Digital · Google · Google+ · housing

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!

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Digital · housing

Bridging the Digital Divide

ImageI consider myself quite a tech savvy person and I can certainly see the benefits to #ukhousing staff and customers of being digital included, but with digital inclusion being one of my areas of responsibility, tackling this area has been no walk in the park.

I’ve been drafting a digital inclusion strategy for several months now. It’s not that I can’t write the strategy, it’s that technology is changing so fast.

So let’s go back to the start of my journey. When researching the digital inclusion strategy, two quotes jumped out at me:

  • Research has shown that getting someone online can save them an average of £560 a year and has benefits for education, employment and retirement.
  • The introduction of Universal Credit will also mean that going online is the only way to apply for and manage Universal Credit applications for the majority of those in receipt of benefits.

These certainly set the scene well and are very hard to argue against.

Then there’s the added complication of the methods that customers are accessing the internet. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was talking to our IT department about a PC Loan scheme. Now this seems like a crazy, outdated idea. Once upon a time tablets were really expensive and out of reach for most people, now there is a £30 tablet you can buy (watch this blog for a review on this tablet soon). The same used to apply to smartphones, but these are now commonplace and ‘standard issue’. The pace of change within technology is amazing.

Once upon a time, broadband was seen as the panacea for social housing tenants, opening up a world of opportunities, cheaper deals and jobs. To some extent this is still the case, but the rise of cheap smartphones has opened up a whole other avenue for tenants to be digitally active. Just read this article on the Guardian website – Housing Providers Need to Think Mobile.

There are also lots of articles being regularly published challenging some of our most closely held ideas about digital inclusion and internet use. For example, this article highlights that ‘there is no difference between consumers aged 30 to more than 70 when it comes to general attitudes to online shopping’.

Couple these with the governments push towards Universal Credit being accessed online and it paints a clear picture that organisations need a major shift in focus to offer services digitally and not just to those customers in receipt of benefit.

Recently I was lucky enough to give a talk with Nick Atkin on ‘Housing Goes Digital’ at the Welsh Housing Conference in March of this year. I was able to follow this up with a workshop on the same subject at our staff conference. The results really astounded me.

After the conference talk I was amazed at just how much positive feedback I received from Housing organisations about what we were talking about. Essentially it was about the need for organisations to consider and adapt to the changing digital landscape. This was followed up by my staff conference workshop.

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t sure how our staff would take what I would be talking about during the workshop; essentially that we need to change our future offer to tenants to offer more services ‘digitally’, giving examples of some organisations like Halton Housing Trust and Bromford Group who are already making great strides forwards in this area. Although I know I put a good business case together (and a good Prezi! – for anyone interested, here’s a link to it), I was still amazed at how positive and engaged most staff were. There was a real buzz about the workshop that I naively hadn’t expected. I even got some volunteers to be on our digital first project during the workshops and I hadn’t asked for any!

Following the success of the workshops, I tweeted out pictures of the flipcharts that we’d produced:

ImageImageImageImageWithin minutes I’d received a tweet back from one of our current tenants providing real time feedback on some of the ideas we’d come up with and after a quick twitter conversation, the tenant offered to be involved in the project to give the tenants perspective. What a result!

What this has shown me is that there are ways to bridge the digital divide. One such way is to get as many staff and customers involved as possible. It’s certainly something I’m hoping to build on further and although I know we are still only at the start of this, our digital journey continues………….

housing

For the sake of innovation? Yes please

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A recent post from Paul Taylor at Bromford has certainly made me think about innovation.

I’ve been guilty at work of pushing innovation – I even made it one of my main priorities on starting my current position as Assistant Director. Of course, it’s very hard to actually be clear on what this means. I can still picture the faces of my Management Team when I said this was one of my main priorities – stunned and confused all in one!!

Of course, I have come to realise over the last 12 months that setting innovation as one of my main priorities was both a difficult thing to do but also a necessary thing. I’m not someone who likes to sit back and do things the same way as they have always been and it’s been over the last 12 months that I’ve realised this. That’s not to say that there is always a different, more innovative way to do some things, but I’m always keen to at least ask the question seriously. I’ve also found that I do like taking a chance from time to time and just going with an idea I’ve had. Another Paul Taylor blog post (reblogged by Helen Reynolds) made me realise I’m like this too.

I know that some of you reading this will be thinking, whats the point of innovation for the sake of it? It does depend on the organisation you are in and the type of person you are. I’m at a time in my life where I’m pretty keen to try and do some things differently.  Not that I’m always able to, but in order for me to feel fulfilled, I need to push.

Organisations like Bromford might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really do like seeing how different they choose to be. I might not like every idea or stance that they take, but I can definitely admire the organisation for being clear about their values and for trying different ideas. Their brand stands out and arguably appeals to the type of people they want working in their organisation and they seem to have a definite innovative feel to their organisation.

I’ll finish off with a well-known quote from Albert Eistein:

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It’s certainly one quote I’m going to put on my office wall for inspiration.