Going Green: Can Home Working Save the World?

…asked Pete James in a 2008 report for the Smith Institute.

I recently saw Pete James speak in the ‘Making the move to Green‘ session at the JISC Conference (mentioned in my last blog post.) Pete has been a key player in the SusteIT project which has provided the JISC Managing Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education report.

The project looked at many aspects of IT provision in Higher Education and proposed changes to make them more environmentally friendly. The main research put forward some shocking figures, for example ICT accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions and HE generates over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. In his talk Pete James explained that this year over 25 new regulations have come in for HE to follow with regard to carbon emissions- these are intending to take us towards the government target of 80% reduction of 1990 levels by 2050.

Wind farm in France
When it comes to HE reducing carbon emissions remote working figures quite highly on the list. In the LIW project I mentioned earlier this week a carbon saving amount can be deduced for each home worker. Encouraging distance learning is also there as an carbon footprint reducer. One study actually found that distance learning courses actually produce 90% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than campus-based courses. Some of these issues are explored in more detail on the JISC Green ICT blog.

We are lucky enough to have an environmental champion at UKOLN and the University of Bath itself has done really well at reducing energy consumption (it has gone down by seven per cent in the last two years).
I’ve actually been giving some thought of late to having my own green policy for working at home. I’ll post what I’ve got so far later in the week.

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Location Independent Working

This week I popped up to Edinburgh for the JISC Conference. The conference is an opportunity for JISC to showcase many of their projects and an opportunity for us working in the UK Higher Education sector to find out what other institutions are working on.

During the ‘Making the move to Green‘ session I heard David Morris, Professor of Business Education from the University of Coventry talking about the Location Independent Working (LIW) project. The project, which has recently finished, was part of the Institutional Innovation Programme and in Morris’ own words both an attempt to “legitimise home working” and investigate further the proposition that “it’s not about where you work, it’s what you so that counts“. There is a good write up in the Times Higher.

The project took 40 members of staff and offered them an equipment toolkit, training and a LIW handbook which would allow them to work in locations other than their office. There was also a support blog. It then measured the affects this arrangement had on a number of factors including health, work-life balance, communication etc.

I think the project, although interesting, is not necessarily revolutionary and the measured outcomes at the end were not surprising. What it does show is the interest the Higher Education sector has in further exploring the arena of remote working. Remote working has the potential to get HE out of a sticky mess when it comes to space and environmental drivers.

Morris alluded to the fact that there are still many potential areas of further research. One of these touches on a question that many remote workers ask themselves (primarily for financial reasons) – Am I using more heating and electricity here at home than I would if I were in the office? I’m going to be watching the LIW blog with interest.

Dallyings with a Dongle

Dongle

There’s something about that word that makes me snigger. As a colleague explained it brings out the Benny Hill in us all.

Anyway now that I’ve suppressed my sniggers let me explain. UKOLN have now got a pool of 3G cards/Orange Business Everywhere cards/USB Modem/dongles (call them what you will) for staff to borrow. You can book these out for short periods of time. These are USB sticks that when you connect them to a laptop they allow you to use mobile broadband – Internet and email access on the move.

This makes a lot of sense. At the moment I’m sat on a train on my way to Edinburgh for the JISC Conference. UKOLN will pay for train tickets but I only fly if I really have to (environmental and ‘fear of flying’ reasons) and a bit of forward planning means I can get from Wiltshire to Scotland and back in two days. The result is 14 hours on a train. Having a laptop and an Internet connection means that I can carry on as normal…or as least have a go at trying to do that.

Setting it up

I started setting up Business Everywhere in the middle of last week. It’s supposed to be just a case of plug and play – you plug in the USB stick and the software loads itself on your laptop, then you connect to a network. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite so straightforward for me (I see myself as a good test case because if it’s possible to break it…I will). It just didn’t work. I spent hours taking the software off, putting it back on again, walking round town with a laptop held above my head (just in case it was a reception issue), but alas no joy. Thanks to the systems team (especially Nicola and Eddie) for all their help. My laptop is now in the ‘laptop hospital’ at work. Anyway I’ve been lent another laptop on which the software does work.

