Millennial are just like everyone else! No surprises there then.

Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.


Millennials are everywhere, both literally and figuratively:

They get characterised in all sorts of ways; the Pew Research Institute allows you to take a survey to assess How Millennial Are You? This survey includes the following questions:

  • Do you have a tattoo?
  • Do you have a piercing in a place other than an earlobe?

(I’m not very Millennial, but that’s not surprising as I was born in the 60’s which are nowhere near the 80’s and I’m lacking any bodily adornment)

Time Magazine characterised them as the Me Me Me Generation.

Recently IBM undertook some research to see whether all of the characterisations were true. You can perhaps imagine some of the findings by the title Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths – The real story behind Millenials in the workplace:

In a multigenerational, global study of employees from organizations large and small we compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millennials with those of Gen X and Baby Boomers. We discovered that Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do. While there are some distinctions among the generations, Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart from other employees’.

Our research debunks five common myths about Millennials and exposes three “uncomfortable truths” that apply to employees of all ages. Learn how a multigenerational workforce can thrive in today’s volatile work environment.

(Emphasis mine)

What were the myths:

  • Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations.
  • Myth 2: Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy.
  • Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do – and share – everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries.
  • Myth 4: Millennials, unlike their older colleagues, can’t make a decision without first inviting everyone to weigh in.
  • Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions.

Remember, they are called myths because they aren’t true. In the main the research discovered that the Millennial generation is just like the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations in all of these traits. There are some situations where it’s the other generations that are different – “Gen X employees use their personal social media accounts for work purposes more frequently that other employees” – but there are no polar differences between the generations.

So why is so much being written about the differences that the Millenials will bring, some of it is also research based, but I’m sure that there is a good deal of confirmation bias to it also (but perhaps I like the IBM research because it confirms my bias).

Video: Three Walls by Aeon Video

A really interesting video from Aeon with the wonderful subtitle:

Is the office cubicle actually designed to crush your soul? The strange history and significance of a much-loathed space.

‘We drive to work in a box, we work in a box, we go home and watch a box and, before we know it, they bury us in a box.’

Lot of us have worked in them, but how many of us knew that they weren’t supposed to be what they have become:

Three WallsI’m writing this post from my deck which is not in a  full height cubicle, but is in a set of low height partitioned desks. The featured image at the top is from a weekend walk in the mountains of the Lake District.


Struggling to think creatively? Try going for a walk outdoors!

I spent much of this year on this blog looking at how we create productive workplaces. One of the articles talked about a holiday cottage company taking its work outside for the day and walking meetings with a colleague. While the event described in the article was primarily, I’m sure, a publicity event, there’s a lot to be said for the idea of getting outside to work.

A recent study has looked into the correlation of creativity and walking outside and this is what they concluded (read the bits in bold for the summary conclusion):

Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, adults completed Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking and the compound remote associates (CRA) test of convergent thinking. Walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU, but only increased 23% of participants’ scores for the CRA. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost. Experiment 3 generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking. Experiment 4 tested the effect of walking on creative analogy generation. Participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or were rolled outside in a wheelchair. Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies. The effects of outdoor stimulation and walking were separable. Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity

In other words, there’s creative value in walking, there’s extra creative value in walking outdoors. This conclusion isn’t particularly novel, or new, to many it would seem to be axiomatic – “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” said Friedrich Nietzsche back in 1889. That being said. it’s good to see more study based evidence added to our understanding.

It’s another situation where “there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does”. There is a strong correlation in organisations between sitting at a desk in an office and working, hence, if you are not sat at your desk you’re not working. What organisations should be doing is encouraging people to get away from their desks and go walking outside. If an outdoor walk isn’t possible they should be providing treadmills because there’s still value in that. That’s assuming that organisation want their people to think creatively?

And while we are at it, you might like to know that all of that sitting is probably causing you psychological distress too.

Is my job going to be computerised? (UK edition)

A little while ago I highlighted some research by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne looking at the computerisation of jobs which was applied to the US jobs market.

In a recent report this research has been applied to the UK jobs market.

In summary it states:

Technology, automation and robotics will cause a significant shift in the UK labour market in the next twenty years, with one-third (35%) of existing jobs at risk of being replaced according to research carried out by Deloitte with Carl Benedikt Frey, of the Oxford Martin School, and Michael A Osborne, of the Department of Engineering Science, at the University of Oxford.

Advances in technology will likely see jobs requiring repetitive processing, clerical and support services, replaced with roles requiring digital, management and creative skills. These trends are already well under way.

