It would be nice to have a Crystal Ball where one could see into the future, but sadly we all have to work with what we see and making workplace technology predictions is often just guesswork based on the the evidence around us.
However, I'm going to give this a whirl with my thoughts on some emerging (and one well established) technology and how I think (and hope) that it will all affect and improve the workplace and our economy.
Tele-Commuting /Remote working
OK, so hardly a new term or concept, but, in my view, the take-up in the UK has been woefully low. And I think this is down to a few factors:
Management by presence - this is where the owners and managers of businesses don't believe that you could possibly be working if you're not in the office. This is an old way of thinking and needs to change.
Lack of trust in the technology - having been an IT manager I can understand this fully. Many technologies around business computing were traditionally very unreliable and insecure. Thankfully the technology has improved considerably, but there's still an underlying mistrust.
Misunderstanding the technology - this is almost solely the fault of the technology industry failing to properly communicate the benefits of tele-commuting.
Having said all of that, I do see a growing awareness of what this technology is about and how it may help even the smallest of businesses. There are cost and time savings that are being realised by those that grasp this concept.
If you own and/or run a small business then this is something you should take seriously in my view. A huge amount of work can be done remotely using cloud-based technologies and all it takes is a shift in thinking (not as easy as I make it sound though).
In our business we employ 2 people who work from home. It would be nonsense to try and make them turn up at an office each day. It would mean additional cost for the business, in terms of office space, and the fact that it would cost them to get to and from work.
And let's not forget that commuting to work is incredibly bad for the environment.
The key here is to have proper measurable working targets and clear communication about what's expected and by when. If a remote worker knows what's expected, has measurable performance standards (just like they would in an office) then I think that tele-commuting should be seriously considered.
I worked for a software company a few years ago and the owners insisted that all staff come into an office each day, even though the all of the business systems were in the cloud. My role could quite easily have been done from home and it's likely that I would have been more productive at times because I would have had fewer interruptions from other members of staff.
Now this may seem like a bit of an odd choice but I see great change for many businesses, especially smaller firms. You see, this technology is getting to the point where many small companies can afford it.
This means that the lead times and costs of product development and prototyping have plummeted.This will enable smaller companies to innovate like they have never been able to before. And I believe that this will drive research and development levels to new heights. You can try a new product or design cheaply in hours rather than days or weeks.
The knock-on affect is that products can be brought to market much faster and with considerably less risk. Another key factor here is that it will enable those who grasp it to win more business, since they'll be able to develop ideas more fully and much quicker than those using older methods. The fast-moving and fast-thinking businesses (typically smaller firms) can outmanoeuvre their bigger competitors.
It's also possible (and highly likely as the technology develops) that 3D printing will enable smaller businesses to start manufacturing in increasing quantities. This would cut lead times, improve profit margins, reduce errors, improve communication and also enable complete product personalisation (how would that impress your customers?).
Social Media Collaboration
Now I know you're thinking something like "But this has been around for ages!" and you're right, it has. But the shift that I see happening is where social media is brought into the business collaboration sphere. This is where you use things like Hangouts to share, learn, and collaborate on work and projects.
Not quite a new concept but this is beginning to happen in big ways as small businesses start to leverage the business benefits of being able to pitch things quickly and securely to a group and get discussion and feedback in a way and at a speed never before realised.
The time and cost savings around this can be significant, especially for smaller businesses who don't have large budgets for testing ideas and/or getting feedback.
In our web design business we have a couple of groups that we use for just this, one group on LinkedIn and another on Google+.
Fewer meetings, more video conferencing (worldwide)
This may sound like a no-brainer but it strikes me that many businesses still insist on regularly getting a bunch of people together (often from far and wide) in meetings. This is a ridiculous waste of time and money, something that I hope this current recession has hammered home.
The technology for people to get together using something like Skype is cheap and widely used generally but still not being fully utilised by many businesses to its potential. This, in my view, is a classic case of 'inherited thinking' where people do it because 'we've always done it this way'.
