Brett Sadler

The 35 hour week – myth or panacea?

working-hard

First things first. The title of this post could have said 38 or 40 hours – whatever someone’s contracted hours are. The point of the post though, is whether the idea of working your ‘core’ or contracted hours only is something to be aspire achieving or not.

We’ve all heard of people working crazy hours. I recently saw a post on LinkedIn joking that ‘oh, so you work a 39 hour week? I also remember my first part time job’. This was (hopefully) meant as a joke, but the thought process behind it isn’t. Some organisations and managers expect a lot from their staff and this often translated to working a lot more hours than contracted to do.

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Take the current organisation I work for. As a not-for-profit Housing Association, we have pretty good working arrangements. Full time staff are contracted to work 35 hours a week and over a four week period we can take a further 7 hours flexi time (equivalent to one extra day) off a month. We can also carry over an extra 7 hours per month to the following timesheet. This is a pretty generous arrangement. But, it could be argued that encouraging staff to work to build up sufficient time to build up their flexitime means we are encouraging staff to work over their contracted hours.

Then there is the long standing issue of how many extra hours is acceptable. I have always thought that the more senior the post you are in, the more you are expected to work longer hours (as you get paid to do this). I have also thought that for any staff who are really career focussed, then they want to show that they work really hard, which often translates to working longer hours. But I do find myself questioning this train of thought sometimes. The more we rationalise the number of hours extra we can work (i.e under 5 hours a week is acceptable, over 5 hours isn’t), the more we are not making it as flexible an arrangement as we are aiming for it to be.

So what’s the answer? I do think there is a conversation to be had in every organisation about what constitutes an acceptable number of hours worked. The organisational culture to some extent dictates this.

Many months ago I made the conscious decision not to send out any Emails in the evenings and weekends, if at all possible. The rationale is that if I send an Email to one of my team ‘out of hours’ I am effectively encouraging and enforcing this behaviour in them. I know this isn’t always possible, but I really do try to keep to this rule. The other reason this rule helps is to ensure that staff keep to their work life balance as far as possible. Working all hours might well work for some people (some people even thrive on it) but I’ve been managing staff long enough to know that this doesn’t work for everyone and it is very easy to get burned out due to work and never feel like you are stepping away from it.

So what about your organisation? Have you cracked this issue? Please share your thoughts below!

‘Innovation’ is key, or is it just a buzz word?

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Who doesn’t like the word innovate? In #ukhousing and beyond it’s become a fairly common used word.

Meaning of Innovation (Cambridge dictionary):

Noun

:(the use of) a new idea or method

There seems to be a growing consensus that using the word innovation so liberally has effectively watered down its meaning and its effectiveness.

For me, innovation is still a useful word to describe something that I aim to do as often as possible in my working life. It’s about trying to improve things by doing things differently. It’s about coming up with new ideas and new ways of working. It’s about looking at everything and asking, is there a better way of doing this?

Whether that is ultimately ‘innovation’ in its truest sense, or whether other words could be used in place of innovation, is open to debate. You could even extend this argument to say that it really doesn’t matter what it’s called – it’s the act of doing something different!

The idea of innovation is nothing new, although I do think it’s fair to say that some people are definitely more inclined to ‘innovate’ on a regular basis (and to use this phrase during the process).

I well remember when starting a new job, telling my new managers that one of my key aims for the service was ‘innovation’. The look on their faces told me this was a completed new aim for them and not something they were used to! Of course, I then went on to describe what innovation meant for me and what this might look like for the service. The idea of this being a key ‘plank’ of the service was key as far as I was concerned; it was a means to an end. New ideas were needed and for me, ‘innovation’ fits the bill as a way of describing this aim. But taking this a step further, innovation can become a key driver for organisations as a whole, where this is embedded into every role within an organisation.

That said, I sometimes do have a problem with how often the word innovation is used, as I suspect that this often alienates the % of staff who do not want to innovate. Using a different phrase like ‘new ways of working’ can sometime help in these situations. My experience tells me that some staff just take an instant dislike (and suspicion!) of the word ‘innovate’.

So, do you think the word innovate/innovation is too often used in #ukhousing and beyond?

Please leave your thoughts below.

A new dawn for #ukhousing ?

dawn

It can’t have escaped the attention of any #ukhousing professional that last week’s budget announcements dealt a serious blow to the sector.

Not that it was totally unexpected.

