Ditching the Office

Matt Dunstan co-working

I’m not talking about packing up your office and sailing around the world. Though, frankly, that is entirely feasible too these days. If there is an expert on remote working to even that extreme it is friend and former Microsoft teammate, Matt Dunstan (left above). He not only spearheaded some of the more ambitious initiative in the team to make the workplace and the work style more flexible. His latest expedition is to introduce such dynamic commercial navigation to businesses down under. His new venture is…

Called 2nd Base, it is designed to give access to a network of work-friendly venues where people can escape the home office and work alongside likeminded people. The service is a new take on co-working in that the guys are not setting up a purpose built office, but instead have negotiated for space and facilities in existing, attractive venues.”

The charter is entirely to Joe Pilizzi’s piece “Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Office” (thanks Adain)…

“Most organizations are set up for how we communicated decades (or more) ago. The reason we had to go into the city is because communication was impossible without face-to-face interaction. For the majority of non-manufacturing or non-retail organizations, this is not the case any longer. For most of us, we can get our job done with as much as a smartphone, with access to email, social media and office interaction. Need to have a meeting? Skype or GoToMeeting are at our disposal in two seconds if a meeting is absolutely necessary. How about Google Hangouts? Instant messaging is at our fingertips. Our IT services are in the cloud. There was a time we needed the office, but for most of us, that time is over.”

Pilizzi enumerates a handy and succinct enumeration of the business benefits to flexible and remote working…

  • Better Productivity
  • Happier Employees
  • Access to Better Talent
  • Lack of Overhead
  • Trust
  • Get Out of the Past

Sail on.

Education Factories

Seth Godin School

Yes, it is back to school season. But Seth Godin’s incisive plea for such restructuring of education suggests that it may be ‘Back to (the wrong) school’ season.

Education factories fill Office Worker factories. Part of many Dynamic Work transformations includes a range of re-skilling and education around new tools, new ways of working, new ways of communicating. But as the world moves inexorably to Dynamic Working (and those not so moving get left behind at their peril), we can start the readiness much earlier. Back in school, for example.

“Part of the rationale to sell this major transformation to industrialists was that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn't a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they're told… Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of worker who are trained to do 1925 labor… As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.”

Co-Working Across the UK

Top 10 UK Co-Working Sites

My piece ‘Dynamic Business Centres’ highlighted the surge in availability and diversity of places for people to go and work in and around London. But the innovation and trend doesn’t stop at the M25. Creative workspaces are opening up all around the UK. Creative Boom has recently assembled its own Top Ten list of the very best in the country: “10 of the Best Co-Working Spaces in the UK”.

  1. THECUBE, London
  2. The Werks, Brighton & Hove
  3. FlyThe.Coop, Manchester
  4. Old Broadcasting House, Leeds
  5. FunkBunk, Leighton Buzzard
  6. screenWORKS, Edinburgh
  7. The Hub, Bristol
  8. IndyCube, Cardiff
  9. Le Bureau, London
  10. Moseley Exchange, Birmingham



Ever more terms keep cropping up to describe the new workstyles of the digital age. Steve Clayton’s post a while back referred “Co-working.”

I am increasingly a "digital nomad"…Increasingly I find myself working from home or a hotel room in my current job. Sometimes I like the solitude but more often than not, I find myself hankering after a coffee or lunch out of the house. This may have something to do with my poor cooking skills but I think it has more to do with my need to have other folks around. I don't necessarily need to talk to them, I just like the buzz.”

Co-working starts to address the question of ‘what exactly do we need an office for?’ and ‘what would we miss?’ There is a camaraderie, energy, serendipity to people assembling together even if working quite independently together. The rise of formal (www.coworking.pbwiki.com, business centres) and informal (cafes, libraries, Wifi enabled pubs) collectives.

Business Value Planning Services

Microsoft Certified Professional

Microsoft has long pioneered innovations in the workplace through the use of technology and the current trend of ‘Dynamic Work’ is no exception. It was my personal work in this area during the most recent years of my tenure at Microsoft where I got an up close perspective on the accelerating changes happening in the workplace typically enabled by technology.

One of the ways Microsoft’s helps companies to exploit new technology is through its Enterprise Agreements (EA) and Software Assurance (SA) programmes. These licensing services not only provide easy and discount price access to the latest technologies from the Microsoft stable, but also include a range of services and extras to assist companies in their adoption and best use of those technologies.

One of the services available is ‘Business Value Planning Services’ (BVPS). EA and SA holders can use vouchers included in those agreements to get up to 15 day consulting engagements free of charge. The services are provided by specially certified Microsoft partners.

