Remote working vs. being in the office

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Bletchleyite, 14 Jan 2020.

  1. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    In the IT industry I've noted that we have moved from "you need to be on site all the time" to "we don't want you on site other than for initial meetings". Companies are realising the costs and environmental issues of having people on site, and software is increasingly "cloud based" so can be configured and supported from any location, while collaboration tools like Teams and Slack are making remote working ever easier - and people by and large like it[1].

    That is just IT, but other "brain based" industries often follow where we lead - we are natural early adopters of these concepts.

    [1] Getting up at 8:55 for a 9am start and working the first hour in your dressing gown can be good if you're not a morning person (nobody ever uses videoconf so forget wearing a suit). Or if you're an active type, that means that you only have to get up at a very reasonable 7am for time for an hour's morning run, a shower and breakfast rather than 4 or 5am if you're London commuting.
     
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  3. Bantamzen

    Bantamzen Established Member

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    That "nice little earner" is probably helping in part to fund links like Metrolink, and also offers employment to tens of thousands of people who are going to spend their hard earner in the region. Of course if GM doesn't want the inconvenience of people using their infrastructure in return for hard cash, send it elsewhere. Then Manchester can get it's Manc-Bahn, although it might not be as needed as the regional economy slows....

    Greater Manchester already has one of the best transport networks north of the capital, with more to come. And those "better" services are half-hourly TPEs, no more. The way some people talk on here you'd think there was a service every 30 seconds from Yorkshire.

    9am start?? You lightweight!! If I'm working from home I'm on at 6am!!! I'd log on earlier but our network servers have an annoying restart just before, as I have found out to my cost.... :D

    But whilst as a team spread out practically around every part of the country we do work remotely, it is noticeable that telekits / Skype calls are far more frequent and frankly less productive than when we travel to meet or workshop. Its odd because there is really no good reason, its just how things seem to pan out at my gaff.
     
  4. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    I am sure most of the merchant bank meetings are done remotely. But remote isn’t great for pitching or thrashing things out in groups with lots of stakeholders.
    The Bribery Act must have reduced business travel - many an unnecessary business trip was made to take advantage of lavish hospitality!
     
  5. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I am very much "not a morning person" and would be far more likely to be doing work at 9pm (as I was yesterday) than getting up early like that.

    It doesn't tend to make me do more work than in a typical 8 hour office day, but I tend to spread the day out a bit, doing chores and stuff in the middle of the day or taking a long (2 hour maybe) lunch to get out for a walk or run, making it up in the evening. It's also nice to do some uninterrupted work while others aren't online - I guess that's what you get from logging on at 6am?

    I must be unusual in that I would absolutely love to work split shifts - I am at my most physically energetic in the middle of the day and rushing out for a sandwich then back to my desk feels a waste of it - I'd happily have a 3 hour lunch break to give say an hour in the gym, shower, lunch and read a book or the forums for the remaining time, even if that meant the afternoon was actually something like 3pm-8pm. Whereas my brain seems to work best towards the end of the working day, and it works even better if I've done something physical at lunch.

    I think that can vary. You do have to be more disciplined in a way - for instance, I think a daily "standup" meeting somewhere between 9 and 10am is absolutely essential. And one day a week on site if it's relatively local can really help in some cases (still far cheaper than on site every day).
     
  6. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    Alternatively.....international investment concentrates round Heathrow, this is a way of taking some of that to the north by building around the North’s international hub.
    And it’s difficult to argue that Airport City won’t have transport links whilst complaining that too many trains go to the airport.
     
  7. Bantamzen

    Bantamzen Established Member

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    I'm quite different in that respect, as a light sleeper I tend to be awake by 5am, even at this time of year. Hence the reason that when heading for the office I'm almost always on the first train of the day from home.


    One of the benefits is having some quiet server & network hours, our business is primarily 8-8, so I like to get any tested patches out early on in the day so that I can run final live tests before our darling users have even roused from their beds. Later on in a day, I tend to wane so I'd rather be on point at the start of business in case any issues arise.

