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Working from home May 20, 2020

Posted by Tomboktu in Uncategorized.
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I’m working from home these days (though not just right now — IT is figuring out the solution to a problem as I type). I’m relieved that I have a job where I can continue to work and be paid my full wage. And I have no children, so working from home isn’t a double work of minding children and doing the paid job, possibly with no recognition by the employer that in reality I do have two responsibilities during ‘working hours’.

Despite those important things for which I am grateful, there are aspects of this that rankle. I’m glad I’m not into jigsaws, because the kitchen table has to be set up each morning and undone again in the evening to return it to being my space.

And there was an assumption when this started that I would hand over my own personal computer to IT (actually, they would visit) and install software on it in order to give me access to the work network (protecting it from security breaches). I declined, so a laptop was provided. But no keyboard until I questioned this. (Employers are required to under the Health and Safety Authority’s guidance on using ‘display screen equipment.) Another assumption was that I would connect via my broadband. That may be fine if your broadband supplier provides genuinely unlimited data, but mine doesn’t and I did run up a larger than expected bill watching some films a few months ago. So, an interim alternative has security restrictions that the work IT department wants, which limits what I can do — online meetings are prohibited, for example (with one exception if a colleague sets up a meeting on a particular IT vendor’s product and emails a link to me and I log in about 8 minutes early to allow the system cycle through background procedures to handle my atypical set up before it decides it’s safe to let me in).

One of the problems I personally have is my line manager’s attitude: ‘it’s just a setting in X you need to put right’, I was advised despite IT confirming, twice, that all the settings were right but assumed I would be using my own computer and broadband. Fortunately, the team head does realise the problem is not a detail I haven’t set and that is in the innards of how the employer’s IT systems.Nevertheless, Line Manager will once a week ask me to attend an online event ‘because Your Colleague did the last two’.

I am privileged. Others don’t have jobs that can be kept going in a lockdown and  have been put on the ‘furlough’ scheme with loss of income or have lost their job entirely.

We also know that some (but how many?) students — across the range of primary school, secondary school, further education and third level — don’t have any IT, or maybe limited broadband or only a mobile phone, and cannot attend the online classes, cannot complete the online exercises, cannot log into the college library.

The State has very quickly gathered some data on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. On infections and deaths, yes, there have been glitches with the timeliness of some of the data reporting but daily — daily! the state doesn’t usually do daily data — statistics have been reported since February and the missing data did not fundamentally change the underlying patterns. And the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is able to say how many people are receiving the COVID-19 payment and how much has been paid. (I can’t find data on the Revenue Commissioner’s website or on the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the amounts it has actually paid or postponed on the schemes they operate.)

But when this is over, the State will need to look at both what worked and what did not work, and why. Juggling children, space in the house, connectivity, adequacy of income all need to be examined.

(And don’t get me started on the deeper more complex distributions of economic pain, such as the fact that mortgage payers who have had a drop in income for the period will not be recouped, but the holiday on their mortgage payments will be recouped.)

 

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1. An Sionnach Fionn - May 20, 2020

Some of the more interesting problems my company has had to deal with is liability, insurance and data protection for remote workers. The company provides you with your laptop, monitors, keyboard, mouse, chair and desk. Fine. But what if one of those items causes injury? Or an electrical fire? You’ve signed your form to say you are compliant with home working rules set up by the company but… And what about your own personal or house insurance? Does that cover you? Where lies the employer duty of care if something goes wrong? Or you inadvertently reveal personal information? You’re on a Skype call and your home address is viewable on the kitchen counter behind you by other participants in the call. Your child walks into a video conference and someone screengrabs the image. What if you need to increase your broadband connection? Or print documents from a new printer? Who pays for both? The issues are endless and the legalities far from clear under Irish law. Yet my company has now pretty much comitted to a significant batch of employees moving to full-time remote working no matter what happens this year. It finds the benefits too good. For now.

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WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2020

Yeah it’s hugely messy. And what about confidentiality more broadly? Shared house, people able to hear deliberations on anything if someone else in it is working.

And there’s practical issues in relation to equipment. Due to the job I do it’s a Mac environment for the most part. I’ve a colleague who does the same job I do but for a different configuration of people who had a eight year old MacBook with an 11″ screen at home. No facility to bring the iMacs from work home. I can’t imagine doing the work we do on that sort of set up with such a small screen. Or indeed on a laptop full stop. And let’s not even talk about apps and whether they’re up to date and how the files produced integrate with others. But that’s not addressed either. Again it’s near enough pure luck in a way I’ve the same set up home wise as at work. But there’s a case there for the place we work for to ensure that they are accommodated to work on machines that are able to do the job properly.

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2. Dr. Nightdub - May 21, 2020

After two months of working from home, the worst complaint I and my colleagues have is that IT / Purchasing / whoever seem to have bought our laptops as a job lot from Fisher-Price. I actually asked my boss straight out last week if my laptop “accidentally” went over the side of the balcony would that bump me up the queue for a new one, she just laughed.

