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Member since 08/22/2011
It's an art and a science
09/13/2011 / 8:22 am #1
Unwired talks to Philip Vanhoutte, MD — Europe, Middle East and Africa, Plantronics
What are your top tips for anyone about to embark on a homeworking programme?
Be conscious that you have to organise for it. Often working from home is looked at in a very romantic way – I've got the gear, I've got my tablet and my smart phone, so I'm good to work. But you need to consider the quality of your available connections. You need to think about the distractions and the level of noise (which are often greater than expected). And you need to think about the expectations of your family and neighbours, who think that you're available (for a chat, or to sign for their packages). All this needs to be planned for and managed.
You also need to think about how you're going to structure your working time. Are you going to work 9 to 5, like you were still working in the office, or are you going to adjust your working time to match your energy levels? And will those times be compatible with your customers and colleagues?
Also, you've lost a huge part of your communication capability, which is your body. Remember the statistic that 30% of communication is tone of voice, 10% is the actual content, and the rest is body language and facial expression? There is a massive under-appreciation of this. For virtual collaboration, you need to be aware of this lost capability, and work around it. How do you maintain the listener's interest and engagement? You use tone of voice; you use storytelling. People need to be taught these skills.
What, in your experience, is the most effective convincer to get management on board with the idea of homeworking?
In my organisation it wasn't much of a challenge, as we're blessed with the right infrastructure and tools.
You need to have a fundamental amount of trust in the people you've hired, a predisposition of trust. So you can then give them the tools to do it [work from home].
You have to get the managers to manage for results instead of how people are working. To help with that there are systems which you can use. We've introduced a new HR system – Global Performance Success, a third party software, which is very systematic in its hierarchies of goals.
It's very important for managers to arrange for people to be regularly connecting with people in the office. We've found it nigh on impossible to work from home all the time. You need to use the art and science of determining where you can best work at any given task. Where is the best place to stimulate interaction and creativity? The best place to be inspired?
We've actually built a brand new office in Wooten Basset called the "Smarter Office" – it has zones designed for different activities: communication zones, collaboration zones, concentration zones and contemplation zones.
Spaces for concentration are vital: we found there was such a deep need for concentration zones that we built more dedicated space for it. You'll find that some people like working early in the morning for increased concentration, or working in the evening when everyone else has gone home. I live near the Tate Britain, and I love going in there to contemplate. I love thinking when I'm cycling, or sitting in churches and thinking (especially in the summer, when they're cool and quiet). There are lots of places where you can concentrate, so employees can find what works for them.
So what is the portfolio management of these spaces? It needs conscious action and planning, rather than a default setting of coming into the office or going home. The big challenge of homeworking is that it can become the new default.
Are you expecting Olympic travel chaos or do you think all the media hype is overblown?
I think the Olympics are a great moment for people to reflect on their spaces and how they will use them. There will obviously be some transport overcrowding and delays – how could there not? But by thinking about how and where you will work, people can overcome the problems. For example, every year there is a big furniture fair in Milan, with thousands of extra people coming into the city for 6 weeks. A lot of Milanese go on vacation then, get out of the city. They're working around it.
TfL have been working on this, planning for the Olympics, for three years, and now they're educating companies to think about how their people can work best.
Not just the Olympics, though. With the recent London riots, you have to think about where it's safe to work and travel. Do you really want to be walking along the street with your laptop and tablet in your bag while that's going on? Do you want to be sitting in a coffee shop trying to work, with all that kit visible and obvious? The cocoon of home or a shared workplace is maybe not a bad thing to consider.
What one tool or technology are you never without?
I'm currently preparing for a conference in Berlin and I have my scribbled notes, my smartphone, my tablet, and my notebook. I'd love to rationalise it down to one piece, just take a tablet, for example, but there are some tasks for which you need a proper keyboard. You need 3 pieces, really. Each tool has its own purpose or role. At Plantronics we're currently trying to develop an audio device that talks to each.
Another tool to consider is ergonomics. As you start working in multiple locations, you leave a quite well-groomed workplace where someone has thought about where you'll work, and provided the good desk and chair, etc. When people start working at multiple locations, they tend to forget about ergonomics. They're working on the sofa, notebook balanced on their knees. It's no longer about having ergonomics designed into the devices you use, like the chair, so you have to educate people on their body and posture, and how to take care of themselves. We don't want to send people home to work, and have them develop back problems.
In my home office, I have a desk chair with a mesh back, so my body can breathe. I have a desk with a variable height, so I can stand at it and work that way. I have a headset that takes out wind noise, so I can go for my walk as I talk on the phone.
Which brings us to my final tool, the headset. People have forgotten that smart phones are mainly used in the hands – email, internet, text, etc. And we're multi-tasking all the time, so having to keep taking the phone away from your ears so you can do other tasks is just not practical. So these days separate headsets are increasingly practical and important.
People need to graduate to an understanding of what matters to them, in terms of tools and how they use them, and what's most effective for them and their work.
Philip will be speaking at homeworking 2011 (26 September at eOffice, Central London). For more information on this event, please visit http://www.unwired.eu.com/homeworking.html
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