Archive for the ‘The future of work’ Category

Cheap rail travel tips for commuters

Friday, March 9th, 2012

How can a business traveller keep the cost of rail travel down while still journeying at a reasonable time of day? This question is even more pertinent since today’s headlines include news of inflation busting fare increases, as the government plans to cut £3.5bn from the railway industry running costs. Ultimately, it means higher fares!

While the majority of our customer, partner and supplier conversations are via web conferencing, even we have to travel sometimes, so the news hits us just as hard as other commuters.

Our most regular journeys are from Manchester to London or Birmingham to London and back. We’ve found a number of ways to keep journey costs down, and are pretty sure that these tips can be applied all over the UK, and want to share them with you:

  1. Book your ticket in advance – it’s not as flexible, and if you miss the train you could end up forking out for a single fare home but if you know meeting times, this is a great option. Seats become available twelve weeks before travel for the cheapest fares….great if you are doing regular journeys. Many train companies also allow you to book till midnight of the day before travel.
  2. Buy two singles – sometimes it can be cheaper than a return, since you may travel one leg of your journey peak and the other leg off-peak.
  3. Know your peak, off-peak and super off-peak travel times. Most train companies will have similar bands, but if you make a regular journey, commit these times to memory, so that you can benefit from cheaper travel and arrange your business meetings accordingly.
  4. Try to conduct your meetings at off-peak periods – trains arriving in London after 10.00 and leaving by 3.30 are cheaper.
  5. Compare train companies’ prices – Virgin, Chiltern and London Midland all run from Birmingham to London while if you are travelling from Newcastle to London, East Coast Trains, CrossCountry, Grand Central and Transpennine run the route. They’ll have different deals and promotions, so for maybe a little less luxury, you’ll save some pounds.
  6. Get a railcard – for £28 you can save 1/3 off rail travel. For business travellers, the network railcard is good if you are travelling around London and the SouthEast. The Two Together Railcard is being trialled at the moment for Midlands residents and offers discounts for two adults travelling together, so if you and a colleague make regular business trips, this could save some money.
  7. Choose a slower train – more train lines are introducing free wi-fi on journeys; this coupled with a table mean that you can work on your journey, so does an extra 20 minutes on your journey make that much difference for a saving?
  8. Split your ticket – travel the longest distance on the cheapest fare especially if your journey straddles off-peak and peak times, eg you buy a ticket from Penzance to Bristol and from Bristol to Leeds. It’s worth ringing National Rail Enquiries to see if this is possible for your journey, if you haven’t done this before, because you may hold up the queues at your station otherwise.
  9. Travel in a group – GroupSave offers discounts for small groups travelling together. Usually groups from three to ten people are eligible.
  10. Stay in the office and conduct your meeting virtually with Yuuguu – our web conferencing software offers cost effective, easy to set up and use web and audio conferencing and even integrates instant messaging and chat, so you feel like the person you are meeting with it right next to you. For the cost of one or two business train trips, users can have Yuuguu for a whole year.

We’d love to hear from you on: how train fare increases are affecting the way you conduct business meetings, and any further tips on how to save money when travelling on the train for business.

Would love to see Yuuguu run on the Raspberry Pi

Friday, May 6th, 2011

See geek.com’s full article on David Braben’s Raspberry Pi £15 PC here

This caught my eye today; the co-author of 80′s ground breaking game Elite has come up with a brilliant idea. Invent a tiny USB-stick like PC that can sell for only £15. Make it so that schoolchildren can plug it into a standard TV set using an HDMI lead. Make it so they can tinker around by plugging in modules – such as a tiny 12 megapixel camera – and gasp! create original software!

Yes – make something where the kids can code.

Why this matters

I particularly liked Mr. Braben’s analysis of the state of ICT teaching (Information and Communications Technology) in UK schools today. My primary school daughter comes home able to do amazing things, like create slideshows, animated powerpoints, and super whizzy WordArt templates. These are great skills that will help her get ahead in the business world.

But … how would she go about creating the software that we know and love as ‘Microsoft Word’ in the first place? It’s a significant question.

