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  • Quantum of Solitude

    Posted on October 31st, 2008 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    I’ve been reading Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. One area that I’ve found particularly interesting as a remote worker is his proposition that solitude is good for us and key in encouraging creativity. This idea is based on Dr Esther Buchholz’s theories on ‘alonetime‘:

    Life’s creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems. Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.

    Obviously one can have too much alone time and as a remote worker I often miss having people to chat with and bounce ideas about with (however there is an increasing amount of technologies that can help you stay more connected), but I do enjoy my own company. I also find that taking ‘alonetime’ away from my PC can be really helpful – one of the Sarah Houghton-Jan’s time management suggestions. I want to try taking more time away from the PC and use this time to read articles and ‘think’ as a precursor to writing papers, presentations and articles.

    As James Baldwin said “The artist must actively cultivate that state which most people avoid: the state of being alone.

    So, on this All Hallows Eve, maybe it’s time to find your quantum of solitude!

    Happy Hallowe’en!

  • A Word about Wordle?

    Posted on October 29th, 2008 Marieke Guy No comments

    At the moment I’m really into Wordle. This is a great bit of application that lets you create tag clouds of words, you can use chunks of text or put in the URL of a Web site. The images created are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license so you can use them anyway you want.

    I’ve just written an article on technologies for remote working. It should be in the next Ariadne. Here’s what you get if you drop the contents in.

    Have a go – it’s a great way to see what the key words are.

  • Quick Response Time

    Posted on October 27th, 2008 Marieke Guy No comments

    We’ve been having a bit of a discussion about Quick Response (QR) codes at work. These are two-dimensional barcodes that allow the contents to be decoded at high speed. The main use for them at the moment is allowing people to scan in codes (maybe in a magazine or in a presentation) using a mobile phone (with a camera or QR reader) that then provides the user with the relevant URL.

    I first heard them mentioned in 2007 when the Pet Shop Boys used QR codes in their download-only single Integral. They originated in Japan and are fairly mainstream out there now.


    QR codes came up at work because the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has made £20K available to the University of Bath e-Learning team for scoping out the potential use of QR codes for educational use. I recently ran a workshop on Embracing Web 2.0 Technologies to Grease the Wheels of Team Cohesion with Andy Ramsden, the head of Bath e-learning, and all his slides had QR codes on them.

    Andy Ramsden has called for people to experiment with QR codes and Paul Walk, our Technical Manager, has been having a go and recorded his thoughts on his blog.

    Paul ruminates:

    So, QR codes – what are they good for? There’s clearly some interest – I mentioned what I was doing on Twitter and got quite a bit of interest. But it’s still rare to come across QR codes in the wild. I see them occasionally on blogs/web-pages but I just don’t much see the point of that (except to allow people like me to experiment). I see QR codes as an interim technology, but a potentially useful one, which bridges the gap between paper-based and digital information. So long as paper documents are an important aspect of our lives (no sign of that paper-less office yet) then this would seem to be potentially useful.

    I’m not the most technical of people and don’t even have a camera on my mobile phone so it will be a while before QR codes mean much to me but the potential for use is plain to see. QR codes let you put up to two pages of information into something the size of a stamp. Whether it will take off is another matter….During our discussion a colleague pointed out that attempts to exploit the potential of barcodes have happened before – :Cuecats ended up where the sun doesn’t shine.

    So what are the implications for remote workers? Again it’s difficult to say at this early stage but already it is possible to create QR Codes for your Twitter feed and you can also use QR codes on Google maps. In the future people may keep all their contact information in this way (no more need for business cards), people could wear clothes with codes on them to advertise stuff. I have even read about clocks that use the code and mean that you ‘virtually clock-in’, maybe this will mean you’ll have to really be at your desk at 9am, rather than just pretending?

    There are quite a few free QR code generators out there including Winksite and Kaywa. The QR code image included in this post is for the Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog URL. Is it time to get a T-Shirt printed?

  • Time Management

    Posted on October 24th, 2008 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    Last month’s Ariadne carried a great article on managing information overload: Being Wired or Being Tired. I think the whole time management thing has become amplified since I became a remote worker. The distractions have become bigger (that pile of washing, that DIY that needs doing) but there are also less useful distractions (coffee with colleagues, a lunch break!) so at times I start to feel like I’m handcuffed to my desk.

    So here are Sarah Houghton-Jan’s ten techniques to manage the overload. The article is really worth reading.

