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 facilities, 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.

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Pressure and pragmatism lead to more progress

There are reasons that tight deadlines and huge pressure often get results.

The first is that people get immediately more pragmatic about what the actual requirements are, and agree to do less. Less can be done more quickly, and completed items are less likely to be subjected to a full loop of subjective tinkering.

The second is that when faced with a deadline, and some pressure to achieve it, people focus on just the single most important task.

The single most important thing to do right now is abundantly clear in these high pressure situations.

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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.

Death by Commute

I’ve recently been working on-site with clients, and with that has come a fair amount of rush hour travel.

I generally try and balance my week with some time working remotely at home, some close to my home and some with clients. This balance hasn’t been an option in recent weeks and I’m starting to feel the effects.

I have a strong desire for regular focused periods and to carve out time for deep work, and when the day requires two hours or more just transferring between my home and my place of work for the day, it can be hard to find a means to make progress, or a rhythm to create any measurable value.

There are some techniques I’m going to put in place on days where I have an hour or more of travel in each direction to see if I can make those blocks of time at very least supportive of work I do at other times in the day. No more black holes.

I will usually consider using a car when it cuts a commute in half (or more) by doing so. This rule of thumb comes from the acknowledgment that driving a car limits any form of work beyond thought. Public transport however can allow work, where legs of the journey are long enough to support ‘going deep’ and seating is available which suits work.

To get the most from time behind a wheel, a plan needs to be made beforehand which defines a challenge, or problem, and enough information to help more towards a solution. Given, A, B and C, I need to consider and decide upon X. Here X could be the draft of a blog post, or a report. It could be a talk, or presentation. X could even be a technical solution, or a process solution to document more thoroughly once I’m at a computer.

To get the most from time commuting via public transport, tasks need to be considered which don’t require internet access. They may also need to consider that only part of the journey will allow for a comfortable position to write or use a laptop. It’s best not to expect more than note taking, or draft writing.

I’ve stopped aiming to work a specific number of hours each day. Where a client requires hours as proof of value creation, a conversation is required about why that’s a terrible measure of the impact a member of staff or consultant is having.

I will generally do between 6 and 8 hours depending on the progress I make, challenges I solve and energy I expend. If I have to commute a long way at each end of the day, that’s likely to compress the hours I do on-site, which often means I actually get ‘more’ high value work done thanks to deprioritising the low value shallow work.

For much of my work, and indeed much of most people’s work, they don’t need to be in a shared space with other people. Even paired and team tasks can be successfully completed remotely using screen-sharing, voice calls and a shared location for progress reporting and transparency.

If you currently require your team to work on-site 5 days a week, consider testing out a remote working day each week and see how the team get on with it, and what impact it has on value creation.

If all of us worked at home just one day each week, imagine how much quicker and less stressful commuting would be for the rest of us?

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.