    Of course the other benefit, along with flexible working hours is that a typical day would be around 9-10 hours, so come a Friday & if all is well, I've enough time banked to shove in a steady 5-6 hour stint on Friday. Which works well around my home & social life.

    Yeah, this kind of flexible working is still relatively new in my area, so it may well still be a cultural issue. We do tend to have stand-ups in my team, as well as ah-hocs where needed but we also seem to have kits for the sake of kits all too often, which can be a pain and can get in the way of some of our productivity (I tend to be very selective of which ones I accept as a result). So we are not quite at the point where we can almost completely remove face-to-face meetings, we still get quite a bit more done locked in a room with our laptops, a large expanse of wall & unlimited numbers of post-it notes.... ;)
     
  8. underbank

    underbank Established Member

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    A lot of the "need" for meetings is nothing more than habit and that old chestnut "we've always done it that way". Yes, of course, there can be still a "need" sometimes - that may be daily or yearly depending on the circumstances. But, I think we need to challenge the "habit" meetings a lot more than we do.

    I run a small accountancy practice these days. 30 years ago, we'd meet every single client every single year - some we'd meet monthly or quarterly - we'd have meetings every day, to the extent that the firms I worked in had 3,4 or 5 dedicated meeting rooms and even then there'd often be no room available - it was just "the done thing" to have regular meetings, in each of the firms I worked in back in the 80s and 90s. Now, we can go weeks without a single meeting. Most of the meetings we do have aren't necessary - it's usually the same clients who just can't help themselves - they phone and book a meeting and then just come in to hand over a document they could easily have posted or just dropped into reception (or emailed!) - it's just habit for them, and drives us insane with the wasted time as it inevitably turns into a 10/20/30 meeting discussing trivialities, football results, family, or whatever. Very, very occasionally, there is something close to a genuine need for a meeting, i.e. to discuss some complex tax issue or a business sale/purchase/start up, etc which is fair enough - but even then, the "need" is spurious as we have clients all over the UK (and abroad) who we never meet, and we still manage to communicate properly re those issues when a meeting simply isn't viable/convenient - we do that by a mix of phone calls, skype and email - but anyway, even with a physical meeting, we still usually surround it before and after by phone calls and emails to prepare in advance and then confirm the outcomes.

    We just need the will to change away from face to face meetings. Of course, they'll never be eradicated, but I personally think we could halve them across the board without much effort or consequence and that would be a great start.
     
  9. En Attendant

    En Attendant Member

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    I don't know which north of England you live in. I live in the one that's an economic disaster area, many of whose towns are virtually deserted until about midday. (I have in mind, for example, a certain West Riding city, among Britain's 10 biggest, to which my work frequently takes me.) Maybe we should move away from thinking the ceiling will collapse if we alter the status quo (it collapsed for much of the population decades ago)? And consider instead whether we should be making some changes to an economic model which promotes growth in a handful of places and leaves the rest to rot.


    Not exactly a high bar.

    Spend some time actually commuting in and out of Manchester on infrequent, unreliable, packed out trains or low speed, low capacity trams. Then come back and tell me whether you think that the network is actually any 'good', rather than 'better' than anywhere else.
     
  10. Bantamzen

    Bantamzen Established Member

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    If by a West Riding city (and by the way no-one here ever refers to West Riding anymore) you mean Leeds, then ask anyone around here what they think of all the investment gone into the city some 45 miles to west. The various councils in this region have watched as Andy Burnham's Barmy Army have hogged the media attention and scooped up all (well much of) the investment. Compared to West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester is the rich posh kid at school.

    This genuinely made me chuckle, try commuting into Leeds. Average train lengths between 2-4 cars, for many places no more than 2tph. No tram network. No cross-city network, save Shank's Pony. Roads that clog on a daily basis making bus services practically impossible to time and rely on.

