Work is still something you do, not somewhere you go

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Over the last few days there has been a wealth of press coverage, politicians talking, discussion online about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work.

Hello!

Hello!

Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home!

The headlines in the papers and on the web seemed to indicate that people weren’t working and that they should return to work. This is quite insulting to all those people who have been working, and working during a crisis as well as supporting potentially children in their schooling, as well as avoiding meeting friends and family. The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

At the end of last week, there was this article on the BBC News: Warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office.

Dame Carolyn said the UK’s offices were “vital drivers” of the economy, supporting thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. “The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.

This tweet echoed my thoughts on that article.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle now, both staff and businesses are seeing the potential benefits (and the pitfalls) of working from home. This shift in working patterns will not go away. This doesn’t mean that we’re all working from home permanently as we were under lockdown, but it does mean that we’re very likely not to go back to the way things were.

As a result the rest of the business world and the economy will need to reflect that shift and adjust.

coffee

What sparked my post more than anything else was this Medium post about remote work in the US, Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy.

Businesses dependent on workers commuting to offices were finding revenues were falling and falling fast. Some were those provides food and drink.

Starbucks attributed the loss of some $2 billion year on year to deserted urban office corridors

Then there was business travel.

…in the air, white-collar workers previously kept a parallel economy buzzing, with business travel accounting for 60% to 70% of all airline traffic. While leisure getaways have also been obliterated, it turns out the bigger punch is the Zoomification of business meetings, a cancellation of business travel that analysts expect to persist for up to two or three years.

Then there are the changes in real estate, with some companies ending leases early, not renewing, or even cancelling new offices.

Pinterest turned heads when it announced it would pay a $89.5 million contract penalty to cancel its lease on a flashy new 490,000-square-foot office building planned in San Francisco.

In the UK we know that train companies are now looking to see how they can reflect the shift from five times a week commuting to the office, to a model where people will only travel two or three times a week to the office.

Yes there is a real issue with the loss of footfall in places like London and Manchester and this needs to be thought about and dealt with. The shift in the working population away from the heart of the cities will result in major changes across the economy, as well as direct impact on the city centre economy. However I do fell that this is also a real opportunity as well to reduce the dependency on commuting and mass daily migration from the suburbs to city centres.

Paddington Station

Last week the BBC reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important. What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future. I discussed this more in an earlier post on changes to my office working.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

This view was echoed in the FT opinion piece (paywall) by Sarah O’Connor, Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’ and good luck to whatever replaces it.

The article talks about the rise and fall of Pret.

The rise of Pret has mirrored the rise of London and, until recently, they both seemed unstoppable Yet last week, Pret said it would cut 2,890 jobs, almost one-third of its workforce, after the pandemic wiped out “almost a decade of growth” for the company.

As with many other people, when the call came back to head back to the office, thought, let’s be honest do we need to go back to the office, travelling on trains and buses as well as going out for lunch? The coronavirus is still there, infection rates are rising in some parts of the country and there is still no vaccine and no cure.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Isn’t it time to start thinking differently about work and the nature of work?

Well some of us have been talking about this for a while now.

Back in 2016, Lawrie Phipps published a really interesting blog post on the nature of work, Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

The coronavirus lockdown forced many people to work from home, and though many found it challenging, some thrived. We became better at using tools such as Teams and Zoom, and many found they were more productive, though some didn’t.

Of course working from home is not for everyone and this is where thinking differently about work and the nature of work needs to consider not just working from home, but also working from an office. The office doesn’t have to be the office, it could be an office.

I do hope that we could start not just working from home, but working locally as well, maybe in physical hubs, or other co-location workplaces. That way you can still work from “home” by working locally, but you also get the other benefits of working in a space with others Of course this isn’t new either. Many companies already did allow staff to use local flexible meeting spaces for meetings and working. There are quite a few companies that can provide offices and desks to hire, though these are suffering just as much in the lockdown as well, but when that’s less restrictive there are possibilities.