Frey and Osborne conducted a similar study in 2013 on automation in the US job market. The latest research finds that:

  • 35% of existing jobs in the UK, decreasing to 30% in London, are at high risk from automation over the next two decades.
  • However, 40% of UK jobs are at low or no risk. In London, 51% of jobs are at low or no risk.
  • “High risk” jobs are in office and administrative support; sales and services; transportation; construction and extraction; and production.
  • “Low or no risk” jobs are in skilled management; financial services; computing, engineering and science; education; legal services; community services; the arts and media; and healthcare.
  • Across the UK, jobs paying less than £30,000 a year are nearly five times more likely to be replaced by automation than jobs paying over £100,000. In London, lower paid jobs are eight times more likely to be replaced.

To put it another way, at the last count, there were 30.76 million people in work in the UK, so a 35% impact would see over 10.8 million people looking for new employment.

Those are alarming numbers, but there is evidence that organisations are already preparing. The report focusses on London as the driver of change in the UK and includes the results of a survey of 100 London based business.

The key finding is that we are transitioning from one set of skills to another set. This is a change that has been happening for some time, as the following two tables from the report highlight:


(Speaking as an IT person it’s interesting to see Zumba Instructor above Big Data Architect 🙂 )

The full report is available

British Council of Offices Awards 2014

It’s recently been the British Council of Office Awards so I thought I would highlight some of the places that made the awards; for no other reason than to remind myself that office spaces can be inspirational places to work:

Corporate Workplace - Brent Civic Centre -London&SouthEast - Joint Winner

Brent Civic Centre, Engineer’s Way, Wembley

FitOut of Workplace -  Motability - SouthWest Winner

Motability Operations, Bristol Business Park, Bristol

Innovation Nominee - The Council House Derby - Midlands&EastAnglia

RefurbishedRecycled - The Council House Derby - Midlands&EastAnglia Winner

The Council House, Corporation Street, Derby

RefurbishedRecycled - Carriage_Building - SouthWest Winner

The Carriage Building, Bruton Way, Gloucester

FitOut of Workplace - Exchange Station - Northern Winner

Exchange Station, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, Merseyside

The full gallery of award winners is here.

No Email Initiatives – In the Trough of Dissilusionment and Obsolete Before Plateau

No Email Initiatives are an approach taken by a number of organisations to improve communication be eliminating email. In many organisations email is used as if it were the only communication tool and applied to every problem even when there are far better ways of communicating. Rather than getting people to change the way they use email some organisations have decided that elimination is the only answer.

Proponents of this approach exist, some examples:

  • Luis Suarez has lived outside his inbox for many years now. He’s managed to dramatically reduce the amount of email he received and spent much more time utilising the value of social software in his time at IBM. Luis is no longer working at IBM, but is still a huge proponent of living outside the inbox.
  • Atos launched a zero email initiative in 2011 and received much press coverage because of it: “Its aim is to transform towards a social, collaborative enterprise where we share knowledge and find experts easily in order to respond to clients’ needs quickly and efficiently, delivering tangible business results.”

Reading the latest Gartner Hype Cycle for Unified Communications recently I was intrigued to note that they place No Email Initiatives in the Trough of Disillusionment and in the category Obsolete Before Plateau. Reading through the details they estimate that the Market Penetration will be Less than 1% of target audience. Talk about kicking an idea when it’s down!

I used to have a manager who called email BATS – Blame Allocation and Transfer System. Anyone who’s used email in a corporate setting can relate to that definition.

Jack Madden recently proposed banning attachments as an alternative approach with enterprise file sync and share (FSS) and collaborative document editing being a better way of collaborating. He does this whilst acknowledging that there is no escaping email.

The value and the challenge of email is that it is universal. It’s rarely the best answer, but it’s regularly the easiest answer. The alternatives are nowhere near as universal. Neither Twitter or Facebook; nor Google Drive, Office 365 or Dropbox; not even Skype, Lync or WhatsApp are as ubiquitous. With one piece of information you can send someone an email and be pretty confident that they will receive it; add a file and your level of confidence will remain high.

Email is embedded into so many processes; when was the last time you ordered something on-line and didn’t receive the receipt in your email?

To be clear, Gartner isn’t saying that organisations shouldn’t try to radically change the way that people work and to dramatically cut the amount of email but they are saying:

Given the ubiquity of internal email communications in businesses today, elimination of it would truly have a transformational effect, although we believe that few organizations will (or even should) actually achieve it.

