So last week I found myself working in our London office, right as London Underground’s workers were about to start the first of two planned 48 hour strikes. Simple journeys suddenly became very complex.
Some people I spoke to spent two and a half hours on what was usually a 45 minute commute, with some major logistical headaches, and a lot of stress.
It got me thinking, how can technology simplify some of these complexities?
How can you design your work life to work around the difficulties of modern urban life, whether caused by transport difficulties, or indeed the ever changing weather patterns we are experiencing?
Planning, and Reacting on The Move
We all knew the strike was coming, so planning was the key. Last Tuesday I also followed TFL travel alerts on twitter (@TflTravelAlerts) and used their website to plan my journey into London avoiding closed lines and stations.
It was actually a great opportunity to learn about walking routes around London – often things are closer than you realise! There are a host of travel applications which can keep you up to date with the changing situation. CityMapper, Moovit, Google Maps to name a few, all of which provide real time feedback on changing traffic and transport delays as well as a host of travel planning tools to find alternative routes on buses or by foot.
What was striking was that the travel situation was changing throughout the day – so plans in the morning wouldn’t necessarily last until the afternoon. There was a situation I saw with only a single ticket barrier open for an entire crowd of commuters leaving Liverpool Street station.
Getting quick alerts of this through Twitter would allow you to avoid queuing and actually do some work. I found myself using the London Coffee Map app to find a higher quality cup while catching up with some emails.
Reframing Difficult Journeys
The idea of being stood armpit to armpit with a bunch of strangers in a crowded carriage is not one of people’s favourite pastimes. But you can use this time productively.
A couple of years ago I was asked what I wanted my work to have more of and I replied “travel time”. Does that sound crazy to you? Probably, but the reason was that I used to have a lot of international travel in my work and I found that those long hours on a plane became a very focused personal time for reading books and articles, writing, and listening to music. I was so busy at other times that I never got the chance to do this. What had started as an onerous part of my job became something that gave me an advantage, more learning and thinking time. I would have loved an iPad, Kindle or smart phone back then.
So a protracted – delayed – journey can actually present a great opportunity to listen to podcasts, videos, white papers or eBooks. I use the app Instapaper to catch up on blog posts and articles that I haven’t yet had the chance to read while online.
If you’ve not seen it, Instapaper allows you to install a widget in your browser that says “Read later”. When you click it, it sends the article text the Instapaper app on your mobile device – so you can read later! This is such a great app for keeping up to date with latest thinking – and turns an uncomfortable train journey into a fantastic opportunity for continual learning.
This simple app transforms journeys into opportunities for idea generation and opportunity spotting – a vital part of an ongoing R&D process.
Embracing the Disruption
Of course the big question is: do you even need to travel? Working remotely can be very productive and has been proven to be a healthy part of a working week. Many studies over the years have proven this (Forbes summarises some of those benefits) but the most successful roll outs tend to be with companies that already have results driven working practices rather than direct supervision and micro management.
At Techdept we have made sure that every one of our team has the ability to work from home, or remotely. This was driven initially by issues we had with our team commuting in with bad weather – but applies to any travel disruption.
Does your team have the ability to work from home, do they know how to access emails remotely and can they access important files? Prior preparation minimizes disruption – and reduces the need for that 2-and-a-half-hour each way commute.
Technology is the key to effective remote working and the steady move of core business software to the cloud means that it is not difficult to connect with your peers and share information seamlessly as though you are together. This does take some getting used to – so it’s worth trialing remote working, to avoid it being a big issue when it is required, and to iron out any technical glitches which occur.
Tools like Lync, Google Hangouts and Skype (all of which provide messaging, screen sharing and voice / video conferencing), enable real time communication and document sharing for much more productive meetings, no more awkward conference calls and “I’m sending you an email now” moments. Real time collaboration on documents outside of meetings is also a reality now that Google Docs and Office 365 have matured into business class applications.
We have actually found that it can be more productive having four people remotely work on one document than have them crowd around one screen. Wearing headsets they can talk and type at the same time and each person can contribute simultaneously. No passing the keyboard around or leaning over each other to point at the screen.
Dealing with Disruption
Technology is a great way of dealing with disruption in your day’s logistics – whether you’re stuck in it, or at home avoiding it. But the technology is only the facilitator – the big shift is in mindset.
Is it really necessary for your team to be in the office? Can they be more productive at home, or in a satellite office rather than struggling through the train network? These are important challenges for individuals and companies.
Have you discussed these plans internally, and trained your team on how to get the most from the apps I discuss above? Agility in your operations has a value – and should be thought through in advance
Succeeding is not about which technology you use or how well you plan, it’s about how you deal with the disruption and how you turn it to your advantage. A crammed carriage can become a quiet workplace or reading space, a slow moving queue becomes a meditative stage for thinking. It’s down to attitude.
image credit – Tube Strike Huffington PostFind this interesting?