3g

Using it

So I’m now writing this on the train. I am working on the move! Pretty exciting stuff really. I have had a go at wifi but have yet to embrace the beyond the office working that Paul Boag talked about in his post.

The connection has been pretty good so far but there are moments of loss, this means that I’m a bit concerned about losing information, so am becoming obsessive about saving things (like this post).

It’s also pretty slow. I’m not very good at using slow computers. I tend to bang more and more keys until the computer gets its knickers in a twist and crashes. I’m trying to read the paper while the laptop is chugging. I’m thinking that I’ll maybe work on a word document saved on the C drive on the next leg of the journey.

All in all I’m really enjoying the freedom the 3G card is giving me. I know that I don’t have to worry about the wireless at the event and I won’t have to use or pay for wireless in my hotel. Although I’m not working as efficiently as I would at home I’m still in touch (my phone doesn’t really do Web) and I can fire fight problems and know that if I need Internet connection to do so it’s there.

Having a collection of dongles is an effective and cost-effective way to support your staff when they are out on the move.

Right, time to change trains…..

6 Months of Remote Worker blogging

Can you believe it?! Yes, I’ve been writing this blog for 6 months now…

So what have I learnt?

It’s quality not quantity that counts

I’ve now written over 50 posts…so am averaging on about 2 posts a week. I don’t want to just churn stuff out though so try really hard to only blog about stuff that is relevant (to remote working) and of interest to me. I’m not saying that the end result is that great, but if I didn’t stick to these rules it could be a lot worse!

My Colleague Paul Walk, who writes a really readable blog (inspiringly titled paul walk’s weblog ;-)) (probably so readable because he doesn’t post that often) asked a while back if it mattered to me if anyone read my posts. That’s a tricky one. Of course it matters and I’d really like people to read the blog and comment (I won’t bore you with stats here), but it doesn’t matter as much to me as I thought it would. I actually enjoy writing the blog now and often find myself referring back to past posts, so it’s almost become a kind of content management system for my thoughts on remote working.

Blogs lead to bigger things

I’ve found that writing my blog has helped inform me about remote working issues and technologies because I now have a reason to find out about them. It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation. I find out about stuff to write about on the blog, people send in comments, I know more things about stuff so I end up writing more about stuff!

I’ve also learnt a lot about blogging, which is good as I often run workshops on it!

I’ve had emails from people about remote working (for example this one on VPNs, Management and Emails from Canada), I’ve participated in Webinars (for RSC Eastern) and will hopefully be giving a talk at a Flexible working event later this year (more on that in the future). I’ve also submitted something to Internet Librarian on remote working.

I’ve been able to network with other remote workers (using the blog as an excuse), have published two guest blog posts so far (Monica Duke and Paul Boag), got more people lined up for guest blog posts and have been able to use the blog in my role as remote worker champion.

What’s successful can be surprising

The most successful posts are about technology (Twitter!), something silly (like the Top 10 Remote Worker Lunches) or something that for some reason gets on a list somewhere. But I’ve also enjoyed blogging about my family, my town, the snow and bad employers!

And my final thoughts…

Well firstly it’s a good job my husband doesn’t read my blog (at least I think he doesn’t)…

Secondly I’ve got a lot more out of blogging than I thought I would. I’ve found it a really reflective, useful activity and it doesn’t take up that much time when you get going.

So if you’ve got this far in my post…thanks for reading!
🙂

Me, working remotely

I’m not sure what my intentions for the future are. I guess more of the same with some more guest blog posts, more horizon scanning and more user input (more comments please!). I’d like to jazz up the blog a bit when I get time – maybe add a few more widgets. I suppose it would also be nice to get more readers. It’s all a work in progress….

Anyway here are my own favourite posts (in no particular order):

Technology

Culture

Any ideas on what you’d like me to blog on? Any suggestions? What about your first 6 months of blogging?

The Reality of Home Working

Time for another guest blog post. I’ve managed to persuade Paul Boag, user experience designer and founding partner of Web design agency Headscape, to share with us his experience of being a remote worker. Paul is a keen blogger and runs the boagworld.com community for people who run Web sites. Enjoy!!

