Moving into The Co-operative’s Federation House

Shared Desk Space

Although I spend a fair amount of time at client offices across the UK with individuals and teams, I’ve now been primarily working from home in South Manchester for twelve months. I have a work space which doubles as a spare bedroom. I have all the requirements of an office space; desk, power, wifi, tea making fascillities, but there is something missing when you work from home the majority of the week, human contact.

Working from home can be lonely. Yes, you’re answering emails to other people and you have phone or video calls to make. You might even see the postman more often. But what you don’t have, and many of us need, is face-to-face human contact.

Just being in the same space as others, even if you’re focused on completely different tasks is enough to support mental health and general wellbeing.

It’s why people work in coffee shops and bars, hot-desking spaces and hotel foyers. Many could easily stay in their rooms, or at home, but many who do will feel a growing desire to be somewhere they can see, and interact with other humans.


I’ve worked at home for long enough now to know that it works for me in the short term, but I can’t maintain the focus and feeling of success for more than a couple of days without needing to have a face-to-face conversation or some human interaction.

Thanks to new roles I’ve taken on recently (more on that soon), and previous relationships I already had in place, I’ve been lucky enough to have a desk at The Co-operatives Federation allocated to me.

The Federation is a large building in Manchester City Center, and one of the six floors is dedicated to perminent and hotdesk residents. They have access to the usually shared working space features, such as printing, kitchen, bike storage, showers wifi, etc. Thanks to the pledge everybody agrees to take when joining, and the desire for the residents to be making a difference in the world, they are also very similar in their outlook on life.

It’s great to be part of a community where the residents are broad in their backgrounds, businesses, needs and stage of growth, but without exception are approachable, supportive and open minded.

Although I won’t be at The Federation every day, it’s great to be able to cycling the four miles into the city centre, make a brew, say hello to some familiar faces and do a full day of focused work surrounded by others who are doing the same.

There is a secondary benefit to working at The Federation; an unavoidable break between work life and home life while I commute between the two.

As anybody who works in their house and only has the time it takes to walk down the stairs to defrag and switch modes between their work and their family will know, it can be very helpful to be more punctuated about that change.

I’ve previously used a short walk around the block, or nipping to the shops to help with the change, but more often than not I would take my work brain to the dining table, and nobody benefits from that.

So The Federation is a great option for me. I was in the building at least once a week anyway for an event, or to record the Tech for Good Live podcast, so making it official and seeing work and home as separate again, at least most of the time, can only be beneficial.


Do you work from home? How do you deal with lack of human interaction? What about the separation of work and home life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter.

Supporting Manchester Metropolitan University

In 2007, when I was still pondering over what to do with the rest of my life, I was encouraged by family to become a resident of Manchester Metropolitan University’s business incubator.

At the time it was called Innospace and based near the coach station in the centre of the city centre. Although the space was pretty basic, the support was great, networking with other small exciting businesses was unavoidable and the rent was almost zero.

Fast forward ten years and after occasionally keeping in touch with the team who kept Innospace ticking over, I decided it was time to give something back for all the support I was given when first finding my feet in business.


So for a few years now I’ve been speaking to MMU business school students about my story and how I’ve managed to enjoy working for myself and running my own companies for so long. The first couple of years of talks I stuck to my own experiences and failings. In the last couple of years I’ve broadened my presentations to be about specific learnings or recommendations. Life skills and awareness. What a student’s expectations should be and what abilities they should nurture to support their own journey.

This year I’ve stepped my support up again. I’ve squeezed in two talks to students and also taken part in the yearly dragons’ den event.

My first talk was called “Doing Less”. As the title suggests it is about creating a successful business without burning yourself out. Retirement in its current form is unlikely to exist when these people reach retirement age, and a more balanced life, with flexibility, quality of life, and treating money as a tool rather than a target is required.

The second was on bootstrapping a business. Only a small percentage of new businesses are funded by banks and investors. This talk is about the opportunities, limitations, pitfalls and benefits of starting with nothing and building a business yourself.

The dragons’ den final was a pleasure to be a part of. Hosted at BManchester—a new banking concept from the group which includes Yorkshire Bank—on Market Street Manchester, it was a modern and relaxed feeling with various experienced and insightful judges at my side.

The 7 teams offered a range of business ideas. The quality of business strategy and presentation was high, and the judging was tough.

We finally agreed upon two highly commended businesses and a winner. We also commended three individuals on various aspects of their approach to the process.


I’ve enjoyed all aspects of the support I’ve been able to offer MMU in 2019. I see it as a personal responsibility to give back to those who’ve supported me, and to offer insight and knowledge which helps Manchester to continue to encourage small businesses to be founded and thrive.

I’m looking forward to supporting MMU again next year, and other institutions and organisations in the near future.

