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Working from home?

Let’s be honest now – have you ever had a day off work when you really shouldn’t have? Have you ever called in sick when you were actually feeling ok?

Well, even if you have taken a day off work when you should have been in the office then you are nowhere near as bad as Mr Joaquin Garcia.

Mr Garcia was a Spanish civil servant who was paid €37,000 a year by a water company run by a local authority in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

He had worked for the organisation for so long that he became eligible for a long service award. The deputy mayor was due to award Mr Garcia a plaque for 20 years’ service but unfortunately Mr Garcia was not in the office.

Further investigation led to the discovery that despite being paid €37,000 a year the Spanish civil servant had failed to turn up for work for “at least” 6 years. Yes, he was employed and was being paid but hadn’t turned up for work for at least 6 years and nobody had noticed!

The water company thought that Mr Garcia was being supervised by the local authority whilst the local authority thought that the water company was supervising him. The end result was that Mr Garcia was not in the office, was not working but was receiving his full salary.

The local authority was understandably not that happy at paying somebody a full salary when that person was at home enjoying life and took Mr Garcia to court. The court found in favour of the local authority and ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine.

Despite the local authority paying Mr Garcia for doing no work for at least 6 years, the maximum amount of fine that the company could legally reclaim was equivalent to one year’s salary.

Mr Garcia has since retired. No doubt to take it easy after all of his hard work over the last 6 years…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

He won’t be scratching the surface on this one.

A good friend of mine collect labels from beer bottles. As he travels around the world on holiday or business he collect labels from bottles of the local beer.

I think it’s a nice idea as it is a unique souvenir of where he’s visited, it’s relatively cheap and perhaps most importantly it gives him a great excuse to try out some local beers.

Things may be about to become more difficult for him though as a number of beer producers seem to be changing their marketing mix to save money and (some would argue) make the bottles look more fashionable.

As a lot of readers will appreciate, the marketing mix is also known as the 4Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion). If you look at the product component of the mix then not only does it include the beer itself but it also includes the packaging. This packaging in turn includes bottles (both glass and plastic) as well as cans.

Drinking some bottles of beer during a recent evening out with friends at a restaurant got the accountant in me thinking about what it costs to create the bottle that holds the beer.

Well if you think about it the raw materials that go into the bottle are glass (for the bottle) and metal (for the top) together with paper and glue for the label.

How can you reduce the cost of the packaging?

Can you reduce the quantity or quality of the glass? This would be tricky as the bottle could break.

What about the top? Again, this is awkward as you don’t want the beer to suddenly start leaking from the top of the bottle.

That leaves the paper and glue for the label and what a number of manufacturers now appear to be doing is producing bottles without the main label on it but instead embossing the name of the beer on the bottle itself (no additional material costs) and having the only label as a small paper “collar” around the neck of the bottle. An example of such a bottle can be seen in the image above from the successful Fosters Beer adverts in the UK.

Reducing the label size seems to make sense for bottles of beer that are sold in restaurants. After all, the label on the bottle has little impact on the purchasing decision when a person is looking at the menu or asking the waiter or waitress what beer they have. They may even know what beer they want already or can’t see the bottle anyway so the bottle wouldn’t impact on their decision.

It seems a good idea therefore for the beer companies to save money by removing the labels. Even though the paper used by one label is quite small, if you multiply that by the thousands of bottles which are sold around the world every day it could turn into a very significant saving.

What is interesting though is that if you go into a shop or supermarket that is selling beer, you will see bottles which have larger more “attention grabbing” labels on them. As people are wandering through the supermarket aisles they haven’t necessarily made up their mind whether they want to purchase a bottle of beer or if they have, what particular beer they want so having a big label which will grab their attention is a good thing.

In summary then it appears that two out of three people are happy. The accountant in the beer company is happy as production costs have been reduced due to reducing the labelling on the restaurant bottles. The marketing person is happy as he or she can use their skills on the design and thought process behind the labelling for bottles that are sold in supermarkets.

As for my friend that collect the beer bottle labels well my guess is that he may soon be unhappy as instead of trying to peel off the labels from the bottles whilst sat at a restaurant table he’s having to try to do that at the supermarket…

The 3 person honeymoon and Belbin team roles…

Picture the scene. It’s the first night of your honeymoon. You’ve just married a beautiful Italian Signorina called Marianna. You’re Italian and Italian men have a reputation for being some of the most romantic men in the world.

Now, even though some may say this reputation has largely been self created, there are still certain things you should do on your honeymoon and certain things you should definitely not do on your honeymoon.