**********************

Paul BoagAn increasing number of people are trading in the cubicle for home working. It is seen by many as the ultimate perk. However, is home working really everything it is cracked up to be? I share what I have discovered after 7 years of home working.

Like many people starting a new business, we begun Headscape working from home. It was a great way to keep costs low and ensure those long hours required when starting a business were more bearable. However the real appeal of home working, was the feeling it provided more flexibility.

The dream becomes a nightmare

To begin with it felt like being set free. I could work in my pyjamas, no longer worry about day time deliveries and get to see my new born son whenever I wanted. Unfortunately, like everything, the honeymoon period eventually wore off.

It did not take long for the presence of my new born child to turn from a blessing to a curse. His constant crying made work difficult and my loud conference calls often brought the wrath of my wife because they disturbed ‘nap time’.

I also found myself craving human interaction. Although my wife and son were around, I found I could go days (or in some cases even longer) without seeing another human sole. In fact there was a period of time when I rarely left the house.

Things weren’t much better when friends and family did come to visit. They seemed unable to grasp that I was at work and I suffered from constant interruptions.

Suffering from a lack of self control

However the biggest problem with my new found freedom was that it required a lot of self control. Many people suffer from a lack motivation when they start home working. They become get distracted by day time TV or making ‘yet another cup of tea’. However, I suffered from the opposite problem.

With work so easily accessible and a new business to worry about I found myself constantly drawn back into the office. For a considerable time all I did in my life was work and sleep. It was damaging to both myself and my relationship with the family. Something had to change.

What didn’t work

I decided that what I missed was the structure of office life. I therefore decided to recreate this structure at home. I started work at 9AM and finished at 5.30PM (at least that was the theory). I even dressed for work and at the end of the business day got changed into my casual clothes.

I set rigid boundaries for friends and family too. While I was at work I was off limits and simply would not interact with others. However, I did try and overcome my feels of isolation by experimenting with a plethora of communication tools. My aim was to enable better communication with other members of Headscape.

However ultimately all of these techniques failed. They failed to acknowledge the very nature of home working and left me with the worst aspects of both home and office.

I became increasingly irritable with family, annoyed by the constant interruptions created by the comms tools I had put in place, and trapped by the rigid routine of the 9 to 5.

The secret to home working

At this point you probably suspect I return to office life. However, that is not the case. In fact where most of Headscape now work in an office, I am one of the few hold outs who refuse to give up home working. I love it. It just took me a while to work out how to make it work.

The secret to home working is finding a balance. You need to put boundaries in place that ensure you strike the right work/home balance. However you must also ensure those ‘rules’ are not so restrictive they suck the pleasure out of home working.

Take for example working hours. I required boundaries. On one hand I needed to limit the hours I worked. However, I also had to overcome the guilt I felt when I believed I wasn’t working hard enough.

The answer wasn’t working 9AM to 5PM. This simply imposed an office model on a home environment. Rather I started tracking my time. Each day I work an 8 hour day. However rarely is that in normal business hours.

I tend to start around 9ish, but as anybody who follows me on Twitter knows I often take a nap in the afternoon. This suits my body clock and takes full advantage of my home working environment.

I also feel free to stop when friends or family come around. I often go for coffee or even see a movie with my wife. I then make up the time in evenings or weekends. Because I track the time, I do not need to feel guilty about these distractions.

I know what you are thinking- what if one of my colleagues needs something from me when I am out? Well, I always ensure I am instantly contactable. I have my iphone and will always answer it even if that means walking out of the movie. Also, I normally carry my laptop and 3G modem so I can act on things immediately if they are urgent.

Of course, I am not naive. If you work in customer support or as part of a closely knit team then this would not be possible. However if you do, then home working is probably not ideal anyway.

I think that is the problem with a lot of home working articles. They fail to take into account the huge variety of factors that can affect how you work from home. It is impossible to tell anybody how they should work from home because…

  • We all have different characters
  • We all have different job requirements
  • We all work in different home working environments

That said, I do think there is at least some advice I can give in regards to working environment.

