Remote Working: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last week brought us yet another piece of research on the personality traits needed to be a home worker.

The article in question was published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior and written by Thomas O’Neill from the University of Calgary. The conclusions (here reported in inc. by Laura Montini) offer nothing “earth shattering” however…

One unexpected finding, the researchers said, was that people who indicated that they have neurotic tendencies actually work well remotely. O’Neill had predicted this group of people would have trouble concentrating, but that wasn’t the case.

This got me thinking about the ‘bad’ idiosyncrasies that I now demonstrate after 7 years of remote working. Some are an intrinsic part of my nature, but others I’m sure have developed over time.

A quiet cat

My cat being quiet

The Good

Before I go in to these I wanted to group the characteristics mentioned time and time again when it comes to remote working.

There are all those characteristics that you need to get the job done without someone looking over your shoulder: Focused, not easily distracted, self-disciplined, motivated, committed, an independent worker who requires minimal supervision, hard working, self-starter, management skills, organised, responsible, comfortable with self-imposed deadlines, decisive, a quick learner, prepared, productive, trustworthy.

Then there are those characteristics that stop you from feeling isolated: Sociable, extrovert, networked, positive attitude, communicative, articulate, collaborative worker, team player, forthcoming, frank, unreserved.

Then finally there are those characteristics that help you cope with a different way of working from most people: Adaptive, flexible, open-minded, innovative, creative, original thinking, cutting edge, tech savvy.

So I think I have a fair number of those, however I also have a few that don’t seem so great.

The Bad

I definitely do have neurotic tendancies, I worry too much and my husband sometimes says he thinks I have mild OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I am very driven to get stuff done, maybe too driven, and I find it hard to relax. I always have to have a project on the go, I always have to be busy. This article on 4 Winning Personality Traits of the Successful Telecommuter sums it up nicely:

To be a successful telecommuter, you have the type of personality that feels compelled to finish what you start, no matter how much it may inconvenience you to do so. When you begin a project, you will never rest until that project is finished. You may be sick as a dog but will keep working until the job is finished, knowing that the deadline is too critical to miss. You simply refuse to fail. You are someone who will stay up all night if that’s what it takes to complete a project.

Related to this I tend to block out the world and get so focused on work that I wonder if I am letting my family relationships slip. I tend to take on too much and tend to say yes because I know I’ll fit stuff in – at the expense of all else!

I also wonder if I’ve become less of listener, maybe because I don’t have to listen quite so often. That seems strange as I spend most of my day with my headphones on in calls, but quite a lot of the time I work independently with no-one to bounce ideas off. Maybe I could do with spending a little more time letting ideas mull around, waiting for feedback. One of my biggest issues has always been that I act too quickly. That might sound like the answer to an interview question (“so what’s your biggest flaw?” “well, I’m just a little too perfect!“) but it can be a problem, Over the years I’ve learnt to let things rest for a little longer – don’t publish that report yet – you’ll get some more feedback in the middle of the night that it might make sense to include. Remote working doesn’t help here. You spend a lot of time waiting for people and you can’t pop your head round their door to ask them to hurry up. It can leave you frustrated and impatient.

One other strange thing – since working at home I now find that I work best in silence, in fact any noise drives me mad (this article on Radio silence and the remote worker picks up on this). I just can’t stand my cats miaowing or next door’s builder drilling. I wear noise reduction headphones most of the time to stop the non-silence getting in. I do wonder if I’d ever be able to return to an open plan office. As well as a silent room I also need a tidy room and find it hard incredibly off-putting if there is a mess around me – back to the OCD there.

My final concern is that I’ve become a bit of a ‘settler’. This article entitled Remote workers need more than just the right personality – they need ground rules talks about the possible negative effect on career advancement.

The old adage out of sight, out of mind can be especially true for those who are working offsite. Telecommuters run the risk of being passed over for promotions and job opportunities. This can happen because of an unsupportive attitude on management’s part, who may perceive the choice to work from home as lack of career commitment. But it is also true that not all jobs, especially the higher up the corporate ladder, can be successfully managed from a remote location.