    1. General Organisational Techniques
    This suggests starting off by making an inventory of information received and the devices you use. You should then read up on dealing with information overload. Other ideas include thinking before sending (for emails and the like), you could always talk to someone face-to-face. You also need to schedule yourself, schedule unscheduled work and use your ‘down time’ to your benefit. Another key factor in being organised is staying tidy and keeping lists.
    2. Filtering Information Received
    Weed out what matters, schedule unplugged times and encourage your team to do the same.
    3. RSS Overload Techniques
    Only use rss when applicable, limit the number of feeds and organise the feeds you do use.
    4. Interruptive Technology Overload Techniques
    Interruptions make us less effective so only use interruptive technology when appropriate and do not interrupt yourself
    5. Phone Overload Techniques
    Again use the phone when appropriate, feel free to turn your mobile phone off or let it ring (a tricky one for people with children) and keep your number private. Remember Work = Work; Home = Home.
    6. Email Overload Techniques
    Set aside time to do emails and clear your inbox. Filter and file messages, delete and archive. Limit the number of lists you join.
    7. Print Media Overload Techniques
    Recycle it if you don’t need it and cancel unnecessary subscriptions
    8. Multimedia Overload Techniques
    Be strict with yourself and limit television viewing
    9. Social Network Overload Techniques
    Schedule time on your networks and pick a primary network to use.
    10. Time and Stress Management
    Use your calendar, take regular breaks, eliminate stressful interruptions. If you need to look for time-management software to help. Make sure you balance your life and work.

    Some great tips in there, I’m going to try a few…when I get time!

  • Flexible Work Changes May be Delayed

    Posted on October 21st, 2008 Marieke Guy No comments

    Yesterday’s papers reported on the possible delaying of the proposed increase in parents’ rights to request flexible working. This is apparently due to the economic downturn. As the Independent reports:

    Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, has ordered his officials to review all policies in the pipeline to ease the burden on firms so they are less likely to shed jobs, cut investment or go bust. The plan to extend the right to flexitime from parents of children under six to all those with children up to 16 was trumpeted by Gordon Brown and approved by Labour’s annual conference last month. It looks likely, however, to be kicked into the long grass.

    Apparently an estimated 811,000 mothers and fathers were expected to request flexible working next year. Some small businesses have criticised the proposed extension saying it is not economically viable for them. Personally I think that if they were supported they could ultimately have a happier and more efficient work force making it a cost-effective plan.

    In a BBC news article the TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is reported as saying:

    Postponing a simple right to request flexible working would not save a single job in the small business sector. If such a request harms the business, the owner can say no. This would be an astonishingly irrelevant response to the severe economic downturn that we face and, in addition, would run the risk of sending a message to working parents that the government is not on their side.

    At the moment the number of working parents is at a 15-year high. Something has to give….

  • The Art of Conversation

    Posted on October 20th, 2008 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    At the Interent Librarian International conference last week I went to a presentation by Michael Stephens (Dominican University) and Michael Casey (Gwinnett Public Library) on 12 steps to a Transparent Library – based on their Transparent Library blog.

    These guys speak a lot of sense.

    At one point they showed an image created by Brian Solis, principal of Future works, a PR company in Silicon Valley. He writes a blog called PR 2.0. The image was called The Conversation Prism.

    It is also available from Flickr with links added.

    The conversation map is a living, breathing representation of Social Media and will evolve as services and conversation channels emerge, fuse, and dissipate.

    If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen?

    Indeed. Conversations are taking place with or without you and this map will help you visualize the potential extent and pervasiveness of the online conversations that can impact and influence your business and brand.

    The links given could keep you going for a month of Sundays! It makes you realise how quickly communication mechanisms are changing.

    This weekend we set up our first Skype/video chat with the in-laws. The kids (aged 6, 4 and 1) loved it and didn’t seem to think that there was anything strange or ‘space age’ about chatting to Grandma and Grandpa through the computer. My daughter’s only concern was how whether they would get bored sat in front of the PC waiting for our next call! I reassured her that as soon as we signed off they’d get back to their gardening and pottering…and the other stuff retired people tend to do in the breaks between using social networking tools and researching their family tree on the Web!

  • Will the Police be able to Hear Your Calls?

    Posted on October 17th, 2008 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    I read in the paper yesterday that the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith) has outlined plans for a huge expansion of the Government’s capability to access data held by Interent services, including social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook.

    At the moment the police can demand to see telephone and email traffic but online calls using software such as Skype are a bigger problem. They need this ‘communications data’ to secure convictions of terrorists and other serious criminals. One of the possible options is the creation of a huge database of this data. More in Data powers behind the times.

    It’s all starting to sound a bit like ID cards…

    So will this have any impact on us remote workers? If we are law abiding citizens maybe it won’t make any difference?

    I can see that a certain amount of surveillance is necessary but this sort of stuff gives me goose bumps. The more data they have on us, the greater the scope for holding incorrect information and for that information to fall into the wrong hands…

  • Time to Switch Off?

    Posted on October 15th, 2008 Marieke Guy No comments

    I am currently sat in a tiny hotel room near Euston Train station. I’m in London to present at Internet Librarian International Conference. Today I ran blogging workshop with my colleague Ann Chapman and tomorrow I’m giving a presentation on preserving Web resources.

    Anyway that’s by the by, I wanted to blog because this is a bit of a landmark occasion being the first time I’ve updated my blog as a remote worker away from my home office desk.

    I feel like a real remote worker. A remote remote worker!!

