Digital · Google · Google+ · housing

A Taste of the Google Culture


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!

Digital · housing · Social Media

HouseParty14 – innovate or stagnate?


Should #ukhousing or other sectors prioritise and push innovation or risk stagnating as a sector?

This is the question that sprung to mind when thinking about HouseParty. As a first day attendee of #hseparty14, the unofficial fringe event in Manchester, I thought I’d have a go at answering this.

First things first, I obviously heard about HouseParty via Twitter. This is like a lot of things nowadays, with Twitter being my ‘finger on the pulse newsfeed’. After looking into it, I thought I’d better book on to attend as it looked like something different, which I’m always attracted to it seems. The fact that it was co-created and organised by HACT and The Social Change Agency was an added appeal – if it had been organised by an organisation I’d never heard of before, I might not have been so keen, but I really wanted to see what this would be about and to be part of it in some way.

It goes without saying that from the outset the event had a very different feel to it. You were given ticket options to purchase via Eventbright – either a full paying ticket, a donation towards a ticket or a free version; the first of many differences. Leading up to the day via the dedicated twitter account and hashtag there were regular updates and new sessions announced. It felt exciting to be attending – almost secretive and special!

On the first day of HouseParty, I got off the same train as I would to attend the main CIH Conference – Oxford Rd. Although I’d been mulling over for some weeks whether to flit between the HouseParty event and the main CIH Conference, I decided that as I was only going to be there for the first day, that I’d dedicate my attendance to just HouseParty. On arriving at the HouseParty venue there was a sign outside announcing I’d got to the right place:


I was given a HouseParty lanyard and shown where the tea and coffee was. So far, just like every other conference I’ve attended.

I made my way downstairs to the main hallway to where various social enterprises had set up to show their wares. This felt a bit different. Everyone (apart from those who jumped over from the main CIH Conference) were casually dressed and the feel of the event was very relaxed – not very Housing like. I managed to attend various sessions throughout the day including a ‘Fireside chat with Anne McCrossan’ and a session showcasing new apps developed by social enterprises. All of the sessions I attended were informative, within fairly small groups and the chance to ask questions and get involved.

On reflection, three things struck me about the event.

1)      Although some Housing Associations got involved in HouseParty by either sponsoring or attending the event, the vast majority of showcases were by organisations that would not have had the same platform or opportunities at the main CIH Conference.

2)      As the event was organised through Twitter, there was a distinct Social Media flavour to attendees. Quite a few of the Social Media #powerplayers14 attended over the few days and gave talks of some form or another – a great chance for people to meet in the flesh they’ve connected with and followed on Twitter. I’m sure some people would have paid more for the chance they had to hear from some of the speakers.

3)      The event felt quite unstructured and chaotic at times. I personally thought this was a good thing and only added to the sense that the event was meant to be different!

I had the chance to talk with one of the HouseParty organiser’s Matt Leach (CEO of HACT) about the event and the reason for organising it. In essence, it was a chance to offer something different to the usual CIH Conference. Quite how the CIH will deal with the event remains to be seen, as I’m sure a lot of the HouseParty attendees would have agreed that the more relaxed, disruptive feel to the event was a pleasant change. Whether Matt Leach, Esther and their teams will ultimately want to organise another event next year (I bet they were tired at the end of the two days) also remains to be seen.

So, overall I thought HouseParty was a fantastic event that can only get better as time goes by. The people I spoke to on the day also seemed to be enjoying attending. The chance to fine tune the agendas and timings would make it even better. There were certainly some elements that the main CIH Conference should consider taking on board (like the cost of attending and who was attending) but again that remains to be seen.

I managed to have some great conversations with lots of amazing people over the day and made some great new contacts for the future.

It seems that the rise of alternative/fringe events like #hseparty14 and #commshero are here to stay. Long may the disruption revolution continue!

Digital · housing · Social Media

My #powerplayer14 pledges

spidermanI was so pleased to find out that I was in the top 50 alternative digital #powerplayers14 list produced by Paul Taylor and Shirley Ayres. I’m listed alongside some mighty big names from the #ukhousing #digital world which is both humbling and exciting at the same time.

