remoteworker-backup Just another UKOLN Blogs weblog Tue, 19 Feb 2013 14:34:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Blog closed Tue, 19 Feb 2013 14:34:05 +0000 Marieke Guy This blog was the back up for Ramblings of a Remote Worker. It is now being backed up in another way.

]]> 0
Digital Identity Dilemmas Mon, 15 Jun 2009 11:19:22 +0000 Marieke Guy On Saturday (5am in the UK) Facebook allowed users to select a vanity URL which will point to their regular profile page. Naturally there was a mad rush to capture the ‘best identities‘ and some people just weren’t quick enough (further discussed by Brian Kelly on his blog).

Once users have selected a name they are not able to change it or transfer it. Digital identity experts urged users to give some thought to their choice.

Why a Vanity URL?

Well firstly having a number for your ID isn’t particularly user friendly. This new approach will make it easier for users to share their profile pages and link to other people’s pages. There may also be other reasons too. Mike Nolan suggests 3 possibles on his blog:

  • OpenID Provider: Facebook are being forced to become more open, and one way which gives the illusion of openness is OpenID. It’s similar to Facebook Connect and an easy thing for them to offer while still forcing you to log in with them.
  • Jabber/XMPP: They’ve already announced that they were going to open up Facebook chat to connect with third party services such as Google Talk. It will be based on XMPP which uses email-like addresses to reference accounts. A username is almost essential for this to be easy to use.
  • Email: Many – especially younger people – already use Facebook mail considerably more than regular email accounts so I imagine they’ll allow you to use your as an email address. I just hope they’ve got good spam filters!

Digital Identity

Digital identity refers to the aspect of digital technology that is concerned with the mediation of people’s experience of their own identity and the identity of other people and things. Wikipedia

Our digital identity is becoming a big issue. Twitter have recently begun verifying accounts and many Facebook urls are already being sold for hard cash. The problem for many people, especially early adopters, is that they didn’t realise the significance of user names when they started registering for all these services. As Lorcan Dempsey explains the result is a fractured online identity. In in a Facebook note based on an old blog post Lorcan talks about his (and Andy Powell of Eduserv’s) quests to centre their decentralised identity and consolidate their network presence.

It seems clear that managing our network presences and the relationships between them is becoming of more interest. And this cuts across previous boundaries – between work, family and friends, for example – in different ways.

Digital Identity for our Children

Lorcan also touches on the issue of digital identity and naming of children. This resonates strongly with me. Having a Dutch Mother and a Dutch name (Marieke) and an Scottish/English Father I grew up with a pretty unusual name (Marieke Napier). Even my married name (Marieke Guy) is rare and I’ve yet to come across any other online people with the same name. You only need to do a quick Google search for me to see that as far as Marieke Guys go I’m the Webs number 1 (5,020 hits). Having a clear digital presence is quite straightforward for me. I don’t have people queuing up to steal my name and this morning registered with no problem. No getting up at dawn for me!

The irony of all this is that I have 3 children who, despite our best efforts to be original but not too wacky, now have pretty common names: Catrin, Keira and Zak. My husband’s name is Andrew, but at University he decided to rename himself Bill (his middle name) in order to distinguish himself from his other 3 friends (also called Andrew). There are moments when while sat at toddler singing-group with 2 other Zaks (or Zacs or Zacks), a Zachary and an Isaac (my son’s registered name) I bemoan that I didn’t call him Andrew – at least there are no babies being called that name these days!

Anyway it seems to me that my children will have to join the orderly queue when it comes to assigning their digital identity. Or maybe we’ll be doing things differently then and a quick retina scan will do the trick!

Any other Marieke Guy’s out there? Anyone have problems registering their Facebook url? Anyone totally opposed to the whole digital identity movement?

]]> 4
A Support Framework for Remote Workers Sun, 14 Jun 2009 14:00:36 +0000 Marieke Guy Last week Ariadne Web magazine published my article on A Support Framework for Remote Workers.

The article is the last in a series of three I’ve written on remote working for Ariadne. The first A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working was a look at the pros and cons of working off-site, the second Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers looked at technologies that can support you if you are working off-site and the third one takes a look at what we have done in the past, and are now doing, for UKOLN off-site workers. It is an attempt to show that if a commitment is made by an organisation to its remote workers then with some little changes the benefits can be huge (happy, motivated staff who stay with you!)

This article aims to discuss how we, here at UKOLN, have put this theory into practice by creating a support framework for remote workers. It is a case study of what can be done with enthusiastic staff, support from managers and faith in an iterative process. It is also a reality check. Remote working continues to be an aspiration for so many yet the reality is not always plain sailing. However what remote working does offer, if it can be realised, is choice and flexibility; two increasingly required job characteristics that let the best employees work to the best of their ability.

Some of the content of the article is based on posts I’ve written for this blog. I really have found the blog to be a very useful way to record what we are up to and a great way to get feedback from people.

If you do want some ideas on how to start supporting your remote workers more than please take a look.

]]> 0
Amplified Conferences: Are We There Yet? Thu, 11 Jun 2009 08:00:10 +0000 Marieke Guy This year’s Eduserv Symposium 2009, held on Thursday 21st May, 2009 at the Royal College of Physicians, London, was titled ‘Evolution or revolution: The future of identity and access management for research’. Interesting…but not really my cup of tea.

What was my cup of tea was the way the event was amplified. Eduserv used a company called Switch New Media to pull together a number of resources including the live stream, the programme, live Twitter feed, live blog (Scribble Live) and speaker details. (Apparently Switch New Media were also involved in the amplification of the JISC Conference and the JISC Libraries of the Future event in Oxford).

The video footage itself was incredible, there were a number of different camera angles, close ups and long shots of the audience. For me the only thing that seemed to be missing was the actual slides (though these were shown as part of the stream footage).

Eduserv also provided a social network prior to the event and had a number of staff attending to remote attendee needs. For example I saw Mike Ellis from Eduserv ask a speaker a question after discussion with a remote attendee through the live blogging.

The Eduserv Symposium Home page

The Eduserv Symposium Home page

I’ve dipped into a number of streamed events but have to say that this is the first time I have felt like the only thing I was missing was the coffee break banter and the lunch queue!

The CILIP in Scotland 09 event was also recently streamed and the team were keen to try out new amplified approaches. Ian Edelman, Web manager at Hants Council wrote an interesting post entitled At least I didn’t have to go to Scotland on his experience of the event.

He comments:

I did, however, feel dislocated from the action and not seeing the speaker made it more difficult to follow the presentation. Sound quality could have been better. I had to move through the slides myself rather than the speaker doing it, so a couple of times I got out of sync. But all in all it worked and as technology improves the experience should as well.

Brian Kelly also wrote a blog post on CILIP2.0 event held in London not long before the Scottish CILIP event. In his post the Lessons Learnt from the Amplification of the CILIP2 Event he talks in more detail about specifics (mainly technical) that could have improved the day.

So are we there yet?

Live streaming, sharing resources and remote attendance of conference is becoming pretty mainstream so the question is really are we there yet? In the past I’ve tried to follow events but unless I was really keen to see a speaker I’ve always ended up turning off and getting on with something else. The experience just didn’t work for me.

I’m no expert on the technologies involved in streaming an event but appreciate that not all organisations can pay for a dedicated company to ensure all the pieces fit together, however these days most technologies needed can be used for free. So assuming that the technology isn’t a problem what are the most important factors and what do we still have to learn? Note that I’m talking here as a user/consumer of the event – not as an event provider.

  • Inform people before the event – make sure you let people know what is happening in advance, put the details out there (on your Web site, on your blog, on Twitter etc.) Share tags and location of resources.
  • Involve them before the event – Allow them to be part of the community, join in any social networking, chat etc.
  • Keep it together – Have a main page for the event and if possible embedd all your the resources on it. Link to everything. Something like the Onetag idea might be a start.
  • Give remote people a voice – Have someone monitor Twitter and any live blogging, pass on their feedback to speakers and ask their questions for them. Have a remote contact for the event.
  • Inform people after the event – make sure you continue to let people know where all the resources are and attempt to get any screen casts up as quickly as possible.
  • Follow it up – Try and get feedback from remote attendees, check blog post on the event, have a look at your stats. Take all you learn on board.

I’m sure there is more too it than that but right now it seems to be very much about making people feel involved.

I’d add to this list an issue for those actually at an event but relating to amplifying of it – respect your delegates. There can be issues with filming delegates, especially when taking close up footage. There are many ways to deal with this: for example by asking people to agree to be filmed when booking to attend, or by asking them when they arrive. This is could be too dictatorial so another option might be to offer a no-go filming area in the auditorium.

At UKOLN we’ve been amplifying conferences for some time (See Brian Kelly’s post back from September 2007) but we are always learning. I’m going to try and take as much of this on board as I can when I sit in the other side of the fence and offer video streaming of an event I organise: The Institutional Web Management Workshop 2009. Any feedback will be much appreciated!

]]> 0
We are Café Commuters! Mon, 08 Jun 2009 08:32:47 +0000 Marieke Guy In the past few months we’ve talked about remote working, remoter remote working (from Canada), working beyond the office and working just about anywhere in the world!

For those less hell bent on travel, working from your local coffee shop can be a very relaxing and therapeutic alternative to the hum drum of office life. Lori Thiessen and Gregg Taylor of Coffee Shop Office, Vancouver have perfected the art!

Gregg and I were delighted when Marieke Guy of UKOLN asked us to write a guest post for her blog. Like Marieke, we are advocates of remote working. Upon Marieke’s suggestion, we will tell you a little about our café commuting experiences.

Gregg and Lori at Esquires on the launch day of their project

Gregg and Lori at Esquires on the launch day of their project

Gregg Taylor is an award-winning career coach and employment trends expert in Vancouver, British Columbia. For almost 20 years, Gregg has been the President of Transitions Career and Business Consultants. As his company has grown, office space has become somewhat cramped and the noise levels have increased. Gregg began to take ‘out-of-office’ work days in order to focus on specific projects outside of the hectic pull of his office.

Unfortunately, Gregg didn’t have internet access from his home so he began using his local coffee shop which did. What was also great about working from the coffee shop was that there weren’t the distractions found at home like the Kilimanjaro-sized pile of laundry. And the coffee was always piping hot and the staff handled the clean-up.

One day Gregg was looking around the coffee shop and he saw that other people were hovering over their laptops like he was. He struck up conversations with different ones and politely asked what they were working on. Some were students working on homework. Others were business people taking an ‘out-of-office’ work day. Still others were writers working on their latest creation.

// by confusedbeeOver time, Gregg developed friendships with some of these fellow cafe commuters. In fact, Gregg has enlisted the help of a couple of these cafe commuter colleagues (a marketing person and a self-publishing specialist) for the Coffee Shop Office project.

His friends and colleagues are now so familiar with Gregg’s alternate office, the Esquires on West 16th and Oak in Vancouver that they will ask him if he is going to be at the head office, the satellite office or his coffee shop office. He’s even held staff meetings at the coffee shop because it is a half way point between his two offices and it is easier for the managers to meet in the middle.

My experience as a café commuter was pretty much nil until Gregg asked me to help him with the Coffee Shop Office project. I was intrigued with the idea though and I knew that the coffeehouses of 18th century London were often used by their patrons for conducting their own business. Lloyd’s of London, the international marine insurance company, began during this time in Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse in London’s dockyards. The idea of investigating the current remote working trend sounded very interesting and great fun so I was excited to join Gregg in this venture.

Most of my work history consists of administrative jobs that required me to be in the office supporting the work of others so I’ve had little opportunity to sample the café commuter life. When I was a student, I was generally too financially embarrassed to splash out on several coffees a week and I didn’t want to sit in a café nursing one small coffee for several hours at a time. The café owner needs to make a living too.

Since 2007, however, I’ve taken the plunge into the entrepreneurial world. Scriptorium Ink is my little concern and I do writing, editing and research. I’ve met with a few prospective clients at the coffee shop because I don’t have a ‘proper’ office and my home office is, well, in my home. Until I bought a laptop, I was chained, or rather cabled, to my home office. With the laptop came the freedom to work from virtually wherever I chose.

Gregg and I conduct most of our project meetings at the Esquires coffee shop. The barista/owner knows us very well by now as do most of Gregg’s coffee shop office colleagues. They are very kind and often inquire about the progress of the project.

One of the hazards of being with this project is the urge to eavesdrop on conversations in coffee shops. I’m so curious to know what other cafe commuters are doing around me that my ears are continually flapping. I’ve heard an accountant advising a client, someone being instructed in Hebrew, a wardrobe consultant conducting a first interview with her client, and a photographer discussing some creative ideas with his assistant just to name a few.

Gregg and I are proud to be part of this diverse and wide-spread community. We are also pleased to network with other café commuters to exchange stories as well as share information to make remote working easier and viable for more and more people.

Thank you, Marieke, for this opportunity to share our café commuting stories.


]]> 1
The Highs and Lows of Remote Working in the UK Fri, 05 Jun 2009 10:37:45 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve had my first guest blog post published on the Coffee Shop Office blog.

The post is a little look at the ‘remote working situation’ over here in the UK (in comparison to that in North America/Canada).

Gregg Taylor and Lori Thiessen from Coffee Shop Office have returned the favour and written a guest post for me, which will be published next week.

]]> 0
So What is Remote Access Anyway? Wed, 03 Jun 2009 13:00:04 +0000 Marieke Guy In response to my blog post on 12 Ways Remote Workers can Prove they are Working Luck suggested:

Why not to use remote access software? You access your office PC from home and work remotely. The monitor may be turned on and so your manager will see that you are really working.

Hey, I’m willing to have a look at anything my readers suggest so here goes…

To date my experience of remote access software has been limited to a brief experience I had a good few months back when our IT systems team used Microsoft remote assistance (for XP) to fix a problem with my PC. The process was completed in tandem using instructions in a word document and over the phone. I just had to ‘invite’ a systems person to help me, set up security measures i.e. a password and we were off and running. It was all pretty straightforward.

Looking more closely into remote access isn’t so straightforward. I’m not really clear on the difference between remote access, remote desktop and remote assistance and Wikipedia isn’t really helping. So far I’ve come up with:

  • Remote administration – taking over someone’s desktop remotely
  • Remote access – the ability to get access to a computer or a network from a remote distance
  • Remote desktop – a software or operating service feature allowing graphical applications to be run remotely on a server, while being displayed locally.
  • Remote control – see remote access

There seems to be a lot of overlap between the use of these terms. The main thing I’m concerned with here is how can you (or someone else) control your PC if you are a long way away and suddenly need to get in to it.

As the PCStats guide puts it: “the ability to access files and information on your computer over the Internet is useful for work and play, as well as being just plain impressive in a geeky kind of way.”

The guide talks about technologies that enable this kind of access which tend to fall into one of two categories:
1) accessing files remotely
2) accessing and controlling the desktop remotely

File Access

As a remote worker I often need to access files that are stored in a different location. I tend to use Virtual Private Network (VPN)to do this. I’ve talked about this more in my articles (for example Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers).

Remote Access

Remote access of your desktop brings your entire desktop over to the computer you are currently using. So it’s like using your computer as you would if you were sat in front of it.

Ideally, the entire working environment of your computer is brought over the wire to wherever you are currently sitting, eliminating the need for synchronizing files between laptops and desktops. Whether you are working away from home or office, or simply allowing users to access their data from any web enabled location it doesn’t matter.” (PCStats guide)

There are lots of commercial programmes that can do the job for you including Access Remote PC, Team viewer, 01 and remotely anywhere. A good list of remote desktop software and comparison of their features is available from Wikipedia.

Obviously there are a few issues with remote access. The main one is security, it pays to make sure you are using a secure system. Also remote access of a computer is often a lot slower than if you were sat at your machine and there is sometimes a lag. The slower the connection (or the further away the computer you are trying to access is) the less responsive the mouse and key strokes. That said remote access is usually necessary for a particular task or in an urgent situation rather than a long-term solution so a time-delay is only a small issue.

So that’s my brief introduction to remote access. There is a lot more to cover but I’ll save that for another day…

]]> 3
Terminal Wanderlust Mon, 01 Jun 2009 08:00:33 +0000 Marieke Guy // blogs I’ve noticed a bit of a trend of people using remote working to live globally. For those working in technical areas most work is carried out by email rather than face-to-face or using the phone. VOIP technologies like Skype and Vontage allow people to set up ‘local’ numbers that then forward on to another Skype number or even a mobile number. As I discussed earlier this month the time zone issue is something you can overcome if you are willing to work flexible hours. For some people the only limits are connectivity, the country’s communications infrastructure and the cost of living there.

I’ve read about people who are doing this and not even telling the organisation they work for or the clients they deal with!

This sort of remote working takes Amanda Hill’s Remote remote working and Paul Boag’s Beyond the office working to another level!

Oh if only I were 10 years younger, didn’t have a mortgage, or a family, or cats, or a vegetable patch….. ;-)

The term Terminal Wanderlust is one I first heard used in Generation X by Douglas Coupland.

A condition common to people of transient middle-class upbringings. Unable to feel rooted in any one environment, the move continually in hopes of finding an idealized sense of community in the next location.

I used to think it applied to me…I think it still does but responsibilities are like sticky mud….

]]> 0
Life in a Notspot Thu, 28 May 2009 07:00:40 +0000 Marieke Guy On Tuesday the BBC released information on the ‘hotspots’ and ‘notspots’ of broadband access around the UK. Their research put pay to the theory that it’s always those who live in rural areas that struggle as many of the worst areas were in commuter belts. Villages practically next door to each other can have varying levels of connectivity.

mapThe Samknows map took postcodes from across the UK in areas with known slow connections, or zero broadband availability, and plotted them on a map. On the map the red dots represent postcodes with ADSL broadband speeds of less than 512Kbps and the blue dots represent postcodes with ADSL broadband speeds of less than 2Mbps, while black dots represent areas where no broadband is available – under 1% of homes in the UK cannot get any broadband at all.

All this information is a little worrying given that the government has pledged to provide all homes in the UK with speeds of at least 2Mbps by 2012.

Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has also been carrying out a timed download test in locations round the UK. The BBC allows you to test your own broadband speed using it’s connection tester and then add a comment on its broadband map.

I thought I’d have a go at this. My speed varied between 0.8 and 1.3 Mbps (depending on when I took the test and which browser I used – IE seemed to be slower). It took me almost 50 seconds to download a 10Mb quick time file. I am officially a notspot (though Thinkbroadband, a site where you can report broadband problems, would classify me as a slowspot). It’s quite possible that the test isn’t accurate, though a quick check on broadbandspeedtest did come up with similar results.

A “not-spot” is an area where you can’t get broadband services (at all, or at a reasonable cost)

A “slow-spot” is an area where you can only get a broadband service with a speed of below 2 Mbps (downstream)

On a day to day basis I don’t have any problems using the connection and can do all I need to (including uploading video), though there are moments when I might need to do a bit of reading while I wait for a large file to arrive. I don’t do a lot of work with high quality images or videos and manage to watched streamed video fairly OK. I live in a pretty old house so my problems might be to do with the state of the wiring or something related.