A good recent example of my own is that I received some business coaching recently and my coach insisted that after the first face-to-face session we would communicate via video call on Skype. It saved time, hassle and money for us both.
Now I know that some meetings are better when you sit with someone (especially early on in a business relationship) but after a while it's more effective for both parties to use the technology.
In my web design business we've favoured work that's close to Leicester (where we're based) because we value face to face time with clients. However, as the business grows and our reach expands that face-time will become increasingly untenable due to distance. Thus video-conferencing becomes more attractive. We won't need to sit in the car for hours for a meeting when you can see face to face over the internet.
So, if you're self-employed or run business then I hope that these workplace technology predictions have given you some thoughts on how you can improve your processes, maybe save some time and money and, overall, make your business better.
If you have some thoughts on what will happen in the workplace and how the evolving/emerging technologies will affect us then please write in the comments. It would be great to hear from you.
In my view the biggest challenge when running a small business is coping with work overload. There is always more to do than time available for doing it and it can quickly become overwhelming to the point where you feel paralysed trying to work out what to do next.
But while it's difficult to reduce the workload at times, you can do a few things to help get you through the blockage.
Go for easy targets
One of the key things I find when I feel overwhelmed by work is that the to do list looks very long indeed but most of the tasks on it will (usually) be small jobs that will take a short but undetermined length of time.
If you can get some of these out of the way then you'll start feeling a little less paralysed by the sheer volume of stuff. Even better is that almost all of these little tasks won't take nearly as long as you think they will.
Cut out distractions
This is an age-old time management technique but it's as true as ever. The key here is to give yourself the maximum possible chance of being able to focus. And that means switching off things such as your phone, your email, any social media, the radio, and anything else that will take your attention away from the tasks at hand.
I'm going to be writing an article dedicated to this since, if you get it right, you'll increase your productivity and cut your stress levels immensely.
One of the most straightforward things is to simply delegate some of your work to others.
If you're the manager of a team or the owner of a business where you have a staff then you should only be doing the tasks that are fit for your role.
A good example of this was when I went to visit a friend who is a successful business owner. His secretary told me he was doing a spot of plumbing and I found him trying to fix a toilet.
The first thing out my mouth was something like "What the heck do you think you're doing?" I went on to remind him that his time was worth hundreds of pounds an hour and that he should stop what he's doing and get his secretary to phone a plumber to come and sort it out.
This situation had arisen because he was so used to getting involved in his business that he didn't even think that fixing toilets was a complete waste of his time and expertise. The job needed to be done, but he really wasn't the one that needed to be doing it. In fact, this situation is very common among business owners who've run their business from its inception.
If you're a solo-entrepreneur (i.e. self-employed) things are slightly different. You may not have staff but you can still quite easily delegate to subcontractors.
A simple example is admin and telephone answering. How many hours would it save you if someone else answered the phone for you and handled things like book-keeping?
In my website design business I started this process by contracting out graphic design work. I can do design but I realised that I'm not very efficient at it.
Paying someone else to do it for me freed up a huge number of hours to focus on other stuff like client management, sales and product development.
It it very much worth the money and our levels of customer satisfaction increased considerably.
So, hopefully one or more of those tips will give you something to work on if you're having a hard time coping with work overload.
Let us know in the comments if you've any quick tips for coping with work overload, it would be great to hear from you.
A few months ago I went to a seminar on Lean Startups which was aimed at tech firms looking for some startup ideas etc. While there the speaker threw out the phrase "Make what you can sell, don't sell what you can make". And this got me thinking (when I got to grips with what he actually meant).
You see, one of the biggest curses when you're an entrepreneur is that you're normally flooded with ideas for projects and products. I always have more ideas than I could possibly implement in amongst all that I'm currently working on. If you're in business you may be able to relate to this.
So, I'd like to tell you a bit of a story with this in mind.