A return to proper cycling

I’m not unfit, but nore would I win any sporting medals. I do generally choose to walk reasonable distances, rather than get a taxi or a bus though, and I know that cycling regularly improves my physical and mental wellbeing.

I stopped regular long distance cycling a while back. A car pulling out on me and doing some serious damage to me and my previous bike took away my confidence for riding as speed, then I started to doubt myself and make excuses.

Children, how I felt, what I’d eaten, having to get my bike ready, the weather, what I needed to wear once at my destination. Any excuse to not go out on a ride that wasn’t a simple 5 mile commute started to be the default.

I’ve called myself out on it. I’ve joined, and ridden with a local cycling club. The first ride was 50 miles and towards the end I benefited hugely from the experience and support of the senior riders.

I’ll continue to improve my stamina. I’ll get back into basic nutrician and food preparation for 3 or more hours of straight exercise. I’ll ride regularly. I’ll share my rides on Strava.

The change includes starting to commute longer distances to clients. Macclesfield. Crewe. Anywhere within 90 minutes.

The improvement to my wellbeing is worth the investment of time. The thinking time and distraction from ‘the norm’ is work the investment of time. The fact I can eat loads more food, and even drink a couple more beers is worth the investment of time.

You’ll likely notice me posting more about cycling in the near future. I am Harry Bailey, and I am a cyclist.

Decompression

When it comes to how my brain works, there are a couple of related struggles that I’ve known about for many years and that I’m finally going to do something about.

Regularly I’ll stare at a computer screen for far longer than the task should require, making slight changes to a document, or an email draft, or some code, failing to fix the broken thing.

When working in a team I would likely find myself asking for support from others, or I would hope to be asked how I was getting on. I need to police this myself when working remotely and on a solo task.

I’ve previously tried making use of blocks or time. Pomodoro 25 minutes for example, which encourages breaks in focus to take a minute, a breath and a walk. Specific amounts of time haven’t worked for me, but prompts at regular intervals to consider a break have a more positive effect.

I see it as a three strikes rule. If I see a prompt once, I’ll happily keep plugging away. Two prompts and I start to justify to myself that I know how to get it resolved relatively quickly. When the third prompt appears I have to call my own bluff and take a break. The break needs to be a real break away from a screen thinking only with my brain and not with my eyes. Thinking in a different way, or maybe not thinking about it at all.

This change of focus, or bluring of focus, allows my brain to either solve it ready for my return to my computer, or when I do return to my work my brain is in a better place to make progress.

The other change I’ve made is how I handle the beginning and end of a day during which I don’t commute to a meeting or client.

A commute is a really useful tool when it comes to preparing for being in a work or home environment. On days where I’ll be at home in the morning preparing for work, and then suddenly find myself working, I stuggle to stay focused. On days where I’m working at home, and the only thing that happens between work and family time is a walk down the stairs, I struggle to switch off and engage with other humans.

I need the boundaries to be more defined.

For some I imagine this can be achieved by taking kids to school, walking the dog or even a short chunk of exercise. For me it can be as simple as walking slowly to the end of the road and back. It also helps with those still in the house to understand that on return I’m in work mode.

If I’m not commuting then I need this line in the sand both in the morning and at the end of the day.

The context switching or decompression time between home and work tasks is vital to allow me to be engaged with the right thing.

Fewer, better notifications

One of my focuses for this year is to reduce my anxiety levels. I wouldn’t class them as out of control, but I do have periods where they’re concerning.

I spent a little time recently looking at what triggers anxiety for me. Although I came up with a fair list, the reasons I see as simplest to deal with are ‘fear of missing out’ and feeling overwhelmed.

It doesn’t take much imagination to quickly link these two triggers back to mobile phone notifications and app badge counters.

For me the obvious change to make is reduce the triggers in terms of quantity and invasiveness.

On the other side of the fence are mobile applications who’s very life-blood is to regularly pull you back into their world. The reasons aren’t always sound, and when you accept notifications for those apps, you don’t know how vague those reasons will be.

Will allowing notifications mean you’re alerted to triggers purely designed to draw you back into the app?

The only notifications I want. to receive are those which are time sensitive and genuinely important.

I use my phone enough that just displaying an app badge can be enough to show me there is something to be aware of. I don’t need anything to pop-up on my phone or in my notification feed.

So I’ve essentially had a cull of all the apps I never want to hear from. Adobe are allowed app badges, but many are not. Those who can send me notifications are under review. If an app abuses the permissions I’ve allowed it, I just remove them.

Very few notifications I was was seeing were something I couldn’t do without. Monitoring of banking and web services are possibly the only exception.

Initially it was a strange calm. Now it feels like a pleasing silence.