Moving On…

So I have some pretty exciting news! After 8 years of working from home I will be moving back to working in a physical location!

From mid-September I will be taking on a new role as a data analyst in the research department at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). The QAA is the independent body entrusted with monitoring, and advising on, standards and quality in UK Higher Education. It is based in Gloucester.

qaaThe QAA is currently at an interesting juncture. Our new(ish) government is already making changes that will affect QAA work, and QA processes in HE are also being reviewed by HEFCE. The QAA needs to be flexible, reactive and grounded in its ability to deal with significant policy issues including: value for money for students, putting teaching at the heart of HE, expansion of the HE sector, increasing student numbers, widening participation and the increase in Internet-based provision. I am very lucky to be joining the QAA team at a point when there will be opportunities to contribute to the organisation’s future direction. Areas I feel passionate about, such as online learning and open education, research data management, open data and transparency, are all highly relevant for them right now. In fact they have recently released this report MOOCs and Quality: A review of the recent literature and have established a QAA MOOCs Network.

Although I am little apprehensive I am really looking forward to joining the QAA team!

This move is a huge scary step for me. It is going to mean commuting to work everyday and spending 8 hours+ in a place that isn’t my house! I’m expecting a big culture shock, but I’m also excited about being part of a physical team! It’s to going to be great to be able to chat in coffee breaks, attend F2F meetings and have a real lunch break!

I am very sad to be leaving Open Knowledge, the 2.5 years I have been there has flown by in a whirlwind of great projects, new skills and wonderful communities. Open Knowledge does truly amazing work and I’ve never met such a dedicated and talented bunch of people – both staff and community. I hope to stay in touch with both people and initiatives. I’d like to wish Open Knowledge all the best for the future.

So what does all this mean for my blog…?

I think after 8 years it’s time to archive Ramblings of a Remote Worker. Over the next 2 weeks I’ll add some summary posts and after that the site will remain here for people to use but there will not be any more new posts. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll continue to blog or not. I may not have time! Then again a need may arise and who knows what will happen!? I’ll be keeping my website up to date and of course you can catch me on Twitter too.

A big thank you to everyone who has dropped by this blog over the last 8 years or has chatted to me on social media. You have been my watercooler, my colleagues and my friends! You stopped me from going crazy! Thanks!

How to Work Effectively in a Shared Flat

Division of workspace if you are in a co-working hub is fairly straightforward but if you are sharing your home then things might not be so clear. Marleen Clover has written a post for us on the dos and don’t when remote working from a shared flat. Marleen works as a marketing assistant at Timeo. She has a background in business administration and management and loves reading poetry and fiction.

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In a perfect world, everything works according to our exact needs. This isn’t always the case when you have roommates. You may be saving up to get a place of your own, but you won’t get very far if you can’t get any work done. Compromise and strategy are key to building an environment where you can work remotely with the least amount of distraction and disturbance.

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Make a Map of Schedules

Be aware of your roommate(s) work schedule and plans outside of work. If you can, try to invert that schedule when creating your own. If you need peace and quiet from a noisy roommate, or you need to prevent being tempted from chatting it up, you’ll find it easier to do your work when you know you’ll have the place to yourself. Assuming your roommate does not work remotely like you do, they will likely have a set work schedule where they’re coming and going at specific times. If they don’t work your standard nine-to-five job, these hours may change from day to day. It will require some flexibility on your part, but you likely have more leniency than they do.

Set Up in the Right Location

You need to have some kind of work station. In most cases, it will all fit on top of and inside of a desk. Placing this desk strategically will help you get your work done. Try not to place it in common areas or open spaces that receive a lot of traffic. If your flat already has a designated office area or spare bedroom, this is a no brainer. If your roommate uses the kitchen and living areas very frequently, you’ll want to avoid setting up there. If you need to, you can always set up your work station in your bedroom. Some people who work from home have revamped very large storage closets or walk in pantries into micro-offices. If you happen to have one that’s not being used, repurposing and optimizing your storage can make this option a possibility.

Balance Entertaining and Being Considerate

A little compromise will go a long way. Talk to your roommate about what times and days are best for entertaining company. Should a special occasion be on the way, make sure you clear it with each other far enough in advance. If your roommate is going to have some friends over for board games, the sounds of the good time they’re having will undoubtedly distract you, and likely make you wish you were doing something else. If he or she is having family over for a meal and you’re stowed away working, you wouldn’t want to seem rude. It’s all about balancing time.

Measuring Decibels

When you’re working from home, you need to be able to hear yourself think. If the area you’re working with contains a TV or stereo, or shares a wall with a room that does, this can potentially become frustrating. Figure out what volumes you can and can’t work with, and at what time volume adjustments need to be made. If for some reason, you can’t come to an agreement, or the walls are simply very thin, you’ll need to have a backup plan. If your work doesn’t involve constantly being on the phone or on Skype, invest in a decent pair of headphones. Listen to relaxing sounds or white noise to cancel out the interfering sounds. They won’t distract you, and they may even improve your focus and productivity.

Review Your Options

At some point in your co-habitation, you might discover that while some of your roommates are excellent co-workers, others simply disrupt your work and make you less productive. If you’ve got a few friends with whom you like to co-work, it might be a good idea to get a place together. Imagine a collective of remote workers living together – they’ll understand each other’s needs perfectly. Have a look at services like Gumtree to check apartment rent offers and you might just stumble upon a place that would be perfect for you and 2 or 3 of your freelancing friends.

