I have had the somewhat enviable position of being able to work from home for a decent part of the last couple years. During my various stints (which could be largely split into 2 major chunks) I’ve become familiar with the various trials and tribulations that come with more flexible working arrangements. For the most part I’m still very much in the positive camp however there were a few gotchas which I feel could catch many people out. Indeed it wasn’t until I stopped working from home that I realised some of the destructive habits that I had fallen into, many of which curtailed any benefits that could be derived.
My initial bout of working from home was on a very large government contract that was still in the tender stage. This meant that I was, for the most part, spending a lot of my time on the phone and email. Like any government contract things didn’t move quickly and I spent the better part of 3 months barely ever leaving the house. Now this isn’t really much of a problem for me, I do fine by myself, however what I had found was that I struggled to break myself away from the feeling of being “at work”.
Recent studies have shown that this is a common problem that many people face when working from home. For me it manifested as a relapse into depression, something that hadn’t happened to me in the better part of a decade. Indeed I only came to the conclusion that that was the cause after I had returned to a normal work schedule. During my second run of working from home however I found several things that helped stave off those potential problems, most of which seem rather obvious when you think about it.
The first and foremost was getting out of the house. Whilst I’m fine with social isolation what really put a toll on me was the lack of time spent anywhere else but home. Whilst this is fine for a week or so over time you begin to associate your environment more with the activities you primarily do there. For me this meant feeling like I was “at work” whenever I was at home and thus I wasn’t able to fully disconnect myself in order to get a break. During my second work from home run however I spent far more time at client sites, meeting with colleagues and generally switching up my scenery far more often than I did in the past. Thus my home felt just like that, not my office where I felt obligated to work.
Probably the most important factor though was having work that I was engaged with. During my first spell I wasn’t fully engaged as the vast majority of my time was spent on long calls with lawyers or the prime contractor. These weren’t the most enthralling things and were often discussions around definitions, limitations, exclusions and all sorts of other words that will send you to sleep. By contrast during my second stint I was meeting with clients, designing solutions and working through the internal machinery of my company to make things happen. Being engaged is the key to being happy at any workplace however it becomes crucial when you’re in a flexible working arrangement.
Once I avoided those pitfalls though the benefits of working from home are numerous. I’m more easily able to manage my professional and personal schedules together, enabling me to dedicate more time to both without feeling exhausted. I spent far less time travelling as I’d be on the move during off-peak times rather than battling rush hour traffic each way. I was able to set up my work environment the way I wanted it to be, allowing me to be far more productive in the same amount of time. I could go on but there are so many more benefits, both tangible and intangible, that come from such flexible working arrangements.
It’s no secret that I thought the conscientious objectors exemption for the Family Tax Benefit A vaccination requirement was total bullshit and it infuriated me to no end that what sounded like a great policy ended up being trivialized. The fact of the matter is that whilst you might think that vaccination is a personal decision it is anything but as choosing not to vaccinate puts other people at risk, usually those who are least able to fight off the dangers that you or your children will now present to them. Still the moronic ideal that vaccines somehow cause more harm than they prevent prevailed with a choice group of people, seeing the number of unvaccinated children double in the past decade.
The government was obviously aware of the fact that their legislation was being routinely circumvented by a disturbingly large number of people and just yesterday introduced new legislation dubbed “No Jab, No Pay“. Whilst the crux of the legislation remains the same, people who refuse to vaccinate their children will lose several tax benefits and rebates until they get current, however this new bill removes the get out of jail free card that the conscientious objector exemption provided. Now the only way to get around losing your tax benefits is if you can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons (something that’s extremely rare and would be covered off by herd immunity normally) or if you have a religious reason for doing so.
Thankfully the latter provision has said to be extremely narrow which will most likely derail any attempts the anti-vaxxers have of trying to circumvent it with something as ludicrous as the Church of Conscious Living, a religious group set up specifically for that purpose. Whilst that might not stop anti-vaxxers from joining up some of the more esoteric, but established, religions that have such exemptions I’m sure many of them will be thinking long and hard before they associate themselves with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In any case it will likely force the hands of many to get their children vaccinated so they can receive those benefits from the government, a win-win for all involved if you ask me.
