Manchester’s got everything except a beach

Castlefield <3

I spent sometime in London over the last few weeks for connected studio and a number of work meetings. I got to see a bunch of people I had not seen for a long while and most asked me…

“So how is Manchester, you don’t regret moving?”

Or something along those lines…

My answer is always something like you should come up and stay sometime, its a great city. Almost 5 years and I’m loving it… The great thing is I’m not the only one spotting the fantastic opportunities available. Specially when it comes to the digital world.

The second factor is the sense that a genuine startup culture is being fostered here. The elements have always been in place for this to occur, particularly that Manchester has the largest student population in Europe with over 100,000 currently studying in the city’s five universities.

These include the University of Manchester, which is playing a really important role in the high-tech space. Meanwhile the University of Salford has recently opened a campus at MediaCityUK, designed to encourage creativity, innovation and collaboration between academics, students, professionals and industry, and develop talent for the creative, media and technology industries.

Between the BBC building a massive base here, TechhubManchester, the stupid amount of bandwidth being put into the city and other stories. Its worth mentioning some of the other things happening…

MadLabUK

Essentially a adult/hacker community space complete with different floors running a number of different community minded events. Its amazing and they have expanded already. The owners (4 of them!) hold it all together and even though they struggle most of the time, theres always something interesting on for the local community. I can’t explain how great Madlab is… Everything from Co-working, room hire to the random Art exhibitions and Hackman meetup. Madlab is also the first place to start dabbling with DIYBio which further demonstrates how great a place it is. Well worth a visiting always…

The Classroom

The Classroom is a welcome treat sitting between the likes of working out of a coffee shop and the likes of Techhub which is much more serious about there startup status. It is a co-working space but closer to the kind of thing I’ve only witnessed in San Francisco. Its still quite new but looks to be growing due to the demand.

Northology

The brain child of Nathan Rae (can be found regularly behind a camera on the Manchester scene), setup to highlight key people in the Manchester scene. I had a similar idea a while ago but it didn’t quite work out (smallworld). However Northology is now on its 9th podcast and doesn’t look like its stopping anytime soon. Who knows maybe it will expand to video one day?

FabLab

Manchester’s fabrication laboratory is next door to where I live. Its still doing a great business and I really do need to find something to build. Easily confused with MadLab but completely different, I need a project just so I can mess with the 3D printer, welders, laser cutters, etc.

…and the many coffee shops and bars in the northern quarter and cholton

There are too many coffee shops and bars in the northern quarter and cholton which are friendly to people who want to work out of them or just chillax on a Sunday afternoon. Unlike many places I’ve been to in other cities which will lock down there wifi, block power points and make you feel like a baby eater for sitting 10mins beyond the end of your allocated tea time. Some of the most notable including… North Tea Power, FYG Deli, Common, Soup Kitchen, Vivid Lounge, North Star cafe, Home Sweet Home, sugar junction, etc, etc…

Working from the Northern Quarter Fridays

Coffee from North Tea Power

I blogged about how I started working out of the northern quarter quite sometime ago, the massive benefits and the Coffee shop clashes. A lot of people have taken this as “Ian is off on Fridays.” Which is so far from the truth…

A while ago I started using Project Hamster to record roughly how much time I was spending on projects (as I tend to have quite a few projects on the go at the same time, who doesn’t?)

Anyhow, I had a look at the aggregated results recently when sending to my manager (this is not the official way bbc rd does time tracking by the way, just me).

Project hamster results

It turns out Fridays are one of my most productive days, even more that Mondays and Thursdays.

Now I know what some of you will be thinking, yes its all manual reporting and I could lie, but why? Its as simple as this. When working from the northern quarter I tend to spend much more time just working away on my laptop. Its no chance this is when I spend the most time writing papers and the like too.

The second thing you might notice is I don’t work 8hour a day. Project hamster checks every 20mins to see if I’m actually active on the machine, so if I get called into a meeting or go for lunch, it will automatically stop. Generally when working from the Northern Quarter, I get less distributed or distracted.

This can be a good and bad thing. You can see the lack of disruption as a good thing but actually its the bouncing around of ideas at work which can be good, for example running into someone at the kitchen and talking for a while. Of course Project Hamster will time out and say I’m up to nothing. And actually its worth pointing out that all meetings (official/adhoc) are not included because its still time when not working actively working on the computer. As you can imagine I’m quite a social person and those adhoc chats over tea do add up.

Its not that I work better in the northern quarter, its that I work differently!

Lifehacker has another great post about working out of coffee shops. Here’s the key parts for myself…

A change of environment stimulates creativity. Even in the most awesome of offices we can fall into a routine, and a routine is the enemy of creativity. Changing your environment, even just for a day, brings new types of input and stimulation, which in turn stimulates creativity and inspiration.

Agreed… I’m not saying Media City isn’t inspiring and full of creativity. But its my norm and if I have to look at that wallpaper again I’ll scream 🙂 Of course I’m joking…

Fewer distractions. It sounds counter-intuitive, but working from a bustling coffee shop can be less distracting than working from a quiet office. Being surrounded by awesome team and officemates means being interrupted for water cooler chats and work questions. Being interrupted kills productivity. The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of exciting activity. Unlike working at home, with the ever-present black hole of solitude and procrastination, a coffee shop provides the opportunity of human interaction, on your terms.

