Brett Sadler

Digital Innovators Network – part 1

y lab

Just before Christmas, I applied to be a member of the new Digital Innovators Network and a few weeks into January I received the fantastic Email telling me I was in!

Firstly, a bit of new about the network. The network is run by Y Lab, which is a NestaCardiff University partnership to act as a bridge and broker, connecting policy makers and public service practitioners with research and innovation expertise. The network is an experimental process, drawing together a cohort of leaders, expert in their sector, with a diverse range of skills and experiences. The network also forms a part of the Digital Innovation Fund launched by Welsh Government of £250,000 to boost public service capacity in developing digital services across Wales.

So, on a very wet and windy Friday in January, I caught the 5.15am train from North Wales down to Cardiff for the first network meeting. After being dropped off by the taxi driver ‘somewhere nearby’, I made it just in time for the start.

The first speaker was Bill Sharpe from Independent Futures Research and Consulting. Bill started off by saying he wrote his first computer programme nearly 50 years ago and spent fifteen years working for Hewlett Packard corporate labs in Bristol, before setting up his own consultancy. Bill talked about his ‘three horizons model’ of innovation, illustrated below:

3horizons

If you ever hear someone asking whether you are a H1, H2 or H3, then this is the model being referred to (hint: as an innovator you would much rather be a H3).

This then led on to a talk by Matt Lewis, Senior Architect at the DVLA. The DVLA are a UK wide digital innovation success story and Matt led us through how they reached where they have today. Below is one of the slides:

dvla

What struck me most about Matt’s talk was how the DVLA had radically changed their business focus, not on a big bang approach, but rather on a number of continuous digital innovations, as shown in the above slide.

After some time networking over lunch with some of the other network members which included representatives from the Police, Arts Council for Wales, Councils and third sector organisations, we then had a workshop run by The Social Innovation Partnership on theory of change. The basic aim was to get everyone thinking about what their potential digital innovation funding application aim would be. The outcome was that most people were not really clear what the end goal was, but rather new what the next stage would be.

So now as a network, we have gone away to have a think about potential projects that we would like to put forwards to the Digital Innovation Accelerator funding, in order to initiate our own innovative project. Like everyone else, I went away thinking this was a fantastic opportunity to apply for some funding towards doing something truly digitally innovative, but of course, I need to flesh out some ideas first. The network itself offered a chance to talk to people outside of my usual sphere of contacts and to learn what their challenges and successes have been.

Watch this space for more news as the network continues!

 

The Power of the Apprentice

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I was lucky enough to be a mentor for the first ever Welsh Apprentice Challenge, run by Community Housing Cymru at their Annual Conference in Cardiff in November 2015.

When I was asked to be a mentor, I jumped at the chance. It sounded like an interesting opportunity and represented a chance for me to be challenged and stretched.

The truth is that being a mentor for the Welsh Apprentice Challenge was an absolutely fantastic experience. The challenge itself involved 15 apprentices, nominated from Housing Associations across Wales, the opportunity to develop a campaign from scratch to recruit more young people into a career in Housing. I was one of three mentors with five apprentices in each team.

Here are three things I learn’t over the few days:

  1. Apprentices have an amazing amount of enthusiasm: They are not constrained by their previous experiences of working in Housing. They have a can-do rather than can’t-do attitude which is infectious.
  2. If you want new ideas, employ new people: I was amazed that in the first 20 minutes of meeting each other for the first time, the team I was mentoring had introduced themselves, come up with an idea and how they would action it.
  3. The improvement over just two days was staggering: It was amazing to see how the apprentices grew in confidence over the two days, from being really worried about speaking, to speaking confidently as a group to over 100 delegates.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the idea my team and the other two teams came up with, as they will be covering in an up-and-coming issue of 24 Housing Magazine, but suffice to say that all three campaigns were very compelling, having been well thought through and executed.

The feedback from the apprentices is that they thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and I am certain that they have all gained skills and experience that will be really useful for them in their ongoing Housing careers.

I only wish I could have bottled up their enthusiasm and ideas for myself!

A Taste of the Google Culture

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I was lucky enough recently to visit the Google offices in London, through a Housemark Digital Futures event.

So, what can I say about my visit to Google? If I could sum it up in just one word, it would be amazing.