Have I given up the ghost when it comes to career moves or are things just on hold for now?

The Ugly

And the worst thing of all…I’m now a serial snacker. Maybe it isn’t a personality trait or characteristic but it is an issue!

So what about you? What’s your good, bad and ugly?



The Balance of Power

There was an article in this week’s Saturday Guardian on home working by Lucy Mangan (I’m a natural homeworker – I like a lie-down and a biscuit). Lucy is researching the matter for a Radio 4 programme called The Homeworker (11am, Monday 5 August – date for the diary).

Lucy often writes from a feminist point of view and talks about how home working offers the “freedom to tailor your working hours or location helps any woman who has children or is caring for someone sick or disabled“. This was a matter discussed in my recent interview for the Digital Epiphanies project. At one point we got on to how the government wants to be seem to support remote working as they desperately think up ways to get the increasingly smaller able-to-work population (versus the increasing aging retired population) into work. I’ve not found them to be making much of an effort in reality though…a different matter for a different post?

In her post Lucy comments on how:

most of the women I met spoke of putting in more hours than they were paid for because they felt so guilty and grateful to be allowed a semi-bespoke work life. New research suggests that the average homeworker “gives” their employer an extra 24 days a year, and I suspect that, were this broken down by gender, the female respondents’ figure would be substantially higher than the male.

Hmmm…I think I might have covered this point before in this blog!

She also raises another interesting matter that I hadn’t considered until recently – my changing fortunes have made me consider it – the matter of contracts and stability. She writes:

If, however, I was of a naturally cynical disposition – and goodness, if you are a regular reader of this column, you will know what a perilously large imaginative leap I have had to make in the service of such a hypothetical – I might be tempted to point out that all these arrangements work for individuals in the short term. In the long term, and on a macro rather than a micro scale, it might be very different.

Once we are all used to working fragmented hours, it is easy to foresee bosses – the unscrupulous first, followed by the scrupled, who will be forced to compete on the same terms – using that as an entree to zero-hour (zero sick pay, zero pension, zero protection) contracts. The balance, if not of power then at least of benefits, that had briefly tipped in favour of workers would tip back again, and more decidedly, to employers. There would be workplace legislation preventing this, of course, but then there is workplace legislation preventing a lot of things and still, somehow, the employment tribunal rosters runneth over with claims and bitter grievances.

It’s a hugely important point and signifies a significant shift in our working culture. I don’t think it needs to be doom and gloom as Lucy portrays it, but the move towards contract employment / self-employment / consultant staff (name it as you see fit) is something very real. I don’t feel it necessarily means a shift of balance in favour of employers financially, contract staff often make up for their decreasing benefits by charging more, but it does mean a shift in responsibility. If you a working as a consultant you probably/possibly charge more, work harder (needs must – how can you get future work if your reputation is lacking?) and have to take a lot more care of your work set up by organising insurance, pensions and the like. You are the adult now, not your employer. I quite like that shift, but I can see how for some that might be a terrifying prospect. Discuss?! 😉

Remote Working Props

I enjoyed reading the MSNBC article on 10 mistakes everyone makes working from home by Meghan Casserly.

Many of Megan’s ideas are come from the new book by executive coach and author Debra Benton – the Virtual Executive. Debra Benton introduces the idea of ‘props’ – i.e. the stuff you have lying around your desk and in your room that can be seen in video conferences and Skype chats.

The idea made me chuckle. My own favourite mug sports a “I’d rather be in bed” message and although I now sit in a part of the lounge, my old ‘office’ used to be our spare bedroom and was the dumping ground for all tat that had no home.