We’re lucky to have a very pro-active head of department who seems genuinely concerned with peoples’ wellbeing, has told people to prioritise childcare over getting work done, put in place online team meetings every two days just make sure people are OK and not feeling disconnected, etc.

Most people seem to have brought their ergonomic-whatever chairs, full-screen monitors, etc home with them from the office as our boss was quite insistent about it. The messy bit will come if and when we move back to being part of the week in the office and part at home, no-one’s gonna want to have to lug all the equipment back and forth.

One thing I don’t think anyone’s taken into account is that so far, the lockdown has coincided with remarkably good weather so at least people working from home can relieve the cabin fever by getting out for a quick walk at lunchtime or whatever. If this was the depths of November, I suspect there’d be a lot more mental health issues to be dealt with.

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WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2020

That’s amazing that people brought home their chairs. That’s another point too. The home office in the house (terraced, two bedroom) is kind of cramped and the seats aren’t great compared to work. But I’d never fit a work seat in the office. That said I think your company (?) insisting on screens etc going to houses wasn’t a bad idea. But I see your point re what happens when there’s a sort of division between home and work as the situation improves.

That’s true too re the weather.

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3. WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2020

“But when this is over, the State will need to look at both what worked and what did not work, and why. Juggling children, space in the house, connectivity, adequacy of income all need to be examined.”

One key point and it is often lost in the stuff about schools reopening is the as you say Tomboktu wide range of varying experiences re devices. Some families have them, others don’t. I’ve tended to be agnostic or a bit antagonistic towards them in a school setting. But at this point the state should be making huge efforts to ensure all families do have access to such devices for schools and ensuring families have broadband or communication for the duration of this crisis.

Just on the work/home balance. Because of the nature of my job and being on contract I’ve long had a fallback policy of having more or less the same system at home as I do I work so I can replicate that work (or if I lost my job I’d be able to work from home). That’s a luxury too but it’s also an investment across years. Thing is as you say this leaves everyone in a tricky position. I’m doing a lot of work for work on my home computer. But where I work won’t put certain apps or even email addresses on my home computer, instead the latter is on my own phone. So I have to bounce emails from that phone to a gmail account on my computer and back. It’s circuitous, time consuming and doesn’t make a whole heap of sense security wise. But my feeling is that while I don’t begrudge work having the use of my computer, again that’s a massive luxury in itself, the implementation is pretty spotty and where work and home begins or ends is spotty. And of course it raises issues as to the future given this is clearly a long term situation.

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sonofstan - May 21, 2020

We were asked at the beginning if we had a laptop and an internet connection at home. If yes to both, that was pretty much it. I’ve no particular issues since there’s nothing more demanding than word or video conferencing to do, and no special software, but for collegues who need recording or composing tools, it’s been an issue, although many have, as you have, replicated their ofice set up at home.
The big missing bit for me is books – I grabbed what i could the day we left Saigon, but, as always, left the texts I really need behind.

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WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2020

That Saigon image is very true. It was very strange the last day or so in work. Grabbing whatever seemed to be needed. And yes, I’ve a fair few books I was working through (granted at lunch times) which I won’t see for a half year or more I suspect.

But that was more or less it. There was no instruction except to return home. The union said work if you can. But bar that nothing. Even having the work email put on my phone came on foot of a discussion with another person who does the same job I do for other people a week or so earlier. After that I put all the files on a hard drive (my hard drive – natch!) and brought them home over a couple of days, just in case. TBH I thought they’d keep the place open a few more days.But from my nominal employers (who granted I have no line manager) nothing directed to me personally.

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sonofstan - May 21, 2020

“The union said work if you can”
UCU have been more forensic in their research by far than my university – we get periodic surveys from various bits of the institution basically asking ‘are you ok?’ and ‘you’re all doing great!’ The union has been mining down into it far more, getting fairly detailed data about how WFH is affecting people. At one meeting last week, fairly divergent opinions emerged which highlighted how much this all depends on personal circumstances. Short version: some people actually really like it some completely hate it. Something else coming down the line: a lot of people live a considerable distance from work and, should we return anytime soon, commuting will be fraught. The ‘get on your bike’ message doesn’t work if you live 30 miles away – although why people are forced to live that far away (as in Dublin) or choose to (here) are other questions. And some people simply don’t want to cycle or are afraid of it.
Of course this all came right after we returned to work post-strike and the employers have come up with an ever so slightly improved offer, which will go to ballot over the summer. I expect that they are confident that we won’t mandate strike action ‘in the current circumstances’, through fear around employment and of public opinion and little enough will have been won.

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WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2020

That, what you describe re the union, is the way to do it in terms of analysis. And that point re personal circumstances resonates – for some this is fine, for others definitely not.

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