Your working environment

When I first started home working we converted our dining room into an office. I did at least get one thing right. I realised the importance of having a dedicated working environment. You cannot work from your kitchen table when the room is also being used by the family. It just doesn’t work.

However, what I got wrong was the room I picked. Our dinning room was right in the middle of our house, between the kitchen and living room. Only a partition wall divided it from the living room and so I could hear everything happening in the house and vice versa.

Now my office is a converted garage adjoining the house. Its only link is through a heavy fire door and utility room. It is essentially a separate area exclusively for my work.

boag1

Pick your working environment carefully. Ensure you have a room away from the rest of the house. It will make a world of difference. Also, spend time and money to ensure it is as nice a place to work as possible. Lots of daylight is the key for me. That and nice furniture. If you don’t make your home office a nice place to work, it will become a prison you learn to hate.

Of course, no matter how nice your home office it will eventually drive you crazy. When you work and live in one place, you eventually feel the need to get out. That is where I am grateful we have a company office too. I have found myself really enjoying the change of environment and the opportunity to speak to real live human beings!

If you don’t have an office, then try working from a coffee shop or even break free from the office model entirely.

Beyond the office

While most companies are considering allowing their employees to home work I am beginning to experiment with leaving the idea of an office behind entirely.

The realisation that there is no need for me to be constrained by any kind of office first struck me when reading ‘The 4 Hour Work Week‘. Although there is a lot in that book I disagree with, I do think it gets one thing right – most of the work we do does not need to be constrained to a particular location.

Take for example this post. I am currently flying at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic on my way to SXSW. I can still blog. In fact Dave and Craig (two of our developers at Headscape) are sitting in front of me installing .net on a mac and Marcus is sitting beside me building a wireframe. As long as we have a computer, we can work anywhere.

This is even easier when I am on the ground! For £15 per month I have a 3G modem that allows me web access too. Combined with my iphone and laptop, I have a complete mobile office. I could work from anywhere.

Of course this approach is not without its challenges. My modem may give me web access in the UK, but using it abroad is expensive. That said, there are a growing number of wifi spots internationally so it is a problem that is diminishing.

As with home working the more significant barrier is a mental one. In the same way I had problems working out how best to work from home, I am also having problems knowing the best approach while travelling.

Over the summer I did an experiment in ‘road’ working when I went on holiday to the Highlands of Scotland with the family. I took a week’s holiday and decided to work for a week too, as an experiment. I have to say it didn’t go well. The temptations of the great outdoors and family fun was just too great. I did my weeks work but only just and it was not a pleasurable experience.

boag2

That said, I know of others who have got it working for them. I just need to find the right way for me. Perhaps I should get up early but stop after lunch. Perhaps I should take a long siesta in the middle of the day and work later into the evening. The possibilities are endless and one of them will strike the right balance between working and living the life I want to live.

What I am convinced of is that mobile computing has opened up limitless opportunities to work where we want and how we want. All that is holding us back is the status quo and outdated ideologies.

Know Thyself: The UKOLN Remote Worker Workshop

Yesterday we had our second UKOLN remote worker workshop. This was an all-day workshop run by an external trainer for our internal remote workers only.

What can I say? I think we all had a fab day (despite feeling a bit ropey after all going out for a meal and a few drinks the night before!) The day, for me, was actually quite emotional. There was a lot of introspection and trying to understand yourself. I’m not a particularly huggy-feely person but I do believe some time spent trying to understand yourself will end up being be time well invested. As the ancient Greek aphorism states “know thyself”.

Sylvia Vacher from Objectives training does a great job of getting to the root of a problem and making sure you take a solutions based approach, so you are left with very practical advice that you can go away and apply.

UKOLN Remote Workers

UKOLN Remote Workers

The main themes for the day were time management and motivation. These were the two problem areas we’d identified as being the most significant to us as remote workers. We also looked at creativity quite a bit because much of our work at UKOLN involves innovation and ideas.