The fact that the government has had to step in like this shows just how serious of an issue the anti-vaxxer movement is becoming. The fact that the number of unvaccinated children has risen so sharply in recent times is cause for alarm on its own however the flow on effects of that are far, far worse. We’re seeing a resurgence in diseases that were essentially considered eradicated in Australia, some of which can have dire consequences for those who don’t have the immunity granted to them through the use of vaccinations. The anti-vax movement will argue that the vaccines do more harm than good or don’t prevent diseases that they say they do however the science simply does not line up with any of the claims they make and yet they continue to perpetuate the myths.
There’s really no argument to be had here, vaccinations work, are incredibly safe and for those precious few who are unable to get vaccinated the benefits of herd immunity will ensure that they will not suffer from the diseases they cannot protect themselves against. The more people that refuse to vaccinate the worse off we will be as a nation as we’ll be once again battling diseases that we would otherwise not have to. The cold hard fact is that vaccines are several orders of magnitude better than the diseases they prevent and to argue otherwise is disregard decades of science, numerous public health studies and your own morality that goes against harming other humans.
If you’re willing to look past all that then you can see why I’m not sympathetic to you losing a few dollars from the government.
For all of my working life I pined for the ability to do my work from wherever I choose. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to work in my trackies, only checking email whenever it suited, no more I wanted to avoid having to waste hours of my day travelling to and from the office when I could just as easily do the work remotely. Last year, when I permanently joined the company I had been contracting to the year previous, I was given such an opportunity and have spent probably about half the working year since at home. For me it’s been a wonderfully positive experience and, to humblebrag for a bit, my managers have been thoroughly impressed with my quality of work. Whilst I’ve always believed this would be the case I never had much hard evidence to back it up but new research in this field backs up my conclusions.
Researchers at the University of Illinois created a framework to analyse telecommuting employee’s performance. They then used this to gain insight into data taken from 323 employees and their corresponding supervisors. The results showed a very small, positive effect for the telecommuting workers showing that their performance was the same or slightly better than those who were working in the office. Perhaps most intriguingly they found that the biggest benefit was shown when employees didn’t have the best relationship with their superiors, indicating that granting flexible working arrangements could be seen as something of an olive branch to smooth over employee relations. However the most important takeaway from this is that no negative relationship between telecommuting and work performance was found, showing that employees working remotely can be just as effective as their in office counterparts.
As someone who’s spent a great deal of time working from various different places (not just at home) with other people in a similar situation I have to say that my experience matches up with research pretty well. I tend to be available for much longer periods of time, simply because it’s easier to, and it’s much easier to focus on a particular task for an extended period of time when the distractions of the office aren’t present. Sure after a while you might start to wonder if you’ll be able to handle human contact again (especially after weeks of conference calls) but it’s definitely something I think every employer should offer, if they have the capability to.
It also flies in the face of Marissa Mayer’s decision to outright ban all telecommuting in Yahoo last year, citing performance concerns. Whilst I don’t disagree with the idea that telecommuting isn’t for everyone (I know a few people who’d likely end up like this) removing it as an option is incredibly short sighted. Sure, there’s value to be had in face time, however if their performance won’t suffer offering them flexible working arrangements like telecommuting can generate an awful lot of goodwill with your employees. I know that I’m far more likely to stick around with my current company thanks to their stance on this, even if I probably won’t be able to take advantage of it fully for the next couple years.
Hopefully studies like this keep getting published as telecommuting is fast becoming something that shouldn’t have to be done by exception. Right now it might be something of a novelty but the technology has been there for years and it’s high time that more companies started to make better use of it. They might just find it easier to hold on to more employees if they did and, potentially, even attract better talent because of it. I know it will take time though as we’re still wrestling with the 40 hour work week, a hangover over 150 years ago, even though we’ve long since past the time where everyone is working factories.