The point being that it’s the transformation that organisations should be looking to, not the elimination of email. Organisations need to adopt new ways of collaborating and the result will be a drop in email. It is my belief that organisations that don’t will be overtaken by those that do. "Even Millennials Want Face Time at Work" has highlighted a couple of studies that reference the desire for face-to-face meetings whatever the generation:

What both studies also demonstrate is that while technology may be wonderful, efficient, and convenient, the benefits are limited. We innately need to be around other people. As good as technology gets, we still value in-person meetings highly. No matter what generation we’re talking about, the vast majority of employees don’t want to be alone, isolated from coworkers and managers. I worked from home for four years, and it was a huge challenge as a business owner. So now I have an office, and the expense has been worth every penny.

Even Millennials Want Face Time at Work

There’s a broad assumption that as Generation-Y and Generation-Z (who are really the post-millenials) enter the workforce their use of technology will negate the need for meetings and workplaces where people can meet in person.

The future might look different, but for now, technology hasn’t replaced that deep-felt need for people to meet in person. Nor has it replaced the need for engaging workplaces.

"Google for Work" – Reflecting the Shift in Work

This week Google has announced that it is re-branding Google Enterprise to Google for Work.

Just a simple name change? Just re-branding?

Perhaps Enterprise reflect something stodgy and old-fashioned since for Work reflects something more active (or whatever the marketing phrase might be)?

Here’s an example of press commentary from The Verge:

Enterprise is a boring word. Like, immediately-avert-your-eyes kind of boring. And it seems that Google has gotten the picture. Today it announced that Google Enterprise is bring renamed Google for Work, a much friendlier name that actually does a better job of describing what the product is — a series of tools for, you know, work, rather than whatever a nebulous enterprise is.

Organisations tend to re-brand for a reason, and the reason behind the Google for Work re-branding is that work has changed and is changing.

Here’s an extract from the Telegraph:

The move, part of a new focus on its business offering, is a reaction against the “enterprise” tag, which has become synonymous with slow-moving, outdated technology.

“Google for Work covers not just traditional business but also skills and education. Enterprise alone doesn’t fit these different communities,” Thomas Davies, head of Google for Work in Northern Europe, told the Telegraph.

“The time of ‘enterprise technology’ is in the past. This is a statement to the market. The term ‘enterprise’ will not be relevant within the next two years.

According to Mr Davies, a “consumerisation” of technology has been taking place in the workplace over the last 10 years.

Eric Schmidt said it like this in the official announcement:

Work today is very different from 10 years ago. Cloud computing, once a new idea, is abundantly available, and collaboration is possible across offices, cities, countries and continents. Ideas can go from prototype to development to launch in a matter of days. Working from a computer, tablet or phone is no longer just a trend—it’s a reality. And millions of companies, large and small, have turned to Google’s products to help them launch, build and transform their businesses, and help their employees work the way they live. In other words, work is already better than it used to be.

There are a number of posts on this site about how the world of work is changing and this change in the market is what Google is reflecting:

In this last of that sample of articles I highlighted a set of UK statistics that clearly demonstrated a massive shift from large organisations to small organisations and sole traders. People within large organisations are working differently also, using Outside-In approaches to getting work done.

PWC describe the reshaping of the working environment as three worlds:

  • Blue World – Corporate is king
  • Green World – Companies care
  • Orange World – Small is beautiful

Each of these worlds provides a lens through which to see the changes. In the Orange World this is what is happening:

In the Orange World organisations fragment into looser networks of autonomous, often specialised operations. Technology helps to bring these networks together, often on a task-by-task basis, with social media heightening the connectivity upon which this world depends.

Supply chains are built from complex, organic associations of specialist providers, varying greatly from region to region and market to market. Looser, less tightly regulated clusters of companies are seen to work more effectively than their larger and potentially more unwieldy counterparts.

These Orange World organisations (and Green World) work in dramatically different ways to current Blue World organisations and there are going to be many-many more of them in the future. That is what Google mean when they say “The term ‘enterprise’ will not be relevant within the next two years” and that is why it’s now Google for Work.

Is my job going to be computerised?

One of the questions I’ve been pondering during my work on the Productive Workplace has been the question of how many job types will still exist in the future with many being wholly or partially automated through computerisation. There’s no point in creating a workplace for an activity that’s been automated after all.

It’s clear that different jobs will be affected in different ways. Some things that humans do today can already be done more effectively by a machine; other things are more of a challenge to the machines.

Carl Frey and Michael Osborne from Oxford University have undertaken a study to try to predict what they impact might be:


(We refer to computerisation as job automation be means of computer-controlled equipment)

In this study they assessed 702 different occupations (in the US) and assigned to them a probability of being computerised. From this they estimated the number of jobs that would be affected by that probability. The headline result was that:

“about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk”.

