Sunday, 21 June 2015

Relationships in the office environment

Relationships in the office environment are, sometimes, the nightmare of HR. I'm not talking about romantic relationships - that's a completely different chapter. I'm talking about the "common" person-to-person relationships that people tend to form with those around them. Once considered "a waste of working time" and "a burden to productivity", now, they seem to be approached under a more positive light as something with a potential to boost productivity, creativity and employee loyalty.

'Cow Bell' by jar (away) under
a CC license

Working in an environment where you know that you can count on people, not only as co-workers but also as human beings creates a feeling of safety and helps motivate people and brings out higher levels of commitment on their behalf. Good relationships at work creates a very positive environment that reflects to the organisations and can also be visible further beyond to customers or other third parties.

The problem with interpersonal relationships is that they may be unpredictable. People have their bad days, employees experience stress, bad things happen that spoil moods, etc. And, guess what, bad relationships can easily poison the work environment, negate the aforementioned benefits and lead to penalties for both productivity and creativity.

So how does on manage the human reationship side of the work environment?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Trialability is key to adopting the right innovations

Trialability is the possibility that a client or a user, in general, is given to test a particular product for a finite amount of time in order to test its characteristics and, ultimately, its suitability for a set purpose. Trialability has long been recognised as one of the 5 factors influencing the adoption rate of innovation.
'Mannequin in Venice Shop Window'
by Michael Summers under a CC license

Indeed, trialability is normally available for a wide range of products and services and is not restricted solely to the innovative ones. Depending on the country, common goods, such as clothes, video games, household equipment, electronics, etc. can be tried for a short time and then returned for a refund if they are unsatisfactory. Rules do apply for this process, e.g., goods need to be returned in good condition. I've also heard of gallery owners that give their potential customers the possibility to "try" paintings or other art objects in their premises for a while before finalising their purchase. Such practice is also becoming increasingly common in high-tech, high-price equipment, such as digital cameras, camera lenses, etc.

Manufacturers of industrial equipment typically offer trial leases of their equipment to potential clients, possibly offering a pilot scale piece of equipment or provide access to actual scale equipment within their premises.

Software products also follow that trend with developers offering feature-limited trial versions, full-featured but limited time trial versions or online trial versions.

The benefits of trialability come at a cost, which corresponds to the cost of making and providing a trial version of the real thing together with a reasonable level of support.

But what happens with products that normally require considerable customisation before becoming fit for the client? And since trialability is a sought feature for innovative (and regular) products that, however, comes at a cost, does it actually hinder new small players entering the innovation game?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Office common space as a tool for collaboration

Often it is people that define the success of an organisation. Making the most out of them is essential. The various different approaches in organisational structures are meant to contribute to that. Using talented people as units or in teams in a balanced and effective way is another way to add to the boost. Increasing casual interaction, even if that is not directly work-related may be another, fun way to get better efficiency at the workplace. For the latter to happen, the way that the office space is structured is important.
'A coffee machine at work' by
Wolfgang Lonien under a CC license

Academic environment aside, common spaces in the workplace are considered by some employers as procrastination hot spots or, at best, temptation areas where employees lose valuable work time. Likewise, third parties, i.e., people outside an organisation may often perceive negatively the practice of employees spending time in common spaces provided within their organisation.

However, today, it is increasingly realised that the interaction among co-workers in the common spaces of a workplace can be beneficial for the organisation.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Good and bad things of service integration in travelling

I'm not a true frequent traveller but I do complete my fair share of miles per year, mostly to destinations abroad. One of the things that I find particularly convenient, especially when I travel for work, is service integration across different companies. It is something that is usually meant to save time and money, often carrying the peace of mind bonus, too!
'Travel' by Vasile Hurghis
under a CC license

Service integration is not a truly novel thing but the steps we 've been seeing so far were rather timid. Some, such as the code-sharing flights of different airlines, are well established as a practice. Package holidays and all-inclusive resorts also have a long history in most places. Others, such as booking travel chains consisting of, say, airport parking - flight - car rental - hotel, are a bit newer.

Judging service integration as a practice depends on what vantage point one chooses. For the traveller, the emphasis is usually on the convenience factor. Things may seem differently, however, if one chooses to focus on value or the impact on the ecosystem of businesses (or the ecosystem in regions, including people and businesses) affected by this practice.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Investing in employee education

'Classroom' by Emory Maiden
under a CC license
Lifelong learning is not a new concept. On the contrary, it is quite established, at least as a term. Today, there are numerous courses, taught and self-taught schemes on a wide variety of topics. Some of the training schemes are even available for free - usually in the form of online courses. In many countries there are also legal or financial incentives to encourage education and training in businesses and organisations. However, despite lifelong learning schemes being abundant, there are still plenty of employers that discourage or deny the participation of their employees in such schemes.

Often, the reasons they quote include the constantly high workload, the lack of resources to cover for the employees' "lost" training time, the lack of resources to sponsor the training and the lack of clear benefit from the training. There are also cases where the potential benefits of further education simply go unnoticed by the managers responsible. In a few cases,  unfortunately, it may also be the result of tainted management beliefs, where keeping the staff's skills stuck at a certain level is thought to ensure"stability" for the management crowd.