Our spec outline included:

Time management
How can we use our time more effectively?
How can we change ingrained patterns of behaviour?
How can we stop ourselves procrastinating?
What can be done to avoid distractions -both online and off?
How can we improve our concentration (given that when at home many stimulus (like people to chat to) are not there)?
What different time management systems apply for different personalities?
Motivation
What motivates us as individuals?
How can we encourage motivation when, at times, we are not getting this from the work we are carrying out?
How can we set our own goals when our work targets are sometimes unclear?
How can we stimulate creative thinking when alone?
Communication
How can we increase interaction with colleagues (be they UKOLN or external)?
How can we maintain momentum in this communication?

I think some of the key things that I took away from the day include:

The Importance of Feedback

The isolation of remote working means that you need feedback much more than an on-site worker. If you aren’t getting this feedback you need to ask for it. This feedback could take the form of peer support, a coach, mentor or any other support. Some of the other remote workers (who live near to Manchester) have agreed to meet up once a month for a coffee, a chat and a ‘bit of support’.

Taking a Risk is good.

Broadening your horizon can only be a good thing. As a working Mum I tend to want to keep things safe and stay at home as much as possible, yet I crave the stimulus of going to events and meeting people. Although getting out can be a pain it’s an essential part of making you a rounded person and a key factor in creativity. I need to do more of it.

Be positive

I’m just not, but it’s the only way to be. You need to fill your life with the things you want to do and then enjoy them.

Our trainer Sylvia Vacher

Our trainer Sylvia Vacher

A few of my favourite motivators were:

  • Know what makes you tick and try to get more of it
  • Think of the positives – deal with the negatives in a solution based way
  • Keep your stimulators (things/books etc. that get you thinking) in a folder and get them out when you’re stuck

As for time keeping I liked:

  • If in doubt throw it out – try having a “Phucket bucket” – I hope I won’t get in trouble for this one, it just really sticks!
  • Chunk stuff up
  • Turn everything off (technology wise), now and then
  • You don’t have to respond straight away to everything
  • Don’t let someone take all your pie (i.e. time) if you don’t want them to
  • Your best working time is between 10 – 12 so do something constructive then (i.e. don’t answer emails in it)

A few interesting resources from the day that I intend to follow up are:

All of this was great but probably the most exciting thing about the day was that we are really gelling as a team. Although we all work on different areas we have a lot of common ground. If we can support each other then we are going to be more motivated and ultimately work more effectively. It’s a win win situation….now I really am starting to sound like an American pop-psychologist!!
😉

Do you have a Remote Worker Policy?

A recent survey carried out in the US has found that of companies with remote workers only 39.4 percent actually have a policy detailing or enabling remote work. The report commissioned by Microsoft through 7th Sense LP was into remote working practices in various US cities.

In my Ariadne article on remote working I highlighted the need for such a policy.

In order to formalise such practices, organisations which increasingly allow staff to work flexibly should make sure that they have good working policies and procedures in place. A policy might cover how remote working can be applied for, health and safety, data protection, security issues, financial issues such as when expenses can be claimed, legal and contractual issues, work hours etc. Such a policy should also provide useful guidance. As an article in Business Zone explains, “The key to unlocking the benefits of flexible working is to ensure that when a boardroom policy is being created it always keeps practical implementation front of mind.

An article by Catherine Roseberry on About.com gives a number of other suggestions for what an effective policy should clearly state. These include details on non-reimbursable work expenses, tax implications, insurance information and determination of who is suitable for remote working.

British Telecom actually provide a remote working policy toolkit that makes suggestions in how you can use ‘plain English’ and “make the grey areas, black and white“.

At UKOLN we have recently updated our remote worker policy and it now covers:

  • Recruitment
  • Induction
  • Existing staff moving to Remote Working
  • Integration of Remote Workers into the work place
  • Homeworking environment, office furniture and ICT equipment
  • Internet connections and phone lines
  • Travel expenses
  • Links to related documents (such as the University of Bath policies and one on secure data)

A quick trawl shows that there are plenty of policies available on the Web for admin staff to use as a guide. So there really are no excuses.

Do you have a remote worker (or remote working) policy? If not then maybe it’s time to write one.