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Investing in Sophie's choice

By the time this column appears we will have been assessed, so this is a last chance to comment as an objective commentator At first, Investors in People didn't appeal to me much at all. It seemed to have its head stuck in SVQs and formalising development in a way that I didn't think appropriate for small business like ours. How wrong can you be?

We have found it really helpful as a process. It hasn't changed us particularly, more its helped us have confidence in, and justify decisions we would otherwise have believed were made by instinct. It has given us the confidence to be a small business rather than an embryonic big business, which is not our aim at all. Training has become clearer. We recognise that our solutions to technology training issues are different from other businesses, and rightly so.

Planning next years training is an impossibility in a sector where next years opportunities are still being designed. External courses are of no relevance to our needs as a growing Internet Service Provider, because by the time the courses are written and validated they will be history. At present the only way to respond to clients' increasing requirements is to train in-house and IIP has helped clarify this position.

Being into things digital gives us a chance to put our modem where our mouth is, and this particularly relates to remote working. You really don't have to be jammed together in an office to be officially working or to feel part of a team. Basically I work anywhere I can find a space, and am, at the moment, keying this into my machine sitting on a bench in the sunshine in the garden. What more could you ask of a rural idyll? One of our tele-associates, who assists with web and spreadsheet design, lives and works in Glasgow. While her friends have Saturday jobs in local shops, Sophie chooses when she works with us, collaborating using the Internet and file transfer, and even submits her invoices electronically. More than that, we have never even met her.

This appears to be new ground for the IIP team. Here in the Highlands and Islands, where teleworking reputedly reigns supreme, they tell us we were the first company to apply for IIP with an unmet team member, and two issues arose.

The first angle had me in stitches. Highlands and Islands Enterprise organises write-ups of case studies of IIP applications and asked if they could do one including Sophie and us, and could they take a picture of us all together to illustrate the fact that we had never met. Eh? Perhaps they were going to digitally combine two photos, but that is not how it sounded.

The upshot was a photograph of me away from the office to demonstrate the irrelevance of location. Calum at the Business Information Source is always a helpful sort of guy, as well as being one of my clients, and the photographer deemed it suitable to take the piccy in Calum's offices. I had not been prepared though for the situation they had in mind. Calum's office has an enclosed glass balcony overlooking the main street by the Ness, and the photographers positioned me in there with my portable and my phone. I have not felt so daft since I wanted to stretch out on a Habitat sofa before buying it and learned the only one in stock was in the shop window.

The good burghers of Norwich laughed themselves silly. The fine folk of Inverness had a smidgen more Northern reserve, but I did have to hold back the urge to wave. My next year's training and development must include an SVQ in keeping your face straight while posing in a shop window. Second, we have requested special arrangements for the IIP assessor. It seems only appropriate that Sophie's IIP interview be conducted in the same style as her work is carried out, and so, when the assessor visits us we will provide him with e-mail access to Sophie and she will reply the next time she logs on to the system.

If we ever get to the stage where we are awarded IIP status, then Sophie's invitation will be as team guest of honour. I would love to meet her.

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