The visit itself was everything I hoped it would be. I got to hear from Lyndon Fraser from Google for Work, along with Duncan Farley and Dan Sullivan from Ancoris (who are a Google for Work partner organisation) who held a quick interactive session in Google’s ‘Tech Talk’ Transformation Lab. I also got to meet up and network with other housing staff with digital responsibility, including Paul Taylor and Tom Hartland from Bromford Labs who gave a presentation in the afternoon on ‘how to build an innovation lab’.

As we were not able to look around the offices (as if was felt it would be too disruptive), we got to look around the 9th floor of their offices, complete with a ‘Green Room’, their on-site Gym, ‘La La Library’ (which was genuinely quiet enough to hear a pin drop, despite several staff working in there at the time), outdoor space which wrapped around two sides of the building, a big staff cafe called ‘Cafe Royal’ which was absolutely packed with staff and a massive room called ‘Google Town Hall’ where they hold staff meetings of 100 staff or more.

Other things I noticed include:

  • The offices were bright, light and colourful;
  • They clearly do things differently to most organisations;
  • They have a very clear ‘Google’ brand to everything they do;
  • They all dress in casual clothes at work, but no-one was scruffily dressed;
  • Staff who work at Google are actually referred to as ‘Googlers’ (and refer to themselves as Googlers);
  • The food for Googlers is ‘free’ and covers breakfast and lunch;
  • There were various staff snack points throughout the offices with all healthy free snacks;
  • The main cafe even had two staff serving ice cream for Googlers;
  • Googlers have the freedom to go wherever they want in the building and use any of the collaborative rooms (as long as they have their pass);
  • We even saw a Googler using one of the Sleeping Pods, presumably catching a quick power nap!

It’s always hard to describe the culture of an organisation, but the Google culture was pretty much as I expected, albeit from one day’s visit.

It felt like an open, exciting and inspiring place to work, with a core focus on working collaboratively, not only on digital and technological solutions and advancement, but on keeping the solutions as simple and user friendly as possible.

For a digital techie person like me, it really was hard to leave at the end of the day!

Relaunching the Google+ Housing Community

G+logo3

I am the first to admit that this has been a tough ride. In 2014 I pushed the rise of Google+ as the next big thing to hit #ukhousing on several occasions and blogged about it quite a few times, including my post titled ‘Banging the Google+ Drum‘.

I had evidence to back it up as well. A few years ago, Google+ was well and truly on the rise. Google+ had one of the highest sign-up rates for any social media platform, as well as a very healthy active user %. Up-to-date statistics are hard to find, but Google claim to have 300 million monthly active Google+ users.

Within a matter of weeks of launching the new G+ Housing Community page, Google announced that the person who had helped create and drive Google+ was leaving to work on something else. Almost overnight Google+ lost that feeling that it was going forwards and developing. It had the effect of stopping Google+ in its tracks overnight.

It was a real shame. With launching the #ukhousing Google+ page, it had quickly risen to over 50 members of the group, with a core group of users who were regularly contributing. It really did feel like it was going to happen.

G+Housing_bio

G+Housing

But after Google deciding to make Google+ a pre-requisute for using YouTube (the move had fans for and against this move), they subsequently decided to drop the link. Another nail in the Google+ coffin. Even me, with my glass half-full, optimistic viewpoint had to conceded that Google+ was in decline (it was quoted in the tech news constantly) and I stopped doing much on the Google+ Housing Community page.

So it was with some surprise that I read last month that Google were relaunching Google+ by making some new changes to the platform. This was big news. At first I was dubious – do I really believe that this is happening? Then, after reading various articles on this over a number of days I thought – hey, this really is happening!

So, the upshot is that I have decided to give Google+, and more importantly the Google+ Housing Community, another go. This blog is another step towards this relaunch. Of course, I realise that the power of the community is only as good as its members and its content, but I am hoping #ukhousing will get behind this.

So here is my plea:

  • If you are already a member of the G+Housing Community, then please do revisit it again and become an active member.
  • If you are not already a member, then please do sign up to G+ and become a community member.

I have blogged previously on the virtues of using Google+ and these still hold true today.

 

Hotdesking – good, bad or indifferent?

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A selection of my ‘hotdesking’ tech

Hotdesking is not a new concept. It comes in many forms, from the occasional hotdesker to the hard-core, full time hotdesker and it wouldn’t surprise you to read that not everyone is a fan of hotdesking. Some people love it and some people really hate it. Here is just one article about hotdesking from the Management Today website: hotdesking: hot or not?.