I don’t really feel disadvantaged in anyway but maybe if my job did entail working on big files I might feel differently. It seems the decision over whether an individual can be a remote worker isn’t just dependant on whether their organisation will allow it or how responsible they are as an individual. It also depends on where they live.

I also noticed that on the ‘Have your say’ section someone had commented “How long is it going to be before people who want a fast connection ask estate agents, “How fast is the internet connection at that address?” – this is an interesting one. My post on the House of the Future speculated that in the future setting your house up for home working would be a real bonus. Perhaps now that geographic connectivity is being openly charted broadband connection will be one of the searches that solicitors look into? Something along the lines of “...Are you on a flood plain? Are you in a broadband notspot?

If that’s the case maybe I do need to shout louder and have Mr Government pop round and fix our local fibres!

]]> 1
Time Zone Trouble Tue, 26 May 2009 07:00:32 +0000 Marieke Guy I recently received an email asking for a bit of advice on time zone trouble. The email went along the lines of:

I’m working for a company where we have an office in the UK, and an office in California. These have an 8 hour time difference. The team in the UK is a small team that works semi-autonomously, but it requires better communication with the US head office than we currently have. I’m looking for help with strategies on getting people communicating better with a large time difference. Any advice, gratefully received.

This is a tricky one. On this blog and in the articles I’ve written I’ve mentioned lots of synchronous forms of communication (telephony, VOIP, virtual meetings, chat, Twitter etc.) but all of these rely on people being around at the same time to be effective. An 8 hour lag makes for a fairly stilted conversation…

However globalisation of work is happening more and more and small amounts of time difference can be over come as Amanda Hill’s explained in her recent guest blog post.

The time difference between the UK and Eastern Canada can occasionally be problematic. It works fine for me, as I am part-time on Names and usually work on that in the morning, when UK folk are putting in their afternoon’s work. Then I can work on the Dundee module (or my garden) in my afternoon. I find that Twitter really helps in keeping connected with my various professional communities.

timezoneOne possibility is to use the time zones to an organisation’s advantage. This would mean ones work place enabling staff to work around the clock (i.e. making sure the office is open and accessible late at night). Teams could also look at the order of certain tasks – tasks that require the other team’s input are carried out later in the day. Maybe some tasks or chats could even be carried out in employees homes. Staff could work later from home one day and come into the office later the next day. Flexible working means that there could be some time zone overlap (make sure you pay your team back though for their extra hours!) As long as the schedules are rotated and workers don’t always have to work out-of-hours this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The key is that everyone is clear on what the situation is, knows what time it is in the other office and who it is OK to call. Otherwise there might be some very cross employees taking part in conference calls in the pyjamas! One idea might be to schedule a call every day at the end of the UK day and the beginning of the US day.

Without being online at the same time teams will be restricted to asynchronous communication. This means that quite a lot of work must be carried out early to allow the other team enough time to reflect on it/use it. What you don’t want to do is waste precious time in a difficult to schedule meeting with everyone catching up on documentation.

Technology wise a few ideas might be:

  • Use a time zone software like
  • Use something that allows conversation threads (like the Facebook threads) as well as email.
  • If you want to use Twitter make sure you agree on an appropriate hashtag for filtering so you can pick up tweets later on.
  • Try a project blog so everyone is kept up to date with the current status of work. Shared project management tools can also help and Wikis for collaboration on documents.
  • Let the team to have mobile email devices.
  • Use an organisational Intranet.
  • Try making short videos to send over. This will allow the teams to get to know each other better and clarify things that can’t be explained in an email.
  • Use meeting planner software like Whenisgood Meetingmade, – more ideas in this Web Work Daily article entitled How to Plan Virtual Meetings With a Global Teleworking Team.

Thanks to Twitter people for help with some of these ideas. Any more suggestions?

]]> 6
Why Video? Thu, 21 May 2009 11:56:36 +0000 Marieke Guy While Rembering the value of face to face I mentioned the use of video as possible option, for virtual meetings etc.

These days video recording devices are generally more accessible (cheaper and easier to use) and video is increasingly being created and used by ‘lay people’. Just about anyone with access to some recording equipment can create a short video, from the comfort of their own desk or while out and about at a conference or meeting. Video has great potential for us remote workers and I wanted to have a think out loud about why we should and how we could use video more.

Anyway here is an actual bit of footage for you to see! It’s me talking about ‘why video?’. I created it using my Logitech quickcam Webcam. It took me about 5 minutes to make and 10 minutes to upload to Vimeo.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Just in case you can’t watch the video the key points I make for ‘why video’ are:

Amplifying a Conference
Recording a talk or videoing a presentation can allow the content to be amplified. Amplified conference is a term coined by Lorcan Dempsey (former director of UKOLN) in a blog post in 2008. The idea is that the conference outputs (including ppts and video and audio recordings of speakers) can be amplified in order to extend the reach of the conference using networked technologies. This amplification takes place across time and space.

Reaching a Wider Audience
As video resources can stretch across time and space people who can’t be at a particular event can now still engage with it. This is particularly useful for remote workers and those who live geographically a long way away from where events are taking place. No need for time travel, people can now be in two places at once! We video staff seminars here at UKOLN and people who are out on the day they take place can also enjoy them.

Giving People a Visual Perspective
Most of us like to “see” something as well us just “read” it. Some people also learn more from visual content. In marketing speak video can be used to “enhance the consumer experience”. It gives a different dimension to blogs and Web sites and it gives you, the creator, a voice and face. It can also help you connect better with your audience. A short video can potentially be worth a thousand words or ppt slides. Why not try interviewing people, making a short documentary, demonstrating how to do something online, creating a response piece, have a go, experiment!

Video Conferencing
If people can’t be somewhere then video is the next best thing. It can be used in virtual meetings and conferences, it saves money on travel and is of course much more environmentally friendly. I hope to be looking at video conferencing more in the future (thanks to Owen Stephens for the suggestions).

If you are going to create video then think about allowing people to reuse your video. Share it. Put it on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. Put a creative commons licences on it. But also be wise to copyright – if you’re going to use a pop song for your soundtrack there may be issues!

I found the See3 guide to online video really useful – it has some easy to follow tips for getting started.

At UKOLN we are trying to create and use video more. We have recently purchased a new compact digital camera, a digital video camera with microphone, a Flip camera and a digital sound recorder. More on those soon…

]]> 6
Home Working Survey Tue, 19 May 2009 07:00:12 +0000 Marieke Guy The Telework Association is currently running a survey collecting data about the productivity of people who work at home for some or all of their working time. This is the first of what will be an annual survey and they are comparing home working productivity with productivity of conventional working.

Please have a go at completing the survey. There are just 10 questions so it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

If you know of any other people who work from home, however occasionally, then please pass this on.

They are also running a webinar entitled Flexible Working – Good for Everyone? on 15th June 2009 : 2pm – 4.30pm. The webinar is being delivered by Wisework Ltd and will include a panel of experts, to whom participants will be able to pose questions.

]]> 1
Remembering the Value of Face to Face Mon, 18 May 2009 09:00:40 +0000 Marieke Guy To date I’ve remained true to the primary focus of this blog and have avoided areas like e-learning and distance/remote learning (mainly because they are big topics and I don’t know where to start!)

However on reading the Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report written by the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) I couldn’t help but consider some of the overlaps.

The report provides a “coherent and accessible account of the potential for Web 2.0 technologies in higher education” and makes for a very good read.

One incite that struck me was something that Andy Powell also pointed out in his blog post. When discussing whether there is still a role for universities in a Web 2.0 world Andy concludes that luckily for universities “there are strong hints in the report that aspects of the traditional university, face to face tutor time for example, are well liked by their customers“.


The report repeatedly makes the observation that “face to face contact with staff – the personal element in study – matters to students“. When considering student expectations before enrolment, face to face teaching was found to be preferable to that via technology. This is to some extent directed by the influence of the school model where face to face teaching is the norm. Not only this but personal teaching is something fee paying students expect as part of their ‘purchase’.

However physicality isn’t always possible (or desired). When talking about ongoing drivers to change the CLEX report talks about diversity in the learner population and makes the observation that:

e-Learning incorporating Web 2.0 offers the sense of being a contributing member of a learning community, which is one of the hallmarks of higher education. For learners unable to participate in an actual community for some, or even all, of the time – notably part-time, distance and, increasingly, work-based – Web 2.0 may be a reasonable proxy.

Of course for most learners the use of ICT and Web technologies will go hand in hand with personal contact, which is the ideal solution.

Remote Workers

The need for that personal contact resonates strongly with many remote workers. A quick look at the guest posts will confirm. Although remote working is for many a lifestyle choice it is also quite often a necessity. Despite the advantages it brings most who have tried it will acknowledge that sometimes nothing compares with meeting with people in the flesh. For many of us much work can be carried out in front of a PC, some work can be carried out using social networking tools but for other tasks (notably those that require quick interaction -like a meeting) the preferred option is face to face.

The extinction of face to face meetings has been predicted many-a-time (along with the paperless office and a world without books). Back in 2005 Alan R. Winger wrote an article for Business Horizons entitled Face-to-face communication: Is it really necessary in a digitizing world? in which he argued that despite changing technologies it was still the best way to communicate for two main reasons:

First, being physically close brings into play in a robust way all of the senses: sight, sound, smell and touch. There are more than a few differing types of contact. Messages can be expressed vocally, the content of which can be the outcome of rational thought. Vocally, the content can express feelings both in terms of what is said and how it is said. Perhaps even more important is the ability to see another when face-to-face, which brings nonverbal cues such as body gestures and facial expressions into the fray. Many consider these to be critically important in business communication. Being near also permits touching and smelling, both of which can provide important clues in some discussions.

Second is the matter of speed. Information communicated in a face-to-face setting is instantaneously received, as is any resulting response. In this sense, speed is argued to contribute significantly in situations where the problems to be dealt with are best addressed with knowledge contained in the minds of those working to find solutions, i.e., tacit knowledge.

So now we remote workers are in a predicament. Face to face is preferable for some tasks but often not possible. Luckily the CLEX report concludes that if face to face is not possible “ICT (can be) accepted as an adjunct if managed well“.

My previous Ariadne articles have offered suggestions (such as virtual meetings) and I hope in the near future to write more about the use of video, which is one possible approach.

I suppose as remote workers with limited time and limited organisational budget for travel the trick is identifying which face to face activities hit the biggest score productivity wise.

For now I’d argue those that:

  • include problems that need people to use tacit knowledge to find solutions
  • pack the most into the shortest time (conferences)
  • include the most opportunities for networking
  • can’t be well replicated using video or audio
  • are mission critical to a project

should be first on the list.

Any thoughts?

Also any thoughts on the connections between remote and e-learning and remote working. How about remote research? I’d be happy to broaden my scope if people are OK with it.

]]> 5
A week of Remote Working Fri, 15 May 2009 07:30:44 +0000 Marieke Guy logo-smlAre you working from home as you read this? Work Wise UK, a not-for-profit initiative which aims to make the UK one of the most progressive economies in the world by encouraging the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, have been running their annual Work Wise Week and today is National Work from Home Day.

The week runs from Tuesday, May 12, until Monday, May 18. This skewed ‘week’ is to emphasise the need for flexible working practices. There are a number of themed days:

Mobile Office Day (Tuesday, May 12) - encouraging people to work while on the move, instead of travelling to a central office.

Remote Office Day (Wednesday, May 13) – encouraging people to use remote offices instead of travelling to a central office. These would include serviced office space, touch down centres or even hot spots such as coffee shops.

Virtual Meeting Day (Thursday, May 14) – encouraging people to conduct meetings by audio or video conferencing or go online instead of travelling to meetings. have been offering organisations the opportunity to take part with a free trial of its WebEx virtual meeting service.

National Work from Home Day (Friday, May 15) – this will be the fourth time this day has been run. It will encourage people to work from home instead of commuting to their usual place of work.

Smarter Travel Day (Monday, May 18) – the concluding day of the week will encourage people to travel outside peak times. Coming into work an hour early, and then leaving an hour early at the end of the day, or going an hour later, and leaving an hour later. This will reduce the peak rush hour, and make the commuting experience far more bearable for many.

Slipped the Net Here at UKOLN

Somehow the Work Wise Week details had managed to avoid my daily trawl for remote working information. I have a feeling that last year the National Work from Home Day was bigger business, maybe the recession has had some effect on enthusiasm to try out new things. Or maybe it’s just me that’s missed it? We haven’t managed to organise anything here at UKOLN but it might be a bit like preaching to the converted as UKOLN already supports flexible and remote working. It’s some of the bigger ‘more conservative’ businesses who could do with a bit of gentle persuasion that remote working is good for business.

Has your organisation or company been doing anything special for Work Wise Week?

]]> 2
Remoter Remote Working Wed, 13 May 2009 08:00:57 +0000 Marieke Guy A discussion on Twitter about whether it would be problematic (or even possible) to be a remote worker if based in a different country from your employer led to me asking Amanda Hill to write a guest blog post for us. Amanda is an archival consultant based in Ontario, Canada but works on a number of UK projects. Amanda is fervent Twitterer and her Web site provides links to all her current activities.

Amanda HillWhen Marieke first suggested that I write a post on long-distance remote working, my initial response was to think “But it’s no different from remote working in the UK!“. Many of the issues described on Marieke’s blog apply to me as they do to the more usual variety of remote worker. I identify with a lot of them, for example those around time management, environmental concerns, technologies for remote working (and working in a freezing cold office!). Although I must admit to having been horrified by Marieke’s post about rarely having a proper lunch, which made me lie awake at night, fretting, until I’d come up with a week’s worth of healthy lunches to suggest for her.

Internet connectivity is obviously essential for a remote worker, wherever you are. We had been blithely informed by the telecoms company that we would be able to get high-speed internet in our rural corner of Ontario. This turned out to be a whopping lie, leaving us relying on dial-up for the first month or two of our new life. We’ve now got a satellite internet connection, which is wonderful compared to dial-up, but fairly slow (and very expensive) in relation to the broadband we’d got used to in the UK. The connection is fairly good, although very bad weather tends to knock it out, so a big snowstorm or thunderstorm (both of which are quite common here) might leave us unconnected for a while.

I have two UK roles. One is as a tutor on a distance-learning module called ‘Ethics and International Perspectives’, part of the University of Dundee’s MLitt in Archives and Records Management. I’d been doing this from Manchester for three years before leaving the UK, so had always been a remote worker in that context and really noticed very little change on continuing it here in Canada. Except that now I truly did have an international perspective!

The other role is as the project manager for the Names project. This was a new role and has been more of a challenge, if only because people don’t really expect a project manager for a UK project to be based overseas. I’ve been in the embarrassing situation of having had conference calls timed to suit me (with West-coast Americans having to get up ridiculously early) by people who thought I was still in Manchester. The work on the project itself has been going fine, although a huge amount of the credit for that must go to the project team members in the UK. There have been meetings that I really should have gone to that have been attended by others, simply because there are limits to the number of times I feel able to cross the Atlantic in a year. When I do visit the UK, I tend to cram in meetings galore to make the most of my trips. And at least one decent curry – as this area is sadly lacking in Indian restaurants.

The time difference between the UK and Eastern Canada can occasionally be problematic. It works fine for me, as I am part-time on Names and usually work on that in the morning, when UK folk are putting in their afternoon’s work. Then I can work on the Dundee module (or my garden) in my afternoon. I find that Twitter really helps in keeping connected with my various professional communities. It is like being in a big open plan office with all those people (but without ever having to make them cups of tea).

One area that might be a problem for long-distance remote workers is integration with their local community. I think that if I had only worked on UK projects here, I might have found it difficult to meet people beyond our immediate neighbours. Shortly after emigrating, I took on another part-time job as an archivist in a nearby town (Deseronto), where I work one day a week. This has given me a local role, too, which has been invaluable in helping me to settle into Canadian life.

Deseronto Post Office,

Deseronto Post Office, taken from the Deseronto archives Flickr Collection.

So overall, I don’t think that remoter remote working is all that different than the regular type. Except that the phrase ‘time management’ becomes even more significant when there’s a five-hour gap between you and your employer!

]]> 5
House of the Future Tue, 12 May 2009 09:00:29 +0000 Marieke Guy Fridges that tell you when you need to buy milk. Lights that turn off when not used. Carpets that clean themselves. All conceivable components of our house of the future.

A interesting piece in takes a look at several home trends each focused on the different ways in which our lives are changing. Home working is one of the big drivers in changing house layout.

Thanks to the economic crisis, we’ve seen growing interest in the efficiencies of working at home via online networks linked to internal office servers. If your tasks are primarily computer-based and you aren’t needed for hour upon hour of in-person meetings, what’s the sense in commuting several hours a week just to sit in a different room in front of a different screen to do the same things?

Growing numbers of consultants and freelancers are assembling careers from multiple projects and using a laptop as a business portal. And, although women are still demanding top education and job options, they are increasingly willing to stay in the house more, taking a break for a few years to start a family or to work part-time from a home office, redefining the workday as one that happens during their children’s naptime and after bedtime, for instance.”

With so much home work, what’s more sensible than private home offices, carved out to ensure maximum efficiency, privacy and productivity? We’ll start to obsess about getting this atmosphere just right – the perfect ergonomic chair, the perfect desk, the perfect filing cabinet.

Last time we moved house (back in 2006) all advice suggested that you always push the number of bedrooms you have and not the home office. Maybe now your home office set up (layout, storage, ideal light, number of sockets, connectivity etc.) will count for more. Garden offices will be sort after and demonstrating that you can easily work from your house will earn you brownie points.

For me the successful house of the future will have given considerable thought to environmental impact, will have effective self-heating and self-cooling technologies, will be self-sufficient, use renewable energy and have plenty of room for growing vegetables! I guess modular rooms that can change for different uses would also make sense. As I’ve said before my office doubles as a spare bedroom!

We don’t always get it right. A quick look at Monsanto’s house of the Future (Disney is planning to recreate it) makes you realise that hard plastics and cold edges just don’t make a home.

It’s fluffy cushions that do that! ;-)

]]> 3
Swine Flu: Panic in the Streets of London Fri, 08 May 2009 09:08:09 +0000 Marieke Guy It looks like I’m a little too late with a blog post on swine flu. Recent reports suggest that swine flu (or H1N1 influenza A to give it its proper name) has peaked in Mexico and is now in its declining phase. A pandemic is looking less likely despite two more cases being confirmed in the UK today (taking the total to 34) . So good news for us…

It’s been interesting watching the media reaction to the situation. They seemed to swing between panic and blasé depending on the current mood (or weather?). I enjoyed reading Ben Goldacre’s blog post on Swine flu and hype – a media illness. In it he points out that the media themselves are no longer even sure if they should be hyping it up – the truth seems to be getting more difficult to distinguish and is quite often no longer even relevant. As Ben puts it:

not only have the public lost all faith in the media; not only do so many people assume, now, that they are being misled; but more than that, the media themselves have lost all confidence in their own ability to give us the facts.