One day though, one day.
With an abundance of space and not much else the rural parts of Australia aren’t really the place where a kid has much to entertain themselves with. From the age of about 12 however my parents let us kids bash our way around the property in all manner of vehicles which has then fed into a lifelong obsession with cars. This has been in direct competition with my financially sensible side however as cars are a depreciating asset, one that no amount of money invested in them can ever recoup. However I still enjoy the act of driving itself, especially if it’s through some of Australia’s more picturesque landscapes. You’d think then that the idea of a self driving car would be abhorrent to a person like myself but in reality it’s anything but.
We’re fast approaching the time when cars that can drive themselves to and from any location are not only technically feasible, they’re a few short steps away from being a commercial reality. Google’s self driving car, whilst it has only left its home town a couple times, has demonstrated that it’s quite possible to arm a car with a bevy of sensors and have it react better than a human would in many situations. Indeed the accidents their car has been involved in have not been the fault of the software, but of the humans either controlling the self driving car or those ramming into the back of it. Whilst there’s still many regulatory hurdles to go before these things are seen en-masse on our roads it would seem like having them there would be a huge boon to everyone, especially those travelling as its passengers.
For me whilst driving isn’t an unpleasant experience it’s still a time where I’m unable to do anything else but drive the car. Now I’m not exactly your stereotypical workaholic (I will keep a standard hour day and attempt to automate most of my work instead) but having an extra hour or so a day where I can complete a few tasks, or even just catch up on interesting articles, would be pretty handy. Indeed this is the reason why I still fly most places when travelling for business, even when the flight from Canberra to the other capitals is below an hour total. It’s not me doing the driving which allows me to get things done rather than spending multiple hours watching the odometer.
There’s also those numerous times when neither the wife nor I feel like driving and we could simply hand over to the car for the trip. I can even imagine it reducing our need to have separate cars as I could simply have the car drop my wife off and return to me if I needed it. That’s a pretty huge benefit and one that’s well worth paying a bit of a premium for.
This would also have the unintentional benefit of making those times when I wanted to drive that much more enjoyable. Nothing takes the fun out of something that enjoy than being forced to do it all the time for another purpose, something which driving to work every day certainly did for me. If I was only driving when I wanted to however I feel that I’d enjoy it far more than I’d otherwise would. I think a lot of car enthusiasts will feel the same way as few drive their pride and joys to work every day, instead having a daily driver that they run on the cheap. Of course some will abhor the experience in its entirety but you get that with any kind of new technology.
For me this technology can not come quick enough as the benefits are huge with the only downside being the likely high cost of acquisition. I’ve only been speaking from a personal viewpoint here too as there’s far much more to be gained once self driving cars reach a decent level of penetration among the wider community.
That’s a blog post for another day, however.
I love reviewing games, I really do. Back when I first started doing it I was constantly struggling with writer’s block as I felt I had already covered all the semi-interesting topics already and was simply cranking out post after post which I didn’t feel particularly proud of. Game reviews then were a writing safe haven, a place where I could write almost endlessly on how that game made me feel and the nuances of the game play and graphics. They were among the most time consuming posts to write but they were also the most fulfilling and, several reviews later, I had left behind the creative block that had plagued me for months before and I’ve never looked back since.
That love of game reviews hasn’t gone unnoticed by publishers, PR reps and developers. I’ve felt incredibly lucky to be invited not once, but twice to play the Call of Duty titles before they were released (I couldn’t go this year, unfortunately). I was also lucky enough to have my review of Resonance noticed by the PR department of Wadjet Eye Games and was invited to play their upcoming title, Primordia, before it was released to the public. Sure I’m not exactly overwhelmed with requests from PR reps and publishers to get coverage of their games but I’ve at least had a taste of how the game review world operates and like many of my fellow brethren I’ve always been left craving more.