One of the 10 mistakes is:

You look like a terrorist on Skype. 
In video, Benton says a huge mistake is the casualness of your presentation, but she’s especially emphatic about backdrop. In other words, booting up Skype or Face Time without first considering whether there’s a plant growing out the top of your head is a bad idea.” Take a look around, she says: is there a bra on your chair? Is there smoking paraphernalia in the room that shouldn’t be there?

To follow it up Megan adds:

And your props are terrible. 
Even an innocent slip can get you in trouble on-camera. One executive Benton worked with decided he wanted a glass of water on hand during a video conference, which seemed innocuous enough. “But the glass he chose was a beer mug!” she says. When the man lifted the glass to drink and his colleagues saw him through grainy web video, it appeared he was drinking on the job. Rule of thumb: choose your glasses wisely.

So have you had a look at what’s lying on your desk today?

To be honest I tend to avoid using Web Cams these days, I usually claim it’s a broad band issue, in reality it’s a “bad hair and messy room” issue!

Staying Connected in a Big Remote Worker World

As remote working becomes more usual I’ve started to notice a few more people like me: people who work from home or outside the office and who blog about their experiences. One such person is Doug Campbell who shares his thoughts on the Remote Worker Daily blog. You can follow Doug on Twitter at @dailyremotework or email him at

Doug has written a guest blog post on Staying Connected in a Big Remote Worker World – Family and Friends versus Work and Business – My Approach.


My name is Doug Campbell. In addition to writing for my blog, Remote Worker Daily, which I write remotely and to which I have posted to from around the world, I work a full time job as a technology consultant in the metro Washington, DC area where I work remotely part of the week.

My current client is fully remote, located in three separate cities across the United States. In my spare time, I am a part-time freelance consultant in the Enterprise Document Management space, which is also fully remote. My current freelance client is located in the UK.

In past jobs, I have worked with remote teams in India, Europe, and Canada on software development projects. I have also worked longer term fully remote while on vacation in Canada and South America.
I have been involved in some level or degree of remote work for almost 14 years.

The first challenge is staying connected.

As you can imagine, staying connected with all of these different teams in different countries, cultures, and time zones has provided an interesting challenge, and I haven’t even mentioned my family, located a thousand miles away.
So how do I stay connected in this big remote worker world? I have one approach for work and business, and a different approach for family and friends.

The second challenge is effectively drawing the line to keep family and friends separate from work and business.

Let’s start the discussion of what I call the “firewall to my personal life”. I have separate approaches to work and business connectedness than I do to family and friends for several reasons;

  1. Privacy – I don’t necessarily share my weekend photos from the pub with my clients.
  2. Safety – As Remote Worker Daily grows, so does the possibility of running into the occasional weirdo, stalker, angry reader, or identity thief.
  3. Peace of mind – I also like to keep work and business separate from friends and family.

I find this works well for me, but some people effectively mix work and pleasure.

How I stay connected with work and business

  1. Dell laptop – for all writing and work related software.
  2. Apple iPhone 4S – I use this phone for everything from internet browsing to video-conference to email to phone calls.
  3. LinkedIn – keep an extensive professional network.
  4. Facebook – a separate account for Remote Worker Daily.
  5. Email – a separate account for Remote Worker Daily,
  6. Twitter – used for Remoter Worker Daily @dailyremotework
  7. GoToMeeting – affordable and reliable video conferencing.

Quick Tips:

  1. Set expectations with employers, colleagues and clients on agreed upon work days and times, preferred communication channels, and frequency of communication.
  2. Cheap isn’t always better, make sure you have a good quality, reliable connection.
  3. Keep it professional. It’s easy to accidentally let your guard down when working at home in your pajamas.

How I stay connected with family and friends

I have been fully utilizing technology to cost-effectively keep in touch with friends and family (who are currently spread out in Canada and South America) whether I am home in the United States, travelling for fun, or vacationing. I have always been able to find free or affordable internet access wherever I travel.