    And that's when every is working as normal. Manchester is a blinking transport nirvana in comparison.....
     
  11. John Webb

    John Webb Established Member

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    I was fortunate enough to take early retirement from a former Government research establishment a little over 20 years ago after nearly 30 years working there. The job, often involving specialised laboratory work, was not one that could easily be done from home, of course! We'd moved from individual offices into a large open-plan office a couple of months before I retired. Curiously this didn't appear to improve communications or make work easier. Although well-designed, the distractions of an open-plan office compared to an office of one's own I found less conducive to concentration on work in hand.
    In particular the senior staff still had their own offices, and were showing signs of sending out e-mails to people 20 yards away instead of popping out of their offices for a couple of minutes! Not something I liked.
    We had switched to flexible working hours several years before; management were at first unhappy, but both staff and management quickly realised there were advantages - less 'clock-watching' and greater efficiency overall as a result.
     
  12. underbank

    underbank Established Member

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    Yes, open plan offices are the work of the devil. In the last firm I worked in before starting my own business, everyone, literally everyone worked in one huge open space. It was a nightmare. Completely impossible to concentrate on work as there'd always be some people talking, not to mention the "reception area" in a corner with a succession of people coming in that you just couldn't help noticing if they were in your peripheral vision, not to mention the "receptionists" being unable to lie and say you were out or in a meeting, so you'd have to go and talk to them! Any supposed benefit from staff working closer and getting to know eachother better was easily wiped out by reduced productivity.

    I far preferred all the firms I'd worked in previously which were generally "High Street" terraced ex-gentlemens houses (they were accountancy practices) with a rabbit warren of small rooms over 3 or 4 floors, each room usually holding just 2 or 3 people (except the bosses with their own rooms!). Typically it'd be one floor for the tax dept, one floor for audit, one floor for accounts prep and the ground floor for reception and meeting rooms. You still got to know your colleagues well as you were all in close proximity, i.e. sharing the same staircase/landing, sharing the kitchen, etc - I suppose like modern student accommodation where you have bedrooms clustered around communal living areas. With the offices going up/down rather than spread out width-wise distances were a lot smaller.
     
  13. talltim

    talltim Established Member

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    I work in IT and I need to be in. Can't install or fix hardware remotely!
     
  14. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    Working from home certainly wasn't compatible with mandatory email free days. I never had any problem with non urgent emails from people nearby, I would rather deal with it when convenient for me rather than be interrupted.

    While the ability to work from home was handy in the case of transport disruption I generally preferred to be in the office unless I had something to do that required intense concentration.
     
  15. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Agreed.

    To use that as an example, if London commuters attended the office only twice a week (most of it is office work so that is entirely possible), if we disregard Fridays as a day barely anybody wants to go in anyway, and we split those two days evenly between Monday to Thursday, that's basically a near-halving of the London commuter capacity required. So those lovely 12-car trains can give everyone who wants one a seat every day, just like they mostly do on a Friday! :)
     
  16. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Which, unless you have another system to replace them (Teams, Slack etc), is just an utterly ridiculous idea dreamt up by someone with far too much time on their hands.
     
  17. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    It's worth noting that while people think the South East is a utopia of a 12-car train every 2-3 minutes, often based on their experience on the Tube, that it mostly isn't. Most outersuburban/commuter town stations have a train into London that's useful (i.e. not a slow train that gets overtaken) roughly twice to three times an hour. The south WCML used to be based on that pattern, for example, though it's a bit more random now.

    There are exceptions, but they are usually stations where a load of routes converge like East Croydon, Clapham Jn, Stratford etc.

    We do have the train length, but for the simple frequency Metrolink and Merseyrail win out over a lot of the SE.
     
  18. 3rd rail land

    3rd rail land Member

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    My employer has been closing down under utilised offices and making people work remotely. The office I used to work out of was 20 minutes away but it got closed as it was very expensive, being in London. MY nearest office is now 41 miles away and not practical to work out of 5 days a week.

