In another ten years’ time Who can say what we’ll find

Looking back is fun. Futurology is exciting too. Let’s mix them in a big pot of pointless predictions!

On Christmas Eve I wrote a follow-up to my 2009 piece, ‘Looking Back 10 Years‘. So, now, if I was going to create a new list, what would I add?

Time to ring in with the new …

Video Conferencing Still Doesn’t Work

I admit it’s highly correlated with my comments on business travel but over the last ten years more and more of the office spaces where I have been working come pre-equipped with video conference facilities in every meeting room. And, almost universally, people find them difficult to use, difficult to hear the other side of the conversation and incompatible with the facilities the people on the other end of the call use. I’ll admit that over the last few years colleagues have become more and more comfortable with the idea of running a meeting where one or more people are on screen but I think that’s due to how easy it is to call family on Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger. The fact that most office systems are incompatible with each other means that all that expensive in-room equipment is often wasted. Currently, I work in a office equipped with Google Meeting but work closely with a company that uses the BlueJeans conference service. And so, only one side can ever use the cameras in the room they are sitting in. I have worked in a company where it worked well but they had spent a lot of money equipping the space and it was still only useful when other people were on the same system. And don’t get me started on people trying to hook-up to share a presentation.  Still, it’s better than those awful conference calls.

Music Has Vanished From The Workplace

Even in the last ten years, I have worked in places where we put music on in the background. Communal music adds atmosphere to the workplace and can create a positive mood. It’s true that, often, you end up with an easy listening sound (we loved Magic in one place I worked) but I find silence quite oppressive. But, thanks to streaming music services everybody now has their own music library on-demand and we all don headphones all day. That has changed the office atmosphere and, I don’t think it’s for the better.

Streaming Is Everywhere

Streaming music has changed the workspace and I predict that streaming television will do the same. The iPlayer maybe 12 years old tomorrow (having launched Christmas Day 2007) and, at home, we may have more choices than ever (Apple TV+ and Britbox have arrived in the last month alone) but outside of the home I think streaming video content will change the workplace. Aside from streamed conferences, streamed training courses and streamed meetings, we will move from the above-mentioned video conferences to connecting offices and home workers via a streamed camera, always connected all day long. And where streaming video comes it is closely followed by addressable TV advertising so, at work or at play, brands will be able to target us more effectively.

Voice Control Is Coming

In the last decade, three new people moved into your house. Alexa, Siri and the one who only responds to the phrase ‘OK Google’. And they want to follow us into the office too. I have been surprised about how easy it has been to shout commands to the box in the corner of the kitchen or to dictate a message into my phone without having to type on the keyboard. I’ve observed the way children have taken to talking to machines without any of the awkward feelings adults have. It’s bound to come to the office at some point very soon although I am not sure, exactly, in what form. But if they could take minutes in a meeting to remind us of our decisions (because in this day and age no human does), it would be a great help.

We Are All Storytellers Now

If one of the big trends of the last decade, that I didn’t really mention in the 2009 piece, involved the rise of the social platforms in our personal (Facebook) and work (LinkedIn) spaces (or both, Twitter) then the rise of the Story format across platforms (and, into messaging apps) is the social trend of the late 2010s. Inevitably, that will come into the workplace in some way. We’ve already seen the arrival of the work chat and social tools (Yammer, Teams, Slack and Workplace) and the visual – and temporary – nature of the Story format will invade the workplace in the next few years. As a company’s marketing team embrace the format for promotion and advertising then it will arrive as a corporate communication tool as well at as team level. A fun picture of your CEO ahead of a board meeting with a flashing ‘yaaasss’ label – it’s bound to happen!

Of course, in many ways, these are fairly minor changes to the way in which we work and the spaces in which we work today. We are undoubtedly going to see more and more automation in all aspects of our lives and, I suspect, we’ve only just started with the impact of ‘Big Data’ on all aspects of our lives. Workplaces, especially in customer-facing spaces, will finish the transition to cashless and all of us will be working in more environmentally friendly ways over the next few years – we have no choice in the latter and, I suspect, the same goes for the former.

As I said at the end of the last one, “If I am lucky enough to remain employed for the next ten years, I wonder what changes will appear?” – hopefully, I will around to update you.

(thanks to Abba for the title)

Looking Back on Looking Back

We’re playing the nostalgia game again. This time looking back to the last look back.

Life is full of repeating moments, isn’t it? This morning I got up at the usual (weekday) time. I went to the station, tapped-in and got on a train. Pretty much the same as every other working day this year. But somethings repeat themselves on a lesser frequency. Say, once a decade.

I wrote these words on Christmas Eve 2009:

It’s not unknown for me to state the obvious, so here goes. Today is the last working day before Christmas. And for many, including me, it was the last working day of the year. It has also dawned on me that it’s the last working day of the decade.

curnow.org, 24 December 2009

As I haven’t written very much on this site in 2019, I thought I’d look back at my comments from the end of the last decade and see if they still ring true to me and my experience working in the last ten years. And, next week, I want to see if I can come up with any new observations on workplace trends that may see us through until 2029. 

First, out with the old …

Internet Access Is Ubiquitous In The Workplace

The first one is not really worth discussing: almost every job has been impacted by the internet and not just those who work in offices. Is there an industry in 2019 that is not, somehow, connected? And who would have predicted that I’d be walking around with access to 25GB of mobile data every month. Also, how do I end up using most of it?

Digital Connectivity Hasn’t Cut Travel

I stand by the comments that travel has not been cut; I probably travelled more for work in the second half of the decade than I did in the first. The planes were marginally more energy efficient – but not that much more comfortable – but that ubiquitous connectivity I mentioned isn’t ubiquitous in the sky, thankfully. Nobody really needs to answer emails 35,000 feet up in the air, but when you do it is kind-of fun.

