with the social dimension of rural economies, rather than the distinctly twentieth century option of market support. So even if there’s no difference between Sel de Guerande and Sel de Camargue on your tongue, you buy it because you feel a difference in your soul.

Photo by Jimee, Jackie, Tom and Asha used under a Creative Commons licence

Please take my survey on mobility and identity

My elective this semester is a sociological course on ‘Mobility, Culture and Communication’. I have a paper to write as the main part of the assessment and I am hoping you can help me, by taking this short survey (also embedded below). I am looking at the issue of mobility within the EU and how it impacts on the nation state. Within that, I’d like to examine how intra-EU mobility affects people’s sense of national identity. If you are a national of one EU member state living in a different Member State, please do take the survey and pass it on to others you think it applies to. Feel free to contact me either here, via Twitter or privately via the contact page, if you have anything else to add to the issue.

The survey

 

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Musings of an EMA student