    I can do 90% if my job remotely so its not a problem working entirely from home but it does get rather lonely and I have far far less interaction with people than when I was office based. In fact my team has only met up as a whole group in one place just twice since October 2019. I know the people I have worked with in the past very well as we worked together in the same office but I know little about a lot of the team I work in beyond wheat each person's role is and their area of expertise. Given there is zero chance of my employer having an office in London ever again I will just have to get used to it. Having worked from home since mid September 2019 I have mostly gotten used to it but I am not overly keen on it.

    Home working gives flexibility to attend appointments such as dentist, doctor etc during the work day as well as makes it possible to do errands at lunchtime. It also allows for greater flexibility in working hours, if I wake up early in the day I can start my day early which is great as I am more productive early in the morning. If I have to go to my nearest office I base my hours around the timings of the fast trains of which there is one an hour.

    That said I know someone who got a job elsewhere simply because she wanted an office in London she could go to 5 days a week and my employer were no longer going to be providing this.
     
    Last edited: 14 Jan 2020
  19. talltim

    talltim Established Member

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    I have the flexibility for appointments and errands you mention while working in an office, through flexitime. It also suits me as working in a city centre gives me access to shops banks etc that I don’t have at home.
     
  20. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    Before I retired, if working at home, I was still expected to be in contact during office hours. It was handy for deliveries but I certainly couldn't do a split shift or shift start and finish too far out of regular office times.
     
  21. hooverboy

    hooverboy Established Member

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    Not quite as simple as that though in reality,especially if you are doing a technical support role that spans continents.Working from home may seem like an easy life,but as a general rule its "on call",with very odd hours indeed.
    You're generally expected to fit in with that particular customers hours of business, so you can potentially be doing a 3am start for a far eastern enterprise,up to a 1am finish for one based in the west coast US.

    In my experience it is not unusual at all for a series of conference calls from 6-7am through to 8 or 9pm.
     
  22. Bantamzen

    Bantamzen Established Member

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    Although my area of work is UK only based, and a maximum hours of business 8-8, I have let it be know to my team & my boss that I'm pretty much on call even though it is not contractually required. And I accept that as part of having more flexibility in working from home or in the office, its a fair enough trade off in my mind.

    But overall I have found myself to be more productive, because for a start on working from home days I'm not travelling for an hour plus in each direction & getting stressed when things fall over.
     
  23. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    If you're doing support, yes, but for that reason I'm not interested in a support role and would only do it if no other job was available. If your lifestyle involves mainly being at home, that probably suits well, though.
     
  24. johntea

    johntea Established Member

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    I must be utterly insane but I enjoy the routine of going into work and being around colleagues, suppose that is the benefit of having a job you enjoy and a good team!

    Ironically enough I work in IT so actually administer our VPN system, it is rather amusing how every single staff member in the organization NEEDS it for their work yet out of the 1000 or so users now set up on it very rare to see the active connections at any one time above 50!

    A lot of the staff don't even have a desk at work now though, rather a load of 'hot desks' are available then staff are just given a laptop and VPN account (an absolute nightmare of course in terms of us ensuring they receive security/AV updates and the like on a regular basis sadly...especially when a signifianct number seem to be used once then shoved in the boot of a car for several months doing nowt!)

    If I ever do any training courses I still insist to actually go and sit in a classroom for face to face training rather than 'virtual classroom' as it is the only way to ensure I don't get easily distracted too!
     
  25. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member Associate Staff General Discussion

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    I can relate to that but in a slightly different way.
    Being a self employed painter and decorator I usually work on my own, but every now and then I join up with a team of guys that do one huge barn rebuild a year (we’re talking £700,000 worth of work plus per property each time) and I get to spend a couple months with them finishing off what they’ve been doing.
    I really enjoy it because they’re a great bunch and we have an absolute riot together. There’s not one slacker on the job, and we know we can rely on each other.
    It’s a real joy to do when you’ve spent months and months in your own insular bubble...
     