Business Travel Still Sucks

Even when I wrote those words ten years ago, I had a disclaimer: “But, as long as you know it sucks, then it’s still a great deal of fun”. And, as I travelled more for work I really did enjoy it more. My general travel mood was improved by my self-imposed rule that 4am starts should be avoided at all costs and – at the very least – travel to arrive the evening before you need to start rather than on the day itself, even for short distances. For work, this decade, I travelled further than I ever had done before for a business meeting (11,400 miles) to Auckland, New Zealand where I really did have to avoid traveling all that way for just one meeting.

Constant Connections Means No Off Time

We have even less downtime that we did. Who’s answering Slack messages at 10pm? Now, that is a sentence that would not have been written ten years ago but the development of more of these productivity tools has meant we can answer questions everywhere. If you’re in the right job that can be empowering but, anecdotally, I know people who feel their employers abuse it. So, nothing changes here and maybe improved connectivity has made it worse. Still, it’s acceptable to use emojis in work messages now.

Companies Haven’t Embraced Remote Working Opportunities

Of all the items on my 2009 list, this is probably the one that had changed the most. I think many more companies are embracing some kind of flexible working even if it’s not totally remote. I did spend about 18 months working from home in the last decade and I thought I would enjoy it but, in the end, I didn’t. I found it isolating and – at times – quite lonely. When the staff of my local Starbucks started to become my only connection to other people during the working day I knew it was time to find an office again. In doing so, I ended up working in some incredible offices spaces for people who were less concerned about the 9-to-5 than getting the job done (although they all adored instant messages and so my previous point stands). I think many workplaces have improved over the past ten years: I learned that stand-up desks are one of the most productivity-enhancing improvements for office-based workers but I also learned that almost no companies want to pay for them. A desk that could be raised really did work for me when I access to one. Maybe I should talk to my current boss (but maybe a raise of the pay type is a better first ask in a new decade).

So, I think my big five from ten years ago have more-or-less continued and have become workplace norms. Perhaps they were already quite well embedded in the way we had been working by the time I wrote that piece. I didn’t talk about the rise of the social platforms in our personal lives and the impact they would have on our professional lives but they did impact working life and I think there’s a lot more to come on that.

I’m going to save my thoughts on trends of the last ten years until after Christmas. I won’t be working on Friday but it is, officially, a working day so I’ll aim for then. They say you should always tease your audience, don’t they?

In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

turkey.rats.lobby

Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed in

When I was 14 years old my family moved house to a place on the road into (or out of, depending on where you are heading) Shrewsbury, Shropshire. In my mind, I probably have a bunch of stories buried from that time. But one thing that sticks our from the first months (or maybe years) that we lived in Shrewsbury was how difficult it was for anybody – including, at times, the Royal Mail – to find our house.

We moved to a newly built house with an address supplied by the Royal Mail. But the building was in the grounds of another, much older and grander, house and our patch of land was out of view when looking from the main road. Although it was not squeezed in anywhere – the grounds of the old house were substantial – it was squeezed into the postcode and numbering system that existed along the road. It was 89a and, a few years later, we were joined by a second new build home imaginatively numbered 89b.

If we’d been dwelling in a property along the main road, perhaps a property split into multiple units, then I think that deliveries would have easily found us. But, being out of the way, behind the trees, it was hard for people to know we were there. When talking to visitors I was able to describe the post box on the street and the driveway to the right which needed to be followed. In the days of online delivery where every address is database-matched it was harder to leave instructions for somebody to actually locate the front door.

Last week I was introduced to a piece of technology and a mapping algorithm that would have solved all of that. In fact there’s a lot of problems this solves. For example, I work in a large building in central London. The main entrance in on one street while the goods entrance is around the back on another street. But they have the same address. Think about how many times your GPS has taken you to the front door of a building when you’re actually in a vehicle and need the car park at the rear. Or what happens if you need emergency help stuck in the middle of the countryside at a site devoid of postcode and building number?

I haven’t written about too many technologies recently but the possibilities for this one are amazing. If your shopping is to be delivered by drone then much better given them an address that is actually your roof terrace or your back garden rather than the pavement in front of your door.

So, do go and get what3words (there’s an app). They have divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address which is easy to remember, clearly located and remarkably simple to use. You are able to talk about specific locations, in multiple languages, with real recognisable word sequences. Words are easy to remember and, usefully, are simple for voice assistants to understand.

But, I do have to wonder, if the Queen really uses Buckingham Palace’s entrance at turkey.rats.lobby: https://map.what3words.com/turkey.rats.lobby

Is Every Railway Project Is The Same?

When it comes to major UK railway projects, everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?

People who occasionally visit here may notice that I talk about transport and trains, in particular, quite a bit. But, I’ve not written anything about the failure of London’s big transport projet, Crossrail, to open because, on a day-to-day basis, it does’t impact me. No part of my daily travel would use the new trains. I don’t think Crossrail will remove that many people on my daily commuter route into Waterloo so the only thing I’m unable to do is try riding the new trains (and so, I will wait a while).

I have been following the news about the project and, last week, read the Evening Standard article that began

None of the nine new Crossrail stations are complete and testing of the £1 billion fleet of trains in tunnels has been “paused” due to technical issues, it has been revealed.

London Evening Standard

Today, the Blast From The Past links on this site point to a piece from 2004 in The Guardian titled “The £10bn rail crash” on which I commented. My immediate thought was that it was a piece about Crossrail but, of course, in 2004 Crossrail wasn’t the project it is today. No, this was a piece about the West Coast mainline.

Everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?