The list of technology and tools that works well for me:

  1. Dell laptop – for all writing and work related software.
  2. Apple iPhone 4S – I use this phone for everything from internet browsing to video-conference to email to phone calls.
  3. Skype – I regularly video-conference with family and friends.
  4. Vonage – for home telephone and long distance. They have a very affordable world plan. I also use their iPhone application.
  5. Facebook – my personal account, I regularly update throughout the day.
  6. Twitter – My personal account.
  7. Email – Personal email account.

Quick Tips:

  1. Be sensitive to time zones. I learned this the hard way when I accidentally called my brother at 3 AM in his local time from China, which was an 11 hour time difference.
  2. Be sensitive to technology preferences. Skype video-conferencing works great with my brother, but it has to be a telephone call with my parents.
  3. If you wouldn’t want your boss, mother, and priest to see it, don’t send it via Twitter or post it publically on Facebook. And yes, many employers and recruiters do research employees or future employee’s public social media profiles.


Keeping connected with work and business, and family and friends should be guided first and foremost by common sense, and secondly by putting yourself in their shoes before acting.

Weather the Weather

So what completely screws up your day if you are a home worker? Coughing cat? Lack of decent heating? Constant knocks at the door from door-to-door sales people? Bad broadband?

Well “all of the above” if you are me, but the latter can make working near on impossible.

Since I moved house (to an area slightly outside of the main town) my broadband hasn’t been great but turning the router on and off usually kick starts things. However this week hasn’t been lousy and the down time is becoming a bit of an issue.

I’m blaming the weather! It’s causing chaos!

It’s true that the weather can have an effect on speeds. The Sky Web site states that “Exceptionally hot or cold weather can affect the speed of your broadband. On particularly hot or cold days you may notice an effect on your broadband speeds.” Freezing temperatures can result cable lines freezing over over so badly as that they cannot operate as expected. Blown over telegraph poles can also be problematic. Snow can be a problem too and can cause slower or dropping connections due to moisture creeping into the wiring joints. As it’s harder to get about in extreme weather it can also increase the time it takes engineers to fix problems.

The other issue is that when the weather is bad more people work from home (or stay off work) which means that there is an increase on usual internet traffic. It’s all those people snuggled up on the sofa watching BBC iplayer!

Of course things could be worse and you could lose heating or power. Now that really would be a problem!!

Sky give some advice on dealing with slow broadband speeds.

The first step is closing and restarting your browser, then you can try switching your router on and off and your entire machine on and off. Other approaches you can take include unplugging all connections, making sure all devices (such as laptops, games consoles) are logged off the wireless, checking your hardware set up and changing your router settings.

As a last resort you could contact your service provider and/or phone company. Good luck with that!

According to the BBC Weather site the gales are slowly easing so fingers crossed things will be back to normal soon.

2012 – The Year to Work from Home?

Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year. I certainly did!

So will 2012 be any different to 2011 when it comes to remote working? Well there is one big event that could have significant impact on the way people work….the 2012 Olympics.

Although the government have been working for some time on a transport strategy for the olympic games and the paralympics, which will take place in from July to September this year, gridlock is still predicted in the capital.

A report by the London Assembly’s transport committee published last year stated that travel problems were one of the biggest risks to London 2012, with extra traffic piling “extreme demand on a network already creaking at the seams“. Londoners currently spend an average of up to two hours per day on public transport and Transport for London estimates there will be an extra three million journeys a day on public transport during the games. Those working in the capital could find the summer months pose a real challenge to ‘just getting in to work’.

It has been recommended that businesses provide facilities for staff to work from home or use conference call facilities. However according to new research last week from global print solutions provider, Lexmark, almost two thirds of small and medium businesses across the UK do not currently have a flexible or remote working policy in place.

The survey revealed that just one in five of respondents’ organisations have plans to introduce a policy before the start of the London Olympics next year, despite the significant demand from workers for increased flexibility during the 17-day event.