A few years ago I ran a training business. We offered a variety of training products and I was doing a lot of talks at business networking groups to highlight how good we were etc.
One of my talk topics was 'Low-cost and no-cost marketing techniques for small businesses' and it was very popular.
So, based on that, we developed an e-product of the same name. It was an e-book and MP3 seminar. And, as you could imagine, I was really excited about it. We spent nearly a whole week putting this thing together. We did loads of research into useful stuff that would benefit the intended buyers.
The problem was: I had no idea if anyone would be interested in buying it. In my naive enthusiasm I made the assumption that because the talk was popular then it's obvious that my target market wouldn't mind spending £20 buying something along the same lines.
We put loads of effort into the product, spent time and effort on email marketing and promoting it at events and we sold just one copy. 'Make what you can sell, don't sell what you can make' didn't even come into my consciousness. And, because of the failure of our efforts, we lost heart and dropped the product.
The big mistake was that we spent no time at all thinking about whether anyone would actually buy the new product. The audience that wanted low-cost and no-cost really wanted 'no-cost'.
And if you launch a product or service that nobody wants to buy then it's been a thorough waste of time, effort and money.
Another mistake was to rely on only 2 real marketing channels but we'll get onto that in another article.
But what should you do about this kind of thing? What should you do with these great ideas? How can you strive to 'Make what you can sell'?
In my view, the first thing is to ask yourself: "Despite the fact that I'm excited about this idea, will I be able to get other people excited enough to buy it?"
This means starting with a bit of research in your target market. Why not ask a handful of folks you know in the target market if they think it's a good idea and (more importantly) whether they'd be inc lined to buy it. You could also write a blog post on your website about the planned product and post it out on Twitter to try and get some feedback (Twitter didn't exist when we launched our doomed product).
You also need to look at whether anyone else is successfully selling such a thing. If they are then it means that there is a market. You could then examine how your competition approaches the market and emulate some of what they do. Don't copy them but if they have a good idea then look ways to adapt it to your own style and approach.
It could be possible that there is a gap in the market and your research then becomes ever more important since you'll be blazing a trail for other entrants if they latch onto this gap when you've stepped into it.
I hope that help but a huge caveat with this is that you shouldn't spend too long researching. If the feedback shows that the idea is good then get on and launch it and do it quickly. It's better to fail quickly for reasons we'll discuss elsewhere.
If you have thoughts on this or have similar experiences then we'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
We all have habits. These are the things we do very regularly without even thinking about them, such as getting up and putting the kettle on before you do anything else. You just do them without even knowing that they're habits.
Work habits are just the same, you get to your desk and without even thinking you check your email, after making that all-important cup of coffee.
Does any of that sound familiar? Can you quickly identify some simple habits in your work and life?
Most of our habits will be neutral in terms of whether they are beneficial or not. But I've been going through some self-analysis and began to think about whether the way I work is particularly efficient and/or effective.
And I've concluded that I need to make some work adjustments if I really want to move my business further and faster.
So, I did some research on getting started with new work habits and have embarked on some small but significant changes in how I work.
One of the first things I'm doing (starting with what you're reading right now) is to write a minimum of 150 words a day. This may not sound like a lot but I do enjoy writing and know that content development and blogging are important for success in online marketing. Thus helping my business.
I've also realised that I need to be much more diligent in doing my business marketing each day. I aim to do at least 45 minutes each day but have let that slip in recent weeks.
Last week I made a commitment to exercise a minimum 3 times over a seven day period since that's something else that I've let slide in recent months. Not quite a new work habit but it's important to stay fit and healthy if you want to be focused and productive ("Sharpen the saw" as Dr Covey used to say).
A key tip is to realise that checking and acting upon email at the beginning of the working day is a completely reactive work habit. You're letting someone else set the tone for the day. So, my emails won't get answered until mid morning from now on (well, most of the time anyway).
