Time for 1010

10Back in 2007 Oxford University published the results of a report that they’d undertaken for Giritech and the conferencing services division of BT. The report was on The Costs of Transport on the Environment – The Role of Teleworking in Reducing Carbon Emissions.

The study concluded that the reduction in commuting time resulting from more people working at home would ultimately result in less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Not long after the reports publication Professor David Banister, one of the authors of the study, was quoted as saying:

Working from home has not featured very highly in Government policy and there has not been any clear statement or encouragement from central or local Government on this. There is an opportunity for teleworking to sit at the heart of a co-ordinated policy that could involve sustainable transport, homeworking will only really take-off with either a carbon-tax or tax incentives by the Government.

So 2 years on what has changed?

Well remote working uptake continues to rise and climate change has moved towards the front of the political agenda, and rightly so.

The most recent campaign is 1010 which has the aim of getting individuals, companies and institutions to reduce their carbon footprints by 10% during 2010. The campaign is backed by a broad coalition ranging from the Guardian and several major NGOs to major companies, leading political figures and the Carbon Trust. Many county councils have also started to sign up as the next step on from the Nottingham Agreement.

Where I live in Wiltshire there has been some resistance to carbon reduction initiatives and recently a number of county councillors tried to have Wiltshire opt out of the Nottingham agreement. Luckily the move was thwarted by some quick local action and as Phil Chamberlain, Colerne parish councillor and founder of Ecolerne said “the motion backfired on the councillors because it gave us an opportunity to discuss the 10:10 campaign which the council has now agreed to sign up to” (as reported in the Wiltshire Times).

RPhoto Courtesy of Phil

Photo Courtesy of Phil Chamberlain

So politics aside are you going to sign up for 1010? Will your institution or your organisation sign up? How will you make your reductions?

I’m planning to look into loft insulation, print less and make sure my PC is not left on for long periods of time. Not only that but I want to continue to use my bike more and encourage my children to do so too.

Some useful 1010 resources

The Killer Commute

carsLast week I attended a JISC Digital Media seminar on The digital media collection +100 years.
JISC Digital media are based in Bristol and what with the school run and nursery pick up I decided it made sense to drive over there…..

What a fool I am!

Driving over to Bristol and back through rush-hour traffic was like wadding through mud.

The way there was pretty bad. My husband is resisting our purchase of a sat nav. He believes that we need to keep the ‘art of map reading’ alive. Map reading is a skill I have never had and am unlikely learn! Needless to say I got lost and ended up driving up and down one way streets and into dead ends.

The way back however was something else. I sat in Brislington (a district of Bristol), virtually stationary, for almost 40 minutes. I could have got out and bought myself a kebab from Kebab world (I love that shop name – conjures up a world of Kebabs!) while my car sat and waited, if I’d been so inclined – I wasn’t, I’m a vegetarian. It took me almost 2 hours to drive the 38 miles home. I was 20 minutes late for nursery pick up, luckily my parents had been kind enough to go and collect the terrors for me.

Now at the time I was cross and writing this blog post has helped get it off my chest, but I don’t have to do a daily commute to Bristol. However I do know quite a few people who do.

For some commuting to work must suck the very life energy out of them. Not only that but it’s environmentally unfriendly and expensive (see this commute calculator). Of course there are greener alternatives and some people are lucky enough to be able to cycle, take the bus or carpool for transportation. However many people have no option but to drive through total gridlock to their work cubicle.

Work Wise UK and the AA claim that commuting by car costs £10 billion per year on fuel alone and the UK’s 18 million driving commuters drive on average 2,740 miles per year.

In the credit crunch we need to get smarter about the way we travel as car commuting costs some £10 billion per year. We should also consider whether we need to travel at all. Three hundred AA employees are saving 90,000 litres of fuel or 620,000 miles commuting each year by working from home. Our employees are saving valuable time and money by working from home.” Edmund King, the AA president.

Isn’t it time more companies considered whether the killer commute is really worth it?

Next Generation Wifi Here We Go!

wifi, photo by HuasonicThe Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have finally approved the next generation wifi after 7 years of work. The news broke in a blog post on the Signal2Noise site on Friday morning and was followed by a formal press release later in the day. Although products using the 802.11n technology have been sold for several years they have all been labelled “802.11n draft“.

