Working from home: changes to my use of tech

By Matt Cornock

How we are all working has changed rather a lot for most people. There’s a statement of the obvious! Having been working in an office shared with twenty other people to now working in a 2×1 metre cupboard, it is most definitely a different experience. At least I now have a window seat. Aside from the rather irregular hours I’m working at the moment, what’s surprised me is how I’ve changed the way I’m using the technology and software at my disposal.

Smaller spaces

Laptop, headphones, audio recorder, mouse, phone, cables, notepad and pen.
My workspace for working at home

First, the hardware. In my normal workplace I have a beasty desktop with terabytes of space and graphics grunt for media work. Even when not editing, I usually turn this on in the morning as my main computer as I can leave things whirring in the background and take my laptop to meetings. This is vital during mass uploading of course content, as attempting to do this whilst trying to maintain a network connection on a moving laptop is just asking for trouble. At home though, I’m working mainly on my laptop. There are three reasons I think why: a) energy consumption is lower (working at home has made me a little more conscious about cost); b) I am, like many, using web conferencing, so the inbuilt mic and webcam do a great job, which means I don’t have to chain myself to the desktop with a headset; c) I wonder also if there’s something about having a smaller screen to work on to focus the mind more and perhaps a quieter keyboard in a confined space. I’m also trying to do standing desk, at least in the morning, and so using a laptop makes repositioning much easier.

A bit of kit I’d never be without

Also on my desk is a Zoom H1 digital audio recorder. This is another essential piece of kit for me. Perfect for backup recording of expert Q&A sessions, it’s a handy audio interface and portable recorder. Whilst my cupboard office isn’t acoustically treated, I have a lapel mic that does a good job for internal videos and there’s always the technique of being surrounded by sofa cushions to dampen reverb for externally facing content. In fact, this is one perk of flexible working, as I can quickly create videos and supporting guidance without trying to hunt down a quiet space in the work building. As I identify the need, work out the approach, I can quickly get guidance and content created.

Internet connection

I have an abysmal broadband speed, as fibre hasn’t made it the last few yards from the main road to my street, which is an evil irony considering my role. I have three separate 4G devices which are getting a hammering at the moment. My work mobile (4GB allowance), my personal mobile (20GB allowance) and a personal WiFi device (15GB allowance). When most course videos are around 200MB, on my non-fibre broadband that takes over 25mins to upload. Educator Q&A videos exceed 1GB, some up to 3GB, and the connection always falters part way when something else needs the bandwidth (conference call, iPlayer, etc). Hence, 4G really is essential for me at the moment. This is especially true when some videos are uploaded three times: to the course platform, to be professionally captioned (though I can re-encode a lower quality one for that) and to YouTube. The synchronous stuff, such as Google Meet, Ms Teams and Adobe Connect (for I use all three, for different reasons) usually have no problem on my broadband (a testament to how these platforms seamlessly adapt, except when others are using the same connection I switch to 4G), but I juggle so many large files, I will never take super fast workplace networks for granted again!

Back to the cloud

My use of documents has changed, or rather reverted to a way I used to work in my previous job. I used to live within Google Drive and cloud-based storage, as network drive provision was more restricted and clunky. At my current place of work, network drives have been cleverly set up with different access protocols for different folders, making secure sharing internally much easier. We also have an organisation wiki, seen as the source of truth for information across a wide range of network partners. The reason for my shift back to cloud documents (within organisational information security compliant accounts I must add), is two fold. First, responding to the needs of new programmes and projects means I am working with a lot of people across different teams, many who I’ve never worked with before. Having live collaborative documents, with levels of editing and commenting rights as appropriate, has sped up creation of several thousands of words of guidance and process. It means that the link to a document is the same from the moment of inception, through to first promotion and can continually be updated as feedback comes in. That iterative process is crucial, as the pace of change and delivery is extraordinarily fast. It is impossible to produce a fully correct final document without time for sense-checking and others outside project teams implementing the guidance and feeding back. However with a large organisation with many external parties involved, having a single document link, that can be accessed without downloading, just through a browser, across any device and without specific software, seems to me to be pretty essential. The struggle is how you disseminate these links, which is where the organisation wiki comes in. It’s no longer the case you can just turn around in the office and ask for the network folder, and I would also argue, based on my own overflowing inbox, that even keeping hold of an email is going to be like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. I’m also using Google Docs for course facilitator and learner guidance as I can keep this updated as new activities requiring new approaches are deployed.

Planning and logging work

With the many streams of work, each with various tasks involved, I’m heavily using my online calendar to keep track of work. It may not be pretty, or perhaps adhere to best practice, but it’s working for me. By dropping into my calendar each task with a time to complete them, I can immediately see what needs juggling and prioritising, and set realistic deadlines. It also means that time is protected to actually do work, and avoids meeting fatigue. As new priorities come in, capturing these on my calendar shows me what of the usual jobs I need to catch up on later or reassign. I’ve also experimented with MS Planner, but due to a reboot on how my workplace wanted to use MS Teams and the number of externals I work with, I need to rethink. I admit, I think I need to see some effective use cases of MS Planner and Trello (and unpick if it can speak to my calendar properly) before I’m convinced it will help me work more efficiently.

Media and content creation

Adobe Creative Cloud, particularly Premiere Pro, Audition, Illustrator, Media Encoder and (less frequently) After Effects are still my go-to content production tools. I know the wider Adobe CC also offers some snazzy tools I’d really like to find time to explore benefits for learning content production. Both Spark and MS Sway are on my list to really push their limits (though am concerned over accessibility of the outputs, particularly content images set as background which I think affects Spark where the work around is a separate PDF). For a new parent-facing resource I needed a space I could maintain and update rapidly. As I’m required to only use organisational accounts, Google Sites was my quick fix and I’m impressed by the new layout, mobile adaptive pages and content templates. It certainly looks and works better than the awful, clunky and bland Google Sites of old. Finally, Camtasia is still holding its own in terms of giving me a reliable, offline screen recorder and fast editor. I’ve created over 15 demos of how to deliver remote learning activities and the feature set of Camtasia did the job at a more than good enough standard.

Outlet for ideas

I’ve really valued having my ‘library’ to hand. Ominously positioned to loom over my desk in shelves to the ceiling, I still refer back to learning design books for a sense check and to remind myself of why I adopt certain approaches. Particularly working in isolation, I am missing the short passing chat with a colleague about an idea, and so revisiting and re-evaluating ideas from the textbooks has been useful.

My personal library of education and online learning text books.
My library of sorts

Indeed, communication is far less spontaneous when working at home. We have lost the ‘water cooler moments’. Everything is more scheduled, to talk place in a virtual meeting room, rather than adjacent at desks (and after lock down that may continue with social distancing). I have an organisation that uses Slack, but I find it disruptive. I have turned off email and Slack notifications, the incessant pinging and subsequent judgement whether it’s a priority or not throws my thinking. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Talking through a lightbulb moment in person can be rewarding, especially if you know those around you are in the mode for shared thinking. With everyone working at home, it feels a little more like an interruption, not knowing the status of someone else’s zone of concentration! So, my final key piece of technology is a pen and notebook. Getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Whether I do something with them or not, only future posts on this website will tell!

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