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Despite the frankly impressive reach of the #homesforbritain rally in March this year, the election pledges that followed seemed to take no real notice of Housing, despite promised to do otherwise. But I do have to agree with some others that the point of the #homesforbritain rally is to give longer term hope – did anyone really think we could influence party policy in the space of a month? Longer term though, we’ve proven that as a sector we can unite together and this gives me hope for the future.

Then there came the election result itself. No-one really expected a clear majority government to win and with the Conservatives getting that result, it instantly meant that one of their pre-election promises, to extend the Right to Buy, would now be a reality. Again, did anyone really expect this to be the only thing the conservatives would bring in to hit the Housing sector?

This all culminated in last weeks’ budget announcement which effectively means that Housing Associations in England were suddenly informed that their business plans needed urgent redrafting due to a 1% decrease in rent charged, year-on-year for the next four years. As Nick Atkin rightly says in his Inside Housing blog ‘we talk really well amongst ourselves, but outside our world what we do and the huge positive impact we have on the lives of our customers just isn’t listened to or understood’. But as a sector, we have rallied around lots of series issues before, we will do so again and I would argue we have started to find our collective voice. It’s now more important than ever that we continue using that collective voice.

As a sector we have talked lots in the past about our use of acronyms and even us Housing professionals struggle to define what ‘affordable housing’ really means to joe public. I would argue that we really do need to sort our own house out before we can tackle the wider world.

So, I for one will be looking to join in wherever possible with debates on the future of #ukhousing and I will continue to support the #homesforbritain campaign (and others like it). What about you?

Where next for #hseparty15 ?

hsepartyOn boarding the train from North Wales to Manchester at 7am on the Wednesday (the second day of the event) I had high expectations – I had been to the inaugural House Party event last year, had a blast and even blogged about it here.

For those who don’t know, this was the second year of House Party with the following summation of the event by the organisers:

The aim of HouseParty is to challenge, discuss and present the rising talent, organisations, ideas and innovation in UK housing and beyond. It’s a free space to debate, explore, network, connect and innovate.

Through Twitter I met up with Ade Capon (@adecapon) from Yorkshire Housing (of #housingday fame) at Piccadilly station in Manchester and we then walked over to the venue. Just how long does it take two fairly tech savy guys to find a venue using Googlemaps on a mobile? Quite a lot longer than it should have!

IMG_1575Upon arriving at the venue for #hseparty15, the Quaker House in Manchester, we were given our lanyard, grabbed a quick drink and went to our first session – the ‘H-Robots’ session run by Bromford Labs. In the session we were challenged to think about what a housing robot of the future could look like. The chatter in the room as the four groups decided what their robots would do and look like was mighty impressive first thing in the morning – our robot certainly wouldn’t have won any design prizes, but it made us think about what would be really important features – intuitive, human features (or not?), jargon free and basically being really useful all around. I know that Bromford Lab will be posting further thoughts and feedback from all of their #hseparty15 sessions, so watch this space.

IMG_1580 We then went into a session with Anne McCrossan from Visceral Business, talking about Connecting Housing. As always, Anne was challenging, citing actual survey results like 33% of recently surveyed Housing Associations on digital self-service said that they didn’t know how many of their tenants were online. To say that the scale of problem is big is an understatement.

We then decided to pop over to the main CIH Housing exhibition hall to have a look around. The difference between the two events and more importantly the feel could not have been starker. The more intimate #hseparty15 contrasted with the much more corporate, ‘official’ feeling of the exhibition hall.

We were both dressed casually for #hseparty15 and we had more than a few strange looks for the suited and booted exhibition attendees when were wandering about. We bumped into a few people when wandering around the exhibition – Asif Choudry from Resource Housing (of #commshero fame) and Peter Bond, last year’s winner of the CIH Rising Stars competition. We also then spent some time talking to Jon Land and Brian Church on the 24Housing stand which is when this photo was taken by Jon and put on Twitter.

hseparty15cih I guess we didn’t realise it at the time, but as #hseparty15 was about disrupting the norm in #ukhousing, I never thought that we were doing this in a real life, tangible way, in the main exhibition hall!

We then headed back over to #hseparty15 for a further Bromford Lab session titled #futurecomms asking us to distill down advice for future comms professionals into three do’s and three don’ts. It was great fun and really got the heart of why simple comms are so important.