The standard offers speeds at least six times faster than current approved technology. But as the BBC Web site explains “without the IEEE’s approval, there were no guarantees that future networking equipment would be compatible with the devices.

Back in 2007 Wifi planet noted that “Enterprises have been slow to step up to 802.11n. Surveys like the 2007 State-of-the-WLAN Report indicate that most businesses will continue to wait for the 802.11n standard to become final before pulling the trigger on widespread next-generation WLAN upgrades.

This new rubber stamping opens the way for mobile devices such as laptops, media players and phones to “offer speeds of 300 megabits per second (Mbps) and above, many times higher than the previous 802.11g, which operates at speeds of up to 54 Mbps. It is also able to transfer data over distances of 90m (300ft) indoors, double that of previous technologies“.

According to the wifi alliance:

With the potential to deliver up to five times the throughput and up to twice the range of previous-generation Wi-Fi gear, products based on the new 802.11n draft 2.0 standard can do more than ever before. Consumers will soon be able to take advantage of whole-home coverage and content-rich applications such as streaming high-definition video, online gaming with multiple users on a single network, and speedy file transfer of photos, music, and more. Enterprise users will be able leverage 802.11n products to increase network capacity and improve robustness.

Wifi just got a whole lot slicker…

Will the Remote Worker Winner Please Stand Up!

I’ve only gone and won it! :-) I won my category (Remote Worker Award) at the remote worker awards yesterday (the prizes are listed on the Web site). Needless to say I’m really pleased and very grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way (especially UKOLN). Not only did I win my category but I was also presented with a special award (the Cliveden House award) for my work. The prize for this one is a spa weekend at the amazing Cliveden house. How fantastic is that!! Apparently you can’t take children!! Yay! ;-)

I didn’t win the garden office (The vivid green award) but that would have just been greedy! ;-)

Cliveden House

Cliveden House

Anyway I had a great day. I meet a lot of interesting and motivated people and really enjoyed hearing about their remote working experiences – lots of fodder for the blog! The ceremony took place at the beautiful Cliveden house and we started off with a champagne reception. There followed a welcome address and some stats (11% of the UK workforce are now remote workers, 3.5 million work remotely and 60% of all new businesses last year were launched from home) from hosts Paula Wynne and Ken Sheridan, co-founders of Remote Employment and organisers of the awards. Stephen Dodman from von Essen Hotels also welcomed us to the venue, Cliveden house, in the 1960’s it was setting for some of the Profumo affair naughtiness.

Ken Sheridan opens the awards

Ken Sheridan opens the awards

The Remote Working Revolution

Bob Bissell, Partnership Manager for BT Business gave a brief key note on the business case for remote Working. After Bob had joked that he should really be giving his talk from his own home, logged on to broadband – but the luxurious venue had too strong a pull, he picked on a few key positives for remote working. He explained that good remote working practices are now allowing companies to win business from competitors. They are also allowing companies to attract talented people from all over the country. This year three key elements had demonstrated the need for remote working set ups: the snow early in the year, the GM summit which had prevented 40% of London staff getting to work, and swine flu. Remote working has cost benefits for employers and employees alike, for example people working from home saved on average £250 that they would have needed to spend on business clothes! We were left with a picture of home workers in their pyjamas!

Unlocking People Potential

The next keynote was given by Karen Darby, a highly successful entrepeneur responsible for the SimplySwitch site which she sold to the Daily Mail for £22 million in 2006. Karen was a really inspirational and fun speaker. She called on us to do something that makes us uncomfortable every now and then. Being successful requires positive thinking, channelling our energies and anger and sometimes hypnotism! Karen is now working on Call Britannia, an attempt to positively discriminate towards people who are the most disadvantaged in the labour market and create 10,000 jobs.

The Awards

After the keynotes the first awards were presented:

  • The Remote Worker Award
  • The Home Worker Award
  • The Netmums Work From Home Award
  • The BT Home Business Award

Marieke Guy won The Remote Worker Award and receives her prize from Rob Fox of Toshiba and Ken Sheridan of Remote Employment. Photo by ECP Studio.

After a quick break, though no coffee, (someone I was with bought a glass of wine from the bar at a cost of £10!!) we launched back into it.

The ‘Spirit of Winning’

The last keynote speaker was Jackie Brennan, founder of FreshIdeas Events. She urged us to feel positive about winning. Forget that British tendency to play down our accomplishments and be vocal about what you’ve achieved! Jackie also talked about the art of mentoring, an activity that seems to work really well in business.