 

Visualising your Work Network #2

Over 2 years ago I had a go at visualising my work network using LinkedIn Labs InMap. You can see the resulting map and the blog post. I was hoping to see how my network had progressed since I left my previous place of employment (more people – a different set of groups etc.) but LinkedIn retired InMap last year – which makes things a bit tricky. However there are some other visualisation tools around that work well with LinkedIn.

Socilab is one such tool. This Socilab project is open source, and intended for personal or academic use. The idea is to educate people about their social network data and to make analysis more accessible for everday users. It has been used at over 20 universities across the world to teach students about the power of social network analysis as part of undergraduate and MBA curricula. Socilab works using the LinkedIn API – unfortunately due to LinkedIn API limitations it can only use 499 of your contacts in one go. The API limit is reset at 12am every day so I’m planning to go back there tomorrow!

Socilab

Socilab does give you some stats about your network which you might find useful though…

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Possibly the coolest thing is that you can export your data [in ‘CSV adjacency matrix or ‘Pajek .net edge list’] and use it elsewhere.

Linkurious gives some things you can so with the data if you have the skills. Gephi is probably the best tool to use.

gephi

After quite a bit of experimentation I’m still hunting for a tool that does the job as easily as Inmap – any suggestions?

The Remote Worker Guilt Trip

Guilt features a lot in my working life. I’m thinking maybe guilt features a lot in remote worker’s lives generally. So there’s guilt that you don’t have to get in a car and drive somewhere everyday, guilt that your day is more flexible, guilt if you take a few minutes off to load the washing machine, guilt if you spend time paying a bill online during work hours, guilt if you eat lunch at the computer, guilt if you eat lunch…

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Guilt if you are not working and you should be, guilt if you are working and you shouldn’t be.

Guilt, guilt, GUILT, GUILT!!!!

Add to the mix parental guilt, 3 frisky children, end of term activities and the summer holidays looming – you can see that I am becoming a guilty wreck. The Summer is going to be a guilt-fest!

In his article Being a Remote Worker Sucks – Long Live the Remote Worker Scott Hanselman argues that remote workers:

work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear. We DO feel guilty working at home. We assume you all think we’re just hanging out without pants on. We assume you think we’re just at the mall tweeting. We fear that you think we aren’t putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).”

Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends. We may take an afternoon off to see a kid’s play, but then the guilt will send us right back in to make up the time. In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are “taking time from the company” and pay it back more than others.”

Mobile technology doesn’t help either. A recent survey of 3,500 professionals conducted in the U.S. and five other countries found at least 58% said they have feelings of guilt in this hyper-connected world.

So how do we deal with these feelings of guilt?

I don’t have an easy answer but here are a few thoughts I have.

  • One of the top tips psychology gives for dealing with guilt is that you need to recognise the kind of guilt you have and its purpose. You feel guilty because you want to be an effective and dedicated member of staff. Just feeling the guilt means that you are already on the right track. Joe Bloggs next door doesn’t feel guilt because he lounges on the sofa all day picking his feet, he doesn’t care, you do.
  • When my children were very found I remember a health visitor telling me that I need to think about the food they eat in terms of a week, rather than a day. I try to apply the same approach to remote working. There are busy days and there are not so busy days, it’s give and take, but overall my organisation gets more than enough out of me.The old remote worker adage about clear boundaries really applies here. Don’t be answering emails while putting your kids in the bath, and don’t be watching YouTube when you are working. Set up time boundaries and things will be easier.
  • Keep brief notes on what you do all day. You needn’t share these with anyone but they will help you see how productive you’ve been.
  • Reward yourself for completing tasks – when I’ve finished working on that spreadsheet I’m going to have a cup of tea and a 10 minute read of a book. It’s a well deserved treat – so no guilt there.

I’d like to end with some wise words from Natali Vlatko on recognising your true value.

Don’t let the guilt of working from home eat away at your deserved free time, unless you’re just watching animated gifs all day. Make yourself heard and your presence felt, then the proverbial wall between you and your team will come down. Your value shouldn’t be undermined just because you’re not sharing a cubicle with someone.”

The Work We Want

If you haven’t seen it yet you need to check out the Work We Want web site. The site has been created by the Glasshouse Collective (which “was formed to meaningful throw stones at the Glass Houses people build using the Internet”) and commissioned by the Space.

We face a radically different future of work, which is being shaped by the web. The days of the steady 9-5 are over, as workers around the world come online. Competiton for jobs is global, work is bought and sold on demand, and the price of labour is falling. How should we respond as a global workforce? How can we prepare for a different future of work? Are we going to compete, co-operate or exploit our fellow workers? The Work We Want explores these questions through a series of creative processes:

The site has some great resources: videos, graphics, games, a blog and real-life stories. Take a look!

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Skill share Intro to Github and Jekyll

At Open Knowledge we’ve started running our (internal) skill share sessions again. Today’s was a very useful introduction to Github and Jekyll. GitHub is a web-based Git repository hosting service that we use a lot at Open Knowledge, Jekyll is a “simple, blog-aware, static site generator” and has recently been used to create our revamped Open Data Handbook.

The full video of the session is available on YouTube and embedded below.

Our host (Paul Walsh) took us through what a content management system on the web is, the limitations of some services like WordPress (limited control of presentation and data, security, maintenance and cost) and the benefits of using Git (open by default, zero maintenance costs, lots of scope to customise) for static sites. His slides are available here.

Key terms in Git hub

Key terms in Git hub

We then had a go at creating some Mark up (i.e. content) and a pull request and using some Jekyl metadata.

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I am using Git hub to create pages to store the data visualisations I am creating for the PASTEUR4OA project – so all very useful.

Thanks to Paul Walsh and Mor Rubinstein for organising and running the session.

Useful links

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