/ Technology

Are you working from home? My experience so far

I’ve just signed off Which? Computing as we get used to the new normal of working from home. Is it working for you? How are you coping?

Photo credit: Kate Bevan/Daphne

We’ve just sent the June edition of Which? Computing to press. That’s a joint effort I’m always proud of, but today I’m even more proud of the team that creates the magazine than usual, as this issue has been produced under the strangest and most trying conditions I think I’ve ever had to work under.

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I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, and I’ve worked on some of the biggest stories of the past few decades.

I have vivid memories from the late 80s of being at the scene of big stories having to queue up at a phone box to arrange dispatch riders to come and pick up videotapes (remember those?) to get to a local feed point so that the pictures could be on the evening news.

I was running the front page of the Evening Echo in Bournemouth the day the Berlin Wall came down: we were sending galleys of type out to the compositors on the ‘stone’ right up to the last minute for each edition before the presses in the basement started thundering.

I’ve worked on general elections, Budgets and Gulf wars: I was in the FT’s newsroom for the first Gulf war, where we worked through the night and then stumbled, punch-drunk, out into the early morning sunshine to a nearby market pub to toast our effort.

Challenging times

Despite all those experiences, I don’t think I’ve ever worked to produce a publication in such challenging times as getting this edition of Computing away.

We had just started working on it when lockdown was imposed, and so instead of being based in the busy Which? office, with production editors, graphic designers and reporters just a few steps away, I’ve been at home with my only companion my cat – who is not the most helpful co-worker and who is rather too keen to sleep on the job. 

All our meetings have been taking place via Google Meet. That has taken some bedding in as we worked out how to join meetings and where to place our laptops so that domestic detritus such as drying laundry isn’t too visible.

Meetings have been interrupted by children and pets, and it’s been surprisingly heartwarming to see glimpses of my colleagues’ homes and lives. 

I’ve also had to learn how to make content with our video team from home:

We’ve been experimenting between my work laptop – a Dell that has the webcam at the bottom of the screen and thus has to be propped up high – and my personal laptop, which produces higher-quality video and only needs to be propped up on one box.

That has stood me in good stead for a raft of broadcast interviews I did talking about subjects from how to spot coronavirus-related scams to using Zoom and Houseparty safely.

Pulling together under pressure

The technology I’ve been using most at home is still good old-fashioned email.

Emails to Computing’s production editor, Joanna Bregosz; to art director Neil Earp, to the sub-editors who wrangle and finesse the words I’ve commissioned from Which? writers and freelancers; to the Tech Support team who help our Computing members and who make a huge contribution to the magazine. 

Everything has taken longer, but I’m particularly proud of this issue, which includes a guide to video-calling, an investigation into how botnets take over insecure routers and webcams, a comprehensive look at the Windows 10 spring update and how to get ready for that, and a long read on fake news.

We’ve also got test results on routers and broadband providers: in short, it’s a magazine that showcases how brilliantly the professional and (largely) unflappable Which? teams pull together under pressure. 

What technology have you been using to keep in touch with your family and friends? If you’re working from home, what have you had to get to grips with?

From technology to managing pets and family, let me know in the comments. 

Comments

As a writer I’ve always worked mainly from home, but this is different, since the former mode was a choice. It’s quite interesting the way almost the entire world has changed in such a relatively short time.

Still, the garden has never looked so good…

You make a convincing case for us to subscribe and while your article may be seen as an extended advertisement, I do congratulate you on your effort and perspicacity. I think you deserve to be proud and I don’t blame you for wanting us to know.
For me, I constantly come up against communication problems. The humble e, mail just works every time, but try and send a video down it or a musical wave file and it tells you to “get lost”. The alternatives then become something of a lottery. Do others have the same apps installed? Are they safe? Do they need an account and possible subscription? I deliberately keep my social profile low. Writing here is probably the only parapet I peer over. So, when asked to perform for my local band as part of a combined video, I turned on my lap top camera, used an inbuilt app and found a blank wall to stand against. On completion. I turned the camera back off again in the settings and latched on to the compositors drop box to send the result of 121 MBS of bandwidth. If that had not been available I could not have done the recording and sent it. I read and note the comments about various social media and how they can be compromised. The lower my profile the less hackers, scammers and other low life are going to know about me and the less time it takes to keep track of it all. Answering e. mails and writing here is time consuming enough. So, I’m probably not that communication literate but people know that, and if they want to chat they know there’s a phone line or e. mail to do it on. I’ve got Skype installed but not Zoom. Since my need to communicate is only personal, I don’t feel deprived. Photos and text can be sent and received and they are not accidently -or deliberately – shared with the world at large.

I am not so sure as many seem to be that working from home is going to become institutionalised, well not overnight anyway.

While it is reasonable to assume that executives and well-paid professionals will have adequate home accommodation to set aside for office work and will be reasonably well-equipped with technology, that cannot be assumed for the majority of the population. Even if their employer was prepared to supply some furniture and equipment many homes just do not have the space, and I would say that perching on the dining table or on one of those ledge-type ‘home office’ kits is not sustainable for the long-term. Even working at home for just one day a week can be disruptive for other family members or occupants.