“BVPS is designed to help customer Business Decision Makers (BDMs) develop a plan to leverage the strategic value of the Microsoft Information Worker (IW) platform by improving an impactful business process, working with the customer to document, analyze, optimize, justify, sequence, and propose a plan to improve their business using Office System. We provide a reliable, repeatable process for certified BVPS partners to conduct, and be compensated for 3, 5, 10 or 15-day engagements according to the level of their customers’ Software Assurance benefits.”

One of the firs things Dynamic Work Limited did when it set up this year was to get its BVPS certification so businesses with EA and SA benefits can use them to engage Dynamic Work to explore new ways of changing their business and how technology can pave the way.

Dynamic Business Centres

DIFC London

The most logical question after encouraging one to abandon one’s fixed office space, if the public venues like cafes and libraries don’t suit one’s taste and maybe ‘home working’ doesn’t quite suit, then ‘Where can I work?’

The fact is that business centres and clubs are cropping up all over the UK and especially London is a variety of designs and packages to suit almost any work style or budget. Here are just a few to come to my attention in recent weeks…

  • The Arts Club – A charming ambiance with lovely appointed rooms and an eclectic membership. The focus is supporting artists, but one does not need to be Equity or anything to join. Membership for the year is about £750. Wifi in a comfy chair in the centre of London surrounded by colourful creatives (thanks Mike)
  • One Alfred Place – Their website describes it best, “If you live and work outside London, but need a place to meet or entertain clients and catch up with emails and phone calls between meetings – Welcome to One Alfred Place, a unique working space in the heart of the West End that combines the best of a private members’ club with the facilities and support you’d expect from your own London office.” (thanks Katie)
  • DIFC Global – An unsung gem in the business centre collection. The crème de la crème of office space and yet available for short terms (including single days), small areas (hotdesks) and reasonable prices. Absolutely first-class service in space as prestigiously appointed as its St. James Square address.
  • Argyll – Argyll offers a cross between a members club package and a prestige business centre like DIFC (in fact, in the very same St. James Square as well as three other prestige addresses).

One useful resource for navigating and locating an appropriate business centre is the Business Centre Association. Quotes the website, “There are around 860 bca flexible managed space member locations across the UK, providing over 40 million sq ft of office space to 40,000 SME-sized business occupiers making use of 500,000 workstations.” In particular, their Map View centre finder is a great tool for finding a business centre near where you happen to be.

The Third Space

Starbucks Third Place

When I start to talk to people about reducing the fixed costs of fixed desks and fixed office space, the most common response is, “Oh, you mean home working…” Well, yes…and no. Part of the challenge of Dynamic Work is the too widely held view that the only two places in the work are home and work (and maybe a fun place you go on holiday once a year).

For a while now, Starbucks, these day often synonymous with out-of-office-out-off-home working, has coined a term for this extra geographic dimension – ‘The Third Place.’ Here are a few erudite commentaries on the appeal of this non-work/non-home workspace…

· Howard Schulz on the notion of the ‘Third Place’ – “You might say, 'OK, they're full of crap.' And you know, this is how we feel," says Schultz. "We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work."

· Steve Clayton on “I get my best work done at Starbucks” – In fact my favourite spaces to get work done are well outside of the office – even the home office. I often wander down to a coffee shop or Shackology where there is free WiFi and a good vibe that doesn't stop me working. People think I'm joking when I say I'm going to the coffee shop to work but it's where I get a lot of good work done.”

· Katie Ledger on “My office is Starbucks” – “I don't spend long periods of time in coffee shops but it's just being able to do business ANYWHERE that makes it so exciting. Lots of new ideas coming out of this space at the mo.”

If anyone is passing through Marlow, give a shout for a ‘meeting’ at my local third place and location of an increasing proportion of my productivity

Community Productivity

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Microsoft has been talking about the ‘New World of Work’ for several years now and as time and conditions have progressed so has the vision. An updated presentation came from Katherine Randolph, Josh Henretig and Nicole Brown in a partner blogcast called ‘Enabling Telework Through Unified Communications. Good for Business. Better for the Earth’.

I particularly liked Katherine’s opening line, “The office is no longer a physical place, but more an environment where they can collaborate whether they are face to face or whether they are remote.”

For me the NWOW represents a natural progression in Microsoft’s ‘productivity’ vision. At the outset, Microsoft was all about ‘personal productivity’ and the cornerstone product was Office. But the ‘XP’ generation introduced capabilities that were less about the tool itself and how an individual user used it and more about how the software was used in a context of a team or organisation. At this point, the vision of ‘productivity’ really expanded to one of ‘organisational’ productivity and paralleled the rise of Microsoft tools as an Enterprise standard not just on the desktop, but also on the server with products like Exchange, Sharepoint and SQL Server.

Now I think Microsoft’s vision is expanding even beyond the walls of the organistion. The benefits to the new approaches to work accrue not just to the bottom line of the P&L, but also to the broader social welfare, environment and economy. Sort of a ‘Community Productivity’ if you will.

