Home Work

Home working is such a brilliant thing, isn’t it? I am blessed to have a home-based contract, which means that I have the shortest commute to work known to humankind. I struggle from the kitchen to the office, mug in hand, surrounded by hordes of no one and log in to my computer. Outside January has arrived in force and snow is beginning to pile up on the ground, with the promise of blizzards by Friday.

I wasn’t always sure that I liked the idea of home working, but today I am going to tell you what it is like, and why it suits me.

I was supposed to go to Head Office today, but cancelled. We are doing on-line meetings instead (it’s a fancy, high-tech name for a telephone call, in some cases). I am so grateful, and hesitate to rub your noses in it, but thought I would anyway.

There are probably plenty of articles about the pros and cons of home based working, referring to social isolation and the difficulty of switching off from work at the end of the day as negatives. Certainly when I was offered the post three years ago I was not at all certain it was a good idea. Despite being socially inept, I know I become depressed when not out and about with humans. Sigoth dreads it because he otherwise comes home to a wreck of a creature, unable to have rational conversation.

I sat in the interview and actually said I wasn’t sure about the contract being home-based.

“Oh,” said Boss-to-Be, “don’t worry, you won’t be home much!”

She was right of course. Sometimes I am not home at all for weeks. It’s exhausting. It means hotels and eating at that special table at the back reserved for business customers on their own, out of the way and forgotten, too dark to read. You eat and leave as quickly as possible. You then go back to your room and watch junk TV or do more work; either way your brain is abused. Living in a hotel all week is unpleasant. In fact it is the least enjoyable thing, for me, about being a home based worker.

Even if colleagues are also around, and you spend an evening with them, inevitably you talk a lot about work. Sometimes you make decisions as if in a meeting, and that risks missing out people who didn’t happen to be staying over that night. It can be tricky. At the very least, the risk that you don’t switch off at home is multiplied when you stay away and have other colleagues for company all evening.

What Boss-to-Be didn’t explain, though, was that the company is geared around home-based workers. We are over 50% of the workforce. This means that all the technology and planning and assumptions are based on people working from home. The difference is amazing.

In previous jobs I have Worked At Home (WAH) for a day a week when possible. It was a chance to catch up on things without so many interruptions. It was peaceful and serene. I would write up reports or analyse data or just catch up on admin. If anyone called, they would preface every conversation with “Sorry to call you at home,” as if I was on holiday. It could be irritating, but it was also a blessing because they didn’t call unless it was really important. It was incredible how many times I picked the day nothing important happened to work at home. Whenever I was in the office I was bombarded with calls and questions. On WAH days it seemed they didn’t arise, in the way that there’s usually no news at Christmas. Interesting.

Now I have a contract which says I am home-based. The company provides me with a computer and broadband and phone. All I need to do is find space for a desk and chair, which can be difficult, and they do the rest. I am on the phone all the time, if I am not on webinars. If you looked at my diary you wouldn’t know where I was, only that I had meetings booked or not. It makes no difference most of the time, and this is because almost everyone else is doing the same thing.

The team I joined was quite new, and we learned together. There is a different rhythm to working remotely, to holding meetings where you can’t see expression or read body language. You have to have more directive chairing because people can’t judge when to speak so easily. A classic example is that it’s no good asking “Who’s here?” on a telecom because people don’t know when to speak and either say their names all at once or wait too long. We find it’s easier to run down the list, like school register. Equally the chair has to ask people in turn if they have anything to add. On the one hand it is easier to drift off if the subject is not keeping your attention; on the other hand you need to concentrate very hard not to miss anything, which is more demanding than sitting in a room passing round the biscuits someone has brought in.

Most interestingly we also found tha some meetings had to be in person. The more creative, problem-solving meetings, and some of the team meetings, simply need human contact to maintain relationships and to spark ideas. So we have a mix.

It’s true that I find some disadvantages too. I hate to leave my desk even to boil the kettle or nip to the loo. There’s no one to cover me while I’m gone. I also lose track of the time and either start early or work late without realising. The temptation to check something in the evening or at the weekend has to be resisted. Self discipline is important. I have learned to manage myself better than I did before.

However, on the plus side, being at home means I can get the boiler serviced without taking a morning off. I can put laundry on before I start work and then hang it up at lunchtime, or while I make a cup of tea. I can work slightly odd hours (meetings aside) to suit myself, so if I need to take mother to the doctor, or talk to her care manager, it fits more easily into my day. I can eat my own food, and don’t have to make a packed lunch or buy a terrible sandwich. I can write my blog in the time I would usually be commuting (hello there!). Sometimes I even manage a half hour of yoga. I achieve greater balance, and not just by standing on one foot like a tree in an earthquake.