Now these may seem like really small and simple things but the cumulative effect over time should be quite significant. If I write 150 words a day that amounts to 2 or 3 blog posts a week. Thus accumulating a decent volume. Doing some marketing each day helps to ensure that I'm constantly winning and keeping customers instead of waiting until things get needy.
I've learned over the years that if you want to make changes then start with small and regular things and go from there. You'll be far more successful making regular small changes than aiming at big stuff in one go. Getting started is easy, keeping going is hard. So start small and develop as you go.
But the best thing about aiming at habits is that I habits happen without having to think too much about it. I want my new habits to become integral parts of my life and work so that they will get done because it's a normal part of what I do anyway.
I'll be writing more over time as these new work habits develop but feel free to share your thoughts on getting started with new work habits in the comments below. If you've started a new work habit recently let us know how it's going.
While listening to a business speaker recently he mentioned that it's vital to monitor who you hang around with when you're trying to build a business. And this got me thinking about who I tend to hang around with and whether I actually keep the right company.
You see, it's been very well documented that you often end up becoming like those you spend the most time with.
For example; if you spend a lot of time with folks who swear a lot you're quite likely to become someone who swears a lot. If you start going out drinking regularly with drinkers then there's a strong chance that you'll become a habitual drinker (and maybe an alcoholic). Children who grow up with parents who smoke normally end up smoking too. And so on.
Those of us who are parents will know that we don't want our children hanging around with those who swear, smoke and do stuff that's disrespectful and often illegal. Most parents want their kids to hang around with folks who are intelligent, respectful, and well behaved. We instinctively know that attitudes and behaviours are contagious when it comes to kids.
But why do we seem to think that we're any more immune to the bad (or beneficial) influences of others when we're older?
So, let's have a think about this: does it not make sense that if we want our children to hang around with good influences then maybe we all ought to seek out good influences, despite how old we are?
Look at it this way: if you want to become better at a sport it makes great sense to get some coaching and also to hang around with those who are good and positive role models.
A good example is that I used to play basketball (OK, you can stop laughing now). I'm not very good but my play certainly improved when I started hanging around with those who were better than me. I was able to observe what they did and how they did it, ask for help and then try and put some of that into effect in my own level of play. It worked.
And so it is with being in business. When you run a business, who you hang around with matters more than ever. Very few of the regulars at your local bar will be able to educate, influence or inspire you to be a better business person. Unless they're running a business of their own they just won't understand your challenges, your motivations or your decisions. And, if you took a good look, you'd find very few business owners in the bar every night anyway.
So, what should you do?
As a business owner the answer is really simple: go where the successful people are. Go to events where people in business go. The local Chamber of Commerce is a good start. Are there other business groups that meet regularly where you can rub shoulders with those who are heading in the same direction that you'd like to go?
However, I must warn you that this kind of stuff can be quiet intimidating to begin with. But I promise it'll be worth the initial discomfort.
Perhaps you could start a mastermind group and invite people who are already successful to come along and make a contribution?
How about asking a successful person if they'd consider mentoring you as you get started?
To be honest, having good positive influences around you will seriously speed up your development as a businessperson. After all, what could be better than to be able to pick up the phone (or send a quick email) to someone who's been there and done it?
Now, back to thinking about who you hang around with now: I'm not saying that you should ditch all of your friends immediately but it's a sobering thought that you only have to look at your friends to take a look at your probable future. If you're happy with what you see then I wish you the best of luck.
But if there are things you'd like to change then don't just kick your friends off the radar completely, we all need friends (even if they will never understand your life in business).
However, I would certainly encourage you to take your time and have a think about the value that some of your friendships bring to you. Ask yourself whether your friends are lifting you up or bringing you down, helping or hindering you in any aspect of your life.
And this is especially worth doing if you're starting or running a business.
So I hope that you'll begin to think a little more about who you hang around with but if you've any further thoughts on this then please let me know in the comments section.