Of course the economic challenge in all this is how these shifts impact on workers, both those who are now remote working, and those who were previously employed in all those support businesses. The economics shifts we’ve had in the past, in the main de-industrialisation, were often managed badly. As industrial and manufacturing jobs disappeared and new service and office jobs grew, this wasn’t evenly spread across the country, and the end result was areas of high unemployment, slow economic growth and poor social mobility. At the same time saw excessive wages and costs, and where demand for workers could not be met, we saw large rises in commuting, as well as huge increases in house prices, which then resulted in even more commuting.

As we have this paradigm shift in working patterns, we need to think about how we manage that shift to reduce the impact on workers (as well as businesses) that use to depend on other works commuting to the office, drinking coffee and having lunch.

BBC Zoom and Teams Backgrounds




The amazing BBC Archive have posted a series of images of empty BBC Television sets across the years to be used as Zoom or Teams backgrounds.

You can visit the page select the background you want and then save to your computer.

Of course there are some classic (and modern) TARDIS backgrounds.

TARDIS

I also like the fact I could be self-isolating with Del and Rodney, well maybe not.

Then I could be in Tom and Barbara’s kitchen in the Good Life.

Or sitting at the back of a Grange Hill classroom.

Plenty to choose from.

EyeTV EPG Problems

I can’t quite believe I have been using EyeTV 410 for over fifteen  years now and that the original Firewire based hardware is still working, though the software has gone through a few upgrades.

The EyeTV 410 has a DVB-T digital TV tuner that allows you to both watch Freeview TV on your Mac, but also record it. You can then export it to watch on mobile devices. It’s also possible to stream live TV and recorded programmes to mobile devices, not just on the local network, but it’s also possible do that over the internet.

As with Digital TVs, the EyeTV uses the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) that is transmitted alongside the video.  

I was having a few issues with the EPG as it was picking up any information from the BBC channels. I could view the channels, but no channel information was available, which meant I couldn’t (easily) set recordings, though with iPlayer I do that less and less now.

I checked for software updates, no the software was up to date.

I tried to Update the DVB Programme Guide, but that didn’t work.

Update DVB Programme Guide

I then cleared the EPG database.

Clear EPG database

That didn’t work either.

I then went through the setup assistant which is accessed through the EyeTV menu.

I then went through the setup assistant which is accessed through the EyeTV menu.

You usually use the assistant when setting up the device, but now and again I find it useful to “reset” the EyeTV settings, or when Freeview require a re-tune.

EyeTV setup assistant

Going to the Auto-Tune TV Channels screen of the assistant, I clicked Auto-Tune and let the assistant do its job.

auto tune screen

This worked and I could see the channel information for the BBC channels in the EPG.

Mobile phones, will they catch on?

I do wonder if the concept of a mobile phone would ever catch on….

From 13th September 1979…

Michael Rodd makes a call with an experimental cordless mobile phone.
It’s 1979 and time for the telephone to go mobile. In this report from a longer programme, Michael Rodd examines a British prototype for a cordless telephone that allows the user to make calls from anywhere. Also included at the end of this item is a rather nice out-take as Rodd also experiences the first mobile wrong number.

I do recall watching this when it was broadcast.

Of course we don’t really use our phones as phones these days, the mini computer we have in our pockets is now used for way more than just making calls.

The fickle nature of the web

Spider Web by Daniel Orth CC BY-ND 2.0
Spider Web by Daniel Orth CC BY-ND 2.0

The fickle nature of the web is one of those things that I find annoying. You post a link, embed a video and then a bit later you find that it has gone! This was very apparent today with the news that the BBC are, in order to save money, will close down their recipe website. For me this is a mistake, however I also understand how this can happen, not just with textual content, but also media too.

I understand that with YouTube videos you can get take down notices and the link no longer works, or you are left with the blank player if you have embedded the video into a blog post

There are times though when people have removed a video years later and looking through an old blog post you find the embedded video has disappeared as the obscure service you used has shut down, or was taken over.

