Thursday, 8 October 2015

I've joined the Womens Institue!

This year I made myself a promise to get more engaged with other worlds outside of my own network of friends and family. After all its all too easy for us to continue in the comfortable cycle of the familiar and predictable and I felt in need of some new perspectives and fresh thinking.

On the lookout for something a little different, this week I attended a meeting of the ICA. For those uninitiated this is the Irish Country womens Association (think of this as the Irish W.I. or Womens institute).
I am neither Irish nor live in the Country but being a woman I guessed two out of three wasn't a bad fit.
My head was filled with preconceived ideas, largely put there by friends and family who were convinced I'd go and find it wasn't for me.
The Irish Countrywomen's Association
My inability to bake, lack of an Irish passport, strong English accent, and as my husband puts it ' you particular way of thinking' were all cited as excellent reasons why this particular foray would not end well.

Undeterred I arrived early to a small Parish hall in South Dublin to be met warmly by the guilds president, Press officer and various other lady members. I donned my visitor badge, paid my money and settled in for the evening.
After the usual (well for them) prayer in Irish (I mumbled through this bit) and ICA song (I stayed mute through this bit) we were introduced to our speaker for the evening.

What ensued was an hour that simply flew by, enthralled as I was by the wonderful  Lorna Siggins,  print journalist from the Irish Times. She regaled us with stories of her career from her early days in the Newsroom to her reporting on many National and International news items. We heard about her trip to Nepal to accompany the first Irish team to climb Mount Everest, her work on the Corrib pipeline story, Piper Alpha, Chanel tunnel migrants and so much more.
I learnt about the world of journalism and how its transformed in the digital age and how Lorna has had to adapt and learn new skills and habits.

As if this wasn't enough I met with some of the most interesting women I've met in a long time. From the lady who'd recently retired from running her own company and like me was looking for new interests to another very glamorous lady (well over 70) who was leaving the ICA meeting at 10pm to go dancing!

Next week a member of the Royal college of Surgeons in Ireland will be visiting to talk about Irish Doctors in WW1. While the topic may not press all my buttons I'm ready for some  freshness and to meet some more amazing women.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Making it personal - Environment is everything.

As I sit here in my little home office I’m pondering on the many and varied spaces I’ve worked in over the years. While what we do for a living it important, a job that we find fulfilling and pays the bills, its how we bring our own personality to the space that can make a difference. 

Maybe some companies are missing a trick? In the quest for corporate identity some are opting for bland and ‘safe’ rather than risk allowing people to bring their own identities to work.

Why do some organisations spend so long selecting and recruiting a diversity of people with the right unique talents and skills and then ask them not to bring their personality to work?

Here is my own journey through a variety of working environments:
At 18 my first job was as a colour hand printer in London and meant I had to work in a darkroom for much of my working day. Being totally ‘in the dark’ could sound really depressing but in fact it allowed me to be really creative. Without distractions and immersed in routine procedures my brain wandered to some very strange places. I made plans, plotted my future, imagined all sorts of possibilities, and sang without inhibitions! To all intents and purposes I only saw the walls of my working space for a few minutes every day.  It was a lonely existence and probably on reflection not great for my mental health but the plans I made then are still working out their path today.

At 21 I was married and working as an Area Sales Manager in Retail. Managing a Fashion concession which had branches in department stores throughout the West of England was a dream come true. I spent my time divided between train journeys going to stores (still wonder how I got the job without a driving licence) and on the shop floor. I loved the mix of environments, the solitude of a train and the hustle and bustle of a busy department store. Over time however as my poor feet ached at the end of the day I began to crave a ‘desk job’.  I envied people who could travel to one location, sit down and have their own coffee mug.

In my 30’s I found myself working in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a big leap from Retail management, but in the late 1980’s anything was possible! I started as Sales Rep. and my working environment was now either driving in my company car (yes, I finally got a driving licence) or in GP surgeries across the North East of England. My car became my office on wheels. I took pride in making it reflect my personality. I decorated it with all sorts of things, had different aromas for different times of year. Cinnamon and spice in the winter and lavender and vanilla in the summer. Car ornaments, audio books, music. It was my refuge after a bad call and a place all my own.
In the surgeries I visited, I began second guessing my customers (General Practitioners) different personality types based on their offices. Those who displayed pictures of their family, had pot plants and kid’s pictures on the wall were the sociable, chatty ones. Those whose desks were barren, ordered & neat were the analytical, questioning and sceptical lot. I will spare you the myriad of other observations and behavioural characteristic connections I made during this time but suffice it to say I began to make it an art form.

In my 40’s still in the Pharma industry I worked in Head office locations, many of which were cubicle open plan and as I rose through the ranks I got my ‘own office space’. Imagine, a desk job, sitting down at last. Over the course of a few years’ cubicles and single occupancy offices gave way to true ‘open plan’ spaces and that’s when the fun started.
Hot- desking, collaborative spaces, stand up meetings, innovation spaces a whole new lexicography had entered the workplace and environments were changing forever. For a while, I think I had more meetings about office space that any other topic. While many top managers welcomed this new way of working people actually working in these environments were not always as delighted.

Now in my 50’s and running my own small Innovation Company (that darkroom has a lot to answer for). Working from home in a small spare room I am now unconstrained from corporate restrictions on colour, layout, and furniture. I now find myself from time to time moving my desk to the other side of the room, painting the walls, changing the artwork and even recovering my office chair.

Productivity vs wellbeing
 “Extensive international research from Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase shows that 85% of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and can’t concentrate in open plan spaces”. The Guardian spt. 2014
We all know the research, the most obvious issue of open plan spaces is distractions and its impact on employee productivity. However, the less spoken of issue is that basic of needs; to put your mark on a place where you spend a considerable part of your life. I think its just as important to personal wellbeing at work.
I realise that fundamentally it’s doesn’t matter if you work in a car, a cubicle, or from your front bedroom, its not our working location that really matters but its how much we are able to put our mark on it.

Go on – let’s start a movement – How does ‘Environmentally friendly’ sound?

Although I may have heard that term somewhere before J

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Passing on your story.

As a born and bred 'South Londoner' I'm proud and loud about my love of all things London. Although I moved away 30 years ago (really was it that long) I still think of it as 'home' and get a sense of real excitement every-time I return.

So when the family surprised me with a weekend 'back home' I couldn't wait to visit some of my favorite places and take the kids on a tour of my old haunts.

The weekend was packed with trips down memory lane! From visiting Museums I remembered my Mum and Dad taking me to as a kid, showing my kids houses I'd lived in, schools I'd been to, the church where we married, places I'd worked and even the Clubs Id danced the night away in!

It struck me that I had a story to share about everywhere and everything. Just as my Mum and Dad had done with me as a kid; usually telling me stories of war time London, anecdotes of family life where continuing to be shared and passed on.
At one point while on the Tube I found myself telling them to close their eyes, breathe deeply and smell London. It was at that point I realized they did not and probably never would really appreciate London as I do. The look on their faces was a cross between 'Mums really has lost it now' and 'Beam me up scotty'.

"Look interested, Mums taking a picture"

Back home in Dublin I'm reflecting on the stories my kids will share and pass on. Hopefully some of these will include  stories of their crazy Mum who loved the smell of the London Tube trains and never shut up talking.
As a kid I too listened with one ear to the stories I was told by my parents and it isn't until now that I really wish Id taken more notice. I know my kids wont remember half the stories I tell them but that not whats important. What they will remember, just as I do, is that making new memories with your family and passing on a sense of your history are just a couple of the ties that holds a family close.

I'm now off to phone my 89 year old Mum, pen and paper in hand to make sure I don't loose another story!