The probability of computerisation is based on a number of current bottlenecks: perception and manipulation, creative intelligence, social intelligence.

Computerisation Bottlenecks

The higher the need for these skills the less likely it is to be automated. We need to be clear here that a bottleneck is simply that, it constrains entry, it doesn’t eliminate it. The other aspect of bottlenecks is that it’s not permanent and will be eroded over time. Technology is moving forward at a rapid pace and areas currently high in bottlenecks will be affected by other areas where bottlenecks are less impacting.

The results of this assessment for the US population are as follows:

Probability of Computerisation

This is a massive simplification of the work that they have done, but it’s enough to give clear indications of where the impact is heading.

Jerry Bowles has recently published on a utilisation of this study which assessed its impact in European countries (the original was US). This suggests a different impact for different European countries based on the mix of jobs and their susceptibility to computerisation.


As you can see countries in Northern Europe are less susceptible to those in the South because of the mix of jobs.

From a personal perspective, while my actual role isn’t defined in the appendix of the report similar jobs are, and they appear in the low probability section which would align with what I understand. Although, there is much of my current role that will be heavily affected by computerisation.

If you’d like more information you can, of course, read the study, alternatively you might like to watch this:

Productive Workplace: Getting Out of the Office

Recently a holiday cottage company in the English Lake District decided to take their work out of the office, and up a mountain:

We decided to take our business to new heights this week by moving to the top of Blencathra to encourage Brits to get outside this summer.

Our team were fed up with looking at the lovely weather from inside our Keswick building, so we packed up and re-located our office equipment up the 2,850ft-high mountain. Desks, phones, lamps and computers were set up and staff settled in for business as usual.

This got me thinking about the times when we should really get out of the office to do work. When I say office here, I’m meaning the place where you do most of your work, that place that sees most of your time, particularity if most of your time is spent sedentary looking at a screen.

There are huge benefits to being in a different place; there is even more benefit if that different place requires some physical exercise.

A colleague and I occasionally go on walking meetings. These aren’t just wandering around meetings, we go on a walk around a reservoir or up a hill. The flow of blood that the walking creates really helps the mental stimulation and being outside changes the nature of the conversation.

We all recognise the saying:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Henry Ford

If you want something different then do something different. If you’re not being productive where you are, you should go somewhere different. Perhaps you should take you’re office up a mountain?


Productive Workplace: Some Observation

Having finished a set of posts on the Proactive Workplace, based on the future skills that we are likely to need, I thought I would list some of my observations that may not be directly reflected in the other posts:

  • The traditional office is already dying – fewer and fewer people feel the need to go into the office to do their work. They can work where they choose to work. This causes much anxiety in many organisations as they try to work out whether people are really working.
  • Collaborative spaces are increasing in importance – if people are going to meet face-to-face it will be to collaborate. The cost of that collaboration is very high, because it now includes travel, so they want it to be highly productive. The space needs to enable the best possible collaboration.
  • Virtual still isn’t the most productive – people still want to get together to interact; they recognise high performing spaces when they see them. The virtual alternatives are still not intuitive enough to be a full replacement.
  • Flexibility is hugely important – it’s my personal view that most offices are built for the convenient of the people managing them, not for the flexibility of the people using them, but it’s the flexibility that facilitates the productivity. Flexible may be more costly but it’s also massively more valuable.
  • The screen isn’t as important as I think it is – I work on screens, they’re what I look at all day. Many of the workplaces that I have looked at use a diverse set of media – the whiteboard and the post-it note is becoming more important, not less.
  • It’s all changing – what I do today, and how I do it, is going to change. The change may well make me redundant in that activity. Even if it doesn’t make me redundant I’m likely to do it in a different way using different tools which require different spaces.
  • We’re not ready for the change – most of us struggle to cope with amount of information that work creates today, the work of the future is going to require us to behave differently, and we haven’t worked out how yet.
  • Place of flow are going to be a key differentiator – many of the future activities, much like many of today’s,  are going to require deep focus and concentration – flow. Those places are likely to have different characteristics dependent upon the individual. They will be treasured by the individual and fiercely defended. If organisations want people to collaborate they are going to have to provide both collaboration spaces and flow spaces.
  • Meetings are being reshaped – people are using many different techniques to gain value from a meeting. Techniques initially conceived in software development are being adopted across all sorts of fields, the same with techniques created in car design.
  • Networks of people will create the value – the people interacting in a workplace are unlikely to all be employed by the same organisation. Many more people will be sole-traders or acting as part of a network of people. This becomes another driver for workspace flexibility.