Maybe even our friend the social networking tool should take its share of the blame for the encouragement of uninformed speculation?

So where does all this media confusion and moral panic leave us remote workers?

When the swine Flu fever began it was like the snow all over again. The likelihood of a pandemic was another one of those things that got companies vexing about staff getting in to the office. Even without a pandemic there would be a rise in rates of absenteeism and therefore productivity. A big no no in credit crunch times.

As Gartner research director Steve Bittinger recently explained:

Handling Swine flu from an IT perspective is about enabling people to continue to work together or collaborate with reduced levels of face-to-face interaction. It’s a good idea to have work-from-home capabilities ready for staff. Executives need to think about how they would do business if the level of face-to-face contact with customers and staff drops dramatically.

For example, there may be high rates of people not wanting to come into the office because they don’t want to ride public transport, or they have a sick child or are sick themselves.

It may be that this all fizzles out or we may have a week or several weeks to get our act together before or if it hits. Organisations that have the ability for staff to work from home [in the event of an outbreak or pandemic] won’t suffer as badly as those who don’t.

It’s even filtered through to my world: academia. Christine Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield recently wrote a post on her department’s Pandemic Flu planning meeting. Closer to home still, last week a possible case of Swine flu was noted at the University of Bath, where UKOLN is based. At this point I must admit to thanking my lucky stars that I’m a remote worker. The test results later came back negative.

It’s no surprise that the swine flu crisis has led to a rise in enquiries into remote working.

All of this begs the question, why does it take a pandemic to make people realise the benefits of remote working?

A few more questions…

Why do organisations not have remote working strategies in place for times when travelling in to the office is out of the question. Should remote working now be an obligatory part of any organisation’s risk management policy? What will be the next crisis that has managers suddenly allowing their staff remote access to systems that they won’t let them have on an average day?

So it seems like for now normal service has been resumed, but maybe its time we started doing a little planning for the future while we can think straight and neither disease nor snow are banging at the door.

]]> 3
Green IT 09 Thu, 07 May 2009 10:55:02 +0000 Marieke Guy At the moment the Green IT conference and exhibition is running at the Business Design Centre, London.

Squeezed between slowing economic indicators and rising energy costs, the IT industry is facing its biggest challenge ever as it strives towards a sustainable future. At the same time, many IT departments are facing up to their own local responsibilities, in terms of both business efficiency and corporate responsibility. Green IT 09 gives you the chance to be part of the whole debate.

There are some interesting looking sessions on topics including Employing cloud computing to drive energy and cost savings, Get Lean and Mean: Green IT’s significant contribution during Tougher Times and Green IT for the London 2012 Olympics.

All the presentations from last year are available to download, hopefully they’ll make this year’s available soonish too.

]]> 0
Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working Tue, 05 May 2009 08:00:27 +0000 Marieke Guy Just a reminder that I’m speaking at the Public Sector Forums Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working one-day conference on June 23rd, Birmingham. The conference will look at how flexible working can reduce costs and improve services in the public sector. They’ve also now confirmed some additional speakers (see the confirmed case studies below).

Improving Services Through Flexible Working

John Pitt, Corporate Director, Wakefield MDC
How Hertfordshire’s Flexible Working programme has:
• Improved Performance Indicators
• Reduced costs through better utilisation of office space
• Increased choice of access channels for citizens

The Savings and Drivers for Flexible Working
Jon Watkinson, The Project Networkl Ltd
• The generic business case for achieving saving
• Staff benefits and increased outpu
• Compliance with new legislation
• Improved services to residents
• The environmental advantages
• Common hurdles to implementation

WorkSMART: More than home working
Terri Fleming, Performance & Information Manager, Denbighshire County Council
• The basic principles of worksmart – information management, space management, home and mobile working
• The project to date, what we have done, what it will accomplish – £2 million in accommodation savings capital by 2011
• Problem areas, what we have come across and how we have solved any issues – the policies that needed to be drafted

How to be a Connected Remote Worker in 10 Easy Steps
Marieke Guy, Research Officer, UKOLN, University of Bath
Working away from your office can often be an isolating experience, but it needn’t be. Today there are a huge amount of tools that can support you. This talk will consider:
• the significance of social networks
• the rise in use of various communications methods and mobile devices
• motivating remote workers
• how a remote workers can be effectively managed

Flexible Working – Informal Practices to Formal Policies
Jill Scott, Equality and Diversity Adviser, Birmingham City University
• Pros and Cons of Formal Systems and Informal Practices
• Developing a Formal Policy – Guidelines
• Case Study Example (University of Exeter)

The Way We Work’ at Hertfordshire County Council
Emel Morris, Head of Communications for TWWW programme at Hertfordshire County Council
• Reducing the office portfolio from 66 offices to three main bases
• Centralising key support services – HR, IS / IT, Finance and Property
• Introducing new technology to reduce bureaucracy and simplify processes
• Supporting staff and managers through the changes

Delegates will be seated ‘cabaret’ style at round tables and plenty of time for networking and group discussion will be built into the conference programme.

If you’d like to come along, please complete the booking form.

]]> 0
Remote Gardening Thu, 30 Apr 2009 12:00:06 +0000 Marieke Guy Last Saturday’s Guardian ran a bring the garden into your office theme for its Work section. The cover story was on the phenomena of shedworking (working from your garden shed). Famous shedworkers listed included writers Philip Pulman, Roald Dahl and Henry Thoreau.

shed from Flickr (Peter Astn)

The main spread provided some great colour photos of garden ‘office’ buildings. People are increasingly running businesses and working from home and are looking for extra space in which to do it. A shed is quite often the answer. The article writer Alex Johnson, blog author of Shedworking talked about the miniaturisation of the office workplace:

A cramped outbuilding which once housed lawnmowers and pots can now comfortably be insulated from the cold, fitted with its own electrics, and link you to anywhere in the world. It’s an alternative workplace revolution.”

It is a lot greener to move words, number and ideas than it is to move people” commented Lloyd Alter, architecture expert at

Another article in the section talks about how office workers can create their own office allotment by bringing the outdoors in and having some plants on their desk. Surrounding yourself with greenery can reduce tiredness and improve concentration. Enterprise Nation also opts for a Nature suggestion: “One of the joys of working from home is that you can decorate and design your home office in any way you like“.

Anyway all this talk of gardens and greenery has inspired me to share my own ‘remote gardening’ experience with you.

We have a really great garden. It’s contained, spacious and full of lovely looking plants and flowers. It also has lots of really interesting nooks and crannies. Someone must have put a lot of effort into it before we arrived. Having 3 children and jobs to do we don’t get a lot of time for gardening. Growing vegetables has always been a dream of mine but while before I didn’t have the space to do it I now don’t have the time. We have a perfect little patch at the back of the garden and until recently I spent many a minute (while hanging the washing up) looking at it and wishing I could do something with it.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a member of the Melksham Climate friendly group. While at a group meeting many moons back I mentioned my dilemma (space to grow things but no time), another member of the group then mentioned his dilemma (time to grow things but no space). Apparently there is a real shortage of allotments locally, people can end up with their name on the list for years before they get allocated a patch. Anyway a deal was done. My friend could come and tend the patch and use the green house and we would share the offerings. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stumbled on the same idea not long after (!) and started promoting his Landshare project on his River Cottage programme.

Our little veg patch

PotsMy friend now has a key to the back gate and we see him down at the veg patch every couple of days. If I’m about, maybe having my lunch in the garden, I say hello and make him a coffee. Every now and then we have a chat about how things are coming along and I make sure he has all the things he needs. He’s quite new to gardening and is ‘trying lots of things out’ so we share ideas. We’re trying out everything. We’ve having a go at lettuce, radishes, potatoes, carrots, squash, all types of beans, rhubarb, onions, and much much more. We’ve now started on a row of pots to the side of the greenhouse and may be on the hunt for more space.

After the initial excitement the children are pretty used to him now and say how great it is that we’ve got our ‘own gardener’. My next door neighbour has even offered him some space in her garden too. It won’t be long before he’s got the whole street covered!

So I’m pretty lucky. While working I get to look out on a fantastic garden and in my breaks I can pop out to see how my magical vegetable patch is doing! It’s a hard life isn’t it!

View from my window

]]> 5
Finding Free to Use Images Online Mon, 27 Apr 2009 13:40:54 +0000 Marieke Guy Last week I attended a Finding Free-to-Use Images Online course at JISC Digital Media (the organisation formerly known as TASI) along with Shirley Keane, our UKOLN Web editor.


Our main main motivation for attending was to help us find more images for ourselves (and other UKOLN staff) to use for presentations, blog entries, on UKOLN Web sites etc. I’ve mentioned in the past that here at UKOLN, we are trying to use images in a more constructive way in presentations. I actually ran an internal Presentations Think Tank on this last year. We now have a good selection of resources on our Intranet and would also like to run some internal courses on image use. I guess coming from a user angle we differed slightly from the other attendees who were after images to use for training and as part of their institution’s image store. A few of the attendees were having problems with the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACs) and the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) who were somehow obstructing their creation of an institutional image store of internal slide images.

The training was led by Dave Kilbey and Zak Mesah and although not all of it was highly relevant to me there were some really useful pointers and lots of useful discussion.

Using General Search Engines

The session began with a exploration into the drawbacks of using general search engines (like Google image search) for finding good quality images. Having used Google image search many a time I felt myself to be already aware of its limitations. However I have to say this task almost had the reverse effect on me. I was actually quite impressed by some of the new search facilities Google has recently added. Searches can now be refined using image size, content type (news, faces, clip art etc) and colour.

It is also even easier to remove the annoying frames that used to try to stop users from leaving Google! That said there is a severe lack of up-front copyright information and the images linked to are often of very low quality.

Using Image Search Engines

After a look at image formats, a brief overview of copyright and for some a first introduction to Creative Commons we moved onto the meat of the day: an opportunity to try out a number of search engines that exclusively operate to find free-to-use images. Some of the most user friendly were:

I’d also recommend having a look at JISC Digital media’s Advice on Still images and the Intute online tutorial.

As well as the image search engines there was also an introduction to some of the JISC Image collections such as SCRAN and AHDS visual arts collection (VADS) (which continues to be maintained despite AHDS closure in 2007). Some of the collections will require your institution to be a member.

Finding a Particular Image

I actually set myself a challenge for the day. I am co-chair of the Institutional Web Management Workshop (a 3 day event or members of institutional Web management teams in the UK’s higher and further education community). This year the event is taking place in Colchester and our drinks reception is in Colchester Moot Hall. I wanted to source an image of the outside of the building. Throughout the day every lead took me to a dead end. I just couldn’t find anything except a few images on Flickr with ‘all rights reserved’. I’d already emailed the owner of this image and had received no reply. Later in the day I eventually gave in and asked one of the University of Essex staff about it (maybe they could mosey-on-down to the hall and take a quick snap for me?) and they told me that the Moot hall was actually in the Town Hall. A quick search for ‘town hall Colchester’ using the Flickr Advanced search Creative Commons option came up trumps. The photo is now on the Institutional Web Management Workshop social page.

It seems that despite the competition Flickr is still the biggest, easiest to use image repository there is. This probably wasn’t what I was expecting.

Image Management

Just before the workshop ended we spent a little time looking at image management software. I have to admit image management was not something I’d thought about before, but it does makes a lot of sense. I take a lot of images of my family and friends, I store many of these on my PC, some on external hard drives and some on CDs. I’m increasingly using these images on my blog and in presentations. I also take quite a few pictures of work related activities. At the moment I’ve tended to upload these to Flickr. I’m a pretty organised person and use some great tools to support my working from home. So why not add some image management software in to the mix. The JISC Digital team recommended Google Picassa but there are a lot of free applications out there. A quick twitter post on this brought back quite a few Picassa supporters and a couple of other possible applications for trying out. I’ll definitely add this to my to do list and my blog post list!

To Conclude

I really enjoyed the Finding Free-to-Use Images. The trainers were helpful and more than happy to adapt their programme to take in specific areas people were looking at. Although the day didn’t provide me with one complete answer it did throw up some very helpful resources and confirm that I’d been on the right track all along.

A few more recommendations

]]> 7
GoToWebinar Strikes Back Fri, 24 Apr 2009 10:28:20 +0000 Marieke Guy I’m going to be involved in another webinar event. This time I will be using the GoToWebinar software.

My session on Creative Commons will be part of the Coping With Copyright series organised by JISC Legal and JISC Regional Support Centre South West. They are running a summer series of free online sessions focusing on specific aspects of copyright to help users consider some of the issues around copyright and provide them with advice and resources to help them do the right thing!

My event is billed as:

Wednesday 24th June 2009, online @ 2pm
Coping with Copyright – Considering Creative Commons (JISC RSC-SW)
This session is presented by Marieke Guy who is currently working as a Research Officer in the Community and Outreach Team of UKOLN. Much of her work involves exploring Web 2.0 technologies and their relevance to the communities we work with.

Creative Commons (CC) licences are a way to clarify the conditions of use of a work and avoid many of the problems current copyright laws pose. This presentation will provide a basic introduction to CC and its implications for the information professional. Participants will be introduced to the concept of the commons, shown the current CC licences available and presented with a number of creative commons case studies.

In the interactive section of the presentation they will be taken through the process of choosing a licence and given time to spend searching for CC licensed material. The final discussion section will consider the role openness and Creative Commons will play in the future.

Booking is essential for this session – to book go to RSC-SW and click on Events.

Other events

Wednesday 22nd April 2009, online @ 2pm
Coping with Copyright – Web 2.0 and the Law for e-Tutors (JISC Legal)

Further details of the event are available on the JISC Legal site.

Wednesday 6th May 2009, online @ 2pm
Coping with Copyright – Digital Copyright with Confidence (JISC Legal)
Further details of the event are available on the JISC Legal site.

Thursday 4th June 2009, online @ 2pm
Coping with Copyright – Web2Rights (JISC RSC-SW)
Booking is essential for this session – to book go to RSC-SW and click on Events.

Friday 12th June 2009, online @ 2pm
Coping with Copyright – Guilt-free Google Grabbing! (JISC RSC-SW)
Booking is essential for this session – to book go to RSC-SW and click on Events.

I’ll have a go at trying out GoToWebinar sometime soon and will post a review on the blog.

]]> 0
Earth Day: What will you do? Wed, 22 Apr 2009 07:30:57 +0000 Marieke Guy It’s Earth Day today.  Earth Day has been running since 1969 and is intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment.


This year Earth Day marks the beginning of the Green Generation Campaign.

The Green Generation is open to everyone: people of all ages and all nationalities, consumers who are committed to buying green; community leaders who are focused on greening their communities; parents and teachers who work to provide healthy foods and green schools for their children; those who work in green jobs; academics whose research is focused on innovative products and services; scientists and engineers who develop new green technologies; and governments that seek to implement policies and support research that will build a green economy and healthy population, and the religious community who are committed to a vision of a just, sustainable, green planet.

So what will you do?

Sometimes it is pretty tricky knowing where to get started. I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the environmental impact of remote working, some of these might give you some ideas.

In honour of Earth Day TechSoup Global will be kicking off the  TeleGreen Your Work educational campaign to help nonprofits, libraries and other social benefit organisations discover ways to save money, reduce travel, and still be effective in your work. Their four topics are Virtual Meetings, Online Training, Telecommuting and Online Collaboration. Should be some useful stuff for remote workers. Have a look and see what you and your organisation can try out. Today they are offering Ten Tips to TeleGreen Your Work.

Personally having a go at reducing my own environmental impact is really important to me. I’m an active member of my local Climate Friendly Group and keen to do as much as I can, but as Kermit the frog famously said “it’s not easy being green” and I’m far from perfect. However I do believe any steps we take in the right direction can make a difference.

I don’t want to harp on about it but if there was ever a good day to start ‘going green’ then today’s it! :-)

]]> 2
Life in the Pond: Moaning Middle Managers Mon, 20 Apr 2009 09:34:08 +0000 Marieke Guy Last week I read a great post on Rands In Repose entitled The Pond. Although it sounds like it should be about life as an amphibian it is actually about management response to remote working. (It starts off with this allegory of the pond as being the place where all your staff swim and communications being ripples across the pond. Hence when someone leaves the pond to work off-site they are missing out on the “unintentional, tweaked, quiet information that is transferred throughout the Pond and doesn’t leave the Pond“).

This initially reminded me of all the tacit/explicit knowledge stuff I did on my MSc Information Management course – you know, corporate intelligence, dispersed knowledge etc. Then I realised that the retention of tacit company information is a whole different ball game. The ripples Rands is on about is plain old communication and in my world, and in most other forward-thinking organisations the pond no longer has any edges. To put it another way…where I work we are all in the pond, whether we physically sit inside the institutional building or not.

Rands (I know this isn’t his real name but for the sake of convenience..) then goes on to write a pretty substantial piece on “how to augment the remote employee’s absence from the Pond.

It’s a really useful post, primarily because it gives us quite a bit of insight into how many a middle manager views remote workers. As Rands puts it:

My belief is that without deliberate attention, the remote employee slowly becomes irrelevant to the organization. Through no fault of their own, they can be gradually pushed to the edge of what’s important. And when you’re at the edge, you’re an organizational shudder from falling over it. Failure happens at the edges.

If I was a remote worker in that company I’d be seriously worried!

However it isn’t all bad. Rands makes the sensible suggestion that before allowing someone to become a remote worker managers ask themselves 4 questions:

1. Do they have the personality?
2. Do they have the right job?
3. Does the culture support it?
4. Do you have a remote friction detection and resolution policy?

Not everyone can work remotely and these are questions that need to be asked so I admire his honesty here. He makes some interesting observations that on the whole I agree with:

The ability to work remotely is not entirely a function of seniority; it’s also genetic. There are those who do it better solo. Their standard operating procedure is to simply get it done. Seniority can improve personal efficiency and the quality of the finished product, but I’ve discovered innate reliability at all levels of experience. There are people who simply do what they say they’re going to do.

Can’t argue with that.

Most of his conclusions centre upon the need for a remote worker to be an effective communicator. If you’ve been a remote worker for a while you’ll know it’s what makes it work. For me communication has always been at the core of what I do.

When talking about whether an organisation has the culture to support remote workers Rands doesn’t hold back. He talks about the way other workers view remote workers: “discrimination always boils down [to] a single, fundamental tension: remote creates productivity friction.” He gives the example of dealing with an ineffective remote worker which can take a lot of time, possibly more time than dealing with someone sat in the next room. As Rands points out, manyof the issues boil down to the organisation and if it can support the knowledge flow a remote worker requires. As I’ve mentioned many a time – the tools (Web 2.0 and all that) are there. The culture might not have caught up yet.

Rands concludes:

You, as the manager of people, are responsible for making the remote call regarding a person, putting them in the right job, and making sure the culture supports remote people. But the responsibility of delivering while remote is squarely on the remote employee. Yes, a remote employee answers to himself. At four in the afternoon when they run into an impossible problem, it’s almost entirely up to them to develop their plan of attack.