The sole reason I am able to help create the (if I may boast) awesome business tool called ‘Yuuguu’ is that when I was 12, I had access to a simple computer. There was no Facebook and Farmville to distract me. No console to fire up an XBox game on. So I had to code my own simple Galaxians clone. I had to figure out how you did cartoon animation with graphics on a primitive computer; how you found out what a player wanted to do; how you knew when two things had bumped into each other; how you made an ‘explosion’ sound (*).

I had to tinker. But it was tinkering with totally different skills – learning how to think like a computer. Learning to live with – and work round – limitations. This aspect, as Mr. Braben notes, is missing in UK education today. And it is a great shame – with the mobile, location-based, video-dominated internet just around the corner, the best software applications have yet to be written.

But if no-one knows how …


I wish the Raspberry Pi project every success. One thing is clear to me: the Future of Work will involve more – not less – IT. And that needs software to be created that we have never even thought of.


Tell you what, though: I would have loved to have the power of the Raspberry Pi when I was learning this stuff. Oh my word – I wonder what I might have dreamt up?



(*) Turns out with a 1-bit speaker output, you create a pseudo random number generator by using a simple linear congruential generator algorithm, then let the output of that, scaled, control when you toggle the speaker bit on or off. Gives a pretty good pink noise kind of ‘kssshhhh’ sound. Just sayin’ – in case anyone is thinking of tinkering


;-)



See you soon

Al ‘talking of raspberry pi reminds me its lunch’ Mellor



Not an April Fool: employer sued over commute

Friday, April 1st, 2011

This story was sent to me and caught my eye: an NYC fashion exec planning to sue his employer over distress caused by his commute to work.

I must admit, after I read the story, I changed my mind as to what I would write. Initially, I almost thought it was some kind of joke piece – highly suitable for today, of all days. For sure, it wouldn’t happen in Manchester, UK. Once your boss had finally stopped laughing, he would probably kick you out of the office and tell you to put a more cheerful track on your iPod. There’s no way in the UK that a case like this would even get to court. The simple answer to having an unpleasant commute lies in your own hands. Either move house, or get a different job.

But as I read it, it’s not so funny, and not so clear cut. Mental health issues are not funny. They are not uncommon. They happen to a whole range of people; even people who consider themselves ‘strong’ and ‘okay’. They are immensely debilitating to live with, and extremely challenging to live around. So anything that helps reduce them is good, and anything that aggravates them is bad. An unhappy commute might not win a court case as being ‘the final cause of depression’ – but it certainly isn’t going to help. I genuinely wish Mr. Horodecki a swift and complete recovery, so that he feels hopeful once more.

Meanwhile, it’s up to us all to try that little bit harder to change the commute culture around us. Do we really need to be there, physically to do our work? The answer is sometimes yes, but often no. In the past, the ‘no’ made no difference. We had to be physically present as there was no alternative. Now there is.  In fact – many.

Whichever solution you choose, let’s agree to challenge the commute culture around us. As we see in this story, it can sometimes be more than just a minor inconvenience.

All the very best -

Al

PS: Don’t I get a pat on the back for resisting the urge to do an April Fool?  I did get the idea of pretending we had a Yuuguu ‘Legal Screen Sharing plug-in for broadcast’, where any pictures of defendants were replaced live by an army of pencil sketch artists, who could draw very, very quickly …

The 3 incontrovertible reasons you should remote work next friday

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Working from a rather nice home by lute1 at sxc.huGo on.

Take up my challenge: declare a remote-work-next-friday day for your team.

I am speaking to all of you business leaders, mid managers and execs who have never even tried getting your team to work remotely. It’s all very well me in this blog talking endlessly about the benefits of remote work. But if nobody converts that into action – nobody will realise them. But you can change that today.

Three reasons you should do this

“But wait! – We’ve never done this before! We can’t just do this on friday!”.

What nonsense. And here are three utterly sensible reasons why.


1. Because you will boost morale

The very first time you walk in to your team and say ‘Hey – this week, we’re working from home’ it will feel almost as good as a holiday. There is enormous personal capital in creating what is perceived as a ‘perk’. Don’t get me wrong, your team will be working for you just as hard, if not harder. But it is pleasant to avoid your commute for a day, to make your own coffee, to have your own space.

Because you have chosen to offer this, you will find that the next time you need to rouse the troops to cope with something difficult, they will remember that you were there for them in the good times.

