1. The modern lunchbreak: it may be pitiful, but it’s all we’ve got

    Posted August 26, 2013 in comment, office  |  No Comments so far

    Picture the scene. You’re at work, at ten to nine in the morning, staring at your overflowing to-do list in silent panic, just as a rabbit might stare at the headlights of an approaching juggernaut. How will you ever get all this stuff done?

    You switch to your calendar, hoping to find a soothing expanse of empty, productive time in which to cut that to-do list down to size. But what you actually see in Outlook resembles what might appear if you tried playing Tetris while suffering from a deep migraine.

    (This looks quite sane compared to my real calendar)

    (This looks quite sane compared to my real calendar)

    Multiple meetings, scheduled simultaneously, are squashed into thin slivers, with scant space left to show what they’re actually about. Some are short: the “scrum calls”, the “stand-ups”, the “check-ins”. Others are of epic duration, spanning many hours, giving attendees time to ponder the world’s most profound and enduring mysteries at length—and quite possibly resolve them too. What they have in common is that they will all prevent you from completing any of your tasks.

    You can’t attend them all but it’s fair to say that you won’t be seeing the outside of the meeting room before sunset. And as the fun is due to begin in ten minutes, you have just enough time to bump all those to-do list tasks from today to tomorrow.

    Just as you start doing that, a new email arrives. Actually, it’s not an email at all – it’s a meeting request! For today! As if. With a rueful shake of the head, you click “decline” and – consummate professional that you are – type out a reason for your refusal to attend, suggesting they look at your calendar before inviting you to future meetings.

    Before hitting send, however, you notice with horror that, in fact, they did look at your calendar. This you know because they chose the only half-hour section of the day not already jam-packed with meetings: they scheduled it in your lunch break.



    If things like this happen to you regularly you’ll probably agree with me that our lunchtime is under threat and that we must take steps to save it.

    I should admit that I’ve not always been the staunchest defender of the lunch break. Like many others, I was complacent during earlier assaults on this age-old workplace institution. As desk-based lunches became the norm, my increasingly rare trips beyond the nearest grim sandwich emporium started to feel cheekily transgressive, like white-collar truant.

    While I didn’t mind that, I always assumed there would be respect for what remained: that half-hour break spent furtively eating a sandwich, indulging in recreational reading while fresh crumbs speckled the keyboard. I thought this vestige of personal time in the middle of the working day would be preserved, as biologists might protect a fragile microhabitat in a mountaintop rock pool. I thought we were safe: but now we have the lunchtime meeting requests.

    This is our last stand. If we give in to this, and start accepting – or, heavens forbid, scheduling – lunchtime meetings, then our lunch breaks really will be a thing of the past. But how can we fight back? Declining a meeting invitation is a sensitive event in the world of office politics, and open arguments with meeting organisers about whether your lunch break takes priority over their scrum call or stand-up or check-in should be avoided at all costs.

    Instead, the best bet is to fight fire with fire and transform your calendar from your zone of vulnerability into your key weapon of defence by inviting yourself to 1-hour meetings in the middle of the day. This means that, when they look at your calendar, meeting organisers see a 9-hour monolith of uninterrupted appointments and decide that their stand-up or check-in just might be able to wait for another day. Even if you end up using that time to sit at your desk and clear your to-do list while eating a sandwich, you’ll be much better off for it.

  2. Image Source – redesigned website live

    Posted September 1, 2008 in projects, web  |  2 Comments so far

    Since October 2007 I’ve been working on a redesign project for Image Source, a stock photo provider not unlike Getty Images or Corbis. The site went live last night.

    My company was initially hired to help flesh out the information architecture and design concepts. The central aim of the project was to build something that functioned more like a software application than a straightforward website, but without using Flash or Java. We went on to produce detailed specifications, site maps, activity flows and the full visual design for the site.


    One of the design principles was that “image is king” – the interface design needed to be clean and minimal so as not to stand between the user and the site’s images. The above homepage screenshot gives a sense of how we achieved this.

    The new site also makes use of horizontal scrolling, which is quite a radical departure from convention.


    We were engaged to carry out over forty user testing sessions in Cologne and London to validate this concept and ensure that users wouldn’t find it too baffling. I conducted these sessions myself and went on to produce the analysis document that led to a series of final refinements being made.

    From a technical point of view the project has been really ambitious. If you work in web presentation technologies, I urge you to go and have a play – I think you’ll be impressed with the quality of the coding and the adaptibility of the interface. The company that built the site, Orange Logic, did an amazing job. When we were handing over the functional specification back in November 2007, I was worried that the site was just too complex to be delivered without resorting to Flash. I’m glad to have been proved wrong!

  3. Why you should work from home more often

    Posted July 28, 2008 in work  |  No Comments so far

    I’m lucky to have an employer with a sensible telecommuting policy – all of our staff are entitled to spend one day per week working from home.

    If this isn’t something your company does, this column from the Economist provides a useful summary of the reasons why they should.

    The benefits of telecommuting are realised in the following areas:

    • Personal productivity – the telecommuter gains on average two hours of time normally lost to the commute
    • Environmental impact – avoiding the commute means a drop in personal CO2 emissions; if enough people did this, the global drop in energy consumption could be huge
    • Business benefits – it’s increasingly recognised that working from home can lead to productivity gains and cost reductions for the business; see the link above for a discussion of these.

    However, it’s going to take some time for working from home to break into the mainstream. Working practises will need to change quite fundamentally in order for less technology-centric workplaces to move to a telecommuting model. But companies should start to move in this direction sooner rather than later.