Another video on the Future of Work:

Productive Workplace: Virtual Collaboration Spaces

Virtual collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Over the last week I have spent 24 hours on teleconferences as a member of a virtual team, this has been a quiet week for teleconferences.

I have also responded to many emails and instant messages.

Between those activities I have also contributed to collaborative spaces where the team members are spread across the globe.

Of the 20 or so people sat in the same office as myself today I won’t work with any of them and there are far more desks than people.

I could, and sometimes do, do this job in a local coffee shop, at home, in the garden there are only a few restrictions stopping me working up a mountain or at the beach.

What I do isn’t unusual, it’s quite normal for many people, particularly those in large global organisations, but it wasn’t always like that.

A bit of historical perspective.

What we regard as the standard place of work, the office, has probably only existed since the 1730’s so it’s less than 300 years old. We needed these places of work because we were bound by two things primarily.

The first constraint was the machine; we needed to go into the factory because that was where the machine was that we were operating. This is still mostly the case, but the number of people needed to look after the machines is radically reducing as automation takes over.

The second constraint that meant people went into places of work was communication. In order to process an order, as an example, the piece of paper needed to be walked around an organisation. If you wanted to get a set of people to work on something you needed to have a face-to-face meeting and a common place of work so that you could work together. That communication restriction no longer exists, we all have a myriad of communication mechanisms – video-conference, audio-conferences, web-conferences, instant messaging, email, collaborative workplaces, on-line forums, social media, the list goes on.

People are now in a position to choose where they work and many choose to work from home unless there is a specific reason for them to be in an office. This is killing off the traditional office as a standard workplace.

If we’ve all gone virtual already, why does virtual collaboration appear in a list of key skills for 2020?

There is a dichotomy and that is this:

We have a lot of virtual collaboration tools available to us, but we are still very poor at virtual collaboration.

Some of the reasons that we are poor at virtual collaboration is down to the current tools available. I’ve just listened to a colleague spend 15 minutes getting everyone together into a virtual meeting between two organisations. The delay was down to a couple of technical issues for a couple of the key attendees at the meeting. Anyone who has been involved in any virtual meeting will recognise this experience. I wonder how many minutes of hold music are played internationally every day?

My view, though, is that the biggest issue that we have with virtual collaboration is ourselves.

One of the big selling point for virtual meetings is the reduction in travel costs. Back in 2008 Verizon estimated this as between 5 and 35 times cheaper. I argued at the time:

When it comes to virtual meetings I have to admit to being something of a cynic. My issue isn’t with the cost savings of moving meetings virtual – my issue is with the diminished value of these meetings.

I don’t think that anyone would argue with me that any virtual platform – video or audio – detracts from the value of the meeting. This results in meetings that are protracted in length and tend to communicate at a very high level. Any discussion that has required a deep understanding or close collaboration has been, in my experience, a failure.

With all of these limitations I wonder whether the value of many virtual meetings is so low as to make them more expensive than face-to-face meetings.

This is still, to a large extent, my viewpoint.

What has changed in that intervening period has been an explosion in the belief that meetings produce work, and because virtual meetings are free then we can get lots of work done by having lots of virtual meetings.

In a quote from Leadership Freak:

Remember, you don’t get anything done in a meeting. Things get done after meetings.

The time to value ratio of meetings continues to degrade at a pace, which is a shame, because meetings have always been a fundamental part of commerce, they are deeply engrained in all societies. In the words of Tom Peters:

Every meeting that does not stir the imagination and curiosity of attendees and increase bonding and co-operation and engagement and sense of worth and motivate rapid action and enhance enthusiasm is a permanently lost opportunity.

Getting to the purpose of this post in this series on the productive workplace; virtual collaboration is massively impacted by the locations we choose.

As video becomes more prevalent this is going to become a greater issue, there are plenty of people who will have to start smartening up to go to work, but it’s more than that, lighting has a big impact on video quality. Even for conference calls, external noise is an issue. One of my best friends is the mute-all key-combination, anyone dialled in from Starbucks generally needs to be catapulted from the call.

People talk about having IT systems that are as reliable as the dial-tone, if only mobile calls were as reliable as that.

Distraction is another huge issue for virtual collaboration. How many times have you heard someone say “Sorry I missed that, can you say it again.” While this might seem like it’s productive for the person being distracted it’s a huge productivity pull on the people who they are collaborating with.

Many people choose to participate in virtual collaboration from home precisely because this the place with the best lighting and sound; not everyone is in this privileged position though.

Some interesting videos, though this subject doesn’t seem to be one that people produce interesting videos for: