June 2009

Written by Lori Thiessen

Since the last few posts have had a distinctly modern flavour, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and give you a wee drop of history. This post was  the first post published on the Caffe Culture, the companion blog to Coffee Shop Office.

Imagine you are a bright but poor young man in 18th century London looking for information about what it would cost to insure the cargo on a ship bound from the West Indies. Or, perhaps you want to learn French but you can’t go to university or Frances for that matter. Maybe you fancy listening to some new music but you can’t afford the cost of a concert. Looking for work in the great Metropolis? Where would you go?

For all of these things, a bright young man would go to a coffeehouse. It served at the hub of networking and information exchange. At one point, there were approximately 500 registered coffeehouses in London. Each coffeehouse catered to a different social or economic group. To find the information you needed just go to the appropriate coffeehouse.

It’s a bit like how we use the internet today, only today we can set up our laptops in one coffeehouse and have the information flow through the Wifi to our screens.

The coffee itself was quite nasty by some contemporary accounts, so it wasn’t the brew that was important to coffeehouse customers it was the “extras” that the coffeehouse provided, like a place outside the rowdy pub to talk with friends about serious issues, a place to meet new and interesting people or make those all so critical networking connections for work. It was the 18th century’s public living room, rec room, and newspaperstand-cum-library.

Though the modern day coffee shop hasn’t quite got the same rep of its distant relative, today’s coffee shop doesn’t just brew coffee. It is a place to socialize, to work out of, and to be entertained by musicians among other things.

Yet hang onto your thumb drives, kids, ‘cos, the coffee shop of today might be giving the coffeehouse of 18th England a run for its money as THE place to be in our modern metropolises.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!


Written by Lori Thiessen

Whether you are an entrepreneur or part of the management team for a company, it is important to create a technology budget.  Planning for new technology hardware and replacing old hardware will help keep operating costs under control.

If you are part of a management team for a company, you may have a dedicated IT guru on staff. If you are an entrepreneur or part of a small company, it might be wise to hire an IT consultant. Either way, it is critical to figure out what you really need technologically speaking.

Though tech gadgets are super cool, they aren’t necessarily going to support your business more efficiently. In fact, they may eat up more profits than they make.

If you don’t have a business plan, create one.  This exercise will help you think about the nature of your business and what you need to have to serve your clients well.  It doesn’t need to be the latest and greatest technology, it just has to work.

Let me tell you a story.

My father-in-law decided to switch careers and open up a woodworking business a few years ago. He rushed out and bought a very fancy and expensive fax machine to receive orders.  Now, in my mind, this was a waste of money that could have been put towards other business infrastructure needs, like tools, materials, advertising etc. However, my father-in-law was keen to get the best fax machine available at the time.

This little story illustrates a couple of points: being careful about what you spend your start-up money on and if that technology will be truly needed.

There is an urge in many of us, I think, to get the fanciest and the best straight off in order to create a successful business.

The amount of technological gadgetry your business requires depends on what you do. If you are a graphic designer chances are you will need far more fancy tech stuff than someone well, like me.

My bare bones tech requirements are a computer with a decent amount of memory,  fast internet access and a cell phone.  My wish list shows that I would like a photocopier, scanner, fax machine, Blackberry, iPhone and a printer just for photographs.

I don’t buy this stuff because I really don’t need it right now. There are other things in which I need to invest start-up money. However, I keep my wish list handy and I keep my eye on the sales.

Q: Are you a compulsive consumer when it comes to tech gear? If so, why?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Outliers: The Story of Success pokes significant holes in the North American myth of the self-made man (or woman).

Gladwell argues that being wildly successful (oodles of money, living large, etc) has less to do with an individual being seemingly blessed by the gods and more to do with background, opportunity and encouragement.

In a time when quick fixes are demanded in all areas of life, Gladwell shows that mastery of a particular skill set takes about 10,000 hours of old-fashioned, unglamorous practice.  From Bill Gates to hockey star, Sydney Crosby, every successful person has put in hours and hours of hard work.

Gladwell also points out that there is such a thing as a gifted person but without role models, encouragement and opportunities that gift is likely to wither, undeveloped and unsung.  A gift doesn’t spring fully formed when the recipient of that gift is born.  Unmiraculous things like training and discipline must accompany a gift if it is to bloom.

Given these parameters, why would anybody want to develop their gift? The short answer is passion. Nothing is more encouraging than being passionate about something. It is passion which will drive you to spend 10,000 hours on your gift.

But there is more to it than just passion. The other part of the success formula for work is that it be meaningful.

Like me, you’ve probably read books on success and work. And also like me, you may have been baffled by the words passion and meaningful when applied to work.  The passion part is starting to make sense to me now because I’m spending more time on something that I do care deeply about namely, writing.

But the word meaningful when applied to work still causes me to scratch my head a bit.