So will 2012 really become the year of remote working? If businesses have any sense it will be…

The comprehensive spending review, online learning and remote working

Today is the big day. The comprehensive spending review is likely to hit a lot of us where it really hurts. UKOLN – where I work, being funded by HEFCE and based at the University of Bath, is resting on some shaky ground. Last week a leaked email suggested that universities in England will face funding cuts of £4.2bn and although the recent Browne review proposed that there should be no limit on fees charged there is still going to be a big hole in HE finances. Things are not looking good.

But I don’t want to lament about the situation Higher Education finds itself in or get all political on you. There are plenty of opportunities to do that outside of this blog.

Here I want to consider what potential role online learning and remote working could play in HE’s future given that the mission is now to “look after every penny“.

HEFCE recently released a study carried out by the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford on UK Online Learning. The report’s purpose was to gain a broad overview of the current UK provision of HE level online distance learning (ODL).

Although the report was carried out in a short-time scale it does make many interesting observations. For example there was:

a consensus that in order to strategically expand the provision of high quality ODL courses, a robust institutional infrastructure for developing, delivering and maintaining courses is essential. A key consideration is the extent to which institutions provide central support to facilitate such developments. In many cases, ODL offerings have evolved from a ‘cottage industry’ style approach with developments led wholly at departmental level. While this approach was seen to have many benefits, not least ensuring academic quality and promoting innovation, it was also seen as a challenge and a potential barrier to expanding provision.

Online learning still needs a bit of work…it needs more structure and it needs more support.

But it could help dig HE out of the rather large hole it now finds itself.

Here’s a few observations I’d like to make. They are not based on any evidence per se but I believe them to be true and I believe there will be stats to show this to be the case. I’d be interested in hearing more from those in the know on how true (or not true) they are.

  • Online learning is a lot cheaper than traditional learning approaches (classroom style learning). This could allow you to charge lower fees and be more competitive cost wise.
  • It is more scalable than traditional learning approaches (space is often a big issue at Universities).
  • It is becoming an incresingly attractive option as students often chose to stay at home due to the cost of living. Factor in CPD and overseas students and you can see how the audience for it can grow.
  • It can be more effiecient environmentally, e.g. reduced travel costs.

Add in ‘remote working for research and information staff’ and you have a money-earning, money-saving, environmentally conscious, innovative plan for HEFCE and for individual institutions.

The HEFCE ODL report concludes with some recommendations. One is that:

further market intelligence is gathered to give a clearer picture of the position of UK ODL in an international context. This research should include:
(i) an overview of the overall international market for HE level ODL courses;
(ii) identification of key competitors;
(iii) identification of potential target audiences;
(iv) identification of areas where key UK players plan to expand their activities in the near future;
(v) identification of relevant gaps in the international market that the UK is in a strong position to fill.

This research would make for interesting reading. Online and remote could really be the way forward. Hey, right now we need all the help we can get!

Amplifying Events from Girona

Today was a big one for amplified events. This morning at 11.30 (BST) my boss, Brian Kelly gave a talk on What can We Learn From Amplified Events? at the University of Girona (UdG) in Catalonia. Not only that but the event was streamed too, so it was a talk about amplified events that was amplified – get your head round that! 😉

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the University of Gerona

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the University of Gerona

I want to look at both the talk and the amplification of it…

The talk: What can We Learn From Amplified Events?

Brian was one of the first people to pick up on the amplified event concept and he’s really run with it. He is very methodical about making his slides and event resources available in as many ways as possible: slides, papers, audio, video, you name it – Brian has made it available for his talks, and using various different services too. We’ve really come on leaps and bounds with the amplification of the Institutional Web Management Workshop that we co-chair.

This morning was the first time Brian has given a talk about amplified events, as opposed to organised or participated in them. And as he explains on his blog:

I´ve found it useful to reflect on the approaches we´ve taken in exploiting various networked technologies at events over the past few years. I´ll be describing how amplified events can help to “avoid the constraints of space and time“, can provide “real time peer reviewing” and reflect the views that “an open exchange of ideas will promote innovation” expressed recently by the JISC´s Executive Secretary Malcolm Read and published a few days ago in the Times Higher Education.