I’ve seen it happen.

2. Because you will see your team step up to the plate

Control freaks don’t get this. They see teams as doing nothing and going nowehere unless they are micro-managed to within an inch of their lives. Let me speak as someone who has been both a follower and leader of a team.

No!

Nobody is standing over my shoulder as I write this now. I’m writing it because – along with many other tasks I have to do today – it needs to be done to build the company I work for. To clarify – I’m not the owner of the company.

If you place faith in your team, they will return that faith in you

As a leader, that might just be an incredible lesson and reward for you – watching your team grow as you give direction, then slacken the reigns.

3. Because this means change

I’m indebted to Seth Godin’s blog for this one. We all want to do better than we are doing now. This will mean doing things differently than we do now. Obvious, really. If we don’t, we can only ever expect to get the same results as we do now. But our fear – Seth calls it ‘the lizard brain’ – stops us from changing anything – in case we make things worse by mistake.

By organising a single, remote-working friday, you are trying something new. It is not a central business-level change kind of new, so you are not risking that much – you will still be shipping the same products and services as you did on thursday. But you are exploring a possible new way to do something. You have conquered the inertia and fear, and you are experimenting with a new business technique.

Even if this doesn’t work – you’ve started a habit; trying things, not just doing the same things as you always did. This is a mindset, a way of perceiving the world and its possibilities around you. It is this mindset that will eventually lead you to identify – and act on – whatever change it is that results in bigger success.

So, go on. Just one day. Remote work friday.

Just remember, it works for us at Yuuguu – and we make it happen using our own product. Just sign up for a trial from our site, and start remote work friday!

Good luck! Let me know how you get on – the good, the bad and the ugly stories!




Better Teleconferencing

Friday, September 10th, 2010

There is one depressing similarity between office work and remote collaboration. You can certainly make your meeting arrangements more efficient. But you’re just as likely to have a dull, pointless waste of everybody’s time if you don’t have a think about what you want to achieve.

I read an interesting link about this on WebWorkerDaily.com: Ten Top Teleconferencing Tips

Great tips. We’ve found at Yuuguu that when you collaborate, talk is important. It gives context to the other things you might be doing – screen sharing, sending links, remote control and so on.

Get the numbers right with Yuuguu

What’s the easiest way to ruin your meeting before it starts? Make it really hard to join. This was the first point in the article: everyone in the call needs to know the number to dial into, and any other access codes they will need.

With Yuuguu, our Meeting Scheduler makes this fast – and easy to get the details accurate. Follow the wizard, copy the results to your clipboard then send them around in your favourite way – be that email, twitter or carrier pigeon.

Welcome interruptions

I found the point about ‘allowing interruptions’ really interesting.

I’ve recently attended a conference at Durham University. Delegates and speakers alike used twitter clients to get interruptions projected on a wall using twitterfall and a conference hashtag.

Initially, this felt odd. I could almost see the horn rimmed spectacles of my old teacher at first, shouting ‘Mellor! No talking in class!’ But it did prove helpful.

Every now and then, a break was made in the presentation to look through the tweets and discuss any important issues arising. So, even better than an interruption, this technique allows deferred interruptions.

And yes, we’ve had this feature for quite some time in Yuuguu. Our screen sharing goes side by side with a group Instant Message discussion.

During our in-house meetings, we tend to have always used this feature for deferred interruptions. It can get a little out of hand with off-topic stuff, but I think overall I would recommend you give it a try.

As a bonus, a deft cut-and-paste from our chat window provides everyone with a handy transcript of the points raised.

Al’s Extra Rules for Extra Successful Meetings

I would add a few more Al’s Rules

  • Al’s Zeroth Rule: if you have nothing to discuss, don’t run the meeting
  • if you’ve got nothing to say, say nothing
  • if you disagree, do speak up! You might save us from ourselves. It feels awkward to some people to go against the flow – but what if you’re the only one present who can spot the ‘obvious’ flaw? We’ll thank you later!



Update: Even more great tips for being on a teleconference from someone who should know: Andy Pearce, CEO of teleconference company PowWowNow. Well worth a read – I particularly like the ‘Stand Up’ one. That definitely works for me.