Gladwell comes to the rescue by breaking down the connotative definition of this word. For work to be meaningful, it needs to have complexity, autonomy and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

As people have grown dissatisfied with the standard definition of success (e.g. oodles of money, living large), I think Gladwell indirectly offers us a more comfortable definition of success: meaningful work. While this definition may be more comfortable for many of us, meaningful work is, nevertheless, still about hard work, having people around us to encourage us and mentor us, and having opportunities to develop our particular gift into meaningful work.

I would like to share a story with you I heard some years ago about the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

A young painter who was taking lessons from Monet asked the great master’s  advice on a scene which was troubling him. Monet examined the painting then picked up his brush and swept a little colour onto the canvas. The painting was transformed into a wondrous piece of art. “It took you no time at all to do that!” exclaimed the young painter. “Ah, you are wrong. It took me forty years to do that,” replied Monet.

Q: Who do you consider to be a success and why? It doesn’t need to be someone ‘famous’, but someone whom you admire.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Hello, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for a digital information research group called (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/) UKOLN. I’ve been there for 9 years now and have worked on a variety of different ‘information management’ projects in the community and outreach team, there’s more about what I do on my staff page (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/m.guy/).

UKOLN is based at the University of Bath (http://www.bath.ac.uk/). For those of you who haven’t heard of Bath it’s a small but very beautiful city in the south west of England and a top tourist haunt because of its Roman connections. The most famous landmark is the Roman Baths but there is lots of other amazing architecture including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Weir and Pulteney Bridge. Being such a great city Bath is an expensive place to live and soon as we’d started a family it made sense to move out of the city to somewhere we could get more for our money. We now live about 40 minutes out of Bath in a small town called Melksham.

After I started back to work following my third lot of maternity leave (poor old UKOLN!) commuting to work no longer made sense. Getting to Bath usually involves sitting in a long traffic jam twiddling your thumbs, and doing the school run now meant that I was permanently late. UKOLN has a great attitude towards flexible working and was happy to let me work from home. As time moved on and I got into the swing of things (the technologies to use, keeping yourself motivated, how to work on the move, what to eat for lunch!) I was given the role of ‘Remote Worker Champion’ and became the main representative for the remote workers (there are currently 7 UKOLN remote workers). I really wanted to take a proactive approach to remote worker support so have written a number of articles on related issues and set up a blog (Ramblings of a Remote Worker http://remoteworker.wordpress.com ) to share my thoughts.

My experiences of remote working have been highly positive but it’s not quite the same story everywhere else…

The Lows and Highs

In the UK the right to request flexible working was recently extended to include parents of children under the age of 17 (previously it was only children under the age of 5). This now means that most parents can ‘ask’ if they can work from home (or somewhere outside of their office) and achieve a better work/life balance. This sounds like a great opportunity for many people but the reality is that there is no pressure on organisations to agree to any requests. Recent statistics from the National Centre for Social Research Omnibus Survey and the National Travel Survey show that in 2008 around 3 per cent of workers always worked from home, 7 per cent did so at least once a week and 5 per cent at least once a month. The report also found that the extent of home working has remained relatively stable since 2002 despite an increasing number of people saying they could do some of their work at home (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221513/438774/homeinternetreport.pdf).

It seems people do want to work from home but there are often cultural and occasionally technological reasons why they can’t. Management attitudes to home/remote workers remain outdated and issues like blurred boundaries, corporate identity, poor broadband, lack of communication with colleagues and low morale don’t help. The recession has had a negative effect too. In the UK, as is I’m sure the case in North America, people are clinging onto their jobs and now doesn’t seem to be a good time to complain about working practices. Even for those who are lucky enough to been given home working rights there are worries that as employees they will end up at the back of the queue when it comes to many things (promotion, work opportunities) and at the front when it comes to others (redundancy). My own personal research into the matter has shown me that at the moment the public sector (e.g. Universities and some government institutions) and forward-thinking commercial companies (especially those working in technology areas) lead the way. The rest of the working country is really dragging its heels.

That said the benefits of home/remote working are becoming clearer. Remote workers are often more productive, more loyal, absent from work less and given the rise in office space have lower overheads to account for. There are also environmental benefits to add to the mix. I know the Coffee Shop Office has posted at length about the many advantages home/remote/teleworking offers.

It’s proving to be a slow journey and the coffee shop culture that Lori and Gregg blog about is still but a pipe dream here in the UK, but we are making some progress. The recent National Work from Home Day, which encourages people to work from home, instead of commuting to their usual place of work, organised by Workwise UK (http://www.workwiseuk.org/index.html) got quite a lot of media coverage, especially the Twitter/Google mash up that it generated (http://www.speedcommunications.com/NWFHD/). People could Tweet in their postcode (zipcode) and any comments about how their home working day was going. Also recent events like the heavy UK snow fall in February and the Swine Flu threat have made employers realise that remote working solutions need to be in place.

So we are lagging a little bit behind you North American folk. As Mark Twain famously said “An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Maybe there is a small fear of the unknown, but working practices will change, primarily because people want them to.



Marieke Guy

Marieke Guy