May 9, 2022

Do you need a bolthole to work more effectively in these changing times?

By Tony Boobier

I recently challenged our guest bloggers to share their thoughts on new ways of working. Building on the Analytics Hackathon that Morwenna Causey shared with us. What other innovations had other data or analytics leaders seen aided productivity?

As is often the case, first out of the gates was AI & Analytics author & mentor Tony Boobier. Regular readers will know that Tony has already shared with us his tips for actionable insight, a winning mentality for leaders & avoiding ‘being corporate’ blinkers.

In this post, Tony muses on where is most effective for getting your work done. Is it the popular return to the office, or working from home of the benefits of a third place? Here is his case for how finding yourself a bolthole for working can be well worth the investment.

Offices or hubs, the employed and the self-employed

Although this blog was aimed at considering the different ways that teams have worked during the lockdown, and in many cases continue to work, the reality is that there is a large proportion of the workforce who operate independently. They are either self-employed or independent contractors. As of Feb 2022, there were 4.23m self-employed workers in the UK. Many teams to which they belong are temporary and transient, and in many cases are virtual. 

It’s impossible to know how many of these independent employees work in so-called ‘innovation hubs’ or ‘business hubs’. But there are obviously sufficient numbers to support the fact that these hubs remain a booming prospect.  

Hubs provide a working space, somewhere to drink coffee and also to interact with others. It’s a place of networking and they also satisfy one of the important social needs of workers, which is to interact. The best hubs provide not only a support environment but also bolted-on training courses to help budding entrepreneur hone their talents. But not everyone wants to work in a hub, so what’s the alternative

The idea of a bolthole as your new (sometimes) office

Let me introduce, or perhaps reintroduce ‘The Bolthole’. A bolthole is an expression used for a place when people want to get away from people they know. The term originates as a place where animals go to hide when they are frightened or have bolted. It’s a sort of refuge, sanctuary, or hideaway. The word itself might have its sources in the word ditch or shallow trench. A bolthole is just a place to go to avoid people. 

For me, as a way of working, a bolthole is a place to get away from my home office. It’s somewhere different to be, sometimes to break the monotony, and where I can work in the company of people I don’t know and who aren’t looking to network or to find synergies. All I personally need from a bolthole is an element of comfort, decent free wifi, and somewhere that is moderately quiet. I’m happy to return the favour by spending a sensible amount of money on coffee and snacks, and some places even impose a minimum spend. 

Of course, the idea of using coffee bars as a place of work isn’t a new idea. The concept of the ‘flat white society’ is a reflection of the idea of laptop-based working in a coffee bar, ‘flat white’ referring to the choice of coffee taken. It has extended beyond a type of coffee into becoming a lifestyle option. There is even a book was written about it.

Where there’s workers there’s brass

Wily entrepreneurs have also flipped the idea on its head. Café-banks such as Santander have now emerged which combine the benefits of a working space plus a coffee bar, with financial advice from your local friendly bank. Managing your money on the spot at your bolthole if you need it.

To be honest, in my opinion, being in a coffee bar isn’t the greatest place for a conference call. I’ve been on calls where the person at the other end has been quite comfortable sitting in one or even sitting in the street outside. You have to be especially careful about who might be listening in. I even once sat in a public place and couldn’t fail but hear a very indiscrete and loud discussion about a competitor’s market strategy.

Apart from being in a physical office, then the place I prefer for video conferences is my home office. Apart from the privacy, it also even allows me to stage-manage the background, if I need it, depending on the type of call. But for other types of work, there are lots of options. The library, the museum, even on a hot day, the local pub. If the place meets the minimum criteria of privacy and wifi, then is anywhere off-limits?

But does your employer want you in the office?

How does this relate to what some are calling a Dickensian approach to returning to the desk? There’s a lot being written about this, especially about some employees being mandated to spend 40% of their working week at the company’s desk in the city. I suppose 40% (or 2 days in 5) isn’t such a bad deal, to be honest, but does this amount of attendance really justify living in Suburbia?  

In any event, when I started working in the City over 3 decades ago, it was de rigour for ‘gentlemen’ to miss Mondays in order to ‘catch up on paperwork’, and leave at lunchtime on Friday to get back to their place in the ‘Shires’. Three and a half days in the office only represented 65%, even in ‘normal times’, and that’s even before any adjustment for long lunchtimes. 

The flip side of that particular coin is that, at a time of improved connectivity, the reality is that many never really get away from the workplace. Especially those who are working across different time zones. Mobile devices are checked for messages about work first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Holidays are routinely interrupted. The advent of 5G and 6G communications is likely to exacerbate this in the future.

Reflecting on your options & considering your bolthole

So, to conclude, which options work for you? I recommend considering the value of a bolthole and spending time to work out which mix of locations makes you the most productive. Isn’t improved productivity the real goal after all?

Thanks, Tony for that timely challenge. Amidst the debate going on in many businesses, have you agreed with your leadership the best place for you to work? Have you discovered the power of a bolthole?

If you have a suggestion to make that has improved the productivity of your team or you as a leader please let me know. I’d love to share proven options that are especially suited to the knowledge work of data & analytics teams. Have a productive month wherever you chose to work.