Reviews live and die by their timing, especially for larger sites. I knew from the start that I would never get a review out before any of the big sites would simply because I’d never get access to the titles at the same time they did. I’m ok with this as whilst I might not be first to market on these things I still manage to do alright, even if the amount of traffic I get would be a rounding error on the analytics dashboard of any proper gaming site. The opportunity to do reviews alongside the big time players then is a huge advantage to people like me as it gives us a chance at grabbing a slice of that juicy review traffic, even if most people will simply wait for their review site of choice to publish it.
Then DoritoGate happened.
I’ve never had someone call me out for being on the take for my reviews and that’s because (I hope) that I’m pretty upfront when I’m dealing with PR people or an event that was designed to generate blog coverage. Whilst my review scores tend towards the upper end of the spectrum, with a few people pointing out that I’m operating on a 7 to 10 scale and not a 0 to 10 one, that’s essentially a form of survivor bias that came about due to the way I review games. I did joke about giving a better review score to Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 depending on who schmoozed me better but I never consciously did that because realistically there was nothing else for me to gain from it.
When you’re like me and these kinds of things don’t happen to you very often it’s hard to not accept it the lavishes of the PR agencies, especially when they’re helping you further your cause. I don’t have an ethics policy tying me down or a boss to report to so the only people I have to appease is you, my dear reader. As far as I can tell everyone is comfortable with reviewers like me receiving review copies of games and even attending events where we’re given previews of said games (them paying for your travel still seems to be a grey area) but the furore that has erupted from a man sitting beside a table of Doritos and Mountain Dew has made me question what’s appropriate and what I’m comfortable with personally.
Now I’ve got something of a position of power here since I don’t advertise on this blog nor have I ever worked with publishers and PR people to do things like mock reviews. However when I first started getting offers of review products I took a long time before I accepted something mostly because I didn’t know what taking it meant for my blog. Intrinsically the gift of a product is given on the expectation of a review so there’s an obligation there, even if there isn’t any formal contract to speak of. My journalist friends said that disclosure is the key here, which is something I’ve stuck to religiously, but after seeing how the wider gaming community has reacted has me wondering if there’s things I should say no to in the future. All in the name of some form of journalistic integrity.
Realistically I don’t believe I have as many conflicts or issues as some of the people involved in DoritoGate did but it’s issues like these that play constantly in the back of my head when I’m writing, or even thinking about writing, a game review. I’ll stick to my principles of being honest and transparent when it comes to benefits I receive as part of the review process but I don’t have any hard and fast rules that I feel I could apply to other games reviewer’s yet. I think that’s what’s bothering me the most and I’m not entirely sure when I’ll have a solution for it.
It may come as a surprise to you to find out that Australia is a predominately service base industry. Whilst it’s hard to argue that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of the current mining boom Australia’s GDP is still predominately derived from our service industry, to the tune of 69% (pg. 134). Still the current prosperity and insulation from global economic crises that Australia has received from the growing mining sector won’t last forever and now is the time for us to start looking towards the future so we can ensure future economic prosperity. I strongly believe that we’ve already undertaken the first steps towards achieving this with the implementation of the National Broadband Network.
Australia as it stands today suffers from an incredible amount of skill drain to other countries. Well over half of the Australian residents who leave Australia for over a year or permanently were skilled workers and whilst the trend has gone down in recent times (thanks wholly to Australia’s isolation from the global economic turmoil) that hasn’t stemmed the flow of talent leaving our shores. For the high technology sectors at least there is the potential to recreate the hot bed of innovation that led to the creation of Silicon Valley on the back of the NBN. This would not only stem the brain drain overseas but would produce large and sustainable gains to the Australian economy.
Right now the public view of the NBN varies wildly. Businesses by and large have no idea what benefits it can bring them, public opinion is mixed (although Senator Conroy says differently) and even the federal government seems at a loss to what it could mean for Australia’s future, doling out cash to local governments in the hope they’ll be able to sell it for them. To combat this the government should instead provide incentives and seed capital to high-tech start ups who are looking to leverage Australia’s upcoming ubiquitous high speed Internet infrastructure, in essence building an Australian Silicon Valley.
