Attaining work life balance

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Technology and start-ups are both renowed for being able to take over your life. Therefore it’s probably unsurprising that after 8 years in tech startups I’ve completely lost the concept of a balance between life and work. One thing that I began to realise is that “work” is not just that which your boss expects of you, the targets that have been set or what your company pays you for, it’s also everything that you have become obliged to maintain – that online game you wrote, some websites you host or an open source project you released but then stopped using.

Take a look at your life. How many days, evenings or even hours are you truly able to put your feet up and relax? Play a game with your family? Go for a walk or cycle in the great outdoors? Do you see your friends enough and when was the last time you just chatted to your parents?

I reflected recently and decided there was nowhere near enough time put aside for these things. It probably contributed to worse than average health too. So in an effort to bring things back into balance I’m heading into 2016 with the plan to spend more time with friends and family, seeing the countryside and generally relaxing. To that end I’m wrapping up 2015 by moving house, heading out of the city and into the countryside. Sure weekdays may still be busy and I still need to prune the list of projects I have on the go, but if I can spend the whole weekend in a different context I think it could really make a difference!

Image thanks to tech.co

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Creating the perfect office

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It is with a significant amount of excitement that myself and some colleagues at Kotikan are creating our very first office space. We’ve spent the last 4 years in shared offices kindly provided by Edinburgh University and some Regus serviced offices but for the first time in nearly 6 months we will be back together under one roof. And we want to make the space awesome.

Open plan spaces, breakout working areas and lots of glass panels to let the light in – that’s a great start but what next? How do you make an office a great place to be and somewhere people want to spend their time? We’re lucky to have a great team of people – it’s one of the most important aspects of the company, so we thought about what activities are enjoyed by members of the team. Gaming (consoles and cards), socialising over a drink, sitting out in the sun and playing with the latest technologies all came high up on the list. As great design and solid engineering are important to the company we wanted to create an inspirational atmosphere that would also support close working together within teams. A long shopping list of requirements! Put on top of that space for 50 people to work and attend company meetings or presentations and it was a tough challenge.

Fitting 50 staff in 1 room is more than we have tried by a long way – we’ve been pretty successful at maximising usage of our space but this time we wanted it to feel less crowded. Purchasing larger desks and adding more space between them was an obvious start but we didn’t want to have teams further apart than before. Careful planning was the key here – considering what project each person was involved with at the same time as which department they were in. By taking all the variables into account we can keep teams together and shorten desire lines to reduce the feeling of walking past lines of desks that is familiar to many open plan offices.

Following a brand update last year we concentrated on 6 bold, bright colours to bring the office to life. Moderation is the key here – grey / black soft furnishings with white clean edges were used for most furniture. Colour is carefully added across the office space by picking colourful chairs, painted wall sections and the occasional dividers which also helped reduce noise from the kitchen etc.

As well as a place to work this had to be a social office so we took a completely different approach for the kitchen. Hidden away as you enter is a kitchen that’s themed as a city park or beer garden, it’s inspired by “The Meadows” that anyone who’s been to Edinburgh in the summer will have enjoyed. Picnic benches with thick grass coloured carpet underfoot adds an element of fun and our mural of the cityscape (to be added) completes the feel nicely. Our meeting rooms which will be stylishly themed (voting on which theme soon) all double up as gaming destinations with many consoles from various times in gaming history available – from the Atari 2600 up to the latest xbox one!

Common areas and breakout spaces are also important in how we work – giving small groups the chance to catch up on the day, their latest Pokemon or important work topics away from the desk. We already provide everyone with laptops so the flexibility is there but we added sofas and coffee tables for breakout conversations and a tucked away quiet spot for those hard to concentrate on tasks.

We haven’t forgotten the need to fuel people too – a selection of soft drinks, teas and coffee are always available and we have a beer fridge at the ready for our monthly company meetings. If you just need a break from the work, some random inspiration or you want to fill an idle hour then we’ve got it covered. Besides the games consoles there is also a great selection of card, dice and board games along with various LEGO sets and other geek toys!

What more could you want? Let me know in the comments…

Oleby Airing that for you…

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I decided that I wanted to create a simple set of shelves to air my clothes in the boiler cupboard. Suitably polished wood of the right size size is surprisingly expensive so I decided to take the IKEA Hacker route and bash a flatpack into my designs. Here’s how:

1) Purchase 1 Oleby pack for each shelf you wish to create
2) Open 1 pack at a time

3) cut through the support dowels 2 bars from one end, remove these bars and down portions – these will be used as the shelf supports
4) Place the two shelf portions wide edge together and glue the two removed bars at 90 degrees to secure the shelf together
5) turn the legs upside down and trim the base to achieve the desired height
6) slide the legs onto the shelf and place in the desired position

7) repeat steps 3 – 6 for each shelf, gluing the legs in position above the previous ones

Note that due to poor tolerances and large difference in the position of each bar it may be necessary to enlarge the gap in the legs to better position a straight upright.

International iPad Launch

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Well it’s that time – the iPad is about to be launched in 9 countries outside the USA and the question on everyones lips is “should I care?”. Whether or not you have an opinion you can be sure that it will be coming up in many conversations.

Though I have followed the announcements with interest and have played with the devices in person my opinion has not changed. This opinion is as follows: “There is no doubt that the iPad will be a huge hit but I am still not going to buy one. I know I want one but can’t figure what I would use it for or how I can justify the cost.” Fact of the matter is that the device is just a very pretty, high resolution iPhone (without the phone part). Yes that is simplistic and does not convey the “magic” of using the device but there is basically no feature that justifies owning yet another gadget.

My netbook which is more powerful, has a full keyboard and boots faster than the iPad (or iPhone for that matter) can perform for more tasks than the iPad will ever be able to and runs a selection of operating systems. Add to that the fact that it was under half the price and it’s hard to see how owning an iPad is justifiable.

Like I have said to many people – this will be a hit gadget but I don’t quite know why. Who knows, maybe I am just jealous of those lucky enough to own one.

Happy New Decade!

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OK so not exactly newsworthy but for those that had not noticed it is a whole new year and (for those who celebrated the new millenium at 01/01/00) a new decade also.

I’m not really one for new year resolutions but I do think it is a good chance to start new projects and to start afresh on old ones that have dropped by the wayside. Stay tuned for some cool new things later this year, I hope to have some cool stuff ready soon!

Best of luck for all your endeavours this year…

Blogging?

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Oh yeah, there it is – erm – so I write on this thing then?

Well, so I should write about what is on my mind and such. Unfortunately I cannot afford the psych bills and will assume the reader cannot either.

I recently attended the London date of the iPhone Tech Talk World Tour. YEAH I hear you cry? absolutely, but I cannot talk about that as it was a confidential briefing – of course, if they were giving out cool t-shirts then I may have picked one of them up.

As a result I am excited about developing for my iPhone ( and the other 13 Million out there I guess) but am lacking ideas to base the apps on – any ideas just let me know 🙂

Oh, and whilst we were down in London (Michelle and I) we headed to see Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. That was fantastic, one of the finest musicals ever without a doubt. But as it has been running for 23 years I’m not sure what new light to cast on it.

Guess I better sign off now until I think of something to actually write about…