The final awards were:

  • The Freelance Consultant Award
  • The Open University Skills Award
  • The Helen O’ Grady Special Award
  • The Remote Employer Award
  • The Vivid Green Award – this was the garden shed/home office, everyone held their breath for this one!

After thanks and a few final messages from Paula Wynne and Ken Sheridan we had our photos taken then tucked into a finger buffet and admired the fantastic view.

View from the drinks reception balcony

View from the drinks reception balcony

I can’t complain!

More information on the winners is available on the Remote Employment site.

awards-winner (2)

I Want it Now: The Real Time Web

The best things come to those who wait

We’ve all said it but when it comes to the Internet very few of us believe it to be true. We want it now, and often even earlier. AJAX has made our web pages instantly responsive to clicks and now the real-time Web will make our communications instant too.

What is it?

Real-time Web, or ‘now media’ as some people prefer to call it is the next big thing on the Internet. If you want an easy explanation of what it actually is then you’ll be disappointed. Even the Wikipedia entry isn’t up to much, defining it as “the concept of searching for and finding information online as it is produced“, and leaving it at that. It is like many other Internet phenomena in that the term means different things to different people.

The read write web have just published a series of primers covering the main aspects of real-time Web:

1. is a new form of communication,
2. creates a new body of content that is largely public.
3. is real time
4. is public and has an explicit social graph associated with it,
5. carries an implicit model of federation.

As they explain “quite a bit of effort is being made on storing, slicing, dicing, and disseminating information as quickly as possible“. It seems people really do (as those famous Queen lyrics say) want it all and want it now.

Twitter

Twitter is currently the biggest application mentioned when it comes to the real-time web. It’s success has been huge (with over 44.5 million users in June 2009) and much of this is down to its real-time search. Friendfeed is another highly popular social Web site that also offers real-time content chasing.

In an O’Reilly broadcast from late 2008 on the real-time Web Brian Lesser commented that none of the tools currently available allowed users to solve the real-time collaboration problem of being able to simultaneously work on things.

To accomplish this I think we need to get away from the idea that we should share and synchronize files or application windows and look at real-time sharing of data models within the browser.

Maybe Google Wave holds the key.

Google Wave

Users create a ‘wave’, which is very much like a conversation on a particular topic (or an email or message board thread). To this wave they can add users, documents and ideas. The users can then collaboratively edit the resources and create spin off waves. All activity is ‘recorded’ and you can choose to playback a wave to see how it was created. The aim is a more free-flowing, informal and linked form of communication.

Now for the real real-time part: When you are typing each character actually appears on other user’s screens as you enter it. Very impressive.

Google Wave isn’t available for us all to use yet and in the meantime Google continue to slave away looking for the holy grail that is real-time search. They openly admit it isn’t an easy nut to crack. The new body of data that is now available for search engines to mine is very different from the more static information that previously made up the Web. However it is this new, immediate data that people want to search. Every time a news story breaks people want to be able to find the very latest information and only real-time will do.

Implications for us

So what does the real-time Web have to offer us remote workers? Well change in communication techniques effects us all, especially those of us who rely so heavily on digital forms of communication. Indexed and availability of content will ultimately make our lives a lot easier but perhaps expectations will also be raised as a result. As Veruca Salt (the nasty little girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) discovered, sometimes there is a price to pay for wanting it now!

If you want to see the real-time Web in action have a look at FriendFeed, Facebook’s Immediate Notifications or Five Sites that Let You Experience the Real-Time Web Today.

Searching Resources using Google Custom Search

Since I set up the Remote Worker blog last year I’ve been bookmarking all the resources I’ve found relating to remote working on delicious. I currently have 169 resources tagged with remoteworking.

At the moment people can access these resources in two ways: the 5 most recent pages are pulled by RSS feed into the right hand side bar of this blog or people can browse the links using my delicious tag.

Neither of these offers many opportunities and what I’d really like is a way for people to ‘mine’ the resources.

Google Custom Search

custom_search_logo_betaAfter mentioning the bookmarked resources on Twitter Andy Powell suggested I have a look at Google Custom Search (CSE) which allows you to “create a customized search experience for your own website“. The key for me was that it allows you to “automatically search across links, bookmarks or blogrolls by creating a custom search engine on the fly“.