Doing this requires co-ordination with entrepreneurial communities, venture capitalists and the willing hand of the government. They could easily make investment in these kinds of companies more desirable by extending tax breaks that are currently enjoyed by other asset classes to investment in NBN based high-tech start ups. This would also make Australian based startups incredibly attractive for overseas investors, pumping even more money into the Australian economy. As the sector grows there would also be an increasing amount of ancillary jobs available, ones that accompany any form of corporation.
Australia would then become a very desirable location for both established and aspiring businesses looking to expand into the Asia-Pacific region. It also works in the reverse, giving Asia-Pacific businesses (and nations) a more local launch pad into the western business world. Establishing Australia as a high tech hub between our strong local ties and western allies abroad would provide a massive economic boost to Australia, one to rival that of the current mining boom.
Of course it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before in Australia, indeed many have tried to recreate the success of the valley with little results. Indeed I believe this is due to a lack of co-operation between the key players, namely the government, entrepreneurs and investors. The NBN represents a great opportunity for the government to leverage the industry not only to ensure Australia’s future economic prosperity but also to establish Australia as a leader in technology. I believe that the government should be the ones to take the first steps towards fostering such an environment in Australia as once the industry knows they have the support they’ll be far more willing to invest their time in creating it.
Not leveraging the NBN in such a way would leave the NBN as a simple infrastructure service, woefully underutilised given the capabilities that it could unlock. Make no mistake the NBN puts Australia almost at the top in terms of ubiquitous, high speed Internet access and that makes a lot of services that are currently infeasible to develop attractive targets for investigation. Indeed since the same level of broadband access is almost guaranteed throughout the country it is highly likely that benefits will stretch far past the borders of the CBD, even as far as regional centres.
As someone who’s group up on and made his career in technology it’s my fervent hope that the Australian government recognizes the potential the NBN has and uses that for the betterment of Australia. As a nation we’re well positioned to leverage our investment in infrastructure to provide economic benefits that will far exceed its initial cost. Creating a Silicon Valley of the Asia-Pacific region would elevate Australia’s tech industry to rival those throughout the rest of the world and would have massive benefits far beyond Australia’s borders.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the National Broadband Network will be a major benefit to Australia, way past the investment we’re making in it. It’s one of those rare pieces of legislation that will almost certainly outlive the government that started it and the Labor government should be commended for that. Indeed something like the National Broadband Network is almost a necessity if Australia wants to keep pace with the rest of the world in a technological sense as otherwise we’d be stuck on aging copper infrastructure that really doesn’t have any legs left in it. Still whilst anyone in the IT or related sectors would agree that the NBN will be good for business it’s not entirely clear what those benefits will be.
News.com.au ran a story this morning that pointed to research showing only 30% of Australian businesses had a “medium to high” understanding of the benefits available to them through the NBN. Making a few assumptions here I’m guessing the survey didn’t ask actual questions to gauge their true understanding so it’s likely that that number is actually a lot lower than the survey lets on. I’ll admit that for a non-technical person, who was likely the one answering the survey, the benefits of ubiquitous high speed Internet for your business are not entirely clear especially when the Internet they have now is probably doing them well enough.
The businesses geared to make the most of the NBN are ones with multiple offices spread throughout Australia. Right now getting a good inter-office connection, whether a full WAN or just some trickery using VPN tunnels and a regular ADSL, is either an expensive or complicated affair. The NBN will provide high speed interconnects at prices that many businesses will be able to afford. This means you’ll be able to get almost 100MB connections between offices giving you LAN like speeds between disparate offices. It might not sound like much but even small government agencies currently struggle with this (I’ve worked for more than one) and the boost in productivity from better connections between regional offices is very noticeable. This would also extend to remote workers as well, since it’s highly likely that they’ll have NBN access as well.
Having a large connection also enables businesses to move services out of expensive hosted data centres and onto their own premises. Right now it’s nigh on impossible to host client facing services internally unless you want to shell out a lot of money for the business type Internet plans. The NBN will bring data centre level speeds to almost every home and place of business in Australia enabling current businesses the opportunity to migrate inwards, saving on rental and administration costs. Sure the facilities they have might not be as good as what they can get elsewhere but the cost savings of not using a co-located service (believe me, they’re not cheap) would be more than worth it.