World Cup – work / life balance

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

An empty office
Keeping a work-life balance during the World Cup can be difficult. So much so that the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has provided some useful guidance:

  • Flexible, where possible – for example, by altering start and finish times during the working day or allowing longer lunch break. Remember to balance the needs of your whole workforce including those who don’t have an interest in the World Cup.
  • Clear about what you expect from employees – in terms of attendance and performance during the World Cup. Managing employees expectations of what might be possible is key to keeping them onside.
  • Communicative – start talking to each other now about the World Cup and how you hope to manage leave and working hours
  • Open and honest – if you cannot accommodate any changes to your work practices then say so. Also, you may need to remind employees that any special arrangements for watching matches are only temporary.
  • Fair – you need to be seen to be fair about the way you respond to requests for time off and avoid favouritism – don’t forget to ensure those people who aren’t interested in football aren’t in some way treated differently as a consequence, such as those with caring responsibilities, for example.

With the World Cup getting interesting, it would be a shame to let the chance to watch your team’s game slip through your fingers because you are on the road after a meeting. Why not use this as an opportunity to try out our web conferencing or remote team collaboration tools?

Seth Godin: Goodbye to the office

Friday, June 18th, 2010

An interesting post (as ever) from Seth Godin this week, titled Goodbye to the office.


I completely agree with his conclusions. But I can add one. Namely ‘What is it that you actually do during your meetings – and does that have to be done face to face now?



Yuuguu was started because we observed the same facts as Seth, and came to the same conclusions. The groupthink says we go to the office to work with other people. The reality is that the interaction is more limited than you would suppose.

Even when we are actually face to face with a colleague, does it really have to be done in the fully expensed, facility-maintained, air-conditioned, water-coolered sunk cost we know as ‘The Office’?

210px-63buildinginseoulkorea

When we looked at it, our answer was ‘No’.



Why?

Professional work has a rhythm. The team agrees goals. We break the work into chunks. We decide ( or fight or cherry pick! ) who does what. We do it – largely alone, with an occasional helping hand from a colleague. We fit the pieces into the jigsaw. We ship. The rhythm starts again.

When we looked at what we actually did during the ‘meeting up’ parts of this cycle, we found that only a small fraction of our meeting time needed to be face to face. The bulk of it is a throwback from an earlier, less-technological era.

We found that we were meeting up to simply point at things on each other’s computer screens. To chat. To have tiny, ad-hoc discussions. To ask for, and offer help. To physically lend a hand by working somebody else’s computer keyboard and mouse.

So we thought ‘what if we could make all that happen over the internet? Would that change anything?’

Pretty quickly, we realised we could change everything about the way people work. Once you realise that for much of your previous face-to-face time, you were only there because tools like Yuuguu did not exist, you can free yourself into a far more dynamic organisation.


Waterwheel - Cromford

We no longer need to be situated next to the drive shaft from the water wheel to go about our business. It is time to recognise that the ‘factory work mentality’ is just that: a mentality. Hundreds of years of familiarity with the safe, old ground of doing things the safe, old way.

But times have moved on. There are now better ways.

Yuuguu is not just about saving money in office costs (it does) and travel (it does), nor is it just about saving time travelling (which it also does) and getting decisions made faster and better (which it does very well). It is about finally breaking the 21st century workforce away from a 19th century mindset that frankly we can now do better, faster and cheaper.



And Seth Godin seems to agree. I don’t know about you, but I take that as quite an endorsement that our foundational ideas were on the right track.



5 tips for employers to gearing up for 6th April surge in remote workers

Monday, April 6th, 2009

In early May 2008 Gordon Brown announced plans to grant parents with children up to the age of 16 the right to more flexible working solutions. That could be an increase of 4.5 million applications. So what now for employers?

With business leaders originally claiming this could prove a “nightmare” for small firms, here’s five tips on how to gear up for possible applications and make flexible working work for your company. (more…)

Here’s an office idea that floats our boat

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Fed up of the view out of your window? Here’s a novel idea for cheap office space: use spare berths in marinas as floating offices. This could be a really unique and inspirational place to meet or work. The economics of it are a bit puzzling – I hadn’t associated anything to do with berthing boats as being “cheap” and I guess not everybody would be happy with bobbing up and down all day! That aside, it’d make a great change from most office environments. (more…)