When I started working at home I faced the change with trepidation. The old, old lesson is that change can be good, but we let fear get in our way.

How do you work best, and what have you tried that worked or didn’t?

Meanwhile I count my blessings and am grateful, which is pretty much all we can ask for.

Namaste.

NaNoWriMo day 24 – looking back in lists

Just ticking off the words: 49,891 so far. Or as NaNoWriMo would say, “Words Remaining 109; Words Per Day To Finish On Time 19”. That looks achievable.

Anyway, I have another 10k in hand from pre-November, and as I mentioned previously, I don’t care about word count per se. I just don’t like to give false impressions to those who take the challenge properly. After all, I reckon both “The Uncommon Reader” and “War and Peace” count as published literature, even if one is a novella and the other is a doorstop.

Yesterday was a day for ticking things off a list.

My first job, as I indicated yesterday , was to upload my posts, and to read the blogs I follow (thank you all for being so lovely and warm and witty and inspiring!). I had shoddy Internet connectivity all morning until I gave in and switched the router off and on again. Sometimes it’s best to get back to basics, unless you are a politician, in which case you are an idiot. (Although that’s an oxymoron.) My interpretation of back to basics is that you start with solid foundations and build up from there. In political terms it appears to mean leaving vulnerable people to die in the gutter and sending single mothers to asylums or condoning the casual wife beater because he uses a stick no wider than his thumb.

Anyway, moving on…it would seem the technotroubles have left me a little irritable this morning. I haven’t had my coffee yet, either, although the smell of it brewing is soothing me slightly. Lord, give me patience, right now!

Back to the list then. Sigoth spent the day putting up long-awaited shelves in the bedroom alcove. Admittedly that was his list, but a list is a list. He’s such a treasure. I think part of the reason was to leave me to get on with this alleged novel. He has plans for one himself, so hopefully he will make a start on it soon. We keep talking about the plot but it’s a bit tricky. We agree it might be better as a series of related short stories, but Sigoth likes to have everything ready before starting, whereas I charge in like a bull in a china shop and just write any old rubbish.

I admit, but only to you, dear friends (ssh, don’t tell Sigoth), that he has a point. Although I wrote 3344 words yesterday in a sort of edit mode, I spent too long doing it because I was trying to sequence everything. I wrote minus-822 words at one point after I slashed a section in a frenzy of self-criticism. That was largely caused by not writing in order. It doesn’t help that there are lots of flashbacks either – at what point do I introduce them to the reader? At this point it mat help to imagine EBL clutching her head in mortal anguish.

In real life I am a project manager. I do plans and contingencies and risks and deadlines for my actual paid living. It’s true. Not only that, I do it pretty well most of the time. I manage IT projects to time, quality and budget. I should have a medal.

EBL, wait to edit later. This is still November! Patience, cherie.

I also realised I need to learn Spanish. Either that or I have to relocate part of the story from the Spanish civil war to the Germans walking into Paris, as I do have sufficient French and, indeed, German. It puts me out by a few years but might be better. The actual conflict is less important than the fact it was a conflict, if that makes sense. I just need trauma, people!

So, lists. I wish you wouldn’t keep distracting me…

The next thing to tick off was changing the bed and washing the sheets, which I accomplished with aplomb and grace, as always.

The rest of the list included things like washing up, dusting and hoovering, and sorting out the linen cupboard. Not so successful, in that they didn’t happen at all. It is generally understood that artists have to suffer for their art, so I have to manage to cope with a dusty house and chaotic linen cupboard. I’m being brave about it; I knew the risks when I started this job. Plus the house is always dusty but now I have an excuse. You can’t argue with Art. She always wins. (Unless you are a politician – see above.)

And finally, as the Two Ronnies would say, a glass of wine, Sarah Lund, knitwear and adrenaline. Some things are sacrosanct.

Tak for læsning.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 23 – looking back in techno-rage

I feel like apologising for the delay in posting the last post (because I know you can’t start your day without a healthy dose of EBL Goodness). Then I realised it really was not my fault. However, I have a confession to make before I go any further: my name is EBL, and I have been working in Information Technology for 25 years.

Technology, don’t you just love it?

Yesterday (Day 23 to those in NaNoWriMoLand) I travelled for work. I carried my trusty netbook and planned to scribe on the train. I entrained and scribed. When I got home that night I prepared to lock onto WordPress and load the scribing. My netbook was of a different opinion.

Technology, don’t you just love the way it gives you cheek?