A few years ago I had a Nokia N95 and used the Shozu app to upload photographs to Flickr, it also had another feature of creating a WordPress blog post and embedding an image. This was shut down a few years ago, so now I have lots of posts from conferences back in 2008 or thereabouts that consist of basically a blank post. The post title was left and is merely a filename and then you get the blank square with the red cross. It is for these reasons that I try not to embed content from third party sites if I can help it.

A  good example of this is from 2008 when I posted a video from the mLearn 2008 conference. I used VideoPress rather than a third party site so my copy is still there on the blog. However I also uploaded the video to YouTube and Blip. However the Blip site is now dead and gone….

One aspect that I do find frustrating is when links disappear. A few weeks ago I tweeted (and Google+’d) a link out about #digitalcapability and wanted to use the link again for something else, so looking over my Google+ profile I found the link, clicked it and got a 404, the missing page error. I checked with the author and he kindly pointed out that the URLs had recently changed and there was a new link. No problem, but I did wonder how long before the URLs changed again or the page disappeared!

Sometimes it isn’t as quick and it can be a few years before the site disappears and the link is no longer live.

Sometimes I think, why do people and companies do this? Then I remember I do this myself and sometimes you have little choice.

WCC Logo

Back in 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and we had a website and the URL westerncc.ac.uk and the consortium was wound up in 2006. As a result the website was shut down.

Back in 1998 when I created my first web site I used the free hosting from the ISP. A few years later I moved hosting providers (as I was using too much bandwidth) and had a domain of my own. I did leave the old site on the ISP, but due to bandwidth usage it was eventually shut down!

Sometimes there are things you can do, so for example when I moved my elearning blog from iBlog, which I was using when I was at the Western Colleges Consortium, I initially moved to wordpress.com, so had the URL elearningstuff.wordpress.com. Due to a variety of reasons I decided to move to my own domain elearningstuff.net and imported all the content. However due to the number of incoming links to the elearningstuff.wordpress.com site I used the domain forwarding service from wordpress.com (and still do) so that any links to elearningstuff.wordpress.com are automatically forwarded to elearningstuff.net. So I do try when possible to ensure that existing content on the web is still accessible years later.

In many ways I wasn’t surprised to read on the BBC News that the BBC are to remove existing web content and in the future only have some web content around for 30 days!

Sounds like BBC iPlayer, no these are recipes from BBC food programmes. This is from the BBC News item (and I expect like other BBC News links this will be around for a long time).

BBC Food news item

The BBC Food website carrying more than 11,000 recipes is to close as part of a plan to cut £15m from the corporation’s online budget, a BBC source has said.

All existing recipes are likely to be archived, though whether some could  move to the commercial BBC Good Food website is still to be decided.

TV show recipes will be posted online but only made available for 30 days.

I can just about understand a future policy doing this, but why on earth are they going to remove the existing web archive of content? What is the point of this exercise? There are, as the report says, thousands of recipes online that can be searched, found and used. I use this a lot myself for finding recipes and inspiration.

For me this is a mistake, sometimes you can’t avoid losing or deleting web content, sometimes you make a mistake, but in this instance I think that it would be mistake to lose the web recipes from the BBC.

Your thoughts? Is this a good idea? Will it help other publishers provide content now? Or do you think it’s a mistake by the BBC to do this and they should keep the food and recipe content online?

Tech Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2015

Not too many posts on the tech blog this year,  surprised though that the post  Google Glass is Dead, or is it… didn’t make the top ten!

Looking at fonts especially those designed for comic strips was the tenth most popular posting in 2015. Written in 2010 it was about the excellent Comic Book Fonts available. Read the post Comic Book Fonts.

Thinking about the Apple TV back in 2012 was the ninth most popular post on the blog. Apple TV Thoughts was quite a long post on my reflection on the Apple device.

apple_tv-q410-angled-lg

The eighth post is from 2008 when Apple added free episodes to the iTunes Store. The high ranking for this post is probably down the blog post title: Free iTunes TV Shows (on UK iTunes Store).