In keeping with other similar pledges like the one made by Rae Watson (also one of my #powerplayers14 nominations!), here are my #powerplayer14 pledges:


  1. With great power comes great responsibility

Seeing as I’ve now been put no.36 out of 50 digital #powerplayers14, I do feel an obligation to live up to this great responsibility. There are some amazing people who didn’t even reach the top 50 – it would be very rude not to. (I’ve also been looking to add this Spiderman quote into a blog post for some months now, so mission accomplished). I’ll have to make sure that any content I push on Twitter, G+ and LinkedIn is suitably ‘#powerplayer14 ish’.


  1. Pushing the Google+ Housing Community


What do you mean you’ve never heard of this? (of course I’m joking, you’re already a member……..). Some months ago I set up the G+ Housing Community. I’m a big advocate of G+ and talk of its virtues to anyone and everyone I can. For me it’s about the possibilities that G+ could represent to housing organisations. Come and join us for the ride.


  1. Continuing to spread the digital message

One thing I have been doing for several months now is pushing the positive reasons for organisations and individuals going digital and being connected. I’m always talking about this to pretty much anyone I meet, both internally and externally. I’ve seen first hand the power of social media and being digitally tuned in – just look at me. I never would have guessed I’d be on a Power players list of and kind for being digital and just a few years after getting on board, here I am, ‘living the digital dream’.


  1. Keep on blogging


I’ve been writing a blog for several months now and covered lots of digital, social media and housing subjects. I’ve had some great responses to what I’ve blogged about and recently passed 50 ‘likes’. Some months ago I also reached the milestone of having 2,000 views of my blog and after a (friendly) challenge from Andy Johnson about setting my next target, I set this at an ambitious further 2,000 views by the end of the year. Although yes, it’s not just about volume, it’s about content. Hopefully I’ll manage both?


So these are my four pledges for the year. I do hope that the top 50 #powerplayers14 will add their personal pledges as well.

One final thought – I wonder how different the #powerplayers15 list will look? Thoughts on a postcard, or comment below on this blog, or on Twitter, or on Google+……………..

housing · Social Media

Powerplayers14 – much more than just a list


I was unsure whether to write this blog, but I can resist no longer. You see, I’ve got a slight problem with the alternative Powerplayers list (#powerplayers14), much the same as the main Powerplayers list from 24Housing magazine earlier this year.

Now I follow Paul Taylor’s blogs and tweets pretty closely and I think the alternative power players list for 2014 is a great idea. I certainly had a good look at the list for 2013. I’m just amazed how hung up people can become about the list, rather than the opportunities it represents.

I’m the first to admit that I’d be more than happy (and honoured) to appear in the alternative power players list, but if I am really honest, I kind of don’t really care. I’ve never been on a list before and I’m pretty sure that being on a list in the future won’t irrevocably change my life either.

For me, I’ll still try to do the best I can each and every day at work. I know what things I’m interested in and what makes me tick, I know which people I admire in the #ukhousing world (I’ve voted in the power players list) and ultimately where I want to get to in my career. Whether ultimately someone appears in the list or not is immaterial. It’s the conversations that happen before and after the list that really count. One’s like this:

These conversations are important. They are challenging the norm in #ukhousing, rather than accepting it for what it is. They are (potentially) getting to the nub of some of the issues. Ade Capon (@adecapon) summed it up well for me:

It’s about influence, collaboration, community, support etc. plus

all the engagement possible with customers.

I think it’s rather too easy to dislike or ridicule something, when ultimately it’s another platform to have some grown up and constructive discussion on the issues that matter, aided by some of the most influential #ukhousing people around.

For me, the people I voted for in the power players list were people who have influenced me on a personal and professional basis through social media. They are ones that I may have only met once but have conversed with lots of times through social media. They’ve helped me to question some of the norms I had always previously accepted and ultimately for me to develop further. For that, I thank them, whether they appear in the final power players list or not!

I also could have come up with a giant list of power players as there are a whole ruck of people out there who have influenced me, but that would definitely have been a lot more than 50!

With the near torrent of nominations now coming in through social media for nominee’s, its hats off from me to both Paul Taylor (@paulbromford) and Shirley Ayres (@shirleyayres). It will be no easy task to collate all of the replies!

Here’s to the discussion continuing……..


For the sake of innovation? Yes please


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:


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