Working remotely isn’t a privilege; it’s work. And it’s the same work we’re all doing back at the mothership… fully clothed… in the Pond.

I’d have to guess that most remote employees know that they ultimately answer to themselves and tend to be resourceful workers as a result. Rands sounds like he’s dumping the majority of the responsibility onto a remote workers’ backs, it’s a wonder they can barely walk. I’d agree that remote working isn’t a privilege, but nor is it a punishment. It has countless benefits for the employee and the organisation alike and it’s these aspects that need to be built upon.

In the past I’ve referred to many an article that states that remote working will be the death of the middle manager or at the very least requires a serious change in management practice.

This reluctance by managers to move with the times may hold us back for now but if there is one thing the recession has shown us that businesses and people need to be adaptable and ready for change. Maybe it’s time some middle managers stopped trying to control the boundaries of their little ponds and realised that there is a whole sea of possibilities out there, of which remote working is very much part.

]]> 7
12 Ways Remote Workers can Prove they are Working Thu, 16 Apr 2009 11:00:27 +0000 Marieke Guy I recently read Scarlet Pruitt’s HR World article on 6 Ways Remote Workers Can Prove They’re Working.

Scarlet’s premise is that as a remote worker “Your life is pretty great except for one small problem: No one at the office believes that you’re actually working.”

She’s hit on the nail on the head. As a remote worker sometimes it feels like you can’t win: You’ve either got the boss constantly ringing you up to check that you haven’t secretly crawled back under the covers OR you have to deal with your own personal guilt because work trusts you enough to leave you to your own devices – so you need to prove them right. Either way it makes sense to exert your virtual presence every now and then!

Scarlet offered 6 ways you can check in with the folks at the office. I’d like to offer my own take on these and a few extra…

1. Check in frequently. You can do this using Skype, IM, email or even Facebook. Then of course there’s Twitter which seems to have single handily revitalised the water cooler moment. When you start work it’s easy to send a quick message about an interesting article you’ve read or something you’re planning to work on. Of course there are issues with who follows you on certain Social Networking tools and you need to make sure you catch the work audience rather than all your mates. There is a fuller description of possible tools in Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers and on the technologies page of this blog.

2. Share your schedule. Letting others know where you are and when you are working is immensely important when you don’t work in the same office. At work we use Oracle calendar, it’s a bit clunky (it integrates with Microsoft Outlook) but every one at the University can see when you are available, as long as you keep it up to date. For virtual teams something like Google Calendar or Yahoo Calendar.

3. Tout your results. Share your achievements with the right people. Do this through internal mailing lists, online project management systems (such as I did work) or an internal micro-blogging service. I share my outputs with my line manager every few hours using Yammer. It’s also good to be pro-active with dissemination of your work. Write articles, peer reviewed papers, blog posts etc.

4. Engage in discussions.
As Scarlet says “Try to participate in company conference calls and email threads to show that you’re an engaged and active member of the team. This participation will also give you a good gauge of current workplace issues and ideas.” We have a lot of email discussions at work and if I can’t come up with an answer I’ll try to come up with a question, which is just as useful a way of contributing. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, the more you participate, the more you’ll understand what’s going on so the more you’ll have to offer. Obviously this can’t be at the expense of your required work but it isn’t always a wasted distraction.

5. Periodically check in with different departments. Again the more you mingle the more you’ll find out and the more on the ball you will be

6. Make time for in-person visits. This isn’t always easy to do but some one-to-one time goes a long way. At UKOLN remote workers are encouraged to make it over to Bath as much as possible. People tend to schedule a few meetings close together and even initiate a social for when they are in town, this makes the best use of their time on-site.

At UKOLN we’ve now agreed that a hot-desk wasn’t really necessary as people tend to come into the office and sit with their laptop near who ever they want to work with. Instead the systems team try to make sure that there are plug sockets and seats available for people to just turn up and use. If you can’t meet at the office try to attend conferences that co-workers will also be at.

7. Phone in for meetings. If you can’t be at a meeting then the next best thing is phoning in and participating using phone conference technology. I’ve written on the blog about how we support remote workers who phone in. Making sure that you have a representative at the meeting (on Skype or IM) who will allow you to ask questions and comment is essential.

8. Write a blog. I’m not just saying it because I do it but writing a blog is a good way to show case things you are working on. Reading and commenting on other people’s posts is another way to be a pro-active member of the community. Try keeping up to date on current posts using a feed aggregator like Bloglines, Google Reader or Feedreader.

Scheduling blog posts is also a fantastic way to make it look like you are online when you are making use of your flexible working quota! ;-)

9. Keep a personal impact file. Make sure you keep any positive feedback (in whatever form it takes) and file it away for when you might need it. This information could be really useful when it comes to appraisal time.

10. Be accessible. Try to be available if needed. Provide work with a mobile number so they can contact you if you are out and about. Answer emails and IM messages fairly regularly. It’s fine to take a break but if you are going to be out for 3 hours either tell people or find a wifi hot spot.

11. Manage your manager. If your manager is constantly on your case then maybe you need to have a talk about how this is not an effective use of your time. If they’ve trusted you enough to let you work remotely then they need to trust that you will get your work done. A good working relationship with your manager is really important if you’re a remote worker as you’ll need them to tell the big bosses that you are doing what you are supposed to!

12. Be output driven. If you use your time effectively, stay organised and keep motivated then you will get your work done. Some people find it useful to track their time if they work in a more flexible way. I prefer to work the same core hours every day. When 5:30 comes round I virtually clock off. Working the same time as everyone else means that I am visual to a greater number of people too! At the end of the day if you are achieving good quality work and maintaining a healthy public profile then you are doing yourself proud.

Any other good ways you can prove you are working?

]]> 9
Where are those Wifi Hot Spots? Mon, 13 Apr 2009 08:00:49 +0000 Marieke Guy At the Remote Worker day we organised here at UKOLN a few of the remote workers who live up north decided to organise a day out in Manchester. This would be an opportunity to meet up, catch up on work and non-work related things and try out working on the move.

Adrian, one of the UKOLN remote workers, kindly shared his ideas on where to get free wifi out and about in Manchester by passing round a link to the Manchester Community Walk.

We then realised that a list of wifi hotspots wasn’t just useful to us remote workers but to anyone who has a laptop and travels.

There are a lot more free wifi hot spots these days and quite a few ways to find them. If you are in a big city then Pret a Manger, Starbucks, Wetherspoons, Walkabout, Slug & Lettuce, Coffee Republic or McDonalds are a fairly safe bet (for wifi – not necessarily for food and drink!). Most won’t have a power socket though so make sure you take a charged up laptop. Personally I’d rather find a local pub rather than a big chain. There are a fair number of wifi hot-spot locators including hotspot locations, my hot spots, WorldWIFinder, free hotspot and Jwire.

Norwich was the first UK city to have free wifi throughout and in London there is also free wifi available if you are willing to view adverts every 15 minutes. Westminster City Council has also teamed up with BT to offer a free wifi based information service to residents and visitors in the area. London hot spots are well indicated on the londonist Web site. There’s free wireless on East coast mainline trains (national express), quite a lot of hotels offer free wifi to customers and in Scotland some of the public libraries offer free wifi to users. I’ve even heard of a school bus that now does wifi for the children passengers!

If you do use a free wifi it might be worth avoiding sending any sensitive information while on them as there are some security issues.

If you’re interested in tracking where the next wifi hotspot will be then follow Wi-fi Net News.

]]> 2
Desk Space: Mine is Tidier than Yours! Wed, 08 Apr 2009 08:00:37 +0000 Marieke Guy People seem to like showing off their desk space.

Maybe it’s a bit like ‘show and tell’ at school. There are plenty of sites where you can upload a photo of your working environment for others to see. Some of the more interesting sites include deskography and the Lifehacker Workspace Show and Tell Flickr Group. Most of the photos on there come from the Lifehacker Coolest workspace competition. Voyers might also want to take a look at Web Worker Daily’s home office, Spy journal and the many screens of biscade.

Help is at Hand

There also seems to be a lot help for those who are unsure of how to set up their home workspace. The great Monkeysee video on how to organise your office really made me laugh (it’s done by a professional organiser!). It keeps going on about Health and Safety precautions when moving furniture about! Of course this is relevant, and making sure your desk is a comfortable place to sit at is really important, but it does seem a little out of context.
The article on How organised is your home-office workspace? also has lots of ideas.

If you have a small pot of gold to use when planning your home office then Web Worker daily gives some tips on the whole planning process from putting pencil to paper. There are also reviews of a couple of 3D planners including the Ikea Planner and Google Sketchup

My Home Office

All of this has inspired me to write a few words about my home office.

I don’t work for a big commercial company and don’t have lots of expensive kit but I still want to make sure that my workspace is right for me. It’s a decent size space but has to double up as a spare bedroom and storage room (probably like most people’s office).
As you can see I’ve got a box room and all the exciting stuff happens along one wall. I’ve got a desk, some great wall-to-wall shelves, books galore and drawers full of supplies. I have an all-in-one printer (scanning, photocopying, printing) which saves space. Unlike all the flash people on Flickr I only have (and need) one monitor. I’ve also got a keyboard, lamp, headphones, DVD rewriter, speakers and phone on my desk. The most important thing I have is my notebook. I still love writing stuff down on paper! I have a red swivel chair, which probably needs replacing – ergonomics – health and safety and all that! Work will pay for our home office furniture but it’s up to me to order it (using their supplier catalogues). I’ve also got a special mouse and wrist rest as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and can get really sore if I do too much typing.

I have an electric heater for when it is impossible to fit more clothes on. If it’s really cold I tend to shut the door and try and heat a smaller space.

On the walls I’ve got quite a few photos and pictures my children have drawn, contacts lists and calendars.

I’ve also got a futon in the room, so sometimes when I’m trying to do a bit of brainstorming I’ll have a lie down on there.

The wackiest Home Office

I’ve mentioned the Shedworking site before, but I guess a lot of us would love to have an office down the end of our garden that we could shut and lock the door too. I saw a great blog post recently on the 10 most unusual places to set up an office. It’s worth a look even if just to have a peep at what the inside of Airforce one looks like. Now that is working on the move to the extreme! ;-)

]]> 6
Flexible/Remote Working Events Mon, 06 Apr 2009 14:09:16 +0000 Marieke Guy The right to request flexible working has been extended to parents of children under the age of 17 with effect from today. With this in mind I thought it might be a good moment to tell you about a couple of forthcoming events I’ve been invited to talk about flexible/remote working at.

Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working

June 23rd, Birmingham City FC (Conference)

This event will look at ‘best practice’ in implementing a successful flexible working strategy and consider how it can unlock capacity, improve productivity and demonstrate cashable efficiency in your organisation.

I’m giving a talk on How to be a Connected Remote Worker in 10 Easy Steps. There are also going to be a number of case studies presented including:

  • WorkSMART: More than home working -
    Terri Fleming, Performance & Information Manager, Denbighshire County Council
  • Flexible Working – Informal Practices to Formal Policies – Jill Scott, Equality and Diversity Adviser, Birmingham City University
  • Improving Services Through Flexible Working – John Pitt, Corporate Director, Wakefield MDC
  • The Way We Work’ at Hertfordshire County Council -
    Emel Morris, Head of Communications for TWWW programme at Hertfordshire County Council

Full details and booking form are available from the Public Sector Forum Web site.

Public sector Forum are running a smaller, related event on the 5th May in Birmingham called Savings through Flexible and Mobile Working in the Public Sector. The details for this event are also on their Web site.

Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) Advisory and Support Staff Symposium 2009

8th July 2009, Aston Business School Conference Centre

The theme for the 2009 Symposium is “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it“. The organisers have put together a programme which aims to address the needs of staff involved in the delivery, management or planning of advisory services in IT departments, libraries and MIS departments and distributed IT support staff working individually or in small groups away from the main centres.

I’m facilitating a workshop on Connecting Remote workers and am unfortunately presenting in parallel with Peter James presenting on Green IT – I would have like to see him present again! (I mentioned the SusteIT project on the blog a few weeks back.)

Futher details are available from the UCISA Web site.

I’ve put in proposals for a few other conferences but have yet to hear back from them. I’ll keep you posted.

]]> 0
Growing a Green Policy Sat, 04 Apr 2009 08:30:19 +0000 Marieke Guy I mentioned earlier in the week that I want to start adhering to a green policy when working from home.

As reported on the Greener Office Web site, when Independent consultants WSP Environmental looked into it they found that home workers typically produce almost a third more CO2 in a year than employees working primarily in the office. This figure was based on the fact that office workers share electricity and heating while home workers don’t. There has still been little significant research in this area but it is something the Location Independent Working project may cover in the future.

I think the key to making change is to plan your policy (no matter how insignificant it seems) and try to embed it into working practice. So here’s my list:

My Home/Remote Worker Green Policy


  • I’m not going to print things unless absolutely necessary. If I must print I’ll go for double sided printing and if feasible squeeze 2 pages onto one side. Paperless office?…Hopefully one day…
  • I’ll also try to recycle all office waste – plastic, carboard, paper etc.


  • I will turn all equipment off at the end of each working day and turn my monitor off at lunch.
  • I’ll make sure I only boil the kettle when necessary and put in just enough water for one cup.
  • I will continue to use low energy bulbs
  • I’ll try to avoid turning my heating on unless absolutely necessary. (Time for a warm jumper or quick walk round the house to improve circulation.) I’ll also look into loft insulation.

(We had a whopper of a heating bill this year and once we’ve cleared out the loft we really need to look into better insulation. I’m wondering if in the future activities like this might be funded by our employer in an effort to keep us home workers happy and improve our (and indirectly their carbon footprint.))


  • If I can avoid flying I will.
  • If I can avoid going anywhere I will! Obviously this can’t effect my work but if there is a feasible alternative I’ll look into it. There are plenty of video conferencing tools that still need to be tried out and blogged about!


  • I’m going to try to eat more local, organic food during my lunch break. It helps that I’ve started growing a lot more in the garden.

Is there anything I’ve missed?

]]> 5
Going Green: Can Home Working Save the World? Mon, 30 Mar 2009 09:00:01 +0000 Marieke Guy …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.

]]> 0
Location Independent Working Tue, 24 Mar 2009 14:15:07 +0000 Marieke Guy 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.

]]> 4
Dallyings with a Dongle Mon, 23 Mar 2009 11:30:17 +0000 Marieke Guy 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.


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…..

]]> 0
6 Months of Remote Worker blogging Wed, 18 Mar 2009 09:00:32 +0000 Marieke Guy 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):



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

]]> 7
The Reality of Home Working Mon, 16 Mar 2009 15:22:38 +0000 Marieke Guy 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 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.


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!

Click here to view the embedded video.

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.


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.

]]> 2
Know Thyself: The UKOLN Remote Worker Workshop Fri, 13 Mar 2009 11:29:00 +0000 Marieke Guy 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?
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?
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!! ;-)

]]> 2
Do you have a Remote Worker Policy? Wed, 11 Mar 2009 11:20:43 +0000 Marieke Guy 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 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.

]]> 0
Happy Families: A Day in the Life Mon, 09 Mar 2009 13:48:19 +0000 Marieke Guy I love my children. They are exhausting, challenging and fantastic, all at the same time. I really enjoy spending time with them.

But….I don’t think children and work mix.

I like to keep my work time separate from my children and they go to school and after-school club or nursery when I’m working. Remote working is great because the time I save on travel means I can drop my older children off at school, a luxury I wouldn’t have if I was expected to be at Bath University for 9am.

In the first Ariadne article I wrote on remote working I said

It is also true that there are actually fewer distractions at home than at work, aiding concentration. Those who work alone from home are likely to be in a quieter environment with no colleagues around to chat with, no company coffee breaks and no ‘unnecessary’ meetings. That is, unless they have young children; in which case, reliable, consistent childcare arrangements are indispensable.

I think this has just come back to haunt me!

My husband and I have recently had a bit of a shift around of our working schedules and at the moment I am working 4 days a week (I used to work 3). On the extra day I work my husband looks after the children.

What happens on Thursdays is a new experience for me. I work from home while my children are in the house! I’m not looking after them but they are still there…making a racket, knocking on my door and asking me for things (that really my husband should be sorting out for them). I’m sure things will settle into a routine but it’s been a bit of a strange one. Firstly my husband has had to start acting like the one in control. Now my husband is great…but he’s the complete opposite of me. While I’m a total control freak who likes to ‘get things done’ he just isn’t. Secondly I’ve had to let go, which has actually been really difficult.


Anyway it has been a bit of a learning process for all of us, but we are getting there slowly. I think the hundred times my husband has shouted “Mummy’s at work” has now started to filter through – at least for the older two. (People have suggested putting a lock on the door but this isn’t a prison and the children need to learn to listen to us.) My husband has been pretty good at taking the youngest out. Being the only Daddy at singing group doesn’t seem to bother him. I think he likes the attention!

I guess this is all part of us trying out new ways of working, the whole life/work balance. Although I’ve found things tricky I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I have to work that extra day then the redeeming feature is that we can all have dinner together as a family (not normally possible due to my husband’s hours) and I can at least see their smiling faces during my breaks.

All the arguments and cleaning up….well that’s someone else’s job now!

]]> 3
Low Hanging Fruit: UKOLN Support for Remote Workers Wed, 04 Mar 2009 12:22:21 +0000 Marieke Guy Have I mentioned before that I’m the UKOLN Remote Worker Champion? ;-)

In the last couple of months here at UKOLN we’ve been trying a out a few relatively easy to implement ideas that will hopefully make remote working a little easier. All these ideas are ‘low hanging fruit’ and something most organisations could quite easily have a go at.

Videoing Staff Seminars

We are lucky enough to have a good number of excellent speakers who come to visit UKOLN and give presentations on their work. In the past you had to physically attend a session to hear the talk, for remote workers this would mean a long trip for an hour-long seminar. Recently our systems team have invested in a High Definition HDD Camcorder and we are now able to video and share the talks after the event, presenter agreeing.

The camcorder is a Canon HG20 which was chosen by the systems team but I’m sure you could achieve a great deal without such a high specification camera. The HG20 is a very nice camera indeed, and we still have quite a long way to go to realising it’s full potential. During the initial trial we recorded the footage at very high quality, which couldn’t easily be converted to Web quality for sharing! At the moment only a few members of the systems team know how to use the camera, but once set up it just requires turning on. Usually someone is available to manipulate and move it during the session, but if not a reasonable quality can be achieved by just leaving it.

Staff Seminar

The video footage is released as soon as possible after the seminar along with the slides and any other multimedia used. All seminars are available for staff use indefinitely and stored in our staff Intranet. They are not currently available externally but this is something we may look at in the future. Obviously making seminars available in this way is great for all staff as many are out of the office or otherwise busy and unable to attend.