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the University of Gerona - in livestream

He started off by considering the reasons for event amplification. Working in the public sector we have a responsibility to share what we know; without an audience specific research will have failed in its purpose. We need to be open. Not only this but amplifying an event allows us to return to it and enhance our understanding, and all this happens at a much reduced carbon impact.

Brian’s talk then took us on a tour of many of the event amplification practices UKOLN (and others) have tried out at various events, from Twitter, blogging, video streaming to captioning videos. He then considered many of the challenges including privacy and legal issues, spam, cost and sustainability.

Brian Kelly giving his talk at the University of Gerona - photo from event taken by Amblletradepal

Brian concluded by considering what the risks of not engaging might be. You might give a talk to 30 people but 12,000 could then go on to view the slides or watch the video. In Kirsty Pitkin’s words:

An event amplifier is an audience expander, an experience enhancer and an idea spreader“.

There followed a few questions considering how you support people who struggle to engage with all these channels at the same time and use of event amplification in the business world.

To be honest there is a lot in the slides that Brian skimmed over due to time so do take another look.

All the resources associated with the talk are linked to from the talk page on the UKOLN Web site. Brian’s slides are also available on AuthorStream and on Slideshare. The Slideshare slides are embedded below.

Brian also created a video introducing the talk.

The Streaming

The live video stream of the talk was provided through Livestream. (Livestream is a browser-based Studio application which creates live, scheduled and on-demand internet television using a single player widget). It provides a chat facility too. Brian also encouraged people to sign up for the talk using Lanyard.

There were approximately 30 people physically at the event and the number watching the event remotely peaked at 26 people.

Split screen in livestream

The streaming was of excellent quality, both the audio and video were about as good as it gets! We could see Brian very clearly, unfortunately due to the light the slides didn’t show up. Luckily the organisers picked this up on Twitter and managed to improve the quality about half way through. The majority of the time the focus of the streaming was Brian and his slides but occasionally the screen split to show the TwittBee Twitter wall.

As Richard Akerman watching from National Science Library, Canada, said on Twitter.

impressed by the livestream mobile site – stream works on my iphone

He did have a few problems later on and said the encoding load was too high, but managed to watch most of the presentation.

One suggestion…

They tested the streaming at 10:45 but didn’t announce that it was actually a test. This left me in a panic thinking that the session was starting early – there had already been some confusion over time zones. The fact that they were talking in Catalan didn’t help here either! The streaming then seemed to go on and off intermittently and we actually got to see Brian set up for his talk.

As Chris Gutteridge put it on Twitter:

It’s kind of weird voyeurism watching Brian getting set up for his livestream from #udgamp10..

I think a holding slide saying, for example, “Back at 11:30 BST” would have been a big help here.

Archives of the session are available from Livestream.

The Amplification

People were encouraged to tweet about the talk on the Twitter back channel using the #udgamp10 hashtag. The tweets were also shown in the room on a Twitter Wall using TwittBee. This was occasionally shown on the livestream. Kirsty Pitkin once again did a brilliant job as official live Twitterer using her recently established @eventamplifier Twitter account. She blogged from her home in Bath! This was the first time that Brian and Kirsty have worked together to provide distributed live blogging support. In addition to Kirsty there was another live blogger reporting from the seminar room tweeting in Catalan, Spanish and English.

There is a Twapper Keeper archive for #udgamp10 and a Summarizr page with Twitter stats.

Brian Kelly talking about rights and event amplification

Brian’s talk went really well, the local crew in Girona did a great job and the overall result was interesting, enjoyable and quite possibly ground-breaking. As Brian says on his final slide “can you afford not to engage in event amplification?

Two beagles, one laptop and a garden in Hvidovre

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.

What next?

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!

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?