    The wifi in this hotel is pretty easy to use and as wifi becomes more mainstream I can see that for some people it becomes hard to draw the line between work and play. I have a colleague (who will remain nameless!) who seems unable to go to a pub unless there’s wireless. Possibly one step to far?

    So when do you switch off?

    Light Switch

    This blog post by Phillipa Hammond on Remote working using Wi-fi explores this.

    She comes to the conclusion “I’m still not sure if work/life balance can truly exist when you’re freelance, or whether it’s just that your life and your work become intertwined”. I guess the same applies to anyone who works from home.

    Interestingly one of the people commenting says:

    “I used to do a lot of remote working, using the combination of my laptop and mobile phone. I’ve worked from mountain campsites and tropical beaches. For the first couple of years, I thought it was great because it allowed me to take more vacations. After a while though, it started to get old, and a family rebellion convinced me to make great efforts to leave all work at home when vacationing. Even though I was spending only 10% or so of my time working, I found that not having any work at all makes for a much more pleasant vacation.”

    So what do we do? When do we draw the line? Having small children I doubt if I’d get a chance to do my work while on holiday, and even if I could I don’t think I’d want to.

    Maybe that’s just me. What do people think?

  • The Credit Crunch and Remote Working

    Posted on October 13th, 2008 Marieke Guy 1 comment

    It hasn’t been a good couple of months for the UK economy. The credit crunch – rises in petrol costs, fuel costs and the basic cost of living have affected us all.

    The government’s £37bn bailout policy was recently revealed and apparently us taxpayers now own about 60% of RBS and 40% of the merged Lloyds TSB and HBOS.

    I’m just wondering how all this will affect us remote workers. Here are a few thoughts on possible scenarios:

    1. The Upside
    Remote working might be encouraged as it reduces an organisation’s resource costs. Everyone will be after better value for money.

    A recent article in ZDNet on What the credit crunch means for IT states:

    As companies shut office buildings and sell off business real estate to raise cash, more businesses can be expected to adopt a remote-working model.

    With changes to the flexible-working laws expected soon, companies could find themselves with an additional reason to allow their staff to do their work without tying them to an office.

    The growing penetration of broadband and the various secure virtual private network offerings will only make the model more attractive compared to the expense of running an office.

    Also have a look at Home-working to fight credit crunch and climate change.

    2. The Downside

    Remote workers could potentially be the first with their head on the line when it comes to making redundancies because ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – a remote worker’s presence is felt less. There will also be less money to spend on remote workers kit.

    An article entitled Remote working is back in Computer Weekly says:

    The research attributes a recent fall in the number of staff working flexibly to the credit crunch. People feel they need to be seen to be working, perhaps as recession talk stokes the fear of redundancies. Based on interviews with more than 1,000 UK office workers, the survey claims that fears about job security and the overall deteriorating economic outlook are prompting workers – especially middle managers and their minions – to turn away from mobile working, with just 10% of workers in 2008 feeling they have the freedom to work remotely as part of their day-to-day job. This despite the fact that more than half of all UK firms offer mobile working programmes.

    Some other side effects for those working in IT could be:

    • Move towards open source software – it’s cheaper and you don’t have to pay the support costs.
    • Companies may move from employment of staff in the UK and US to low-cost alternatives in the East.
    • Contract workers are likely to be the first to go.

    It’s difficult to know what to make of it. As I don’t have any options really I guess I’ll just have sit tight and hope the tornado doesn’t sweep me away!

  • On the Sunny Side of the Street

    Posted on October 3rd, 2008 Marieke Guy No comments

    Recently a friend of mine read my recent Ariadne article on remote working and commented on how the bit I put in about my cold spare room really rung true.

    It was in the editors note:

    Editor’s Note:
    Marieke Guy has been with UKOLN since May 2000 and has worked remotely since April 2008. She currently lives 15 miles from UKOLN’s offices and made the decision to work from home for family and environmental reasons. Since taking this decision, she says, she has learnt a lot about herself, communication technologies and how cold her spare bedroom is!

    Today I’ve been really cold. My spare bedroom is at the back of the house and north facing I think. It just seems to be always cold. In fact I’ve just taken a little trip into my bedroom (at the front of the house) which seems to be filled with light and positively roasting. At this moment I wish I could swap my rooms round!

    This has led me to thinking about my heating costs. I’ve had a small fan heater on intermittently today. I haven’t had the central heating on as it seems pointless heating the whole house up just so little me gets warm, and actually this room still doesn’t seem to get warm anyway.

    I guess I am using more heating and energy than if I went in to the office but does this stack up against me not making the drive to work? I need my carbon calculator out! I’ll try and look out for some comparisons to put up.

    I’ve actually just stumbled on another remote worker blog (she’s based in France) and she talks about weighing up these costs:
    there are some interesting comments too…

    She actually says:

    Luckily there is plenty of space in my house so I chose a room that has plenty of natural light. This is good for moral, and keeps the lighting and heating bills down. You should also take into account the electric lighting – do you need a desk lamp?

    And did I say that she’s based in France…

    Hmmmm…I guess that beats sunny Melksham then.