Support for Phoning in to meetings

UKOLN have recently purchased a new conference phone that has 6 microphones. This avoids the constant ‘phone shifting’ we used to have to suffer during staff meetings, it also means that people who are phoning in can hear questions and comments much better.

All UKOLN remote workers have Skype accounts and an appointed person usually connects to those phoning in to the meeting to monitor any problems with the sound, questions etc. We also try to follow the guidance I mentioned in a previous blog post on virtual meetings.

Anyone presenting at a meeting makes every effort to ensure their presentation slides are available in good time so remote workers can access them. We are toying with the idea of having a ‘remote worker’s deposit area’ that acts as an online storage facility for each meeting.

Staff Development Day

We have been lucky enough to secure a staff development day for Remote workers later this month. The day, which will be a follow up to our previous workshop and again be facilitated by Sylvia Vacher, will focus on time management and motivation. We intend to have a social night (for all staff) on the night before the workshop so hopefully it will be a good bonding opportunity generally.

Remote Workers List

I’ve recently set up a internal remote workers email list. This allows other UKOLN staff to address us directly as a group (for example for admin tasks) and also for us to share ideas, discuss things etc. I’ve also been sending out a email newsletter with a round up of current activities. We all have a common issue (dealing with working out of the office) so have much to discuss and the list has been useful without being overwhelming.

Quite a few of us also now have Twitter accounts, which has been another way to stay in touch.

Thanks to the Systems and management teams for all their help with implementing these ideas.

If you have any ideas on other easy to implement support techniques then please do comment.

]]> 0
Back in the Playground: Bitching on Twitter Mon, 02 Mar 2009 09:15:02 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve really got into Twitter this year and can see how it can become quite addictive. However, one aspect of it I just can’t get my head round it the bitching.

Social networks unite people but they can also do a good job of being elitist and alienating people. For some reason Twitter seems to be the right application in which to be clique and have a dig at people.

This revelation has been a long time coming. I’ve watched Twitter back channels at events for some time now and have on occasions felt quite uncomfortable reading some of the personal comments made. It’s almost as if people think that because it’s being said using a social networking tool (rather than in the ear of the person next to them) it’s OK. Quite the opposite. I’m sure there is many a presenter who has put themselves through hell reading the unkind comments written about them.

Last week I read a really interesting article recently on How to Present While People are Twittering. I’d recommend it. Olivia Mitchell offers tips on how to manage the back channel telling us that when presenting we need to embrace this new feedback method by monitoring the channel and being prepared to change course and adapt.  Mitchell reminds us of an occasion at the SXSW Interactive Festival 2008 when Sarah Lacy was interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. She explains: “Audience unhappiness with the direction of the interview spread through the back channel and ended up with the audience taking over the interview.“  In Jeremiah Owyang’s account of the event he explains that Sarah Lacy’s reputation has been marred as an interviewer by the extensive coverage of blogs and even mainstream media.

It seems to me that we now expect people to be like the Internet – fast, immediate, know the answer to everything, always on the ball. If they don’t deliver (straight away) than it’s OK to have a dig. I’m just not sure about this. What ever happened to giving people a chance? And being polite?

I’m all for positive and constructive criticism and tweeting at events can be a really useful activity for everyone but people need to remember what you say is out there for everyone to see. Some of the comments I’ve seen could even be construed as cyberbullying. I think events that have a Twitter back channel need to make sure they are upfront on Twitter etiquette and include something in an acceptable use policy. I intend to do this for the  Institutional Web Management Workshop event I co-chair.

We are all grown up now. Let’s not go back to the school playground…

]]> 11
VPNs, Management and Emails from Canada Fri, 27 Feb 2009 08:45:38 +0000 Marieke Guy Last week I received a email from someone over in Canada asking for some remote working advice. (Just to say it’s great to hear from you out there, it makes it feel less like talking to your children – they have an incredible knack of closing their ears!)

Anyway the email went along the lines of:

Hi Marieke,

I’m a technical writer based in Canada. I’ve approached my company about the possibility of working for them remotely in Scotland for six months, and I’ve been asked to put together a proposal to counter any concerns and show my colleagues how this arrangement might work.

One of the issues is good connectivity to my company’s network. Currently we are using OpenVPN for remote access; while a secure connection, OpenVPN tends to disconnect for workers within Canada and the United States. It’s possible the connectivity would be even worse, or perhaps even impossible to work with in the UK. Do you know of any software that provides good connectivity overseas for remote workers?

I was also wondering about management systems for remote workers. My company is one that does not micromanage, so a different management style would be required. Are you supervised and managed differently from onsite employees? If so, how?

Thanks so much for taking the time to consider my question!


So in an effort to share what I’ve found out and solicit some ideas from all you remote workers out there here’s my reply.


At Bath University we use Microsoft VPN server and there are very rarely any issues. I’ve heard pretty good things about OpenVPN and didn’t realise there were problems with it in Canada and the US. There is a lot of remote office software floating about but I’m not too sure of their worth.

After posting to I’ve had the folowing replies:

reply 1: We use OpenVPN here, albeit on a very limited scale and with mostly local people. I haven’t really had any experience of anyone doing this for long periods from any distance. I have used it for hours at a time from Scotland without experiencing any problems and also used it on the train with mixed results, probably more to do with the train’s uplink failing that anything else. Of course, it might not be OpenVPN that is unreliable but the overall end-to-end network ...

reply 2: Oxford uses the Cisco VPN system and has done for a number of years . We have colleagues working across the planet, including North America, who access our services and in my opinion it’s pretty solid… Probably not the cheapest VPN system around, and I hesitate to use the term, but it really could almost be described as bombproof. I’ve certainly never heard of it timing out! Take a look at:

reply 3: That throws up a very big “why?” question.  Why does OpenVPN disconnect? At a basic level, it will disconnect and re-establish (if configured to do so) if the connectivity is interrupted – line drops, congestion, dynamic IP address changes and so on. The biggest reason I’ve seen for VPN applications dropping connections is a fundamental misunderstanding that, for example, if you have a 4 Mbps broadband service and you’re running OpenVPN over it to do some interactive stuff with a remote end, plus VoIP, and you then start doing a massive Vista patch download (which is outside the VPN) then the two will compete for resources.

If the upstream bandwidth gets saturated – normally between 128Kbps and 512Kbps for most domestic service in the UK – then traffic starts to get dropped and retried. It’s possible to configure OpenVPN to act more robustly under congested conditions, but there’s a trade-off between how long it takes to drop and reconnect and how long your apps can withstand a “hung” network. For the record I used to use OpenVPN almost permanently to provide inter-site private services in a previous job for a web host/ISP, and it worked perfectly unless we got massive congestion. I guess the advice is to have a good understanding of what you’re doing through the VPN, and outside it – and don’t let the two get in each other’s way.

From these replies it sounds like OpenVPN is not going to be the problem…

On the matter of management I can probably be a little more helpful. UKOLN (where I work) has as many different management styles but here it tends to be fairly hands-off management. I think it’s partly to do with the fact we are based in a university and the staff are respected and expected to get on with their work without constant check ups. I think less controlling methods of management work better in remote working.

I have a good working relationship with my team leader. We have regular phone and Skype chats, and tend to send brief questions and comments via Skype chat. We both also record our main outputs during the day using Yammer (work version of Twitter) – so know what’s been achieved. Because I am lucky enough to live near the office we have regular face-to-face chats when I’m in the office – though this could be done using Skype and a webcam. We also tend to go to the same events fairly regularly so catch up at those too. I think the key is regular informal catch-ups so nothing is left too long. You could schedule something for every Monday morning say?

There’s quite a few good articles on management about including these:

I hope this helps.


I’ve written a few articles about remote working that might help too:

I hope I’ve helped our Canadian neighbour. Anyone got anything to add?

]]> 1
Squirmy Creatures: My first Online Presentation Wed, 25 Feb 2009 14:29:49 +0000 Marieke Guy On Monday I presented my first Webinar for Regional Support Centre Eastern on Blogs, Wikis and more: Web 2.0 demystified for information professionals. Earlier today I presented my second Webinar, also for RSC Eastern on Blogs, Wikis and more: Web 2.0 demystified for learning and teaching professionals. We had almost 20 people for each webinar – at the second apparently nine people were sat round a conference phone listening in. It was really exciting stuff (for me – not too sure about the participants!). Not quite a baptism of fire but still  a big learning experience.

I’ve blogged about my previous attempts at using Elluminate but, despite the practice, actually presenting for a whole hour was quite an experience.


The screen dump above shows the Elluminate application and the Colchester Institute Web cam.

A few thoughts and lessons learnt…

1. It’s quiet out there

Presenting to an audience who you can’t look at or hear is very strange. There’s no body language, eye contact or verbal utterances to help you know you’re pitching it at the right level. For all you know you could be talking to yourself. You just have to believe that they are still there and are still listening. I did ask for questions at certain points but it’s probably a difficult environment in which to do that. Maybe I’ll get some questions by email.

Lesson Learnt: Have faith, they are still listening, least one person is so you’ll just have to keep going.

2. An hour in Webinar time seems to be shorter than an hour in real time

I had a quite a lot prepared but the time just seemed to fly by and the participants didn’t get very long to ‘try stuff out’. Although I’d rather have too much stuff than nothing to say maybe it’s better not to try to cover too much. I didn’t read anything out from notes, Web 2.0 stuff is something I talk about a lot and it felt more natural to just talk rather than read. I hope the participants feel this worked OK.

Lesson Learnt: The time flies by when you are talking to yourself!

3. You need a good admin team

The RSC Eastern team (Maryse Fisher and Shri Footring) were great. They did a fab job of getting people to sign up for the sessions and were great support. Some really useful notes on how to plan a successful Webinar are available from Techsoup – RSC eastern have obviously read them.

Lesson Learnt: A good admin team are key.

4. Make sure there are no distractions

It’s a real worry that someone will ring your doorbell or call you up while you are presenting. I actually hid my land line phone so I wouldn’t be able to hear it if it rang.  The problem was I couldn’t find it afterwards!

Lesson Learnt: Remember where you’ve hidden your phone!

5. Little things can throw you

During my first presentation the ‘hand raised’ icon lit up and started beeping. This completely threw me, I wasn’t 100% sure other moderators could see it or were able to deal with it. It was almost like when someone presses the ‘call air hostess’ button on a plane and you suddenly get quite agitated. You want to know what’s the problem, is someone going to sort it out? I found I just couldn’t relax till the the icon went back to normal.

Lesson Learnt: Ignore other stuff that’s going on and focus on your slides.

6. Having a Participant view wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped

I had my laptop set up to show the participant’s view. It was good to glance at and check they could see the same things but there just wasn’t the time to scrutinise it. During my first presentation I was a little concerned people could see my comments to the other moderators (it wasn’t that I was saying anything particularly private I just didn’t want them to see my general paranoia!) but I didn’t get a chance to check.

Lesson Learnt: Let the other moderators deal with the stuff that is going on. Sending messages to only the moderators does what it says on the tin.

7. Try to block out the chat pane

I was confused over whether I should check the chat pane or ignore it. I found it a bit of a distraction really. Maybe I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I thought. Or maybe when you are presenting you just need to go into a ‘zone’ and checking a chat pane keeps dragging you out of it.

Lesson Learnt: Ditto what it says in point 5.

8. I don’t want to listen to what I’ve said

I remember last year I gave a presentation which didn’t go according to plan. Nothing really happened, I just felt it went wrong. The presentation was recorded and I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. When I eventually did it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it was. People who are watching (or listening) can’t see what’s going on in your head or the squirmy creatures in your tummy. That said the vast majority of us don’t like watching (or listening) to ourselves. For that reason I won’t be able to listen to my Webinar. However if you are interested in listening to (and looking out for my mistakes) the Elluminate sessions are available at from the RSC Eastern site.

These thoughts may not be of great use to those of you about to give your first online presentation but they may make you feel that you are not alone. Squirmy creatures happens to all of us!


]]> 3
Your Most Valuable Asset Mon, 23 Feb 2009 08:45:36 +0000 Marieke Guy It seems that announcements of job loses are becoming an every day part of our lives as the recession picks up speed.

This week alone I’ve heard about people being made redundant by phone, redundant by an A4 message taped in the shop window and redundant an hour before their shift ends. Lack of money should not be an excuse for lack of manners!

Employers are pretty keen to rid themselves of dead wood as soon as things look a little bleak, but maybe sometimes they are a little too hasty. When things get better, and they will get better, they may find themselves loaded with a huge recruitment cost.

Lots of employers are looking at different ways to keep staff in work. Many car manufacturers have implemented 4 day weeks or ‘work holidays’. The Honda factory in Swindon has closed for 4 months. My husband’s employer has decided to cut all staff pay by 20% (I have to say this wouldn’t have been my reduction of choice!)

How companies deal with the recession will have a big impact on what happens later down the line and maybe some organisations need to give some though to being more understanding and more flexible. Employees are an organisation’s most valuable asset and recognising this (by listening to them) will help weather the storm.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last year offered a 9 point strategy for staff retention.

All are pretty useful but the ones that stand out in the current economic climate are:

  • Consult employees – ensure wherever possible that employees have a ‘voice’ through consultative bodies, regular appraisals, attitude surveys and grievance systems. This will provide dissatisfied employees with a number of mechanisms to sort out problems before resigning. Where there is no opportunity to voice dissatisfaction, resigning is the only option.
  • Be flexible – wherever possible accommodate individual preferences on working hours and times. Where people are forced to work hours that do not suit their domestic responsibilities they will invariably be looking for another job which can offer such hours.
  • Avoid the development of a culture of ‘presenteeism’ - where people feel obliged to work longer hours than are necessary simply to impress management. Evaluation of individual commitment should be based on results achieved and not on hours put in.
  • Job security – provide as much job security as possible. Employees who are made to feel that their jobs are precarious may put a great deal of effort in to impress, but they are also likely to be looking out for more secure employment at the same time. Security and stability are greatly valued by most employees.
  • Treat people fairly – never discriminate against employees. A perception of unfairness, whatever the reality when seen from a management point of view, is a major cause of voluntary resignations. While the overall level of pay is unlikely to play a major role unless it is way below the market rate, perceived unfairness in the distribution of rewards is very likely to lead

My husband has now managed to negotiate a 4 day week which means he can look after the children while I can do extra work. Other employees have encouraged their staff to get second jobs, work from home and work flexible hours.

Keeping staff motivated is also an issue when people are struggling with ‘bigger problems’ at home. Last year HR Zone wrote a useful article on Crunch time: Retaining staff through motivation.

A lack of motivation doesn’t just impact productivity and retention. Philips points out that in the instantly accessible web world we’re now part of, disgruntled employees have more online outlets to vent their frustrations, such as blogs and social networking sites. A bad reputation soon seeps out from behind closed doors, possibly damaging brand and even recruitment if employees look you up, warts and all.

No need to moan here. I am lucky enough to work for what I believe to be a transparent organisation whom supports its staff, where ever they work.

And I’d just like “Thanks“.

]]> 4
Facebook Fun Thu, 19 Feb 2009 11:50:05 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve sort of missed the boat on blogging about the Facebook ‘Terms of Service’ debacle but here’s my two pennies worth anyway.

For those who don’t watch the news, surf the Web or use Facebook a quick sum up!

Facebook changed their TOS earlier this week from stating that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire to acknowledging that they could retain archived copies of your content. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, defended this decision saying that is was to “better reflect how users used the site.” His argument was that it was to enable consistency if people left by keeping comments on pictures, links to information etc.

A consumerist article highlighted the changes which effectively said that Facebook would have the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. Within days people were up in arms about it. Facebook have since backed down after pressure from consumer and civil liberty groups.

Since the back down there have been two main observations.

People don’t understand what rights social networking sites have over their data

It’s been pointed out that the enthusiasm people have when using these type of sites clouds their understanding of what rights the sites have over their data. This is nothing new, the confusion over ‘who owns what?’ started with the invention of the printing press but the ubiquity of the Internet can lead to quick and frightening consequences. (I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a trailer for RudeTube (an awful E4 television show that televises videos from YouTube), did these people really realise their antics could be shown on TV so their Nan could watch them? Mind you whose Nan is up that late?)

My colleague Brian Kelly states in his blogMy, perhaps somewhat controversial view, is that there has been a failure to recognise the complexities related to ownership of data in a social networked environment and instead we have been seeing simplistic solutions being proposed which, if applied generally, would undermine the development of the more open social networks which, ironically, many of those engaged in the discussions would actually prefer to see.

Copyright, ownership, intellectual property rights and all that is pretty complicated stuff. If confused I sometimes direct a question to Jordan Hatcher (OpenContentlawyer) but there are no guarantees I’ll understand the answer!

In his blog post You don’t nor need to own your data Elias Bizannes from the DataPortability project explains that who owns your data is no longer the key factor:

Access to your data is what matters – but it also needs to be carefully understood. For example, access to your health records might not be a good thing. Rather, you can control who has access to that data. Similarly, whilst no one might own your data, what you do have is the right to demand guidelines and principles like what we are trying to do at the DataPortability Project on how “your” data can be used. Certainly, the various governmental privacy and data protection legislation around the world does exactly that: it governs how companies can use personally identifiable data.

So the issue is really what Facebook do with your data. And that is a question even they don’t know the answer to yet.

Social Networking sites are struggling to make money out of their users

The Guardian technology blog points out that “Facebook has a problem. Every time it looks as though it’s going to wriggle its way to creaming just a bit more money from its millions of users’ comings and goings, they spot it – and get vocal enough to force a reverse.

It’s the same for all the other similar sites. Raw data is all they have and if they can’t do more with it then they are going to eventually go to the Web site graveyard in the sky. My colleague Paul Walk has written a blog post saying that “there is only one thing of potential, unproven, value to Facebook and that is the aggregate of users’ attention data.

He continues “We flatter ourselves if we think Facebook is interested in our uploaded photos from the office party. What they really want is to know what we think, what we like and don’t like, what we buy, how we plan to vote….. People will pay large amounts of money for this kind of data.

If they can’t make money from this data where does it leave us people who now find we are increasingly using these sites as part of our working practice? Can we really go on getting something for nothing?

I suppose the answer is for us users not to put all our eggs in one basket. At UKOLN my colleague Brian Kelly and I have mentioned the whole risk management approach for Web 2.0 time and time again. Take a look at the ‘Risk Assessment For Making Use Of Third Party Web 2.0 Services’ briefing paper written way back.

I’m afraid I haven’t really added to the debate but I just wanted to flag that we, as users, need to make sure we watch this space and stay vigilant!

]]> 5
Ubiquity Everywhere Mon, 16 Feb 2009 08:45:04 +0000 Marieke Guy This weekend I’ve had a little play with Ubiquity, described by Mozilla Labs as an experiment “into connecting the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily“. It’s currently available as an extension but I think the intention is add it to an upcoming version (3.2) of the Firefox browser.

There is a really useful video on the main Mozilla site.

Anyway sounds good doesn’t it!

OK so what do I think and what implications does it have for remote workers?