The final session of the day was the Housing Question time (or #housingqt to use the hashtag). This was the chance to hear from and ask questions of (L-R):

– Paul Taylor (@paulbromford) from Bromford

– Caroline King (@caroline_torus) from Torus

– James Pargeter (@jamespargeter) from Deloitte Real Estate

– Chaired by Shirley Ayres (@shirleyayres)

– Anne McCrossan (@annemcx) from Visceral Business

– Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht) from Halton Housing Trust

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It was a fantastic chance to hear from some heavy weight hitters from #ukhousing and thanks to John Popham (@johnpopham) you can see it recorded here.

We were then treated to a quick impromptu session from #hseparty15 organisers Matt Leach from HACT (@matt_leach) and Esther from The Social Change Agency (@SocialChangeAg) on a few ideas for next years event, like holding it on different dates, in a different venue and including more people in the event planning.

IMG_1584Hat’s off to Matt, Esther, the presenters and the helpers who made the event amazing, diverse and packed full of fun, with more than 85 sessions over the two days.

Whatever happens, I really hope that #hseparty16 is as good as #hseparty15, that it continues to be different to disrupt the normal conference offering and that it’s diverse and inclusive to everyone.

Housing Customer Self Service Survey Results

Originally posted on Yorkshire Housing Communications:

Back in March we set off to learn more about online customer self service in housing. After crunching the numbers we can now share the results and findings. We think this is just the start of opening up collaboration, conversation and action to move forward. Below is the executive summary, our interpretation of the findings. You may have other views and that’s fine too.

Online-Service-CartoonExecutive Summary

Before distilling some of the key headlines from this study, it is worth pointing out that this is only a snapshot based on the 119 organisations that have responded to the Self Service in housing survey.

But, we have had a good sample of responses, thanks to all of you who have filled in the survey. It appears this is just the beginning of our journey – here we will run through some of the key findings:

Housing is shy to shout about services…

View original 378 more words

The Virtues of the Housing Sector Blog

BlogI’ve been blogging now for nearly three years on a variety of Housing related subjects and with quite a good degree of success, gaining over 4000 views of my blog posts in 2014 alone.

I am a firm believer in the benefits of blogging for Housing folks – for one thing it helps to make sure that as a sector we are open to learning and sharing. Here are just a few more good reasons that spring to mind:

  1. Housing is often called a forgotten sector in the wider UK world – why not publish some of the great work we do in Housing via a blog – you’ll be amazed at what a positive response you can get;
  2. Housing has an amazing amount of sector variety – blogging is a great way to showcase this and the wide variety of job opportunities is still one of the main reasons I chose a career in Housing;
  3. There are still a relatively small number of Housing folks blogging – there is a good chance a decent blog will be picked up, retweeted and listed under 60 second news;
  4. It is still a relatively easy way to get your thoughts on the subject out to a wide ranging audience – yes there are the recognised sector industry media points, but never underestimate how widely a blog post will be distributed and read.

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I also wrote a blog titled ‘the Bloggers Guide to Blogging’ last year, which you can read here, but on reflection I would also add two more top tips:

  1. Blogging is a skill to learn and nurture – although obviously the content is important, writing a blog is a skill that needs to be learnt and nurtured – if you think you’re first blog post will be a world beater, you might well be disappointed;
  2. Blog about something interesting – something that is either a current issue facing #ukhousing or on a subject that lots of housing people will find interesting an insightful.

I am always expressing the virtues of blogging to Housing people and I can truly say that I am now able to write a half decent blog in a short amount of time. This is a skill that I have learnt by reading other peoples blogs and experimenting with the content and titles. I’ve still got a long way to improve, but I am pleased with what I have learnt so far and the response I’ve had.

If I had to give one main learning point to anyone writing a blog for the first time, it is just to have a go at it. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have mentioned to me that they have read a blog post of mine and not only read it, but understood what I was trying to say! I may not have gained a 100 ‘likes’ on each blog post, but never underestimate that visitors to your blog will remember what you have said.

So, hopefully this blog post will have helped to sell the virtues of blogging to all you amazing people working in Housing. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, whether you are a regular blogger, a part time blogger or a ‘maybe I will one day blog’ blogger. Leave your thoughts below!!

8 months in – is our Digital First Project a success (so far)?

digital_vortexI’ve blogged a number of times about the Digital First journey we have been on as an organisation. Posts have included ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’, ‘The Digital (and Social) Journey’, ‘Digital First Wave’ and ‘A One-page Strategy…..Impossible! Or is it?’.