A few years ago my HP printer died when I replaced the inks. The seventh most read post is about my dead printer. My printer is dead!.

HP PhotoSmart B110a

I haven’t done a podcast choice for a while now, but the sixth most popular post on the blog was the second in the series, Podcast Choice #02 – Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4. Quite a popular post as people seem to keep wanting to have my copies of the shows I have downloaded over the years through iTunes.

Comic Life is one of my favourite apps on the Mac, but once I lost my styles and that is at number five. Where are my Comic Life Styles?

Wifi makes an appearance at number four, with my experiences at a Haven Holiday Camp. Haven no wifi.

More Wifi this time with my experiences with BT Wifi networks resulted in the third most read post, called I don’t like BT FON.

In November 2014, we finally got free wifi on First Great Western trains, and my post about this, Finally, free FGW wifi on the train was the second most popular blog post in 2015.

Cadbury Twirl Bites QR Code

I use to post a lot of posts on QR Codes and the most popular post the year was this one from January 2015 about the ones you found on Cadbury chocolate bars. Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2016.

No magic with BBC iPlayer

No magic with BBC iPlayer

I know many people out there have no sympathy for me now that I have lost access to fibre (through FTTC) and have reverted back to a relatively much slower ADSL connection when I moved house. I am aware that much of the UK population only have similar broadband speeds.

However I do think it is interesting to note the problems I am having, it has certainly made me much more aware of the advantages of FTTC over ADSL and the need to speed up all of the UK (not just my neck of the woods).

The other evening I sat down to watch Merlin on BBC iPlayer and it was stuttering like crazy… My Sony TV has internet capability and BBC iPlayer is accessible from the user interface without needing to use a laptop or iPad. I was slightly surprised as I had recently moved a few things around and connected the TV direct to my router. Previously I had used wifi to connect the TV to the internet and this had proved unreliable; when I had FTTC, it had worked fine over wifi. When I did a direct wired connection this appeared at the time to resolve those buffering issues.

I tried again, and once more it didn’t work…

I thought about it, checked upstairs and found that my son was streaming BBC iPlayer on his computer at the same time.

It was apparent that though my ADSL connection was fast enough for BBC iPlayer, it couldn’t cope with two streams at the same time. When I had the FTTC connection, it coped fine with higher quality BBC iPlayer streams, and streaming two programmes (and doing other stuff on the web as well) was all fine and dandy.

So we waited until my son’s programme had finished and then we watched Merlin.

What this incident made me realise was that the real advantage of FTTC wasn’t so much the speed of the connection, but the width. I find on ADSL that I can cope with waiting for things to download, but what I really miss about FTTC is the ability to use the full capacity of the fibre “tube” to do lots of different things all at once. Now with ADSL I need to schedule streaming and downloads to ensure that, not only do they work, but also to not inconvenience others in the house.

So is FTTC anywhere on the horizon for me? Not that I can see, which is a real pity.

BBC iPlayer for iPhone Arrives…


Though you have been able to access BBC iPlayer on your iPhone for a while now, the launch of the dedicated iPhone BBC iPlayer App means you can now stream live TV and radio on your iPhone (as you can with the iPad app).

So is the content different from what you get on the web on the iPhone?

So can you download content for offline viewing? Like when you are on a train? Something you can do on your computer. Well no, you have to have a decent internet connection to watch BBC iPlayer. Also you can’t use the service on 3G, you do need to be on wifi. Correction: I made an incorrect assumption you can access BBC iPlayer streams on your iPhone via 3G on both the App and the Web service. Of course be aware that streaming over 3G uses a lot of your bandwidth, so if you have a cap or are charged per GB be careful.

The main difference is that the app allows you to watch live BBC TV which is probably the main reason for getting the app, though remember you will need a TV licence to watch the live streams!