I expressed my displeasure. You may have heard me? Certainly I got complaints from Switzerland, but they are a bit like that sometimes.

Initially the fault appeared to lie, as it so often does, not in the stars but in Chrome, which is the browser I use on the netbook. I installed it in order to try it out and keep it in order to remind myself why I prefer Firefox. It’s a personal choice, don’t judge me. Then I noticed the dreaded icon indicating that a Windows update was in the midst of hogging my system. No chance of even writing anything with that little piggy rampaging through my resources.

Well, my dears, it was Friday night. Sigoth arrived home a little after me. We indulge in our Friday ritual of Radio 4 and tea on our laps. We opened a bottle of wine, and I decided I would upload the post first thing in the morning via my trusty old laptop. The one with Firefox, and the latest windows update already painfully installed.

Up with the lark this morning. The lark in question is living in a time zone in the mid-Atlantic, so not very early, but the thought was there as I snuggled under the Blanket of Inspiration. It’s a cold, misty morning here, although it could be so much worse as those who live in the south-west are aware.

“Good morning, trusty laptop,” I carolled cheerfully, even larkily. “Let’s get to NaNoWriMo, and don’t spare the horses!”

Trusty Laptop struggled into life. She is becoming quite elderly these days, by which I mean 3 years old. I’m not sure how computer years equate to human years or even dog years, but am pretty sure she is at least over the menopause and heading for a pension. Some of her pixels are looking a bit grey and there are wrinkles on her keyboard. Or possible tea stains, I’m not entirely sure.

Finally she was ready to go, and I fired up the post for uploading. Skype moaned into life and indicated that Number One Offspring was already on-line (another lark, bless, I remember well his early years of reading in bed at three in the morning so as not to disturb us). Up came the thunderous, birdy email and up came the browser in all its fiery, foxy glory. No emails to download and web pages not available.

Excuse me?

Technology, eh? Don’t you just want to shake it warmly by the throat?

No errors of course. Connection all OK, Skype was running fine; as it to emphasise it another contact pinged on-line.

So…connected to t’Interweb, but no web or email. To use the current idiom, WTF (it means “What’s that, Firefox?”)?

Closed both web and email and restarted them. No luck.

Disconnected connection and reconnected. No luck.

The techie in me shuddered to consider having to switch it off and on again. That’s for n00bs, don’cha know?

Technology, the best way to fill your day with pointless activity ever invented.

I did close and restart the programs again, since I had reset the connection, and this time it worked. So I managed to upload yesterday’s post.

Success was predicated on following the usual, well-known technology problem-solving process, described here. If you ever (I mean, when you ever..) have a computer problem, this will work.

In other shock news, pens and paper are still an effective means of writing down words.

Namaste

NaNoWriMo Day 17 – looking back in relief

Well, my dears, how was your Saturday? Mine was pretty good, thanks.

You may have gathered from yesterday’s post that I picked up my reading glasses? What a difference it makes to be able to see when you’re typing. I had a very productive afternoon’s wordsmithing while Sigoth deconstructed a wardrobe. 2908 victories, my Friends, 2908 little combinations of letters into recognisable meaning. I can’t comment about the meta-meaning of the sentences, but nevertheless, a victory was achieved.

In preparation for this Herculean task (OK, I know it’s not that impressive really, but the past couple of days have been a bit lacking in wordage) Sigoth and I went into town to collect the aforementioned glasses, drop off clutter in the charity shop, acquire fresh clutter from the charity shop, drop Offspring back in town, and purchase a new duvet ready for Christmas visitors. Then we had lunch.

Then the writing. Oh the writing-ness of a Saturday afternoon in November. It is a thing of joy and delight when the words do flow. I had been hesitating with the later scenes, as I have mentioned, but the introduction of a couple of competent police officers with a fast car soon restored law and order, and we proceeded in a more orderly fashion to the next stage.

Sigoth dismantled the wardrobe in Moved-to-new-home Offspring’s former room so that I can turn it into an office. Today we aim to re-route the broadband, move the desk and devices upstairs and generally make it possible for me to log on to the office system tomorrow morning. What could possibly go wrong? It’s only technology. Oh, wait, that’s what could go wrong…

I interrupted my authorial endeavours to help transfer the wardrobe carcass and a small desk into the loft. We had tea, because that is what you do when you have had a successful afternoon, then I knocked out a few more words before dinner.

Enough is enough, people, do you want my fingers to bleed? I watched television. My former infatuation with Sarah Lund is rekindled. For the next few weeks, make sure you do not call while “The Killing” is on, unless you enjoy talking to answerphones.

