Hopefully people are enjoying the summer. I’m away this week in Woolacombe (North Devon) so am leaving you in the capable hands of Ann Priestley. Ann worked for the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) till relatively recently. The centre is based in Coventry but she was lucky enough to work remotely from her home in Denmark. We’ve had tales from people working remotely from abroad before (see Amanda Hill’s Remoter Remote Working) but Ann’s remote working experience doesn’t end there, she is also involved in amplifying events for the remote audience. Ann blogs at Danegeld.
Hej! My name is Ann and I’m a teleworker. I live in an unpronounceable suburb of Copenhagen called Hvidovre (it’s not phonetic), and until June this year I worked remotely for the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) in Coventry, one of the Higher Education Academy’s subject centres aimed at supporting university law teachers in their learning and teaching activities.
At the moment the sun is shining and our two beagles, Oscar (nearly 2) and Mylo (10 weeks) are amusing themselves picking buds off flowers. This winter was the hardest in Denmark for over 20 years, with snow on the ground from December until March, but to the envy of my partner I was able to indulge in the traditional Danish pursuit of ‘hygge‘ at home in the warm rather than trudging off in the half light to the office.
At UKCLE I was responsible for managing the website and other digital communications – a job which probably would not even have existed 15 years ago, even in an office based version. The pace of change in the world of work seems to be speeding up, with the traditional view of how to manage work/life balance shifting – a 21 hour week, anyone? Many of us are sitting in front of a computer in an office all day when we could just as well work elsewhere – all that is needed is for employers to be imaginative in how they manage their human capital.
From local to remote
Which is where I struck lucky! I had worked for UKCLE as Information Manager for five years before I made the decision to move to Denmark. It was my first job in higher education proper, and I quickly came to realise that working practices were a little more flexible than the conventional 9-5. At UKCLE one ‘working at home’ day per week for research was the norm, although unlike most of the law school we did tend to stick to conventional office hours. So when I started thinking about relocating it seemed logical to explore how I could continue to work for the Centre – to be honest I can’t remember now if it was me or my manager who came up with the idea. Either way, it suited both parties fine – recruitment wheels turn slowly enough, and I would be able to find my feet in Denmark while keeping some sort of routine going.
Could my job really be done remotely? I would say a resounding yes! We had developed a communications strategy and and set up tools and routines for adding and editing content to the website, disseminating and publicising the Centre’s work and managing contacts, so generally we could roll things along as before. We had recently introduced Web based editing, so basic website maintainence was straightforward. I kept my university credentials, meaning that I had access to the Centre’s shared drive. The only area of work I let go was overseeing the production cycle for the Centre’s journal and publicity materials – I did miss my meetings with the printers, but it just seemed more sensible that way!
On the other side of the North Sea, I have a dedicated office and a speedy Internet connection, although I do seem to wear out laptops rather frequently. To start with I kept my house in Coventry and went back regularly, for example to lead training sessions for UKCLE Associates, but over time visits became less frequent. I don’t think either side expected me still to have a connection to the Centre after more than four years, albeit with some gaps. My role evolved in line with changing Centre needs, becoming less hands on this year and now completely hands free.
Amplifying a conference from your kitchen table
One thing I am particularly proud of is the progress we made in amplifying UKCLE’s annual conference. Every January nearly 200 law teachers converge in Coventry for two days earnest (and not so earnest) discussion on learning and teaching law. I had long been looking for ways to capture the knowledge shared by participants at events and to facilitate a more community driven approach, so in the summer of 2008 we made the decision – via email – to try out a wiki. As well as making conference resources easily accessible the idea was to enable participants, and non-participants, to get more involved and network over the conference lifecycle. With a few exceptions, law teachers are not hugely IT literate – the wiki offered them the chance to try out some new tools in a safe environment.
So in January 2009 I found myself sat at my kitchen table updating a wiki with details of new blog posts and session resources and adding slides to the new Slideshare space. I’m sure people didn’t realise I was not in the UK – and of course it didn’t matter, although I did feel a slight pang when adding the dinner menu. Over half the presenters at the conference uploaded their own materials and some informal exchanges were also made via the wiki – in one notable case three presenters in the same parallel used it to support collaborative working as they developed their individual presentations. To an extent we were victims of our own success – it took until the end of March to integrate the extra materials into the main UKCLE website, and then in summer 2009 we set off agan…
For the 2010 conference we introduced social networking features into the mix, allowing participants to comment on the abstracts, contribute to discussions and set up a profile and communicate with others. Again, a key aim was to give law teachers access to tools they otherwise might not try out. We also ventured into audio and video for the first time, with a live stream of the keynote address and slidecasts of selected sessions. On this occasion I did attend the conference, with the end result that rather less time was spent hammering on the keyboard than the previous year. I tried out liveblogging for a couple of sessions, which I hope is an idea the Centre will take forward in 2011.
So, now I’m joining the band of freelancers, building my network and looking for small projects to get started, wherever they are. My experiences of flexible and remote working have given me the opportunity to try out things I might otherwise not have done and taken me to places I probably did not expect. I feel I am more productive than when I was office based, although there are some downsides, with isolation an obvious factor. Less frequently mentioned is the need to give yourself downtime – maybe that’s why so many teleworkers have dogs! Perhaps as more people work remotely we will find different ways to connect – I’m particularly taken by the idea of coworking, enabling freelancers and others to meet to exchange ideas and support to each other, as well as offering meeting and working space when required.
And of course there’s always Twitter – I’m @annindk, if you work remotely in a related field, anywhere in the world!