The WordPress Dilema

The big problem here is that it isn’t straight forward adding javascript to a wordpress page on WordPress.com. In fact it’s pretty tricky. My coding skills (practically zero) just aren’t up to it.

Although there are a number of sites offering you help replacing your wordpress search with Google Custom search (something I don’t want to do), there are not many that offer you help in ading a search to a post or page.

Linking Delicious and Google

I ended up using the step by step tool created by Vik Sing which allows you to create a custom search engine based on your delicious bookmarks (using a particular tag) with no knowledge of the advanced options or understanding of XML. You basically download an XML dump of your bookmarks and upload them to Google. Really easy. I’m assuming that you’ll have to reupload the XML file every now and then but at least the resources are searchable for now and I can add resources manually to the CSE too. Also the Google Marker allows you to add sites by pressing a button on your browser.

The end result is a great search box that allows people to search all the remote working resources I’ve tagged, and my blog at the same time!
google

Unfortunately I can’t embed the search box in WordPress because of the Javascript problem. So here is the search embedded into a page on the UKOLN Web site for people to try out.

Why not try out a few searches? Try looking for skype, security or culture.

What next?

Well really I’d like people’s suggestions on where I go from here. My ideal would be having the search on a page on the blog some where like here and for the results to appear back in the blog so users know where they are. I’d also like to tidy up the actual CSE and possibly allow people to collaborate with me in creating it.

This is all a learning process so any help would be much appreciated!

Thanks

The air here has no Internet in it

The Saturday Guardian is my only weekly newspaper treat. I really enjoy Tim Dowling’s column. His art is in making readers feel that they aren’t ‘mucking it up’ nearly as much as he is! Being a writer means that Tim is one of us, a remote worker (or a portable breadwinner as he puts it). This week’s instalment had Tim on holiday with his family but still trying to work.

My wife goes off to see their cottage while I stay behind to establish an internet connection so I can start work. I try every gadget in my sack of dongles and wires. Nothing works. The air here has no internet in it. I end up standing on a dresser while holding my laptop out of the bedroom window, thinking about the many different places I have travelled to in order to work from: the field in Cornwall where I found a faint mobile signal, the hotel lobby in Slovakia, the Turkish internet cafe, the services on the M5.

Tim’s frustration brought a smile to my lips. It just isn’t possible to always be connected!

On our recent holiday, being dongleless, my husband had to make many trips to the local Conservative club just to get a wifi connection. I threatened to take a photo of him leaving the building to send to his friends!
;-)

For most of us being constantly connected isn’t always easy (and not always desirable). There continue to be not-spots for our phones and laptops and maybe sometimes we should be grateful for that. After all a holiday should be a holiday!

After a surreal experience walking round the seaside town he’s in Tim starts to wonder:

Has the whole of Shepherd’s Bush decamped here in order to experience substandard Wi-Fi provision? What’s relaxing about that?

Exactly…

BUCS and Computer Tools for Communication

As I’ve mentioned many-a-time UKOLN, where I work, is based at the University of Bath. The University has a central computing centre – BUCS, who do an admirable job of keeping everything ticking along nicely.

BUCS offer a fair amount of support for remote workers including information on connecting from home, VPN, Wake on LAN, access to drives etc. They have also recently implemented TeamViewer, a tool for remote diagnosis and fixing of PCs. Recently a team within BUCS have been tasked with identifying a suite of electronic communication tools that might be used at short notice to facilitate communication within BUCS (and ideally extendable to the University as a whole) should there be a crisis forcing a significant number of BUCS staff to work from home or in some form of isolation (e.g. pandemic or weather related).

daveDave Cunningham was one of the team looking into this area and has kindly written a guest blog post on his findings relating to the most appropriate communication tools for the BUCS team.

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Social networking tools may be the answer to intra-group communication, but do you have a clear understanding of the question?

The use of social networking tools across wide-area networks is revolutionising the way people communicate. There is now is a choice of e-mail, forums, social networks (Facebook, etc.), news feeds (RSS/Atom), microblogging (twitter, etc.), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and instant messaging (IM). The use of social networks has grown rapidly for non-office based communication, and an attraction for many people is that there are no boundaries – the world is your audience. Some of us have investigated using the same, or similar, tools in closed group environments: in the office or in education for example. However in the office one form of communication dominates: e-mail, even though it is far from the best choice for many purposes.

