Life at Work

This blog reflects on life at work at comments on the latest news that shapes my 9-5 working day in a Corporate Communications consultancy.

About Me

I am a born and bred South African who has always loved to read and write. As a child my mother used to read to me and my siblings, from classics like the “Lord of the Rings” but later also from her own stories. She would write children’s stories and then use us as her test audience, but I loved to hear what she had written long after my siblings had tired of it. So I grew up in an environment of reading and writing, which inspired my love of these things. I hope to write a great book some day, and have learnt first hand the determination and will that it takes. My love of English inspired me to continue my study of it at university. I majored in Law and English in a BA degree at UCT where I found that I took to English much more than law. I enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and the development of our liberal Constitution, which increasingly made me committed to the hope this country has for the future. Ideally, I’d like to find myself in a job where I am able to write; that allows a good mix of time spent with people and being able to work on my own.

Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Debating the wisdom of open plan offices

Time to be honest about open-plan offices
By Michael Skapinker
Published: May 4 2009 19:19 Last updated: May 4 2009 19:19

When I began my first management job, an entrepreneur friend gave me some useful advice: “Give your people space to moan about you.” Talking about the boss was an inevitable part of working life, she said, and a way for teams to establish camaraderie.
I remembered her words when the Financial Times reported that Terry Morgan, chief executive of Tube Lines, had no office, sitting instead at a desk on an open-plan floor where he gazed over his employees. Mr Morgan, whose company runs three London Underground lines, said: “The only privilege I have is the best view.”
Lynda Gratton, a London Business School professor, said of Mr Morgan’s arrangement: “We’ll see more of it. Organisations are moving to being more of networks. So sitting with your colleagues signals that you see it in a less hierarchical way.”
Underlying the question of whether the boss should sit in an open-plan office is whether anyone should. That is not an issue much discussed these days, so well-entrenched is the assumption that open-plan offices encourage the free-flowing communication essential to business success. Put people together, let them talk and innovation will flow.
Will it? Certainly, people need to talk to get things done. But do they need to spend their days in the same office to talk, especially when they have e-mail and Skype? Thirty years of studies have revealed that open-plan design “only minimally facilitates communications and does so at the expense of privacy”, Suining Ding, a US academic, noted in an article in Facilities journal.
The privacy point is important. Who would opt for a shared space if they could have their own? Backpackers stay in youth hostel dormitories, but that is because they cannot afford to pay for privacy. Hotels do not ask business travellers whether they would like to have their own rooms or shared ones, because they know the answer. Airlines can charge considerably more for seats that give you some distance from your neighbours.
Whatever small gains open-plan offices do offer in enhanced communication are, in any event, wiped out by the loss of productivity. We do not need academic studies to tell us people get less done when they have to listen to their neighbours’ conversations and telephone calls. Once again, a commonsense reference to life outside the office suffices: libraries have a rule of silence because it allows people to work.
It is not just the distractions of open-plan offices that lower productivity. A recent article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management said that employees in open-plan offices were more prone to eye, nose and throat irritations, and more likely to come down with flu.
Open-plan offices may offer companionship, but that assumes you like the people whose space you share. It is surely more comfortable to be able to pop into the private office of those you want to see.
So why are most offices these days open-plan? Because they cost less. The Asia Pacific Journal article put the saving at up to 20 per cent. Not only do open-plan offices allow companies to eliminate the cost of all those walls; they can also fit far more people into the same space.
There is nothing wrong with cutting costs; lower costs mean higher profits and a better chance of corporate survival. Organisations in which every employee has his or her own office might soon find themselves undercut by companies, possibly on the other side of the world, that pack staff into a single space.
Open-plan buildings are, as the Asia Pacific Journal says, also more efficient to heat and cool than traditional closed offices, so open-plan is greener as well as cheaper.
Given that it seems here to stay, should managers share the open space with their staff? There are strong arguments in favour. Whether it comes to insisting that all staff fly economy or cut down on lunches with clients, when companies impose a cost-cutting hardship on staff, managers should lead by example.
Against that, managers need a space to talk to employees in private, and for employees to talk to them, away from the straining ears of their colleagues. That can be dealt with by providing meeting spaces away from the open-plan areas, although that requires staff to make specific arrangements to talk rather than just dropping by. (By way of declaring an interest, I should say that I have an office next to the open-plan area of the team I manage.)
But my friend’s point remains: managers may want to work alongside their staff, but their staff may not want to work alongside them. Certainly, managers who work in open-plan areas should give their people a break by going somewhere else from time to time. Mr Morgan of Tube Lines told the FT he liked working in the open-plan office because, “I can listen to the gossip.” The gossip he is unlikely to hear is the gossip about him. His staff probably go elsewhere for that.

Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Graduates naive about jobs

Advice to be realistic about job seeking from a recruitment agent should come in handy for any WoWers still out there are looking.