Due to Italian privacy laws the individuals concerned can only be identified by their Christian names but what did Stefano do on his honeymoon that led to his new wife divorcing him one month into their marriage?

From a project management point of view there are various tools and techniques that can be used to ensure a project runs smoothly. One of these is to ensure that the team is made up of the right type of person as well as the appropriate number of people.

A well known theory behind what makes a good team is Belbin’s team role models.

In simple terms, Belbin’s theory says that people are born with certain characteristics. Belbin gave names to the different types of people. For example, a “plant” is a person that likes to come up with ideas and is usually quite creative. A “Monitor Evaluator” is somebody with a logical eye who can make impartial judgements.

Back to the one month marriage though and Stefano decided that rather than the traditional 2 person project team that goes on the majority of honeymoons he would make his a 3 person team.

To his wife’s understandable annoyance, Stefano’s 3 person honeymoon team included himself, his new wife and his mother.

The project team first started showing signs of a split when the mother-in-law turned up at the airport for the flight to the honeymoon destination of Paris.

A honeymoon in Paris sounds great until you realise that your mother-in-law is staying in an adjoining room at the hotel you’re staying at and accompanying you to every meal and romantic boat trip along the Seine.

One month after the wedding and Marianna left the marriage home they shared in Rome and returned to her home town of Naples leaving the 39 year old Stefano without a wife.

Maybe Marianna is more of a Belbin’s “Completer Finisher” than Stefan and his mum may have thought.

#problemswithreturns

It’s common knowledge that high street shops are struggling. A number of household names have gone (or are going!) out of business and one of the reasons for this is the rise of online shopping.

But the online stores haven’t got it easy and online clothing stores in particular are facing an emerging threat driven by social media.

A lot of people are reluctant to buy clothes online in case they don’t fit properly. To get around this a number of online stores offer free returns.

This has led an increasing number of people to take advantage of the free returns policy.

By take advantage I mean to order clothes that they have NO intention of keeping. Instead, they want to order the clothes so that they can have their photo taken wearing them and then post those photos on social media sites before returning them free of charge.

Whilst this enables individuals to look super trendy in front of their friends on sites such as Instagram and Facebook, it is proving to be a problem for retailers.

The giant credit / debit card provider Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions, recently undertook some research which showed the scale of the problem.

The research showed that 9% of online shoppers in the UK had bought clothes online with the aim of wearing them for a photo to post on social media and then returning them. The age group who were the largest culprits were 35 – 44 year olds where the percentage rose to a staggering 17%.

Perhaps surprisingly, men were more likely than women to “snap and send back” (12% of male shoppers compared to 7% of female shoppers).

It’s a major issue for online retailers.

George Allardice, Head of Strategy at Barclaycard Payment Solutions said “It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fuelling the returns culture. We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognise”.

In summary, “snap and send back” equals #bigproblemswithreturns

Would you drink this coffee?

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Over in Thailand though a new type of coffee has just been put on sale which has, how can I put it, but a pretty unusual processing method.

The key staff involved in the processing function are also unusual as they have massive heads and bodies, weigh on average 4,000 kg and are grey in colour.

Yes, that’s right. The key team members involved in processing coffee are 20 Thai elephants.

The new brew of coffee is “processed” by getting the elephants to eat some coffee beans and then stepping back (in fact stepping way back) and letting the natural digestive juices in their stomachs do the job of “processing” the beans before they are deposited naturally on the ground a day later.

The beans are then handpicked out of the elephant dung by people who probably don’t bite their nails before being dried and then ground into coffee.

The finished coffee is said to have a slight pooey taste smooth flavour without the bitterness of normal coffee and is some of the most expensive coffee in the world selling for nearly £150 per kilo.

It’s certainly an unusual production technique but it’s also for a good cause as 8% of the sales revenue goes towards the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants in Thailand.

What’s the link between almonds, PESTEL and water?

It wasn’t long ago that you only saw almonds in health food shops but things are changing quickly.

The health benefits of almonds are extensive. They are a rich source of vitamin E, calcium, iron and zinc to name just a few items. They can be eaten raw, made into almond oil or almond milk. They are one of nature’s super foods.

If almonds have been around for a long time, why is there suddenly such an interest in them?

If you link it to the environmental analysis model PESTEL you could argue that one of the areas within the “Social” element of PESTEL that has changed recently is that people are more health aware (if you are tucking into your burger and chips whilst reading this I should stress that health awareness doesn’t necessarily mean everyone undertakes healthy eating!)