To facilitate discussions information has to be two-way: e-mail is essentially two-way but is not, in my view, ideal for discussions. Micro-blogging and blogging are essentially one-way, although most blog software nowadays allow comments. IM is two-way and Yammer, which can be considered to be a combination of IM and micro-blogging, is suitable for discussions. Examples of one-way communications are news feeds, such as RSS and Atom.

E-mail

E-mail is the only tool that has reached critical mass, and in the office environment you can usually assume everyone has an account, and that almost everyone checks their mail at least once a day. The ubiquity of e-mail encourages most people to use it not only for simple messages, but also for file transfers and multi-person discussions. Discussions by e-mail have many problems: in particular the sender of a message decides who is to be part of the discussion and, if others want to join in (assuming they even know that a discussion is going on), it can be difficult to catch up with the messages already sent. E-mail discussions frequently, and often inadvertently, result in information silos and poor intra-group communication. On-line forums are designed specifically for multi-person discussions, but they seem to be unpopular with many people.

Microblogging

Microblogging (microsharing), and in particular Twitter, is a very different way of communicating. Twitter is in many ways a remarkable concept in that it is frequently hard to explain to a non-user why they would ever want to use it. The basic idea of reporting what you are currently doing (in no more than 140 characters) at any given time seems to many rather pointless, but once you start using it it can become addictive – although to be fair some people remain unconvinced even after using it. Because messages have to be short and plain text, it is easy to deliver them to portable devices such as smartphones, and as a result many applications (Twibble, et al) have been released, feeding off the Twitter concept. The only way to transmit longer messages or images, is to upload a file and reference it in the text, and this has resulted in sites such as twitpic.com. Twitter is increasingly being used by service providers (bus and train companies, computing services, etc.) to provide service information such as cancelled or delayed trains.

Twitter is not really suitable for use within an organisation (although users of CoTweet or Hootsuite may disagree), but other microblogging tools such as Yammer are designed for this market. Yammer provides a communication service for a closed group defined by a mail domain. Users register with their e-mail address, and confirm that they are a valid user by replying to the generated message. Although superficially similar to Twitter, there is no 140 character limit, and messages can be sent to pre-defined groups (similar to chat rooms in IRC systems), or to everyone. Groups can be private or public , and messages can be sent to IM systems, by SMS, and by e-mail. Although the basic service is free, an organisation would need to pay to get control of the network, and if you do claim your network charging is based on the number of users. Other similar systems include Communote, Present.ly, and Socialtext. All these tools extend naturally to remote working: not only working from home but keeping in contact when away at meetings or conferences.

Using a system like Yammer does not by itself provide an effective intra-organisation communication system: it is important to understand the varying ways that people deal with information flow. I would expect most commercial organisations to mandate the use by staff of any system once introduced, but in other organisations this may not be considered acceptable. It would seem inevitable that any closed-group communication system will be less effective if its use remains optional. Either way it is better if staff want to use the system because they feel it is of direct benefit to them.

User Acceptance

People vary greatly in their attitude to IT based communication systems: some avoid using them at all if they have this freedom, arguing that they have not got time to use such systems even if it only takes few minutes each day. Noise (the receipt of messages not considered relevant to the individual) is seen as a major problem by some people, but just a minor irritation by others. It is an example of the glass half-full or half-empty metaphor – some people see the noise and some the signal (useful content). So for a system to be effective I believe it is necessary to encourage people to accept that some noise is the price you pay for being better informed, and for the opportunity to take part in discussions.

Although poor intra-group communication is often recognised as a problem it seems that all too often solutions are adopted in an ad-hoc way with no clear idea of what the problem is that needs solving. This happened with e-mail which was adopted by almost all organisations, and the use of which evolved as people got used to the new tool. Evolution is often a good way to develop, but for communication within closed groups it would probably be better to have an agreed strategy.

Conclusions

In conclusion I believe different tools are needed to handle effectively different type of communications. However it seems unlikely that they will be fully effective in the workplace without some agreement to standardise on one or more tools. Yammer meets many requirements but is let down by poor or missing clients (nothing for Nokia or Windows Mobile phones), no plugin for Internet Explorer, and a slow website. None of these problems should be difficult to fix, and are probably already being worked on already, so we can hopefully look forward to better tools in the future. However on the horizon is Google Wave which may well be the answers to everyone’s problems – providing, of course, we understand the problem!