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Alumni Takeover: Technology Tips from Joe Boss

Joe Boss is a Senior Technology Specialist at Sage Computer Software. Writing as our first guest contributor, Joe gives us some great advice on working from home in his blog:

As I enter my fourth consecutive week of exclusively working from home, the memories of the office are starting to fade already. Due to childcare commitments, I’m usually in the Newcastle office for long days on Mondays and Fridays, and work from home through the week. Therefore, it’s not been as much of a culture shock as it may have been to some. Though I’m missing the gym, driving the car, and as one of my esteemed colleagues would categorise our interactions, the ‘limited and repetitive work banter’.

Jokes aside, it’s important to keep contact with friends and colleagues throughout this time, to maintain a sense of normality and routine, and frankly, to keep your sanity. From my own experience, we’re encouraged to meet through video calls and re-enact those office chats we’d usually be having in person, as employers recognise the need for people to take a break from their screens. True, the range of conversation may have dipped as we focus in on the events in the news, but it’s still important that we all keep an eye out for each other.

From a technology perspective, there are various tools available to achieve this - FaceTime, or WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger video calls, provide a quick and easy solution for people you interact with regularly outside of work. From a corporate perspective, it’s worth checking with your IT team as to which videoconferencing tool they recommend. Zoom has proved immensely popular in recent weeks, but as you may have seen in the news, there are a lot of questions regarding security and privacy.

Technology has provided an opportunity for people to take an innovative approach to their usual tasks – no doubt you’ll have seen people posting pictures of their home office setups on social media, be it a fully-fledged spare room with a desk, or a laptop perched on a kitchen countertop.  You’re also probably familiar with your colleagues’ children, pets and significant others bursting through on team calls, and if you haven’t already whipped out the conference call bingo sheet, you most likely need to ‘jump to another call’.

As a digital learning professional, it’s been fascinating to see how other people have adapted to the social distancing guidelines. From Joe Wicks’ P.E. lessons, to the BBC attempting to host Have I Got News For You via video link, life is carrying on and adapting to the circumstances. Standing in front of a screen to exercise conjures up images of Winston in Orwell’s 1984, but it’s proved incredibly popular, and other companies are hosting online events to match. My personal favourite has been Alan Leach, the drummer from Shed Seven, hosting virtual music quizzes on a night-time.

For those of us combining study and work, I’m looking across at the pile of course books to my left and I’m thankful that the return dates have been suspended. There is a wealth of online resources that you can use while the university library is closed, and as many universities pause face-to-face tuition in favour of moving online, it’s a strange situation to see my line of work become aligned with higher education. 

My personal tips for working from home would be:

Do:

  • Ask your Manager if you can change up your working day (I’m currently starting earlier and taking a longer dinner break to spend time with the kids).
  • Use your permitted daily exercise to take an actual break and go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride (assuming it’s safe to do so and you’re not self-isolating).
  • Use the time outside of your office hours to do those tasks you’ve been putting off for months, or learn a new skill – as the better weather arrives, get your garden sorted and you’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to take your laptop outside and work in the sunshine.
  • See if any existing technology around the house can be re-used to make your life easier – an old set of iPhone earphones, or a USB PlayStation headset can make conference calls a lot easier, and most laptops can output to a large TV via VGA or HDMI.

Don’t:

  • Fall into the trap of being tied to your new desk – without that work/home separation, it’s very easy to lose an evening to answering emails.
  • Spend all day pressing refresh on the BBC News or Guardian websites – the current situation is awful but fixating upon it won’t help your wellbeing or your concentration.
  • Believe everything you read on social media – perhaps it’s boredom creeping in, but there seems to be an increase in online spats, and a proliferation of finger-pointing/whataboutery.

To the last point, social media is an incredibly powerful tool in these uncertain times, and will most likely be the way that people continue to interact with one another, so it’s more important than ever to evaluate the veracity of content before clicking the share button.

Take care,

Joe


Would you like to share your expertise with Newcastle’s alumni community? Email advancement@ncl.ac.uk with your story for a chance to be featured.

Joe boss

published on: 21 April 2020