The evidence is all in the data. I actually have lots of less important meetings on Fridays but their under my terms. Meaning I can get lots done in the time between.

Community and meeting new people. Meeting new people always provides me with new ideas, a different perspective at existing problems, or an interesting connection to a new person doing something awesome that inspires me. Today alone I met a top Skillshare teacher whose class I will now take, a sleep consultant, a publicist who offered to help with a project, and a wine consultant who recommended some bars.

One thing I wish I could record is the little meetings and chats I have. Some go nowhere and some go real deep. But generally meeting in the northern quarter means I can get a measure of someone and then refer them to a proper media city meeting or not. And of course there’s those chance encounters which you just can’t qualify an amount of value.

End of the day its not for everyone, but it works for me. Its surprising because I do love my height adjustable desk and fancy media city chair. FYG and North Tea power’s tables are too low and I do sometimes feel the discomfort setting in. But I tend to not notice because I’m just working or talking with someone great. If I had to work from the northern quarter 4 days a week and one day in Media City, I know I would be saying the opposite.

This is all summed up in the lifehacker post,

The experience of working out of coffee shops was so positive that even after we moved into our new home, I made sure to get in a few “coffee shop days” each month. For carpal tunnel related reasons alone, I would not recommend working out of coffee shops every day…

Coffee shop culture clash

Coffee from North Tea Power

I wrote a while ago about working most Fridays from coffee shops in the northern quarter of Manchester instead of working out of my home.

However someone at work pointed me to this blog post from a guy who is complaining about people treating coffee shops like there personal offices.

Dickheads with cups of coffee so dry they were probably ordered three hours ago. Dickheads reading the tea leaves in their empty glasses. Dickheads with just some free water.

Dickheads with absolutely no sign of having consumed anything except some three-week old canned tomato soup stains on their emo punk pop hip hop band t-shirts, the ones that proved they were at that concert nobody else gave a shit about.

One of them even had the pierced balls to get a banana out of this bag and proceeded to eat it as he scribed the novel he’s never going to publish, looking at his Samsung Galaxy III—iPhones are so passé—at the same time.

And here I was, (delicious) coffee in hand, waiting for my sandwich, with nowhere to eat it. And I wasn’t alone—there were two more people like me. While I waited, three more people came in, and, after looking around fruitlessly for five minutes, left without ever touching ass to chair. I didn’t need telepathic powers to read their minds. DICKHEADS.

To be honest I found the whole thing pretty funny but I do get what he sometimes means. I personally buy and spend too much money at coffee shops including FYG, North Tea Power and Vivid Lounge. So I would agree with all the points the writer makes…

  1. Buy at least a coffee. Don’t just go ahead and sit there with your computer. If you do the latter, I hope your genitals drop rotten into the toilet bowl one day.
  2. When you are done with your coffee—it’s ok, take your time, as long as you do it at some reasonable pace—you can stay around for five minutes. Perhaps ten. Then leave.
  3. If you want to stay longer, buy another coffee. A pastry would be fine too. Perhaps a sandwich. Anything. Whatever. But keep buying things. This is the rent you pay. It’s much less than getting your own office. Or a real apartment.

However I still don’t like places which go out of there way to restrict laptop users.

In Manchester when I first arrived, Teacup and Drip Coffee was a great place to enjoy a chat, read and catch up with some work. Now they both seemed to turn hostile on computer users by taping up plug sockets, messing with the wifi and general snobbery of laptop users. In Teacup you need to be shown a place which makes it too formal for my own liking. But fear not others have stepped in to fill the void.

Interestingly North Tea Power not only fills the void but takes customer service to another level, really encouraging laptop users… Love those guys!

Working from the Northern Quarter

Three Amigos

Pretty much every week I tend to work away from the office. When I first started getting back to work from , I would work from home quite a bit but now I’m back full time (since early last year) I’ve found myself working out of the Northern Quarter every week. (for those outside Manchester, the Northern Quarter is like the East end of London. Its full of run down shops and a independent vibe)

Some would say, something like yeah yeah working from the Northern Quarter, yeah yeah really!

But to be honest I tend to get a ton of stuff done on those days when I’m in the Northern Quarter. Maybe even more than I get when I’m at work sometimes. How can that be? I have no idea, till I heard Paul Fenwick on ITConversations.

Situational effects

When I’m in my office, I’m much better at working.

When I’m in the cafe, I’m much better at thinking.

When I’m at home, I like to think I’m better at working on my talks but i’m much better at mindcraft…

It isn’t that I work more effectively out of a coffee shop like North Tea Power than Media City UK. I’m actually experiencing a different kind of workflow while in North Tea Power, a creative work flow. This explains why I wrote most of my techpaper for Perceptive Media while sitting drinking tea. So from my point of view lots of things getting done including adhoc meetings, lovely lunches and interesting discussions.

Of course I’m not saying I don’t get this at work but its certainly quite different…

I’d certainly like to get RescueTime installed (they claim to be creating a official x64 version for Linux very soon) so I can get a better grasp of what I am doing differently… But in the meantime, I’m certainly reaping the benefits of being able to work in different environments, I’d highly recommend more people do the same if ever possible