In the end I can’t see what the app adds that viewing on the iPlayer on Safari doesn’t have already, apart from “favourites”. What’s the point of that as most content disappears in under seven days anyway… I’ve not use that feature on the iPad and I doubt I will use it on the iPhone.

The app doesn’t have Airplay, though the web interface does, so a limitation there rather than an advantage.

Correction: The app does have support for AirPlay but it’s not intuitive. AirPlay is initiated outside the app by double clicking the home button and swiping right and pressing the AirPlay button; the streaming video will then be displayed through your AirPlay device (i.e. your Apple TV).

At the end of the day I am not sure what this brings to the iPhone, though from experience I have found the iPad app experience to be slightly better than the iPad web experience, but only slightly better.

Update: Of course the app and the streaming are only available in the UK.

Get the BBC iPlayer iPhone App in the iTunes Store.

QR Code on the telly

So there I was watching a cookery programme when up popped a QR code. Though I have seen them on the telly before, this was the first time I think I have seen one on a “normal” mainstream programme rather than your typical tech news or geek style show.

The programme was a mainstream BBC One early evening choice, so it would have hit a fair few viewers.

You would need to be either watching it recorded or on iPlayer or always have your phone’s QR Code reader ready to capture the code. I checked out how it worked using Optiscan on my iPhone and it (usefully) went to the mobile version of the website for the recipe.

One of the nice features of Optiscan (and other QR Code readers) is that I can then e-mail the link to myself so if necessary I can open the relevant link in my computer’s browser.

So are these QR Codes now mainstream?

Of course QR Codes are quite an old technology and more intelligent smartphone apps can now recognise that you are watching television and bring up the relevant content just by listening to the soundtrack. They compare the sound signature to a library and then connect with relevant content.

Likewise for other uses of QR Codes location awareness and image recognition of real things mean that it is possible to get content just by either taking a photograph or just by your phone knowing where it is.

Podcast Choice #02 – Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4


I have been asked a fair few times about the different podcasts I listen to. I not only have a lengthy commute to work, but also travel a fair bit for work, so it’s vital to me to have something to listen to. This series will discuss and review the different podcasts I listen to or have listened to. In a previous blog post I spoke about the why and how I listen to podcasts, now we look at the actual podcasts I listen to.

This week’s podcast is Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4.

Bringing you a satirical take on the week’s news with the cream of UK comedy talent from BBC Radio 4.

Every Friday at 6.30pm on Radio 4 you can listen to (usually) either the News Quiz or the Now Show. These, if you like satirical comedy, are very funny and well worth listening to. The News Quiz was the inspiration for Have I Got News for You (on the telly) and is hosted by the talented Sandy Toksvig with a panels that changes every week. It’s a light hearted look at the week’s news in the form of a quiz!

The Now Show is a different kettle of fish, hosted by Punt and Dennis, if you enjoyed the Mary Whitehouse Experience (also from the Telly) then very likely you will enjoy the Now Show. It takes a satirical look at the week’s news and the running gags, “come on Tim” ensure a regular listen is a must.

The Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4 podcast alternates between these two shows, and occasionally with something less satisfying.

As a BBC Podcast one of the annoying aspects is that only the latest episode is available, if you forget to download it then you’ve missed it. I suspect that this is a licensing issue and the BBC can’t avoid it. I know I regularly check for new episodes in iTunes, however if you don’t subscribe to many podcasts it can be easy to forget to check on a regular basis. As it is a podcast, unlike iPlayer downloads, there is no DRM, so you can hold into past episodes. Unlike some of the other podcasts I listen to, these I will listen to again, so have a fair archive now of episodes going back a few years.

I usually listen to the podcast on the way into work on a Monday morning and it certainly has me laughing out loud as I trundle up the M5.

My only complaint, well, I wonder where the podcasts of Just a Minute or Sorry I Haven’t a Clue are? Would be great if they were available – they are occasionally as part of Radio 4’s Comedy of the Week, but would be nice if every episode was available to download.