In this post I’m attempting to draw some of these together by writing about where we have got to with our Digital First Project so far, some of the projects successes to date and some of the learning.

First things first, I think it’s fair to say that I am really pleased with how the Digital First Project has come along in its first 8 months. I can’t quite believe its only been 8 months that the project has been running for!

We have four tenants as part of our 12 strong Project Team and they have been key to giving the tenant point of view along the way. I can honestly say that the Project journey so far would not have been the same without the four tenants being involved. The Project Team also includes 8 staff (including me) made up of a representative from each of the main department in the association. These representatives were all staff that showed an interest in being part of the project team, meaning they had some vested interest in being involved and its overall success. We have now held several Project Team meetings and managed to build up quite a head of steam behind the project.

But we haven’t just been talking about things. We’ve been producing things, like the Digital First Strategy (below).

The Digital First Strategy

The Digital First Strategy

The Digital First Project key achievements to-date include:
  • Drafting a one-page Digital First Strategy (which has recently been agreed by our Senior Management Team);
  • Starting discussions on what new services we could offer digitally;
  • Reviewing our current tenant’s portal offer;
  • Making some key changes to further improve the tenant’s portal functionality.

We have also had lots of positive plaudits along the way about the way the project has developed.

It’s also fair to say we have learnt a few key things as well.

One thing we quickly learnt as a Project Team is that our website was key to the success of the Digital First Project and although this has held up some aspects of the project, I’m pleased to say that a new website is now a ‘work in progress’.

Our Marketing and Communications Manager is also currently looking at our approach to Social Media, which although not a key part of the Digital First Project, does have some real implications for its success.

So what next for the Digital First project?

One key area is the continued focus on offering services digitally and ensuring that as an organisation we continue to look at improving our digital offer to our tenants. At the same time we also need to ensure that our digital offer to staff is not left behind as well! Ensuring that key staff are able to use tablets where suitable will only help with this further. We’re also planning some further work to improve our approach to digital inclusion – some 30% of our tenants have told us that they do not have access to the internet currently, so if we are looking to offer more services digitally, we need to make sure our tenants are able to access the internet.

If I had to sum the first 8 months of the Digital First Project is one line, it would be:

‘ A challenging but rewarding project that is showing some real progress and results for the organisation and its tenants’

I can only hope that the next 8 months of the project are as successful!

Homes for Britain and the Right to Buy extension – a success story?

HomesforBritainlogoI’m sure you couldn’t help but have seen the Conservative announcement to extend the Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants. It was quite literally front page news overnight.

I can’t remember anything Housing related being covered quite so widely and quickly. The number of tweets, blog posts, commentary and overall news coverage was quite staggering and looks set to continue.

I would argue that what the announcement did successfully achieve was:

  • Unanimously uniting the Housing world (and beyond) in it condemnation;
  • Provided a quick, definitive test to the #homesforbritain campaign – could #ukhousing stand up to this announcement?

So how did we do? I would argue we came out fighting. I blogged recently that the real litmus test for the #homesforbritain campaign would be seen over quite a lengthy period; would the political parties actually take notice of housing and therefore it rise up the national priority list? Based on Housing being covered in the main political parties debates on television, I would say yes.

I’ve read some worrying comments though that the Right to Buy announcement by the Conversation party goes against the #homesforbritain compaign and therefore brings its success into question. Really? From where I’m sitting, its done exactly the opposite of that. It’s made it crystal clear to the british public that as a sector, we do not agree with this. This has come on the back of the #homesforbritain campaign. I for one think that without #homesforbritain, we would like have had a more tepid, less united response to the announcement.

I was truly amazed by how strong the reaction has been been. It’s made me proud to be working in the world of Housing. After being proud of the #homesforbritain campaign, that makes it twice in as many months. Let’s keep the momentum going.

The Homes for Britain Rally – a Game Changer?

HomesforBritainlogoSo it has been a few weeks now since the Homes for Britain rally in London, but here’s my (long reflected) take on the day.

I was lucky enough to attend the Homes for Britain rally in London on the 17th March 2015 along with approx. 2,300 others and also attended a Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster before the rally itself. The day certainly had an Alice in Wonderland feel to it at times, being mainly surreal, often touching and with some really heartfelt moments.

First off, along with many colleagues from across Wales, we made the long journey over to London by train or by coach to attend the Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster, jointly organised by Community Housing Cymru and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru. I had never even been to Westminster before, so I was pretty excited (probably more than most of the schoolkids who were visiting Westminster were anyway).

