CommonSense Blog

Lessons Learned from 10 Days in London

By Aaron Strout | Aug 09, 2015

Something about changing one’s environment — whether it be in a different city, state or country — always has a way of impacting perspective. It could be the architecture, the food, the temperature, different dialects or foreign languages. Some of it is psychological as we are bombarded with new stimuli that our brain isn’t used to. Often it is a combination of things but at the end of the day, it can lead to new breakthroughs.

Photo Credit: Simon Ling, W2O Group

Photo Credit: Simon Ling of W2O Group

Recently, I had the luxury of spending the better part of two weeks in London. For several of those days, I worked out of our 45 person London office. While I had met most of the folks from the office at least virtually and another handful in person, I had never had the chance to hunker down and interact with them in their native environment. Nor had I had the chance to break bread with them, drink coffee with them, visit clients, grab a pint, sit through team meetings or listen in as they tried to explain to one another the exact meaning of American phrases like “navel gazing.”

While I knew that the team there was exceptionally smart and hard working, I didn’t realize to what degree this was true until I had the luxury of invading their space. Fortunately for me, they were kind hosts and went to great lengths to make sure I was able to get the most of my trip there. The good news is I did… and then some.

If you’ve been to London before, you know just what a global city it is. Our office is a true reflection of that. With members from Spain, Lithuania, Netherlands, France, Germany, Russia and a dozen other places I’m leaving out, there is a real international feeling to the office. Most of the conversation happens in English but occasionally you can hear French, German and Russian spoken — sometimes to colleagues, often to clients. I occasionally caught myself listening in… not that I could catch much of what was being said (my french is decent as is my Russian but I only know about 20 words in German so I was dead in the water there). It was fascinating.

During my London stay, there were numerous lessons learned. Some were inferred from my time in our London office, others were taken from interacting with clients, friends and colleagues while I was there. In no particular order, here we go:

  • If you work in London (or EMEA for that matter), you work a long day. While the mornings may start off a little more casually than in the States, people are generally in the office between 8:30 and 9:30 and then are often expected to be on calls until 8:00 or 9:00 PM at night to accommodate New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It gets worse if one’s book of business includes clients in Asia.
  • To the last point, there ends up being a weird lull in the first third of the day in between the 30-45 minutes of email cleanup in the morning until about 2:00 PM when the east coast starts to come on line. It took a couple of days to get used to this lull but once you do, it is an incredibly productive time that can be used for local meetings, client work and thought leadership. The closest thing I’ve seen to it is on the west coast around 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM where ET and CT have wrapped up and the UK still sleeps.
  • I mentioned the international piece before when I was describing our office but I am truly amazed at how international London is. And it’s not just tourists. Business people on the Tube, street vendors, waiters. You hear a dozen different languages and can see from the clothing, hair styles and culture that you are living in a true melting pot. I know NYC is similar to this but to me at least, it feels like more of this is driven by the service industry and its natural employment of so many immigrants. If you want to be global, a London presence is a must have gateway into EMEA.
  • The Subway or “Tube” as it’s called is the lifeblood of the city. While NYC is similar in its dependence on public transportation, I was amazed at the profound impact the Tube strike had on my first couple of days in London. Part of the problem is that the roads in London are so narrow, traffic is bad even with most of the commuters using public transport. When one of the major people movers shuts down, traffic grinds to a halt. Worse yet, estimates show that the shutdown causes £50 million in lost business revenue. Ouch!
  • Due to the “global” first approach (particularly in our office), better thought through frameworks and processes seem to arise. This is a necessity as any work done needs to potentially scale into dozens of other markets and languages. If the process is flawed out of the gate, it only gets worse through iteration and repetition. A great example of this is an easy to understand statement of work (SOW) template that my colleague, Laura Mucha, put together that clients love AND it contains a staffing plan making it easier for teams to kick off new projects.

There are easily ten other things I picked up on my travels but these were a few of the more obvious ones. I should be back in the UK in September so keep your eyes open for more observations then.