Ease of Use

Ubiquity is really easy to use. To get it to pop up in your browser you just press Ctrl + Space and your cursor will appear in Ubiquity’s command line. It handles natural language command phrases so the idea is you just type something in the way you would speak e.g “add 5pm lunch with Fred on Friday“.

I tried out a few commands but there are a lot more available:

  • Map – Inserts a Google map
  • Email – Not a lot of use to me as it uses gmail, which I rarely use
  • Google – Type g search term
  • Wiki – Searches Wikipedia
  • Add – Adds an item to Google Calendar
  • Weather – Plus postcode or town, seems to use
  • Twit – Send a Twitter message, I couldn’t get Tsearch (the Twitter search) working
  • Word count – Select a section and it will count the words
  • Translate – Translates a selected section
  • Highlight – Highlights a section
  • Define – Dictionary definition
  • Delete – You can actually delete images and text on Web pages
  • Undo – Undoes highlighting and deleting


Really handy stuff. I guess the test is trying to do this as part of your normal working practice. I have a feeling I’d forget, but then maybe given time…

The Future

I recently saw Ryan Carson (from Carsonified) talk about Ubiquity and he was quite fired up about it. He saw its use as a radical shift in the way we use the Web. As he says on his blog:

As we move forward, people won’t say ‘I’m browsing the web’. That’s like saying “I’m using electricity.” Using electricity isn’t the point – you want to do something with electricty. The web is the same. The data and services from the web will be used to execute actions like map, translate, communicate, filter, post, etc. I’m excited about Ubiquity because it’s a step in this direction.

This is also an extendable application so people can create their own command lines. Mozilla link to a collection of commands in the wild. They do warn you to be careful with these though as Mozilla have no control over them, so heavens knows what kind of code people could be using.

I suppose one of the issues it could be seen as too techy right now, and also some people might prefer it to work from the desktop rather than in the browser. It’s still only a beta though so they may well change bits of it.

Remote Workers

I’m not sure if this has any specific implications for us remote workers but it is all part of us doing our work using the Web. It might help pull together a lot of the applications we currently use as at the moment things do seem a bit disjointed. I sometimes flit from application to application with the attention span of a goldfish. Hmmm…I think that goes back to the “Google is making us stupid” syndrome, I don’t know if Ubiquity quite has the answer to that yet.

]]> 1
FTP: A Blast from the Past Wed, 11 Feb 2009 11:01:44 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve had a taste of what things used to be like today. For some reason all my mapped work drives won’t work. As I explain in my Ariadne article “The ideal solution for most employees who work remotely is for the set-up at home to replicate the set-up in the office.” So far that’s what I’ve had. We use VPN (Virtual Private Network) here at the University of Bath and it’s been pretty reliable. A quick snippet from my article:

At the University of Bath, a Microsoft VPN server is operated using Point to Point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP) to encrypt data to and from the campus network. The connection is secure. All traffic including username and password is sent across an encrypted secure channel. As Bath University Computing Service support states:

“Your connection becomes part of the campus network. You will obtain an IP address in the University of Bath address range. For the duration of the connection your PC is effectively connected directly to the campus network. This offers all the advantages of being physically present. You can mount drives and printers and access resources that would normally be blocked by the firewall.”

Having a view of your institution’s network that replicates that of on-site workers is essential in allowing a remote worker to operate effectively alongside colleagues.

OK so it’s not working. It’s quite likely there’s some problem with the VPN tunnel.

So the next step was to try FTPing. For those not in the know good old Wikipedia explains that “File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a network protocol used to transfer data from one computer to another through a network such as the Internet.”

My IT support team (the ones who were in the office – most are at the JISC Developer Happiness days in London) suggested I use WinSCP, an open source free SFTP client and FTP client for Windows. Its main function is safe copying of files between a local and a remote computer.

Suddenly everything feels clunky. I’ve got to copy stuff over, copy it back again and then try and remember what I’ve done. All a bit much for someone who has been up since 6am and had to navigate serious floods in order to get the children to school. If this is what working from home used to be like then it’s no surprise uptake has only taken off relatively recently! I feel like I’m living in 1998 and it’s making the whole cloud computing thing a lot more appealing!

Hopefully the problem will get fixed when the team return at the end of the week but till then I’m going to have to live with that ‘tecnologically backwards’ feeling I sometimes get when everyone else gets their iPhone out!

Though I have noticed that Twitter is out of action at the moment so maybe having an iPhone isn’t so cool this morning! ;-)

]]> 2
Remote Office Centres: Your Office but Somewhere Else Tue, 10 Feb 2009 09:00:35 +0000 Marieke Guy I was at a Bathcamp (interesting people, meeting regularly in Bath, UK) meet last week and saw Ryan Carson from Carsonified give an interesting talk on Ubiquity for Firefox (will blog more about it when I’ve had a go). Anyway at the end of his talk Ryan announced that they have a number of desks available in their office for anyone who wants to work in town.

It reminded me that the idea of ‘remote office centres’ is something I’ve been meaning to blog about.

Remote Office Centres (also referred to as co-working sites, telecentres, teleworking Centres or telework centres- and of course the US use ‘center’) are defined by Wikipedia as: space leasing centers which lease individual offices to employees from multiple companies in a single office location or centre. The purpose of Remote Office Centres is to provide professional office space in locations that are near where people live, so they can cut down on the commute, but still work out of a real office with professional grade internet, phone service and security.

They can offer a number of advantages over working at home such as demarcating home and work, removing possible home distractions and allowing the centralisation of professional office equipment. Of course it also means you get some co-workers again – be this a bad or a good thing…

At the moment these seem to be springing up mainly in the US where there are even a number of search facilities allowing you to locate your nearest office.

In the Washington DC Metropolitan area the General Services Administration (GSA) currently sponsors 14 Remote Office Centres. There is also an interesting article in the Chicago Herald on how these type of sites can help alleviate the loniless remote workers can sometimes feel.

Here in the UK the best list is available from the telework Association Web site.

Using these centres won’t work for everyone but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

Anyone out there have any experience of using them?

]]> 2
Snow Observations Thu, 05 Feb 2009 22:30:57 +0000 Marieke Guy We’ve had more snow in Wiltshire (where I live) and Somerset (where my office is).

The day has been a fun one (lots of snowball fights with my children who had the day off school) but also an interesting one from a ‘remote worker perspective’. I want to put to you two observations I’ve made during the course of the day.

Observation number one

Early this morning my husband set off for work as usual, it’s a 50 minute drive to his office. An hour and a half later I got a phone call (from a pay phone!! He’d left well prepared!) from Sainsbury’s in Chippenham. He’d managed to travel 7 miles in all that time. Most roads were closed and he decided to come home. After he got back he spent most of the day explaining to the children the tricks to making a good snowman!

I later asked him if he could work from home…y’know, if he wanted to? He explained that he needed to get some security codes from work and they didn’t give them out to just anyone, so basically no. Hmmmm…I’ve read varying reports of what the disruption caused by snow will cost the economy but it’s more than likely it will be in the billions. It seems to me that with the increase in use of broadband many companies could start to rethink their attitude to allowing occasional remote working. Hey, it might actually help the UK economy! This sort of relates to my previous snow post which asked if a snowed-in-UK of today could manage a lot better then a snowed-in-UK of times past?

(That said a Guardian poll is asking the question “Do you have the technology to work from home?” and over 80% have answered yes – poll still open at time of publishing).

Observation number two

Today the University of Bath (where UKOLN is based) actually shut up shop for the day. It’s up a really steep hill so would have been very difficult to get to. I work part-time and Thursday is a non-working day so this didn’t really effect me, but it was interesting to watch how it effected others. it seemed that those who usually work from home and those set up to work from home pretty much carried on as usual (unless they had child care problems). Those who can’t do their job from home or who aren’t set up to work from home disappeared off the radar. This is I suppose pretty obvious but sort of begs the question “Are remote workers getting a raw deal?“. It’s almost as if they are expected to carry on regardless. I know snow like this is rare but the University has closed before for other reasons. Are the expectations for remote workers higher? Maybe I’m being lazy and just looking for opportunities to take days off but it does seem a little unfair.

Do these observations make sense? Do they contradict one each other? I’m not too sure. All I know is the snow has certainly brought remote working into the spotlight again.

Have a look at this ComputerWeekly article: Snow shows strengths and risks of remote working for some more thoughts on this.

]]> 0
Brie and Bakeries: a Postcard from the North Wed, 04 Feb 2009 09:00:41 +0000 Marieke Guy I am lucky enough to have a guest blog post on some of the challenges of working remotely from a remote working colleague: Monica Duke. Monica is a software developer at UKOLN. She has worked on a number of projects dealing with search and discovery services using metadata, including the JISC-funded IMesh Toolkit, the Resource Discovery Network (now known as Intute) and eBank UK. She has technical experience of building systems to aggregate and work with metadata from repositories, and is currently contributing to the development of the aggregation service that supports the Intute Repository Search.

Enjoy her post! Hope it doesn’t make you too hungry!


Monica Duke

I started working at UKOLN in 2000, so I’m of the same vintage as Marieke. We were both new, and roughly the same age, and equally clueless ;-) . And we’re both still around when others have fallen by the wayside (or moved on to greater things!). That must say something about our gritty determination, which is a quality that I find is needed for home working. Or perhaps the ability to work flexibily and move our base outside of the UKOLN offices has helped us both to persist with careers that we might otherwise have had to give up on.

Otley LibraryI moved to working remotely in 2004, when my husband changed jobs, and we moved from Bath to live and work “up North”. I am based in a small market town outside Leeds. It is a pretty, historic, little place, and I can walk to the centre and back in about 25 minutes. We have an award winning Bakery and several small shops, local butchers, charity shops etc, as well as the empty shell that was Woolworths. It is lively on market days, and has an attractive, newly-built, inviting library (alas without free wireless, so it is not an option to move my work there when I want a change of scene).

Some of the challenges Marieke mentions in her blog seem very familiar. “Whatever shall I have for lunch?” does tend to dominate my morning thoughts. I used to have a very organised and balanced lunch box (sandwich, yoghurt, piece of fruit) as my staple when I still left the house every morning to go put to work. Somehow that combination doesn’t work for me anymore. Favourite fallbacks are a vegetarian pasty-type bake with wholemeal pastry from the aformentioned Bondgate Bakery – which has the advantage of feeling all virtuous what with being filled with lentils ‘n all. I went through a phase of being addicted to Brie and Cranberry toasties – which are lovely, but do require that I have Brie and bread in the house. I don’t think I have ever eaten a pot noodle, so I haven’t fallen to those depths of desperation (yet), although some might consider pasta with Bovril to be much more disgusting. My cupboard never seems to be out of pasta or Bovril, and Bovril has added Vit B, dontcha’ know?

On a serious note, my general level of healthy daytime eating has definitely suffered while I am based at home. I find the temptation of snacks and a lack of other outlets to relieve boredom has nudged my eating (and therefore my weight) beyond the level at which I am comfortable, both for aesthetic and well-being reasons. On the plus side, I do not have to worry that my office clothes don’t fit any more.

On the topic of fitness, exercise is another aspect related to health and work-life balance that I have yet to find a solution to. The University of Bath does have excellent facilities and free classes at convenient times. Although I have never been an exercise nut, I was much more fit when I did occasionally get to these classes, so they must have been doing more good than I realised. Walking to and from work did help as well, even if it was just to the bus stop, although I was once fit enough to walk down quite frequently, (and more rarely even up), the hill atop which the University sits. I also indulged in the odd game of squash with my husband, or joined the ladies’ football team in their training sessions, all on campus. These University-based activities had the advantages of being easily available, easy to get to, mostly free, and easily fitted into the working day, so that precious time was spent on the exercise rather than getting to and from the location. Oh, and we also played numerous games of lunchtime pool, during student holidays when the tables would be deserted, but I suspect that didn’t burn any calories.

Working remotely has allowed me to stay in my job which for me meant less upheaval and for UKOLN also helped with staff retention and continuity on the eBank project, which was my main area of work at the time. However, losing the University facilities from my doorstep is definitely one of the disadvantages that I have felt keenly – I hadn’t quite appreciated how good going to work was for my health!
Bondgate bakery
Suggestions for eating healthily and getting more exercise into the day while working at home (and no walking to Bondgate Bakery alone doesn’t count!), or offers of free skipping ropes or gym membership, on a postcard please!

]]> 5
Snow, Snow and more Snow Mon, 02 Feb 2009 16:21:00 +0000 Marieke Guy Hey, did you know that it’s been snowing today?

Of course you did! You couldn’t avoid it with the blizzard of news items, photos and Twitter messages.

You can get snow reports via Twitter or use the #uksnow hashtag to share what’s happening in your area and plot it on a Googlemaps mash up.

The UK always goes crazy for a bit of snow and in London they shut down the tube too just to add to the chaos!

A Twitter post from Euan Semple gave an interesting ‘remote worker’ angle to the mayhem:
how much more productive will the UK be today when people can work online from home instead of being “busy” in the office?

There’s a lot in this short tweet. Firstly, Euan is sort of saying that a snowed in UK of today could manage a lot better then a snowed in UK of times past because so many of us work from home. He’s also weighing up the value of the 9-5 worker who is in the office and ‘seen to be working’ against the remote worker who is possibly more output driven and may work on a less social/different schedule.

The BBC web site actually reported that demand for broadband was up by 20% caused by people working from home. However there were also reports that the snow fall put strain on technology networks as many people accessed travel web sites, like national rail enquiries. It also effected mobile networks.

Ironically I had to travel in to the office today so didn’t have the luxury of being snowed in at home. Shame, my Snow in a Wiltshire Gardengarden looks like it’s crying out for a snowman! ;-)

]]> 1
Who's been blocking my Twitter? Thu, 29 Jan 2009 14:07:45 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve been following a thread on the LIS-BLOGGERS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK list (a discussion list for library and information services bloggers) with interest. The original posting asked about the current use of Twitter by libraries.

There have been some useful links to information about which libraries have accounts and how people are using it. However the most interesting thing for me has been an offshoot conversation about blocking of Web sites and Twitter.

One person (I won’t mention any names here) responded with a useful link and then went on to explain that this site (a blog – which sounded like a pretty useful site) along with others were blocked during core work hours. Note that the person who made the comment works for a commercial law company.

I guess at this point most of the list subscribers who work in academia took a sharp intake of breath. Blocking of sites seems alien to those of us who work in a culture of ‘learning’. However in the not to distant past there have been discussions of IT services blocking use of tools like Skype, though this tends to be more for security and bandwidth reasons. Blocking the Web seems very strange to us academics.

Tim Fletcher from Birbeck then pointed out that the blockage of such sites “leaves those of us who are trying use services such as Twitter for perfectly legitimate and appropriate purposes in a difficult position”.He goes on to say that he feels “the difficulty comes when a “social network” tool goes into the mainstream and becomes a business or service network tool and some employers or institutions are not prepared or geared up for that change. It is also a benefit of working in the HE sector and possibly we have a role in trying and testing these things so that colleagues in other sectors can show their employer or institution the benefits, assuming there are some.” Some good points here.

Although it was actually a Web site that had been blocked Phil Bradley equated this with the blocking of Twitter and explained that “it is absolute insanity to ban its use in an organizational setting.

The posts reiterate the divide in culture between the academic and the commercial sectors. However I think they also show how Web 2.0 technologies have started to bridge this divide. Twitter is now mainstream. Its business uses have been well documented and most forward thinking commercial companies already use it. Even if the bosses are not supportive of the use of certain technologies and sites it seems to me only a matter of time before they succumb. It’s not just about treating your staff as responsible workers but also recognising the current trend in communication.

In the meantime those of us who work from home can feel smug that no-one gets to block what we look at. ;-)

]]> 4
Can’t be Bothered with Motivation? Mon, 26 Jan 2009 11:00:02 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve mentioned before that I am the ‘Remote Worker Champion’ at UKOLN. (This doesn’t involve me winning medals or being good at anything, it’s just about me supporting the UKOLN remote workers). We are currently planning a one-day internal workshop tackling remote worker issues. After chatting to people it hasn’t been that surprising to discover that the number one issue they have as remote workers is motivation.

Sometimes it’s just difficult to get motivated. It’s even more difficult when:

  • You’re not sure what you are supposed to be doing at work
  • You’ve got other things that need doing and are quite straightforward (like the washing up)
  • There is no-one there to inspire you
  • There is no-one there to watch you and check you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing
  • You’re bored

no motivation
Although I don’t have the answers yet (the hope is that the workshop will help here) it is obvious that one of the main problems is not having a clear vision (sorry for the management speak).

The fact that much of my work (and other people’s, especially in academia) doesn’t have an obvious point, was initially a big shock to me. It’s taken me a while to realise that sometimes the things you do don’t make sense till later down the line, and sometimes they don’t make sense at all…. This doesn’t mean that they are pointless.

Unfortunately that doesn’t really help you feel motivated. :-(

What I’ve found helps is to make sure I have the point of what I’m doing (no matter how small or long term it is) clear in my mind. Just remember that we can’t all be doctors and nurses but what you do can make a small difference. Eight years in and I think I’m pretty good at setting my own goals and creating my own vision.

Of course if that doesn’t work…there’s always the fact that your job pays the bills. There’s no better motivator than money! ;-)

I’ll get back to you with some tips on getting motivated!

]]> 0
How Many Web 2.0 Applications?! Thu, 22 Jan 2009 15:00:11 +0000 Marieke Guy I’m still in shock after stumbling upon Feedmyapp (“a Web 2.0 Directory with the best and latest web 2.0 sites, daily update“) and seeing how many Web 2.0 applications there are now out there. Gotoweb runs a similar service.

It reminded me of the Build Your Own Web 2.0 Application Using Fluff and Hot Air blog post I read a few years back.

It’s a wonder any of us are getting any work done! I know these things are meant to help us work more efficiently, but just deciding which ones suit us could quite easily eat up your working week. It’s giving me a headache!

When I get a chance (!!) I’m planning to have a go at reclaiming some time and improving my self discipline using LeechBlock. This is a “simple productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day“.

I’ll let you know what it feels like when the leeches are removed.

]]> 3
Social TV: The Bigger Picture Mon, 19 Jan 2009 09:00:29 +0000 Marieke Guy Tony Hirst has just written a really interesting blog post on the Social Telly: The Near Future Evolution of TV User Interfaces.

Tony explains “a prototype demoed last year by the BBC and Microsoft shows how it might be possible to “share” content you are viewing with someone in your contact list, identify news stories according to location (as identified on a regional or world map), or compile your own custom way through a news story by selecting from a set of recommended packages related to a particular news piece.

He gives a lot of interesting examples of innovation in this area.

In fact there are quite a few related posts out there at the moment including:

This post hit home with me for two reasons:

Firstly, because my parents have recently bought a 42″ TV (hey, they’re old and retired and need a focus for their living room!) and passed on their big-but-not-quite-so-big TV to us. At first I was really reluctant to put this monstrosity in our relatively small room. Unfortunately while we were in the process of “trying it out” our children caught us and demanded that we keep it if we want to remain their parents. It was a fait accompli.