'Graduates naive about jobs'
Mar 04 2009 09:39 Joanita Cillié

Johannesburg - Graduates who are now entering the labour market, need rapidly to adjust their expectations because, in the current economic conditions, there are many obstacles to accessing the workplace.
Jan Coetzee, managing director of Manpower South Africa, says "Generation Y", who were born between the late 1970s and 2000, are entering the market with entirely different expectations from those of their predecessors. Much of these are unrealistic.
"They think a degree will ensure they get work. And I cannot say how many come to us looking for a monthly salary of at least R20 000, exorbitant benefits or a management position."
These individuals have, however, zero work experience and compete with an ever-expanding pool of jobseekers.
South Africa, he reckons, has till now been largely a candidate-driven market. When people with good skills sought work, agencies could quickly place them somewhere.
With many people losing their work as a result of retrenchment, and South Africans returning home from, especially, England, Australia and New Zealand, it is changing into an employer-driven market.
"It is also a reality that the market for permanent employment has shrunk significantly," Coetzee notes.
He comments that candidates with an honours or Master's degree struggle for months to get work and, sometimes, as soon as they get a job quickly lose it again because of the first-in-first-out principle; this can result in psychological scarring.
He advises candidates to first become more realistic about what they expect from a position.
Secondly, they might consider temporary work. Such jobs could become permanent in the future, and these candidates would then be more attractive because they would have gained valuable experience in different industries.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Thought for the day

“Brand is what people say about you when you’re
out of the room.” Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon

Monday, 16 February 2009

Excelling at your job

Amidst all the unemployment statistics, a Finweek piece today gives valuable tips on how to keep your job. Although has an edge of cynicism and when I'm reading it, makes me feel like I should walk on a tightrope around the office, it gives some valuable reminders on how to excel at my job: sometimes I forget this in the quest just to survive the day to day.

UNLESS YOU HAVE A JOB where your output is clearly measurable, you may wish to consider the guidance provided below. It would appear such measures - as ludicrous as some may seem - have been proved to work over the years. Donna Rosato, of Money Magazine suggests the following:
"It all starts with profiling. Does your boss's boss know who you are and what you do? If he doesn't, you may well be in trouble. It's no good if your immediate line manager or supervisor alone knows you're good. You have to make sure that at the uppermost echelons of the organisation the right people know your name (and game).
"Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof your job: four simple strategies to ride out the tough times and come out on top at work, warns that 'the invisible guy is the first to go'.
"How do you raise your profile? Suggestions in Viscusi's book include: "face" time (arriving at the office a few minutes before everyone else and leaving a few minutes later) and making yourself noticed. You do that by making convincing statements and asking appropriate questions at meetings and other public arenas. Dressing more professionally. How about volunteering for those assignments nobody else wants?
"Then there's the question of money. You have to be making money. If you're not - and you happen to fall on the support side of the business - you need to be seen to be adding to the bottom line. Companies tend to cut jobs in support areas first. You need to be seen to be sharing leads or ideas to generate revenue.
"You need to network and you need to ensure you network with the right people: align yourself with those perceived to be top performers - those who have the boss's favour. Be careful about backing the wrong horse, because when his race is done, yours may very well be too. On the other hand, hanging out with the top performers may just leave you looking good, even if it's just by association. Some gurus don't agree: we'll leave it to you to decide the best course to follow."
Chris Kalaboukis, CEO of Advice Trader, a leading expert advice marketplace, suggests now's the time to be politically neutral. "If you ally yourself too closely with your boss, you could be in trouble if he goes. Be very aware of what's going on - but don't ally yourself with anyone," says Kalaboukis.
Most importantly, don't complain. Nobody likes people who complain all the time, especially when times are strained and profits are down. Rather be seen to be the one coming up with new, creative, cost-cutting ideas.
Kalaboukis agrees: "That's a sure job buster. Management is strung tight: stress is at an all-time high. Money is barely trickling in, if at all. Now isn't the time to complain. Bottle it all up and never say a single word to anyone at work - or anyone who knows anyone at work - no matter how unfair or wrong things are."
He cites the importance of wearing a mask when at work. "Smile, be happy and never give anyone a reason to ask: "What's wrong?' That, my friend, is the beginning of the end. You may as well get your resumé out."
You need to be seen to be going beyond the realms of responsibility for which you were hired and to position yourself as a "team player". The reality is employees worldwide are being expected to do more with less. You can choose to embrace it or complain about it: either way, you can't change the outcome - which is that you have to work harder. If you embrace it, you're more likely to remain on the team when the short straws are drawn.
However, Kalaboukis warns: "If you excel at your job you'll get noticed. Your co-workers will notice you're doing well and start talking to the boss about it. They'll gang up on you and try to take you down. Excellence makes you different and 'difference' is a negative. Don't be different - but don't let yourself slack off in any way either."
Last, but certainly, not least - be on time.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Quote of the Week

"The financial crisis that grew into an economic crisis is now becoming an employment crisis, and in the coming months, for some it will be a human crisis. Far from being insulated... developing countries are feeling the effects - and Africa is no exception"


Interest rates in numbers

With Interest rates and the budget all over the news lately, this FM article provides a quick snapshot.

100 basis points, or 1%, was the SA Reserve Bank's interest rate cut last week, making the prime lending rate 10,5%. This will provide relief to cash-strapped consumers.

2003 was the last time the bank made this big a rate adjustment. Bank governor Tito Mboweni had, uncharacteristically, said he had favoured a 2% cut.

10,3% was SA's consumer inflation in December 2008. Declining inflation and consumer confidence gave the bank reason to cut.

0,2% was Q3 economic growth rate in SA, its slowest in a decade. Mining, retail and manufacturing experienced negative growth.

1% is the interest rate in the UK, the lowest in the 300-year history of its central bank. The UK has consistently decreased its interest rates from 5% in October last year, in a bid to drag its economy out of a recession.

0%-0,25% is the interest rate in the US. It is down from 4,75% in September 2007.

0,1% is Japan's interest rate. 2% is what Europe opted to leave its interest rate at, this month. It has suggested it may

Thursday, 05 February 2009

Thought for the day

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.
~Author Unknown