I would question whether productivity can be maintained under such conditions; if not then the employee will tend to work longer hours or get more stressed as they try to achieve as much as they could at work. The bandwidth of their day will tend to expand to consume the time saved by not having to travel to work, and the frustration of not being able to see whether the colleague they need to talk to is available, thus having to make multiple attempts to phone them, must build up pressure stresses. Then there’s the whole business of photocopying, stationery, team working, work routines in a domestic environment, cost of calls, broadband charges, energy costs, and so on. It’s become quite apparent that Which? cannot service Conversation as easily and conveniently under the lockdown conditions. It might be alright temporarily but a prolonged absence will start to create further difficulties.

Only a minority of employment is office work but it seems to take centre stage, possibly because it is associated with commuting, that expensive and time-consuming activity that adds little value or quality to life but dominates much of the thinking about work. There are so many occupations which require little commuting it amazes me that anyone chooses to work in a remote office in a crowded and dirty city; perhaps the balance of values needs to be inverted so that office work is actually the least remunerative [which it probably is when the cost of commuting and wasted time are taken into account].

There is no certainty that personal relationships would be any more secure if the romantic hazards of office life were replaced by domestic confinement. I think the social dimension is the main thing for many people that makes working away from home attractive.

Hey John, which aspects of Which? Conversation do you think aren’t as well serviced due to lockdown conditions, out of interest? We’re obviously busier than ever with comments and having to put a bit of resource into other platforms (e.g. Grace is spending more time on social media than here), but otherwise we’re actually publishing more articles, featuring more guests and starting new topics here than in years!

Thanks George – I wasn’t criticising, just noting an inevitable shift in resources.

I agree that there has been a lot more material provided and updating done, but, compared with the handling of the Thomas Cook collapse for example, there has been very little response to consumers’ queries on practical matters. This is no doubt unavoidable.

I appreciate that there is a wealth of guidance, Q&A’s and other content within the background material that probably provides the answer to every question, and the Conversations themselves often contain lots of information supplied by other readers, but these sources do not seem to be accessible enough to people who have a problem and are looking for a solution.

Some of the new Conversations have actually set up more opportunities for people to raise issues than the team can actually cope with thus compounding the apparent lack of support.

I have to say that the legal team have made more contributions lately and that is greatly to be welcomed because some queries are outside the experience or knowledge of lay readers.

Overall, I do think Which? needs to be more cautious over floating ‘volume’ topics when the organisation is working under more difficult conditions. For example, the 10-point plan for restoring trust in the travel trade rolled over and sunk without trace under the tidal wave of comments and questions it provoked.

Apart from that I think you are doing a great job and this site is obviously providing satisfaction and good service to a large number of people who, if infection, isolation, and job insecurity were not enough, are getting the rough end of the stick from travel and holiday companies, supermarkets, and the government.

Thanks John, appreciate the kind words. Indeed the issues there are ones we’ve been dealing with for quite a while in terms of resource/trying to get questions answered. It’s a difficult one and we’ve been asking if we can find extra support to lend us a hand! I too am glad we’ve been able to get the Legal team involved. I can assure you though that we’d have those problems even if we were in the office – if anything I’ve been really impressed with how everything has continued from home as normal across here and other parts of the org. In my two years working full time on Which? Conversation I can tell you that I’ve never had so much content to write/edit/publish!

Phil says:
9 May 2020

Generally Which? Conversation needs to replace the university safe space moderators with people who have more experience of life and don’t go crying to mummy whenever anyone types in a trigger word.

Not expecting this post to survive censorship for very long.

I’m not sure I can see any benefits from that. After all, Which? is already present on other social media platforms…

I took early retirement in 2011 but unable to get involved with a couple of charities I’ve been working on the house and garden. I’m so exhausted that I wish I was back at work.

I have done plenty of home working over the years. Living on my own, there was no interruption and I was able to concentrate on the really tedious jobs such as marking exam scripts, writing grant applications or articles and reading, reading, reading. If I was in my office in the university, people would call in or some sales rep would ring, or there would be some other distraction. I could be much more productive at home. Latterly, my work involved supporting a large number of students and much of this could be done online using a VLE. Rather than answering lots of emails asking the same questions I could deal with questions online. That only requires a computer that is online, so can be done at home. One of the reasons that I became a regular visitor to Which? Convo is that I enjoy the discussions on consumer issues.

I see that Kate has a cat on her keyboard, and that could be distracting. I just had a mouse.

If I know @katebevan I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a dummy keyboard just to distract the cat. 😉

Karrie says:
7 May 2020

I’m just researching which new printer to buy, that is after having bought two new desks and a new office chair (which was a poor choice)
I enjoy working from home, but with 3 of us on calls, all needing not to be overheard, it can be challenging.
I work for the NHS and there is no help to buy equipment. I don’t expect there to be, but I do find it difficult to understand how MPs are given £10k to set up at home.