Secondly, because it suddenly reminded me of the whole “Internet through your television” thing that happened a few years back. It’s just brought a smile to my face remembering my colleague Brian Kelly’s enthusiasm. Those who know Brian will know that he is often to be seen at the starting line when it comes to new technologies!

Well it seems he was sort of right after all, Internet TV is back (The Wall Street Journal article ‘Internet-Ready TVs Usher Web Into Living Room‘ provides a good background read) so watch this space.

I for one will welcome the excuse to get out of my spare-bedroom-office and make the long trip downstairs to the lounge. The exercise is much needed, and the screen is bigger down there too!

]]> 0
Small Town Mentality Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:00:38 +0000 Marieke Guy Living in a small town is a relatively new thing for me. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in pretty big cities: Manchester, Liverpool, London, Prague, Bath. There have been a few stays in smaller places but I didn’t really start to feel that whole “small town community thing” till I had children.

The government has recently brought out a pamphlet entitled ‘Guidance on building a local sense of belonging‘. It is aimed at local cohesion practitioners and “suggests ways in which councils, voluntary groups and other organisations can encourage a sense of belonging”.

Apparently civic pride is powerful stuff and a sense of belonging and loyalty to your town is one of the key steps to happy living.

Mark Easton quotes Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on his UK blog:

People who feel that they belong to their local area will get involved with local schemes and initiatives, will help their neighbours, will challenge inappropriate behaviour, will welcome newcomers and help them settle. They will pull together in a crisis and join together in a celebration. All this helps to build cohesive, empowered and active communities.

This is even more important given our current financial crisis with shops going under and the move from high street shopping to out of town retailers.

Melksham Town Hall

Where I live is really important to me. I live in a small rural Wiltshire town called Melksham. You probably won’t have heard of it and it’s unlikely you’d have a reason to go there other than to visit someone. It’s a struggling town but the sense of community is still pretty strong. I am a member of Melksham Climate Friendly Group and active at the toddler group and school my children attend. I like meeting local people and am not much good at “keeping myself to myself”. ;-)

Unfortunately Melksham has relatively little local industry and few big local businesses. It’s probably what people would refer to as a satellite or dormitory town. Most people work in neighbouring cities and towns like Bath, Chippenham or Trowbridge. Working from home I am lucky enough to be able to pop into my town on a regular basis. I know quite a few of the shop-keepers and can normally say hello to a number of people on my walk in to the centre and back. This is definitely one of the benefits of being a remote worker.


If more people start to work remotely then maybe this will help smaller towns? It might bring back that sense of community that seems to be slipping. Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you have a small town mentality. Us remote workers might even like to meet up for a coffee sometime?

Any other Melksham remote workers out there?

]]> 1
Elluminating Mon, 12 Jan 2009 09:00:55 +0000 Marieke Guy I mentioned a while back that I will be presenting at an online workshop for RSC Eastern on Web 2.0. Bookings for the event have now opened and places are limited so if you are interested please register.

In preparation I had my first go at Elluminate Live on Friday. Elluminate is a real-time virtual classroom environment designed for distance education and collaboration in academic institutions and corporate training.

So here are my initial thoughts…


It’s a Java application and I was a little worried that it would be slow and clunky, especially as I tuned in using my home Broadband connection, but it wasn’t. There were a few moments when people lost connection but given that we met for almost an hour it did pretty well. There was a little time lag when I spoke and did certain things but it’s just a case of taking it slowly and checking people are with you. (A better explanation of how exactly Elluminate works is available.)

Ease of Use

Elluminate Desktop

Elluminate Desktop

It was actually really easy and intuitive to use and pretty good fun. The main areas I tried out are the chat facility, uploading ppts, the whiteboard and presenting web tours. We also had a go at sharing your desktop, though it’s unlikely I’d have to do this at the event. I didn’t get to try out the Webcam, it can be a real bandwidth hog though so probably best to avoid for a big group.

I was logged in as a moderator. Our set-up meant that participants used the chat facility most of the time but could select the microphone if they wanted. I think you can restrict use of the microphone – having too many people talk would get confusing. One suggestion was that I set up my laptop too and log in as a participant. This will allow me to see what everyone else is seeing too.


I really enjoyed the session. I think as long as people accept that it is still a pretty new way to do things and technologies can need a little bit of tweaking and time, then it can be an invaluable tool.

It is possible for the whole of the event to be recorded and shared which is really useful too. For example here is a recent event presented by Ross Gardner from OSS Watch on what open source software is. (Note this links to an actual Elluimate and you will need to download a JNLP file).

I’ll post more on Elluminate after I’ve had another go but for now, to be honest, the only complaint I had was that my headphones made my ears hurt!

]]> 3
Learning on Screen Awards 2009 Thu, 08 Jan 2009 09:00:00 +0000 Marieke Guy The British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) have just opened their call for nominations for the Learning on Screen Awards 2009.

The press release states:

The BUFVC will present a number of awards which celebrate and reward excellence in the use of moving image, sound and related media in learning, teaching and research. For further category details and information on how to enter please see the Learning on Screen Awards 2009 website. Categories this year include General Audience Education, Curriculum-Related Content, Student Production and Disability & Access Awards as well as Premier and Special Jury Awards.

Nominations need to be in by 6th February 2009 and the winners will be announced at the conference dinner at the Holiday Inn, Regent’s Park, London on the evening of 7th April 2009.

We are all ‘learning on screen’ these days. At my staff appraisal last year we talked about my staff development and it was acknowledged that one of most significant ways I can learn about subjects is by watching videos on YouTube. Who would have thought that something that for most of the public provides a way to watch drunken youngsters embarrass themselves could be such a useful learning and teaching tool!

Every time you make your resources available in another online format you are amplifying their value. I’ve mentioned this before in articles and in previous blog posts.

There are so many good resources out there these days. Have you seen David Noble’s podcast directory which offers links to hundreds of educational podcasts. Or what about some of the outputs from JISC Services portfolio? All the TV channels also offer many of their programmes online. I particularly enjoyed the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures on channel 5. (Takes technology down to my level!)

Anyway it’s a tricky choice.

]]> 0
A Few Extra Pennies… Tue, 06 Jan 2009 09:00:34 +0000 Marieke Guy When I first became a remote/home worker my mother kept going on about how I’d be able to get tax relief on certain things. I didn’t really take much notice of her until I had a free moment just before Christmas and did a little search on it. It turns out she was right (aren’t mothers always!) and home workers can get tax relief for household expenses. This includes:

  • the extra cost of gas and electricity to heat and light your work area
  • business telephone calls

As is probably the case for most home workers my work already refunds all my business calls, I just hand in a copy of my bill with the relevant bits highlighted. However I have been using quite a lot of extra heating (see my entries on Wifi Worries and On the Sunny Side of the Street) and electricity so thought I’d have a go at claiming.

The HM Revenue and Customs Web site explains that you can get either:

  • A flat rate deduction of £3.00 per week (from 2008-09) for each week that you’ve got to work at home. This doesn’t include the cost of business telephone calls.
  • A larger amount if your extra expenses are higher than £3.00 – but you’ll have to show how you’ve calculated the figure.

The flat rate can be applied for by letter and doesn’t require any extra proof (expenses forms etc.). It seemed fairly straightforward. I found out my local tax office using the online tax office locator and wrote them a letter explaining my situation and including my national insurance number, my tax code (found on my monthly pay slip) and my payroll reference number (also on my payslip).

I’ve just received a letter back from HMRC explaining that they have changed my tax code and upped my tax free allowance. I’m a little unsure of the numbers and wouldn’t mind having someone in the know explain it to me but I do seem to be getting more pennies for the pound. I have yet to see the effect on my pay packet but at the moment when every penny counts it’s surely worth the price of a stamp.

Are other remote workers claiming this?

]]> 0
Time for Telepresence Fri, 02 Jan 2009 12:00:17 +0000 Marieke Guy Telepresence…I assume most people won’t have heard of it so I’ll stick with tradition and start off with a Wikipedia definition:

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.

The defining feature of these technologies is that they are sense driven. This means that the user should be provided with lots of stimuli from the other location to make the experience as real as possible. Information ends up travelling from both directions, from the remote user to the technology and back again.

Currently my only experience of telepresence is limited to snippets from the Gadget Show (YouTube video). Recently I stumbled on a reference to it in Scott Hanselman’s blog. Scott is a Principal Program Manager for Microsoft and has been working from home for just over a year now. Scott and his team had a chance to remotely drive/beta-test a Telepresence robot from RoboDynamics, the first company to commercialise an enterprise Robotic Telepresence platform.


Scott describes the telepresence robot as:

.. pretty sweet. They’ve got a 26x Optical Zoom and pan/tilt/zoom on the camera. There’s a screen for your “head” so that folks can recognize you as you wander around. I was able to walk all over their office. The control console includes sonar and bumpers so when I got close to bumping into the fridge in their office kitchen I could “see” the distance to the fridge and avoid it.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to letting a virtual beastie into your company. Is it on the network? Which network? What access? Who is it logged in as? What if it’s stolen?

It’s obvious that there are a myriad of possible applications of these technologies. Commercial companies are already using them and further research will make them mainstream before we know it. There is further information on possible uses on the Telepresence World site.

For me the main areas of interest are:

Learning Application

Telepresence has a lot to offer education. The telepresence classroom is something you will no doubt be hearing more about in the future.

There is some useful information in the JISC Satellite pilot report, notably in the Satellite applications in education section.

Remote Working

It will be a little while before we see ‘Ronnie the robot’ in the UKOLN office or have a telepresence room but it will be great for us remote workers when we do.

As Scott puts it: “I‘d really like be able to “walk” into someone’s office. Just pop in to see if they are there. I want to get involved in hallway conversations.

A telepresence is definitely one step closer to a real presence.

]]> 3
Are Remote Workers Healthier? Wed, 31 Dec 2008 09:00:30 +0000 Marieke Guy Today is New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2008. Tomorrow morning most people will wake up with a cracking headache and possibly a few regrets from the night before. Luckily most of us don’t have to go to work. In fact with New Year’s Day falling on a Thursday many people won’t return to work till next Monday, me included!

This has got me thinking about if there is any difference between remote workers and on site workers health wise?

Many companies with telecommuting or remote working employees report one or two days less absenteeism per remote employee per year. As Zdnet points out:

“Teleworking is proven to decrease sick days, days lost to child-care emergencies and time taken for doctor appointments. Simply reducing the average employee absentee rate by one day a year can mean adding one or two points to a company’s profit margin, according to studies released by CIGNA corporation.”

It’s true that I am more likely to carry on working now that I work from home. I don’t have to drag myself into the office, nobody can see how red my nose is and I won’t be spreading my germs about. I’m also less stressed so probably stay fitter longer. That said I do sometimes feel isolated and probably don’t take enough breaks which might not be great for my mental health. I’m also not sure my eating habits are that great (see Top 10 Remote Worker Lunches). Definitely some room for improvement…. Will being healthier be on your New Year’s Resolutions list? have provided a useful guide to staying healthy at work. Their top tips are:

  1. Wash Your Hands. Often.
  2. Keep your workspace clean.
  3. Eat balanced meals every day – including breakfast!
  4. Avoid coworkers who are sick.
  5. Drink AT LEAST 8 glasses of water a day.
  6. Take frequent breaks throughout the day.
  7. Use your vacation days.
  8. Quit smoking.

I’m going to have a go at number 7 and enjoy the last few days of the holiday!

Happy New Year!!

]]> 2
Have a Very Merry Christmas Tue, 23 Dec 2008 09:00:38 +0000 Marieke Guy By now most of you will be off indulging in festive cheer. The great thing about scheduling blog posts is that I am too!!

Anyway I just wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks to you for reading my blog – who ever you are!

Here are a few festive snaps for you to enjoy…

Longford Road Lights in Melksham

Longfords Road Lights in Melksham

If there is one thing Melksham (the town where I live) does well it’s Christmas lights. Longford Road is just round the corner from me and has even been listed in the Telegraph’s top 10 places to see christmas lights. The residents spend a fortune on buying and maintaining lights and heavens only knows what their electricity bill must be! Despite my reservations on the environmental front they raise a lot of money for charity so well done them!

More lights

Marieke Guy and family

Here’s one of my lovely family. Aren’t I lucky!

Enjoy your Christmas and make sure you spend at least a few hours of the day off your computers! ;-)

]]> 3
Top 10 Remote Worker Lunches Wed, 17 Dec 2008 09:00:44 +0000 Marieke Guy Last week I posted on Twitter that I’d hit all time low and eaten a pot noodle for lunch. A fellow Twitterer commented that I hadn’t mentioned this in my articles on the benefits of home working. This got me thinking….

Today is UKOLN’s Christmas Lunch and I’m hoping to catch up with all our remote workers who are dropping in specially. With the holidays in sight and New Year not far round the corner I thought it was maybe time for my ‘top 10 lunches as a Remote Worker’ list. Enjoy…

  1. Cold Pasta – Cover with cheese and put in the microwave for 1 minute.
  2. No lunch today – Child sent home from nursery ill, usual stuff, nursery says “your child is ill, you’ll have to take him home before some other child catches it”, I think “well he wasn’t ill when I left him, he must have caught it off of one of the other children, in fact one of the children that he has to keep away from in case they catch his illness!
  3. Cold brussell sprouts, cabbage and leeks – Veg box overload. Good job I work alone!
  4. leek1

  5. No lunch today– just Hot-mail, Facebook fruit and BBCi Player sandwiches.
  6. Pasty from the bakers in town – Does anyone know that it’s actually my lunch break or do they think I’m a unemployed couch potato who has made it into town? Maybe they think I’m a student? Erm…perhaps that’s being a bit optimistic….
  7. 8 biscuits, 2 lumps of cheese, 3 yoghurts and a bag of kettle crisps – This wasn’t so much a lunch as an activity for my mouth. I made up for the calories by the frequent trips to the fridge (14 in total).
  8. 6 cups of coffee – nuff said…
  9. Quiche and salad – Went out for lunch with a friend. They brought their kids with them. Now having work life ruined by annoying children as well as home life. Joke!!
  10. Sandwiches – Why is it only the doorstep end bits are left? In fact does bread without butter or filling constitute a sandwich? Chewing on office furniture more appealing.
  11. Very quick soup so I have time for the laundry, unloading the dishwasher, sewing up the holes in children’s clothes and sorting out the recycling. Husband thinks that all these jobs are done by the tooth fairy.

I know it is all wrong, wrong, wrong so here is some Advice for Grumpy Home Workers from an expert on what you should really be doing.

]]> 3
The Limitations of Broadband Mon, 15 Dec 2008 10:26:13 +0000 Marieke Guy As Virgin Media unveil their 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) domestic broadband service today the papers are also reporting on the fact that many UK customers have exceeded or come close to exceeding their broadband usage limit. This is based on a report by consumer group uSwitch.

The report reveals that many users do know actually know their limit and wrongfully believe that their unlimited service means just that.

I’ve mentioned issues with unlimited use before.

Interestingly, I recently conducted an internal survey here at UKOLN on Broadband use that also shows what a confusing area this can be, even for those who would be classified as ‘fairly technical people’! Confusion aside the survey indicated that most people who do a significant amount of work from home use a speed of 8mb +; and almost all have unlimited downloads.

I think here at UKOLN we feel that it would be good to offer more support for staff when choosing a broadband provider. At the moment we are still unclear what form this would take as our remote workers are scattered around the country and everyone has their own requirements.

Maybe we could come up with some tips or pointers to good resources.

Any thoughts?

]]> 1
Seasons Tweetings Wed, 10 Dec 2008 14:46:12 +0000 Marieke Guy I previously mentioned on Ramblings.. that despite having a go I was Still Not Getting Twitter.

I have to admit to being surprised at the response. Friends, colleagues and blog readers who use Twitter (successfully) really went out of their way to convince me (both online and off) that it’s worth investing time in.

Most people told me why they used it and what they got out of it:

I have a very concentrated almost live-news summary of what’s happening in the various sectors I’m involved in a way of listening in on other people’s streams-of-consciousness

I really like the feeling of community chat: seeing people I know sending @messages to other people I know is somehow very satisfying and somehow reinforces my online social network..

(From blog comments)

Fewer people answered my concerns about not having enough to say, the time to update or read messages.

That said I have had a few tools tipped in my direction that could possibly help, so for those not so in the know here they are.

Updating Messages



A very simple way to send the RSS feed of your blog to Twitter. This means I send a tweet every few days without even having to think about it!

Facebook Twitter Application

This allows you to update Facebook from Twitter. I can’t work out how to do it the other way round though without having programming skills and your own server (if anyone knows let me know). As my colleague Paul Walk put it “it’s almost as though Facebook is a bit of a walled garden….”. I take it this is why developers aren’t so keen on Facebook. Twitter on the other hand is king of the APIs!

Reading Messages


TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that allows you to organise your tweets. You can sort them, group them and even search live tweet information.

A great way to filter out what is useful and relevant to you.

My colleague Brian Kelly has just written a blog post exploring the usefulness of Tweetdeck to our current project work.

A few other Twitter tools I’ve stumbled on include

  • Twist: tracks trend in terms used
  • Tweetscan: a Twitter search engine
  • I’ve also recently started using Yammer, which is an enterprise version of Twitter, for keeping track of what I’m working on.

It seems there is no escaping the tweeting….

]]> 2
Make Way for Webinars Fri, 05 Dec 2008 10:09:36 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve been invited to present at an online event for JISC Regional Support Centre Eastern.
The webinar will be on Web 2.0 and will run in February, I’ll keep you posted on times and dates.

For those who haven’t heard this term before Wikipedia describes a webinar as:

..a neologism to describe a specific type of web conference. It is typically one-way,from the speaker to the audience with limited audience interaction, such as in a webcast. A webinar can be collaborative and include polling and question & answer sessions to allow full participation between the audience and the presenter. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, pointing out information being presented on screen and the audience can respond over their own telephones, preferably a speaker phone. There are web conferencing technologies on the market that have incorporated the use of VoIP audio technology, to allow for a truly web-based communication. Webinars may (depending upon the provider) provide hidden or anonymous participant functionality, enabling participants to be unaware of other participants in the same meeting.

Although I touched on the area of Virtual Meetings and Conferences in my Ariadne article (Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers) this will be my first online presentation! Naturally delivery of workshops or lectures over the Web has great potential for remote workers so I’m really happy to be involved.

The JISC Regional Support Centres have given a number of webinars in the past and two are discussed on the Intute blog as part of their webinar trials.

They list some of the pros and cons of hosting an online event. It seems the events went well but Emma Place and the Intute team conclude that they need to “work on their online presentation skills and develop sessions that are more suited to the medium“. This is something that I am very conscious of and I hope to do a few practice runs before the big day.