I hope your weekend is productive, and / or joyful, and the words rain down like mercy from heaven upon the page beneath.

Demographic

The emails and text messages that annoy me fall into a particular category. Some deluded marketing wonk thinks they are helping me, by (a) stating the obvious, or (b) telling me about something I am not interested in.

Don’t get me wrong – on a quiet day I love to be prompted to waste hours browsing around retail websites carefully selected for my target demographic, whatever that is. Well, I say “love”, but to be honest at best it can fill a rainy afternoon. And that’s the point. Even in autumnal England, even in the wake of a few days of uncharacteristic downpours, excessive by our globally acknowledged broad and generous standards, even then, that quiet rainy afternoon is pretty elusive.

I know they have a job to do. In some cases they probably genuinely think it is helpful. But they are in a queue, the one that comprises all my other hobbies, chores, hopes, fears and ambitions for my day. The laundry, washing up, project plan, shopping, music practice, phone call to whichever company has messed up another Direct Debit, dentist appointment, voluntary work commitment, bank transfer to hungry offspring at university, yoga, phone call / email to sick friend I haven’t contacted for months (she has been on the list an awful long while!) – you get the picture, and I expect it is familiar. If you want to transfer money to my hungry offspring, by the way, feel free. It will be good for your soul.

So when my mailbox fills up with messages about handbags or, in a moment of technical failure, penis enlargements, I do get tetchy. I know that buried in the dross will be something important about the school, or a friend, or a bill. So I need to wade through and spend my evening triaging the flood. (With that level of stress is it any wonder if I mix a metaphor or two?)

However, it is one I plan for, just as shops plan for a certain level of shoplifting, or management plans for a certain number of sick days, or York plans for floods. That may be the most depressing thing of all; that I, and no doubt you, just grin and bear it. While I have decided to view it as a way of controlling my destiny rather than being swamped by powerlessness, in the back of mind a little voice says, with Gallic deprecation, and enunciated around a Gauloise Bleue, “Eh bien. Self-delusion is a wonderful thing. “

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Warning – this is a bit geeky

The problem with starting posts on technical support incidents is that I then start remembering lots more. So some of this will only appeal if you have also worked on tech support yourself, I suspect.

Anyway….

This incident refers to versions of Windows released respectively in the early 1990s and, as the name suggests, from 1995 onwards. The big difference was with Windows 95, which introduced the much maligned “Start” button in the bottom left hand corner of the screen.

So by around 2003/4, when this incident occurred, it was ubiquitous. No matter which version of Windows a user had, there was a Start button – be it grey, green or any other colour, size or shape.

Another call comes in to the helpdesk about those pesky anti-virus CDs. Apparently this month’s CD will not run automatically. It’s a nuisance, but it happens.

The user however cannot find their Start button. I try getting them to look in every corner of the screen, hovering the mouse poitner in case it’s “hidden” and so on. Eventually the user says, innocently, “Will Program Manager help?”.

If you are a geek you will have laughed at this point.

Program Manager was in Windows 3.x and so would not have been available for at least 8-10 years. Amazingly enough their computer was still functioning well for all that time, and they were able to check emails (a miracle in itself given the Winsock problems), do letters and spreadsheets etc quite happily. Fortunately they didn’t send files to colleagues in other offices!

But again, I had to wonder – how had they been updating the anti-virus, as claimed, in previous months? I do despair.

How many sides are there to a CD?

The answer, of course, is three.

I was reminded recently that when I was doing technical support in various previous  jobs, I used to come home and tell my family about the strange things that users got up to. Now it isn’t my intention here to belittle people who don’t know much about computers. No one knows about computers until they are given the chance to learn. It’s just that some people pick it up more quickly than others.

A few years back we used to send out CDs with anti-virus updates to all our users around the country. Those were the days when you only updated your anti-virus on a monthly basis, and received the files in the post. We hadn’t been using CDs for updates for more than a year or so – before that they fitted on a floppy disk quite happily.

Anyway, we had one user in particular who just couldn’t get the hang of the update process. In brief the process was: put the CD into the computer and when it started up click on “OK”.

So, he phoned us to talk him through it. Every month. On this particular occasion I picked up the call. The usual problem people had was remembering whether the picture side of the CD was facing up or down. So on the first attempt to put the CD in, predictably nothing happened (because they never put it in the right way up by mistake – it was like the toast landing butter side down every time).

Not to worry. Try again, making sure picture side is UP. Still nothing.

OK, let’s try it one more time shall we? Picture side UP, remember. And yes, it was third time lucky. Apparently he hadn’t tried that side yet.

So the question was – what side had he tried on the second attempt? The edge?