There’s also a host of services that are currently infeasible to operate, due to their high bandwidth use, that would become feasible thanks to the NBN. Such services won’t be available immediately but as the NBN reaches a threshold of active users then we can expect either local innovators to create them or for current Internet giants to localize their services for Australia. Predominately I see this taking the form of cloud based services which are accessible from Australia but have yet to have local nodes due to the lack of supporting infrastructure. This would also help cloud providers crack into that ever elusive Australian government sector which has remained resistant due to the restrictions placed on where their data can be stored.
The NBN will also bring about many other ancillary benefits due to the higher speed and ubiquitous access that business will be able to take advantage of. Indeed the flow on effects of a fully fibre communications network will have benefits that will flow on for decades for both businesses and consumers alike. Realistically this list is just the tip of the iceberg as over time there will be numerous services that become available in order to take advantage of our new capabilities. I personally can’t wait to get onto it, enough so that moving to one of the fibre enabled locations is tempting, albeit not tempting enough to make me move to Tasmania.
I’m not a fan of the current norms for a working life. There just seems to be something so wrong about spending the best part of a day slaving away behind a desk, working towards goals that you likely have no control over. The current 9 to 5 work day has its origins back in the industrial revolution and in the almost 200 years since then we’ve seemingly been unable to get past the idea that we should all spend 40+ hours a week at our place of work. Ultimately I believe that such norms represent an archaic idea about how efficient a workforce can be, especially considering that 200 years ago ides like telecommuting were in the realms of science fiction.
I feel the same way about the 2 day weekend that we’re all accustomed to. It’s not that I feel like I deserve the extra break, although it is quite welcome, more the fact that after experimenting with a 3 day weekend for the better part of a year I found myself to be wholly more productive at work and during my time off. Sure it could be tough sometimes making up the required 40 hours during the week but that extra day off ensured that I came back ready to face the challenges ahead of me, usually with a vigor unmatched by other employees.
It’s not just all anecdotal blustering on my part either. Research shows that people with flexible working arrangements, the ones that would allow for things like a permanent 3 day weekend, are more productive and much more satisfied with their jobs.It’s not surprise really as they are able to fit work around their life rather than the other way around. For many people this may be the odd day off here and there, but many will choose to take that as either a Friday or Monday in order to maximise the benefit of having said day off.
For someone like me the extra day off was usually spent doing all the menial things that would otherwise eat up half of my weekend. Whilst 2 days is a good amount of time for leisure it is usually interrupted by chores, commitments and sometimes even catching up on work that “needs” to be done. The additional day would then serve as a buffer for such things, ensuring that you’d be able to spend the next 2 days fully indulging in whatever leisure activities you seek. The effect was quite liberating and the three day weekend was the first reason why I started pursuing the idea behind Lobaco as up until then I simply struggled to find the time to work on such ideas.
I’m not the only one to think this either. Whilst I’m sure everyone would appreciate having another day off it seems that more and more people are recognising that the current norms for working aren’t suited to the world we live in, especially considering the technological advances of the past couple decades. There’s also been significant movement towards more flexible working arrangements, however they still constitute a minority in the wider world. It’s still progress however and someday I believe that the idea of working a 5 day, 9 to 5 job will be an archaic relic of our past.
For someone like me the benefits seem obvious. I’ve been there and seen them for myself and there’s a growing movement of people who’ve done the same. It’s not a hard change to make either, realistically workplaces have no reason not to try it especially if they track their employees with any kind of performance metrics. It is a fight against giant inertia however, the 200 year old habits of the working world are going to die a slow death even with the hand of technology pushing it towards its demise. I hope one day to rejoin the ranks of those who enjoy a shortened work week and lengthened weekend, but until then I will continue to spruik its benefits to all, hoping to fall on sympathetic ears.