However, it does seem that people around the world are eating significantly more almonds. So much so that there is a rush to plant almond trees.

The world’s almond crop is estimated to be worth nearly $5 billion per year and the centre of almond production is California where 80% of the world’s almond crop is produced. During the last three years alone 150,000 acres of almond trees have been planted in California.

Whilst the ever increasing number of almond eaters around the world are no doubt happy about this, there are a number of people who are far from happy.

California farmers have been removing tomato, melons and other crops to replace them with almond crops. There is a problem though as the almond tree require significantly more water than the other crops.

To produce a single almond requires about 4.5 litres of water. Multiply that by the millions of almonds that will be produced on the land and you can see what an impact it will have on the local water supply.

California has been suffering droughts for a number of years and in the past there have been certain water restrictions in place for individuals. So far, the almond growers have escaped these water restrictions but a number of activist groups have been set up and this situation could soon change.

Will we see a lot of thirsty almond trees in California in the near future….

When is an ice cream not an ice cream?

It sounds like the start of a riddle but there’s an important underlying message. Namely, organisations should be monitoring the environment they are operating in to see if any changes could be impacting on their business.

A classic model for analysing the impact the external environment can have on an organisation is the PESTEL model. Those of you that are thinking of studying for your professional exams will possibly be thinking that it stands for Parties, Eating, Sleeping, Talking, Entertaining and Laughing but if you’ve passed your exams then you are probably more comfortable with the fact that it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal.

Whilst all the components of this model can be important, one area which is particularly topical is the “social” component.

Within the social component one change which a lot of countries are currently seeing is people’s increased health awareness and the increase in demand for vegetarian (no meat) and vegan (no meat or dairy) food.

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world’s leading ice cream companies and they no doubt have a very sophisticated approach to monitoring the environment. One of the more impressive things they’ve done over the last couple of years is to launch some new products which will appeal to the vegan market.

If you are a vegan, then you don’t eat meat or dairy products and whilst you are unlikely to find an ice cream made out of chicken you are extremely likely to find an ice cream made out of milk.

Ben & Jerry’s though have nicely got around this problem by launching a number of flavours of vegan ice cream.

“How can they be vegan if they are ice cream?” I hear you say.

Well, the vegan ice creams are made with almond milk as opposed to dairy milk. Now technically that means they are frozen desserts and not ice cream but I can’t see any vegan being particularly upset about that.

The non dairy range has recently expanded in the UK and Ben & Jerry’s have just launched their first coconut flavoured vegan ice cream.

It’s called “Coconutterly Caramel’d” and blends coconut-flavoured ice cream with ribbons of caramel, Fair Trade chocolate, and cookies.

“Coconut ice cream, caramel, chocolate and cookies” – I don’t know about you but just reading that description makes me feel peckish.

Is this worth smiling for?

Are you happy when you spend money? I guess the answer depends on what you’re spending the money on but over in China, KFC have just introduced technology which enables a person to pay for their KFC meal with a smile.

Yes, a smile.

Nothing else is needed – no bank card, no phone app. Just a smile.

That’s a pretty advanced system and involves facial recognition technology.

Customers who want to get their dose of fast food at the KFC branch in Hangzhou can leave their cash and cards behind and instead smile at a scanner, press confirm and then hey presto you’ve paid for your meal without moving your hands and you will soon be tucking into your Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Payment is taken from a cash account which has been linked to the person’s face.

China has some of the most advanced facial scanning technology in the world. Collecting images of the public doesn’t need any consent in China and the technology is likely to spread.

For example, it’s been reported that students in several universities in China are now registering by scanning their faces and lecturers will soon be able to track the facial expressions of students to see how well they are following the lectures.

It may be advisable for these students to master the act of hiding those yawns during a boring lecture and instead start to practice for the KFC they’re planning to get after the lecture…

This is how not to do first aid in the office.

Having people trained in the office to undertake first aid is an important health and safety feature.

Organisations can send people to health and safety training or like the organisation in the video below, can get health and safety professionals to provide on site demonstrations.

Now, whilst most demos will be educational and very professional, as the video below shows, this particular demonstration was more like a slapstick comedy film.

A volunteer was asked to pretend that he was injured but unfortunately when the health and safety “professional” came into the demonstration he accidentally knocked over a shelf which then fell onto the “pretend victim” who suddenly became the “real victim”.

Luckily for all concerned nobody was seriously injured and if you want to see a fine slapstick comedy moment demonstration of health and safety then enjoy the video below.