The Intute post also briefly mentions the technologies used for the webinars (Gotomeeting and DimDim). The RSC Eastern event will use Elluminate). I intend to write a future post on different software in this area when I’ve a little more experience.

]]> 3
Still Not Getting Twitter Mon, 01 Dec 2008 16:38:48 +0000 Marieke Guy I’m currently working on a fairly technical project (Good APIs) so last week under went some ‘geek’ immersion therapy by attending both the CETIS conference and Mashed Library. Both great events.

At both events everyone seemed to be using Twitter. Twitter for notification about the event, Twitter hashtags for live blogging and Twitter for chatting about the event (before, during and after). I’ve seen it before at other events but this time I started to feel a little left out…

For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter it is:

a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

As someone recently explained to me: every tweet is a bit like a haiku! What a creative bunch the Twitterers are! ;-)

For those more familiar with Facebook it is like the updates bit on its own, you ‘follow’ people and they can ‘follow’ you back.

I had a go at writing a few tweets during the events but previous to this my last tweet was 7 months ago. As one colleague put it:

intrigued by @mariekeguy tweet pattern… “back to watching the Gadget show” on Apr 28th, then nothing until 5 hours ago! hell of a show!

Oh dear…

When it comes to Twitter I’m just another one of those people who “doesn’t get it…”

I think the main reasons for this are:

  • I spend a lot of time offline and I have a pay-as-you-go phone (OK embarrassing but true – 3 small children cost money to keep) so I don’t want to do updates via my phone.
  • I like the status updates on Facebook because you can do them every couple of days and it doesn’t seem odd, but with Twitter you feel like you have to update it a lot. People have compared it to an open chat forum; I just think I’d never have enough to say. One blog describes Twitter as “a weird animal that seemingly only exists to feed one’s ego” (though you could say the same about blogs…). Perhaps I don’t have the ego?
  • Twitter isn’t mainstream yet so a lot of the people I know don’t use it…I’m not sure if this is a proper excuse…
  • I’m not very good at having to restrict what I have to say. I’d probably go for an email or skype chat to fill in the detail.
  • I don’t seem to have the time (or the inclination) to get my head round how you use it. What’s are @replies and nudges anyway?
  • I think it is mainly work people who use Twitter but still the work/home boundaries can get very blurred. Last week on Facebook updates I put that I was off to the CETIS conference and a couple of my friends mentioned extraterrestrial life (they obviously thought I was going to a SETI conference!). I’d be concerned about scaring friends with work information and boring colleagues with home information!

That said I’m concerned that I’m going to miss out. Those who are into Twitter seem to be first with the news and first on the scene. My colleagues rave about it (Brian Kelly – UK Web Focus , Paul Walk, eFoundations)) and I keep thinking maybe I should just persevere.

And then I get distracted by something that can’t be described in 140 characters….

Any advice?

]]> 6
Making your Slides All Things to All People Tue, 25 Nov 2008 09:00:01 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve just run a presentation ‘Think Tank’ at work. This was a very informal brainstorming session where we could talk about how my organisation, UKOLN, can progress with its approach to presentations.

We discussed our current thoughts on UKOLN presentations, what we liked about other presentations and how this could be applied to our own presentations bearing in mind things like layout, content, colour, animation, branding, fonts, images etc.

The session went well and there was lots of useful discussion.

One predicament that came up was how much information should you put in a presentation? (Should you fill it with data or keep it minimalist? What exactly should a presentation do? Should it stand alone as a resource or only work when presented by a presenter?)

Today, especially in academia where sharing of knowledge is the goal, presentations are increasingly being made available and used after an event has taken place. There is a fashion for ‘amplified conferences’, whereby the outputs (such as plenary talks) can be amplified through use of a variety of network tools and collateral communications and services like Slideshare have made this ‘sharing’ even easier. Even if slides aren’t going online they often end up in conference proceedings.

Remote workers frequently come to slides after they’ve already been presented. For example here at UKOLN this happens a lot with our internal staff seminars.

So what do you do? Your slides now need to be all things to all people.

Having given it some thought there are a number of options:

  • One approach might be to add extra information to the ‘notes’ section in PowerPoint. This could then help those coming to the slides after the event. This information can also be captured by Slideshare.
  • Another might be to create a document to accompany any presentation. In his book Presentation Zen Garr Reynolds feels that most people currently produce what he calls a slideument (slides + document) which in reality doesn’t work. He suggests it would be better to create two separate documents: a slide presentation and a written document that sits alongside it. This is an approach that my team leader and I have been experimenting with through the use of introbytes or briefing papers that we hand out at events (instead of print outs of slides!)
  • You could also try creating two sets of slides. One for use on the stage and another for uploading to a Web site before or after the conference. This will allow you have simpler slides and possibly more of them for on stage and less ‘more information based’ slides for other use. These could be in a more controllable format like PDF. You’ll also feel better about editing your live slides at the very last minute as they are a ‘different set’.

Are there any other ways we could deal with this catch 22 situation?

]]> 0
Wifi Worries Mon, 24 Nov 2008 09:00:54 +0000 Marieke Guy After much deliberating my husband has finally allowed me to set up wireless at home. (I’m not under the thumb honest….I let him make all the technology decisions…it’s his little treat!)

Probably the main reason he has let me do it is to save on heating costs. The plan is that when it’s really cold I’ll work in the warmer south facing rooms. I’m not quite sure if the savings will be substantial (at the moment I have a PC and a laptop plugged in so am using more electricity) but in the summer I’ll be able to get outside to work which will be great.

So what’s it like then? Well although it is great here are a few not so great observations I’ve made in the past hour:

Security Issues

I’m a little concerned about security. My feeling is that I’m not as secure as I would be if I were working from my desk (albeit in the same house) or my office. You need to log on to the wireless connection but is that enough? Badly secured wireless connections mean any one can use the account. To access the University network I use Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that’s one step in the right direction. I’m going to take my laptop in to the office on Monday and make sure that all my security software is up to date.

The Demon blog suggests issuing a simple set of ‘do’s and don’ts of remote working. This makes sense. Although we have a number of policies relating to the contractual elements of remote working we don’t have much user focused information. I think I’ll suggest this to my IT services team.

Connection Issues

The connection is definitely a lot flakier. It takes me longer to open messages and view pages on the Internet. If I wanted to download anything I think I’d go upstairs to do it.

Health issues

What about health? Some people have claimed that the electro-magnetic waves are dangerous, especially for children. I tend to turn everything off when I’m not using the PC, including the router/broadband connection. Does this sort out the problem?

Ho hum…

On my lunchtime walk into town I noticed that a nearby pub (The Tavern) is having a refurbishment and announces that it will be offering coffee and free wifi when it reopens next week. I live in a pretty small town so this is exciting stuff. I guess there will be even more issues working from there, but I’m looking forward to checking it out!

]]> 0
Behind every Cloud is another Cloud Tue, 18 Nov 2008 09:00:50 +0000 Marieke Guy There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about cloud computing, an umbrella term used to refer to Internet based development and services. The cloud is a metaphor for the Internet. My colleague Paul Walk has identified a number of characteristics define cloud data, applications services and infrastructure in his recent blog post Any any any old data:

  • Remotely hosted – Services or data are hosted on someone else’s infrastructure.
  • Ubiquitous – Services or data are available from anywhere.
  • Commodified – The result is a utility computing model similar to traditional that of traditional utilities, like gas and electricity. You pay for what you would like.

At the moment use of the cloud provides a number of opportunities:

  • Cloud computing works using economies of scale. It lowers the outlay expense for start up companies, as they would no longer need to buy their own software or servers. Cost would be by on-demand pricing. Vendors and Service providers claim costs by establishing an ongoing revenue stream.
  • Data and services are stored remotely but accessible from ‘anywhere’.
  • It enables services to be used without any understanding of their infrastructure. They are supported remotely.

The last point in particular could have significant effect on us remote workers.

At the moment if you work from home it is difficult to get the type of IT support that you would get in the office. This is something I touch in in my recent Ariadne article. If we begin to rely more on services that are hosted in the cloud this will mean that in theory we will need to rely less on our on-site IT services team. In a way everyone will become remote workers and support will be dished out in the same way – from the Internet.

In parallel there has been significant backlash against cloud computing:

  • Use of cloud computing means dependence on others and that could possibly limit flexibility and innovation. The ‘others’ are likely become the bigger Internet companies like Google and IBM who may monopolise the market. Some argue that this use of supercomputers is a return to the time of mainframe computing that the PC was a reaction against.
  • Security could prove to be a big issue. It is still unclear how safe outsourced data is and when using these services ownership of data is not always clear.
  • There are also issues relating to policy and access. If your data is stored abroad whose FOI policy do you adhere to? What happens if the remote server goes down? How will you then access files? There have been cases of users being locked out of accounts and loosing all access to data.

I suppose at this stage it might make sense for us not to put all our eggs in one basket so to speak. My colleague Brian Kelly has offered some thoughts on his blog on what outsourced services might actually work in the cloud.

So what do you think? Do those behind it have their heads in the clouds?

]]> 2
Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers Sun, 16 Nov 2008 09:00:40 +0000 Marieke Guy ariadne

I have just had an article published in the latest edition of Ariadne. The article looks at the technologies that support remote working, from broadband to Web 2.0 social networking tools. It covers:

  • What Do Home Workers Want?
  • Connecting – Broadband, Virtual Private Network, Wireless
  • Communication Technologies – E-mail, Telephony, Voice over Internet Protocol, Virtual Meetings, Online Chat, File Transfer, Blogs
  • Collaboration Technologies – Wikis, Shared Applications, Project Management
  • Social Networking
  • Technical Support – Security Technologies
  • Case Studies
  • Putting It All Together

It is an introductory piece, so if you are interested in any particular areas you will need to delve deeper, or follow the blog, but hopefully it will offer a starter for 10 for people who have just become, or are thinking about becoming, remote workers.

]]> 2
Who's the Bestest Broadband Broker? Thu, 13 Nov 2008 09:00:34 +0000 Marieke Guy This week the Gadget show looked into the best broadband deals.

They tested each provider for speed and download limit. Much to my husband’s delight our current provider Zen came top for customer service, they’ve also recently won the Which award for the best Broadband provider.

O2 won the title of best all round deal, being both cheap and fast. Sky also came highly recommended.

Deciding on the best broadband supplier for your area can be difficult, but broadband finders such as and broadband finder will allow users to search for broadband providers using their own specifications. Many will assess what type of usage allowance you will need (light, medium or heavy) based on your Internet usage activity and the speed of access you require. The Gadget show also recommend Simplify Digital, as you can actually speak to a real person on the phone! Limits on broadband range from 1Gb a month to 30Gb or unlimited use.

Unlimited use is an interesting one. The Gadget show are currently running a campaign attempting to stop some of the UK’s Internet Service Providers advertising their broadband services as having unlimited downloads. Many put a block on users who have over excessive use. The Consumer Choices blog provide a good explanation of the issues.

]]> 1
Blurred Boundaries Mon, 10 Nov 2008 09:00:09 +0000 Marieke Guy The update of some internal work policies led to me reading one on Home use of equipment. I was surprised to see that the policy states:

Equipment purchased or leased made available to an individual member of staff for use at home should be used solely in connection with work. There should be no personal use of such equipment.

This policy was written in 2000 and in line for updating. I’m sure management would be very reluctant to enforce it. However it got me thinking about the blurred boundaries between work and play for remote workers and the sticky predicament it could put people in.

A few thoughts:

  • I can hardly swing a cat in the room I use for work, let alone squeeze another PC in it!!
  • Sometimes I log on to do something for home but get sidetracked into doing something for work.
  • Having two PCs set up for home and personal use would be time consuming to maintain – I use Skype for work and to contact my parents-in-law, I’d have to have it set up on both machines
  • I often use my own digital camera and mobile phone for work use, is this OK?
  • I use my own phone for work and often get calls out of hours and on my days off because I use my home number
  • I use many applications for work and home use (e.g. Facebook), should I be doing this? Should I have two user names?
  • What about work out of hours? What about my lunch break – am I allowed to do my online banking then?

I want to maintain work/home boundaries but it is tricky (the issue of when to switch off is something I’ve discussed before). The boundaries are blurred and the rise of ubiquitous computing is only going to make them more so. I am a responsible person who knows where to draw the line (for example if I want an external hard drive to store family photos on I buy it myself, work only pays for stuff I need for work).

I think organisational policies are going to have to be pragmatic and move with the times. No matter how hard we try there are points when…
work = play
play = work.

What do people think?

]]> 4
What Kind of a Person Blogs? Tue, 04 Nov 2008 21:21:52 +0000 Marieke Guy ….apparently a neurotic one according to the latest research. Oh sorry, that only applies to females…great.

Researchers from the British Psychological Society asked 300 hundred students about their blogging habits and asked them to complete the Big Five Personality Inventory.

Around 20 per cent of the students blogged, mostly about their personal experiences. Among female students only, those who scored highly on neuroticism (i.e. anxious, insecure characters) were more likely to blog. This is consistent with work on internet usage that also found an association with neurotic personality types, but only among women. The researchers surmised that nervous women may blog to “assuage loneliness or in an attempt to reach out and form social connections with others.”

Funny how that research makes me feel a little anxious…

]]> 0
Quantum of Solitude Fri, 31 Oct 2008 10:39:19 +0000 Marieke Guy 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!

]]> 1
A Word about Wordle? Wed, 29 Oct 2008 12:20:47 +0000 Marieke Guy 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.

]]> 0
Quick Response Time Mon, 27 Oct 2008 10:38:57 +0000 Marieke Guy 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?

]]> 0
Time Management Fri, 24 Oct 2008 13:37:56 +0000 Marieke Guy 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!

]]> 1
Flexible Work Changes May be Delayed Tue, 21 Oct 2008 09:00:20 +0000 Marieke Guy 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….

]]> 0
The Art of Conversation Mon, 20 Oct 2008 08:46:23 +0000 Marieke Guy 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!

]]> 1
Will the Police be able to Hear Your Calls? Fri, 17 Oct 2008 10:42:27 +0000 Marieke Guy 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…

]]> 1
Time to Switch Off? Wed, 15 Oct 2008 20:32:29 +0000 Marieke Guy 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?

]]> 0
The Credit Crunch and Remote Working Mon, 13 Oct 2008 09:21:11 +0000 Marieke Guy 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!

]]> 1
On the Sunny Side of the Street Fri, 03 Oct 2008 14:21:37 +0000 Marieke Guy 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.

]]> 0
Using Video Clips Mon, 29 Sep 2008 12:52:51 +0000 Marieke Guy I’ve had a go at creating my first videoblog post. The post discusses ways in which video clips can be used to support remote working (I went for something fairly generic as a first attempt). Anyway here is the post on Seesmic:

At moment I can’t figure out how to embed the Seesmic video into WordPress, although I’ve done it before on the Institutional Web Management Workshop web site. There’s also a time delay problem that I didn’t have in my original WPV file (the uploaded file is an AVI file converted using STOIK. Oh well, I can only get better at this stuff….

In the post I mention a few video services that are worth having a look at:

I also talk about a workshop I’m running with a colleague, Ann Chapman – Using Blogs Effectively Within Your Library
to be held at the ILI 2008 conference at the Novotel London West, London on 15th October 2008.

]]> 1
All the Fun of a Phone Conference Mon, 22 Sep 2008 08:15:53 +0000 Marieke Guy I am the remote worker champion at UKOLN. This is quite a grandiose title for something pretty down-to-earth. Basically I represent the remote workers whenever they could do with representation: at meetings, when dealing with management, when dealing with systems support.

At the moment I’m looking into technological improvements that could be made to help remote workers feel more included.

We have ‘breakfast meetings’ once a month where everyone who is about meets up and reports to the rest of the staff on their current work activities. Currently remote workers get to sit on the end of a polycom soundstation premier conference phone and listen in. There is a lack of visual cues and quite often the meeting drags on for ages.

I found this photo of a Conference Phone cake. The strangest thing is that the caption says "Juha made us a conference-phone-cake again!" like it happens every year!

I found this photo of a Conference Phone cake on Flickr. The strangest thing is that the caption says Juha made us a conference-phone-cake again! like it happens every year!

Although there are definitely technical things that could improve the experience chatting with my fellow remote workers has helped me come up with a quick list of activities that could improve the meetings no end.

  1. It’s essential that remote workers are sent copies of the minutes and any slides in advance of the meeting.
  2. A remote worker representative needs to be nominated at the start of the meeting, they will represent remote workers and ensure that they are being supported.
  3. Everyone should make sure that they introduce themselves at the start of the meeting, and remember to pass the mike around.
  4. After this all remote workers need to confirm that speakers are audible.
  5. People need to wait till they have the microphone before they speak. It might also be helpful to introduce themselves again if people don’t know each other that well.
  6. Remote workers should be given ample opportunity to interject e.g. “Does anyone at home have anything to add?”
  7. The meeting could be supported by other communication mechanisms such as chat or a share a common whiteboard, this gives remote workers a chance to make comments when appropriate e.g. “Could you make sure that the mike gets passed on”.
  8. Keep meetings to under 1 hour 30 minutes (preferably less) as maintaining attention without any visual stimulus can be difficult

Does anyone else have any suggestions?

I think the main thing is just getting people to appreciate how tough it is to listen in and to just spare a thought…

]]> 0
The Balancing Act Fri, 19 Sep 2008 08:49:51 +0000 Marieke Guy I became a remote worker in April 2008 when I returned to work after my third lot of maternity leave (yes, they love me at work!). My oldest daughter had just started school and trying to get into Bath for 9am (we live about 40 minutes away) after an 8.45 drop off was just not possible. I was going to be late every day. UKOLN already have a number of remote workers (in Yorkshire, London, Edinburgh, Manchester…) so it seemed like a possible option. Our admin manager mentioned that I could put in a request under the University’s Parents and Carers Flexible Working Policy to work primarily from home. This was fairly straightforward and accepted straight away.

There are a lot of benefits to working somewhere other than your office, but at the same time there are downsides. I tried to list the main ones in an article I wrote for Ariadne web Magazine entitled A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working. These pros and cons apply to both employee and employer. While at times you might feel like your organisation are being extremely generous allowing you to work remotely it is worth remembering that there is a lot in it for them too. Remote worker guilt is something I mention in the article and something I’m hoping this blog will help ease a little!

]]> 0
Welcome to Ramblings of a Remote Worker Wed, 17 Sep 2008 09:12:45 +0000 Marieke Guy Although I’ve contributed to blogs (primarily the JISC-PoWR blog) this is my first go at writing and maintaining a blog on my own! Being the shy, retiring type…sharing my innermost thoughts online doesn’t really appeal. However since I started to work from home I’ve felt that I need some outlet for my thoughts and refelctions on issues related to ‘being out of the office’. I also think that many of the feelings/insights I’ve had may benefit others. So here it is…my new blog, Ramblings of a Remote Worker. I’ll try to keep my posts on topic and useful but there’s no guarantees! If you have any relevant ramblings please do share.

Marieke Guy, UKOLN

]]> 0