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The Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster

In all 20 Welsh MP’s attend the reception, which was a pretty good turnout. I got to speak to my local MP about Housing issues and certainly felt it helped to raise the ‘Housing’ profile. After some impossibly small (but high in volume) lunchtime snacks at the MP’s reception, we then wandered over the short distance to the Methodist Central Hall where the main Homes for Britain rally took place. Outside the venue, lots of other Housing professionals were holding placards, with a general feeling of goodwill being emanated from everyone there. There weren’t many ‘suits’ in sight, apart from some of us as we had just been to Westminster!

The obligatory Homes for Britain pose in front of the venue

After meeting and talking to other Housing professionals from around the country on the green outside the Hall, it was time to go in to the venue. At the door to the venue everyone was told to leave their placards at the door – not exactly what I expected. It certainly had the effect of dampening some of the enthusiasm people were entering with. I had a ticket for Seat 40, row P, grey and on asking an attendant where the seat was, I was told that there had been a mistake and there ‘are no seat 40’s’ but I could find one over to the left of the stage in the blue seats. I really hoped this was not a sign of things to come and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.

I’m not going to talk in detail about all of the speakers at the event as these have been covered in much detail than I could do by other blogs, but suffice to say that opening up with a live band, then Nigel Farage of UKIP, samba drums in the middle and then closing with Grant Shapps who received ‘polite but definite heckling’ from many of the attendees (despite requests from the excellent compare for the day Jonathan Dimbleby not to) really did feel like I was in some kind of parallel universe.

Overall though the event was a credit to the National Housing Federation and everyone else who put the event together. I never would have thought that so many Housing people could get together in one venue, with what amounted to an excellent range of speakers, a really slickly produced event and an excellent platform to give a stronger united voice to the Housing sector. As an aside, I know that there were some reps from Wales at the Homes for Britain Rally, but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland reps?

Of course, on the long train journey home, I couldn’t help but reflect on whether the day’s events would actually carry on past the day. It was an undoubted success, but success longer term would be the panacea.

The political parties spoke a lot about Housing during the rally, but failed to carry this through after the rally day. I can’t help but be left with a feeling that Housing remains a side issue in the election, but the uniting of the Housing sector for the Homes for Britain rally really does show what is possible. The trick now is to turn this into a longer term, consistently high profile campaign that truly grabs the politician’s attention and puts Housing firmly on the national agenda.

People much better than me have commented that this may or may not happen in the near future, but being ever the optimist, I can really see some light at the end of the tunnel if we can keep this momentum going.

I am really glad I was able to attend the Homes for Britain rally – definitely for me a ‘were you there’ kind of moment in years to come and I for one will be looking forward to plans for any future Homes for Britain rally in the near future.

Digital Self Service in Housing – the Survey

digital_vortexWhy bother to invest in online customer accounts, if you don’t promote it?

As a sector it would be fantastic if we could identify the volumes of active online customers of housing services, and to see whether this is taking off?

Following the publication of Connected Housing 2014 many housing providers are looking closely at serving customers better online. The development and take-up of online services should be high up on every housing organisations agenda. Notwithstanding this the need to keep up with more people online, greater expectations of services and strives to improve satisfaction.

Scouring the sector for examples always throws up the likes of front runners Halton Housing and Thames Valley Housing, but who else are doing great stuff online? Who has customer testimonials of doing business with them digitally?

The purpose of creating a survey is to identify and research case studies of where housing has been successful in achieving good take up. As a good place to start we are looking at online customer accounts, as these seem to be adopted by a fair few housing organisations.

It will provide stories of take-up of online services which other housing organisations could follow. From this we can hopefully inspire, gauge momentum and understand why they have been successful, and importantly demonstrate where benefits are being realised.

Therefore, this research will seek to:

  • Understand UK Housing online self-service context;
  • Baseline housing organisations levels of performance;
  • See and clarify levels of expectation of what is or not possible;
  • Learn how organisations promote take-up;
  • See if other factors encourage take-up;
  • Identify the future potential for online customer accounts.

So what can we find out about what has been achieved? Who wants to tell us their story?

We will look to distil the findings and case studies to share with the online housing network. It will also act as a 2015 bookmark, as to what progress has been made and what more there is still to do.

Please spend a few minutes, share and collaborate with your colleagues. You can fill in the survey here.

Thanks for taking part.

@Brettsadler77, @AdeCapon, @hotpixUK

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