My reason for blogging about hotdesking is that, for the past six months I have been sharing my office with one of the Directors (incidentally, I am not line managed by them). The option came up due to the reshuffling of some staff within the organisation. As part of the deal, I agreed to hotdesk from somewhere else in the building every Monday and then from an outlying office every Thursday. This helped me in two ways: 1) I would actually have a reason to hotdesk (it’s hard to justify when your office is sat empty) and 2) To live the hotdesking way of working I have often pushed onto other staff .

First off, the positives:

  • It has been great to get out and about more – I have interacted with other staff much more than I would normally have the opportunity to;
  • I have seen and heard some good and some not so good working practices – learning I can use when the time is right to improve these sorts of things within my teams;
  • I have worked (survived) hotdesking from various locations;
  • Using headphones can block out a lot of everyday office chatter.

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There have been however a few negatives:

  • As I have a pretty busy role, I have not been able to keep to my ‘Mondays and Thursday’s hotdesking regime’, especially working from the outlying office – this has been much more ad-hoc than I would ideally like and often less than a day a week;
  • As with anyone who hotdesks, my laptop bag has inevitably become heavier and heavier with papers etc. that I need during my working day (this needs culling fairly regularly to keep it manageable);
  • Sometimes it really is hard to have quiet time to work/think when hotdesking in a larger office;
  • Sometimes finding a ‘private’ office can be difficult at short notice.

A few other things are worth pointing out:

  • I have been essentially paperless for several years now, but as the organisation I work in is not paperless, I am given my fair share of paper. This proves more of a challenge when not always office based;
  • I have all the necessary tech to make hotdesking a success: laptop, tablet, bluetooth keyboard (for use with the tablet) and smartphone.

So, what have I learn’t from this six months? That it is certainly possible to hotdesk on a more regular basis and that staff seem to appreciate seeing me around more. It is definitely something I want to continue doing. In fact, I am now going to work out how I can hotdesk from other locations more often than I do currently. I also realise I need to keep some flexibility of where I work, depending on work demands and meetings.

I realise this is only my experience of hotdesking in a small way, but I thought I would share my thoughts on this. I would love to hear what everyone else’s experience of hotdesking is, good, bad or indifferent?

One Big Housing Conference #chchousing15

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I hadn’t been to a Community Housing Cymru (CHC) event for at least a few years, so when I saw the agenda for the One Big Housing Conference, I thought it looked worthwhile attending.

First a bit of background. CHC are the representative body for housing associations and community mutuals in Wales, which are all not-for profit organisations. The venue for the event is the famous Metropole Hotel (trust me – if you have been there, you’d understand why its famous). It’s a sprawling hotel in Llandrindod Wells, often jokingly described in Wales as ‘equally inconvenient for the North and South’. For me personally it was a 2½ hour drive from North Wales to get there – fact. It’s also the only hotel I know where there is no mobile signal within the hotel…..anywhere.

And so to the conference itself. If you have never been to a CHC event before, they are very professionally run. Everything electronic (rather than the usual half a ream of papers given at the start of a conference), screens with the latest tweets up on the wall and clearly signposted rooms for each session.

The first conference session was from Andy Crowe titled ‘I’m a Housing Exec, GET ME OUT OF HERE!’, talking about his experience of working on the island of St Helena and the uphill struggles this entailed, although as I tweeted below, its not all work:

St Helena

The thought of ‘what would you do if you had a blank piece of paper’ to create a housing service was certainly a novel one, and Andy really gave a great insight into the challenges of working on an island ‘where a £1 Iceland pizza is for sale for £2.70’ by the time it reaches them and the new St Helena runway has taken 2 years just to bring it up to level ground.

As usual with a conference, the next day saw many people looking a bit worse for ware, but I can honestly say that the 2Macs session (which was up first) was the perfect tonic. The 2Macs were billed as specialists in behavioral change with a session focusing on impact and influencing, utilising drama. I know that most people in the room (myself included) were a little concerned that ‘audience participation’ would be a prerequisite for role play, but my tweet below summed the room up:

2macs

The session itself was really quite brilliant. They were very engaging, talking about a fake housing association, housing manager and a tenant experience, with the audience having to ask questions and comment on how the situation could have been improved. I really can’t recommend them enough and I certainly will be looking to see if we can bring them to my current organisation as soon as I can.

The next session after this was from Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust and the ‘Mr Motivator’ of #ukhousing, talking about all things digital and beyond. This was a high octane session going through the reasons why all organisations should think digital, as well as why organisations should do away with the traditional desk for every member of staff approach (yes, there were some gasps at this statement):

Nick

I could see an awful lot of heads nodding to what Nick was saying. Nick also kindly mentioned my blog in his Prezi (so I had to include him in my review of the conference – it would rude not to). In true style, Nick left the conference in a flash (it was just missing the puff of smoke exit) to get his train back up North. Here’s a link to his Prezi which is well worth a look.