To be fair, allowing or providing access to education for the people of an organisation needs to take into account operational constrains. But it is also something that the organisation will eventually need to do despite whatever constrains. The case for investing in employee education is too strong to be ignored.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The power of the crowd

Crowdsourcing is a process that utilises a large number of people to collect input, solve a problem or perform a task. It can take many different forms but it is commonly facilitated by a suitable internet platform.
'The crowd' by Matt Karp
under a CC licesne

Crowdsourcing has been successfully used in a wide variety of projects and functions ranging from astronomy, where people have been helping scientists classify galaxies, politics and policy development, legislation, where people are consulted on laws in preparation, etc. Specific problems can be helped by crowdsourcing techniques provided they can be broken down into small chunks in a form suitable to be presented and processed by an individual. For instance, the Foldit game helped scientists solve protein folding configuration problems and get ideas on how to refine their corresponding algorithms.

Beyond its huge potential in problem solving, crowdsourcing is considered to be a low-cost alternative. However, there are several limitations that need to be thought of before one reaches to such means.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Are we loosing our DIY skills?

A better question might be "do we do any DIY stuff at all?"

'Screwdriver' by Brent Thomson
under a CC license
Personally, I don't consider myself to be particularly skilled in making or fixing things. Despite that, I do enjoy attempting to fix things - at least those things that I believe I "understand" - which sometimes works great. Also I often take the opportunity to take things apart and then re-assemble them, when it comes to things that I have a duplicate of or that I'll be replacing shortly. From time-to time I also try some handiwork, such as painting, placing tiles or insulation, etc. To be honest, I'm not always successful but, as I said, I do enjoy the process. And whenever I do succeed, I end up saving some money, too.

I have the feeling, though, that the people willing to engage with such common DIY projects are getting less. I admit I haven't consulted any statistics so, maybe, that feeling of mine is wrong.

However, it is a fact that we are not given too many incentives towards DIY.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Using technology to improve communication during crises

'Hotline' by Alex under a CC license
Despite how advanced mankind may look, when disasters strike disruptions do take place and, sometimes, human lives are put at risk (the earthquake in Nepal being a recent major such natural disaster). Regardless of the type of disaster, communication is essential both for the people in the affected zone and for the staff of the response teams.

Under normal circumstances, in or close to urban areas, voice and data communication are not normally a problem, even when demand is high as, for instance, happens in big concerts, conferences or other major events.

But what are the challenges at the time of a major disaster? Are we ready to put the technology we have available into the best possible use in order to handle the crisis in the best possible way?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The meaning of life, through the values of life

'Sunrise' by Pedro Moura Pinheiro
under a CC license
One can safely assume that that the question on the meaning of life is one of the most widely expressed questions in the world. One that has received considerable thought so far from a diverse range of scholars in the areas of philosophy, religion and science as well as individuals (and, well,  comedians, too), throughout human history.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The amazing world of video games

Video games are amongst the non-essential things that compete for a share of our free time. Regardless of whether they are a good thing or a bad one, two things are quite certain:
'Day 220-the tetris' by ne!l chen
under a CC license
  • some of them - somehow - do manage to get hold of our attention and, thus, of a fair portion of the free time of a wide range of individuals, and 
  • they are the products of a very diverse market, often operating at the world-wide level, with noteworthy and increasing turnover share. 
Regardless of one 's feelings towards video games, their world - and impact - is practically hard to ignore.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Intrapreneurship: should organisations embrace the on-the-clock pet-project approach?

In a business, pet-projects are small-scale projects of individual employees, under their full personal control, carried out within the organisation, often using resources of the organisation.

'Luminous idea' by Tiago Daniel
under a CC license
Pet-projects have gained visibility through the successful practices of companies such as Google, HP, 3M, Genetech, IBM and others. There, employees have been given the flexibility - and have even been encouraged - to allocate a percentage of their normal working time between 15 and 20% to a personal project of theirs that may be (and usually is) different to and independent from their ongoing work tasks.

But is the policy of allowing employee pet-projects worth it or is it just a (persistent but limited) hype?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Finding the right balance between the group and the individual

'Balancing Rocks' by Viewminder
under a CC license
We often hear that successful organisations are based on effective teams. Almost equally often we hear that successful organisations are those with charismatic, efficient leaders. Those statements are complementing rather than contradicting each other. However, as the headcount and complexity of structure, operations and objectives of organisations increases, the importance of the teams that operate them becomes increasingly important. A major challenge in teams of a given composition is how to balance between the needs/ priorities of the individual and the needs/ priorities of the group.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Open source software: a helping hand for growth

Open source software is one of the things that occasionally gets entangled in the webs of ideology, politics and corporate marketing talk. However, open source software is a rather simple idea: Develop something, using an open, collaborative approach if possible, make it available to the public as a product, together with its source code and let them use it as they please. That simple.

Does this development model even make sense? Why would anybody do this? How can open source development pay their bills and, more importantly, who provides support to open source software users?