  26. hooverboy

    hooverboy Established Member

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    there's certainly a time and place for face to face meetings.

    I'd certainly agree with you that running training/doing tutorials is more effective when in the same room, people learn stuff at different rates,so it's easier to spend a couple of minutes helping them out and showing them hands on,step by step routines.

    Also,with conference calls,there is a tendency for people to speak over one another, primarily because on a remote session you can't pick up the nuances of body language implying somebody is about to respond. On meetings like this you do need to be a bit more forceful as a host to keep the content structured.

    For sales guys I would say at least an initial face to face meeting is also essential, as you can get a rapport with the customer and also a "feel" for how their business works,that you cannot gauge effectively on the end of and ISDN line.There is something reassuring to the customer about having a supplier that will take a bit of time and effort to care about them.
     
  27. talltim

    talltim Established Member

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    I agree on all your points. Sounds like you have a similar role to me.
    Myself and a colleague went on a training course in Leeds for a week expecting a trainer at the front of the room. Turned out we were watching him teaching another group in London on a big screen in our room. Worst of both worlds!
     
  28. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    What I think is often overlooked with both individual offices and remote working is the on-the-job training. No matter how experienced you are, we all come across situations we have not dealt with before. In an open-plan office, if you need some advice, you can simply look around to see who is there, choose the best person to ask, and go and ask. Someone else will often hear what you are discussing, and chip-in to help.

    With individual offices, you have to make an effort to walk around the offices to see who is in, and you will only get the benefit of that person's advice. It not only requires more effort, but takes up more time, there is the temptation to ask the first person you find rather than the best person to ask. All these disincentives means there is a great temptation just to press on without asking for advice. It is even worse with remote working, where you are reliant on making phone calls (that don't get answered) or sending emails (which is both inefficient, and can take a long time before you get a reply). Particularly if working in safety-critical applications (as I was), it is essential that you get it right, so any disincentive to getting help and advice is bad.

    In my last job, I was working from home for half the week, and in the (open-plan) office for half the week, which was a good balance. I was able to work without distractions, at my own pace, when working from home, but could get advice (and give it) on the days I was in the office.
     
  29. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    Teaching is a two-way experience: you constantly have to make sure that your students understand what you are saying. It is very difficult to do this when done remotely. Unfortunately most remote learning is not teaching, just lecturing (which is quite a different thing).

    In my experience, teleconferencing is much less effective than face-to-face meetings. Partly this is because people aren't trained on how to properly teleconference. As you say, people talk over one another. However, if you enforce strict discipline about who is speaking, this discourages the free-flow of conversation. Someone may realise something important, but by the time they get a chance to speak, things have moved on, or they have forgotten it. Meeting discipline can be very poor with teleconferences (people phoning in from trains and other noisy environments, answering phone calls, temporarily checking out of the meeting just when their input is needed, and so on).

    If the meeting chairman isn't experienced in the technology, things can be particularly bad (in my last teleconference, we all wasted over half an hour waiting for the chairman to get it properly set up!). If the subject being discussed requires the presentation of diagrams or figures, you have to chose between looking at the meeting screen and your own reference documentation (unless you are lucky enough to have a multiple screen PC), making it very hard to compare between the two.

    Yes, teleconferences may save travelling time, but whether they are more productive is very questionable.
     
  30. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    We used to have open plan offices, but with "quiet rooms" where you could go if you needed to be free of distractions. At one place, they unfortunately converted the quiet rooms to meeting rooms, saying just book the meeting room if you need a quiet room. They were not happy when I wanted to book the meeting room for a month solid, so I got them to allow me to work from home if doing something that needed no distractions.
     
  31. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Quite. I too prefer training in person, but if I'm going to be watching on a screen I'd rather it was one at home. Group teleconferences don't work well at all, usually the people on the phone get marginalised and miss out on what's going on in the room. Much better to have everyone on the call if anyone is going to be.
     

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