I realise I have only reviewed a few of the sessions at the conference (and there were many more), but these were the three that I enjoyed the most. All in all, a really excellent conference and I for one, am looking forward to next years instalment.

I’m a Housing optimist – what about you?

glass-half-fullIs there a place for optimism in Housing today?

I have been mulling this topic over for some months now. My initial thought was that there certainly is room for optimism and being the optimistic person that I am, I still think there is.

A Winston Churchill quote seems particularly pertinent for this:

“The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

It is tough to be optimistic in Housing today. Universal Credit, lack of supply, ever increasing demand, rent reductions in England (I could go on) – there are lots of issues facing the world of Housing. But taking Churchill’s quote, we’re faced with many difficulties today in Housing, but isn’t each difficulty also an opportunity?

I think we need to stay as optimistic as possible, despite all of the difficulties the sector is facing. That’s certainly what I’m trying to do day-to-day, especially in providing leadership to my teams at work. It’s not the easy road to take, but working in Housing, do we really ever get to take the easy road? I’m yet to hear anyone working in Housing who chose Housing as being an ‘easy’ profession!

OptimismThe dictionary definition above of optimism fits well with this. For me its all about hope and confidence about the future of Housing. Despite the challenges, I’d argue that as a sector we will rise to the task and aim to excel.

The image at the top of the page is one that I use quite often in my powerpoint and prezi’s. It also forms a key part of my Twitter bio background. Quite apart from being exactly how I approach work on a daily basis, I really do think that the ‘glass is always full’ approach is an important one worth remembering and worth savouring. Mind you, I have on several occasions been called the ‘eternal optimist’ (which I obviously take as being a compliment) and one of my most popular catchphrases at work apparently is ‘it’ll be fine’!

But what do you think about this? Is Housing the place to be as an optimist? I’d be really interested to hear your views………………..

The War Against Email

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I don’t know about you, but I really do hate Email.

Somehow, despite it being a tool designed to help, it has become a tool of oppression. It’s a continuous cycle of new Emails coming in, some needing a reply, some not. It often doesn’t matter if you are sending any out or not – there will always be a continuous trickle of new Emails coming in.

I have experimented in this area.

What would happen if I didn’t send an Email at all in a working day? When I tried this, I still received Emails. Granted, I have come to realise that a good portion of my Email inbox was originally generated by me – if I send an Email out with a question, it’s highly likely I will get an Email reply, but I still received a veritable ton of Emails, regardless of my actions.

I also tried checking my Emails at certain points of the day and in the Email reply automatically sent out, I explained the times I would be checking. But it didn’t work. I had a few dismissive ‘that would be nice to be able to do that’ comments from some people and ultimately, the deluge of Emails didn’t slow down at all.

I would also throw into the mix that an organisations culture or ‘Email dependency’ is a key factor. Some orgs/staff predominantly use Email as the preferred method of communication, which will in turn lead to an increase in Emails. Some time ago I conducted a wholly unscientific test of my Emails over a week long period and found over 2/3rds received and sent out were internal traffic. I may wish to change my ways, but I would argue the organisation as a whole need to sign up to this approach as well.

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I have taken some steps to try and reduce the Email stress though. Namely:

  1. Not checking my Emails constantly;
  2. Only sending out an Email if I have to (rather than say talking to someone over the phone or face-to-face);
  3. Turning off the automatic Email notifications;
  4. Having an Email purge at least once a week where I delete any unnecessary Emails or file away any I need to keep;
  5. Trying to keep my Email inbox as ‘actionable’ Emails – things I need to do something with;
  6. Deleting or filing away any ‘old’ Emails – if I haven’t had to do anything with them after several months, it’s unlikely I will need to anytime soon either.

Some of these are just common sense, but you would be surprised how few people follow them.

It’s far from a cast iron answer to dealing with Emails, but I do find the above actions help.

My main aim though is to keep my Email inbox down to around 100 Emails. This is very tough to achieve. I had a few weeks off recently and found that this has crept up to over 250, but I am working on reducing this down. For me, keeping my Email inbox in check helps me to stay focused and in control of my work.

So, what about you? Have you any tips and tricks for reducing Emails at work?

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.

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