Above are a few of my favourite slides from the presentation (click on the slide graphic to see expanded, easier to read version)…

Dynamic Meetings

Microsoft Live Meeting

Bill Gates also used to comment that the power of the Internet was not in doing the same stuff in a different way (ie. taking orders over the web versus taking them by phone), but rather the interesting stuff was doing those things that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do without the capability. Reaching customers you wouldn’t have otherwise have reached, offering them something that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to offer, processing the order in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise have been able to do.

Recently, my Microsoft team embarked on a bold new way of having team meetings through unified communication technology. We used Microsoft’s Live Meeting combined with its Roundtable device to hold a remote virtual meeting. The approach certainly presented some challenges to how to conduct such a meeting. How manage the conversations, how to cope with network latency, how to get the best out of the technology.

But the bottom line was that the tools did allow us to do something we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. We were able to incorporate team members who would not have been able to be in the office itself that day (one had a doctor’s appointment for their ill child and another one was in Australia). Most importantly, on the day, many of us could have come into the office, but the only real reason was for the team meeting. This way we were able to have the meeting with out the expense, time and carbon footprint of the trip into the office.

The whole thing was a bit like a conference call on steroids. We could chat to each other, share presentations, all compose on a shared space and most importantly could all see each other on video. Yes, most of the time, it was just a ‘talking head’ looking not quite directly at the camera. But there is something about having someone’s face present that changes the whole feel of the interaction. It made it personal and ‘real’ and even a bit more enjoyable.

The meeting had its ups and downs, kind of like a person just learning how to drive a car and lurching forward in fits and starts. But at the end, 88% of the team categorised the meeting as ‘Some key learnings to make the next one better.’ And I think that that is the key here. What I used to say about the Internet to companies when it was just starting out was that it was critical for them to engage actively even though it then was quite immature. But, just as important as the maturity of the technology was the maturity of understanding it and its dynamics and how to make best use of it. That learning was best started early so that when it did become mainsteam (and it did become mainstream), then the company was ready and equipped to take advantage. I think the same dynamic applies to ‘live meetings’ and unified communications. Some day we will laugh at how rickety and unfamiliar things were today, but it will evolve into a business tool as central as a email, the mobile phone or wireless networking. And we will learn new skills to exploit it as we have with searching the web or hammering out texts. And with unprecedented pressures for costs savings, environmental conservation and family pressures, the demands for these new ways of working will accelerate very quickly.

Colleague Mark Deakin has a great list of ‘Top Ten Tips to Using Office Communicator’ for just such leading edge work and meeting modes.

Dynamic Licensing

Microsoft Virtualisation Licensing

One of the big motivations for starting this blog on ‘Dynamic Work’ was my observations of the parallels between the changing nature of how computers are and can work (more flexible, more modular, more dynamic) and how humans do. While organisations can change the processes, architecture, operations, etc. of both their IT systems and their people systems, one of the considerations that often gets it the way are commercial restrictions. In the human world, a classic example of this is union rules which constrain changes in work practice. In the IT world, an equally prominent constraint can be licensing restrictions on the technology.

And licensing considerations do hit one of the biggest technology opportunities to make systems more versatile and ‘dynamic’ – Virtualization.  At the core, software companies have long struggled to figure out the most appropriate way to license their products. To buy just about anything, one needs a price per unit and then people decide how many units that they want to consume. In the world of software, it is hard to figure out what ‘unit’ to ‘count’. Companies have licensed by machine, by processor, by user, by transaction, by MIP, by hour and a whole host of other ways. Microsoft offers many of these alternatives in licensing its software (which makes for more choice, but adds frustrating complexity).

The new technology of ‘virtualisation’ introduces new challenges to how and what you ‘count’. The software doesn’t necessarily get ‘installed’ on a particular piece of hardware so you can’t count boxes. Furthermore, most licensing has some constraints on ‘moving’ the software (‘I’ll use this piece of software here for a little while and then when I am done, I hand it over to you to use for a while…’). These constraints can fly in the face of one of the great potential benefits of virtualisation which is dynamic load balancing that involves constantly moving software and workloads to systems best suited to handle them.

Microsoft has already pioneered what many analysts have praised as innovative and pro-customer licensing terms around virtualisation.  It started a few years ago when it announced that multiple instances of the OS would be allowed with each purchase.  But this past year, Microsoft extended the flexibility even further by (a) enabling application mobility for 41 Microsoft server applications under volume license agreements, and (b) Waiving the 90-day movement rule for eligible servers licensed under the Per Processor licensing model. This announcement is a big step forward for companies that want exploit virtualisation to dynamically manage a range of workloads with unprecedented versatility.