October 30, 2013

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To Work We Go!!

Filed under: ClickNwork News,Quality of life,work-from-home — Roger @ 11:51 am

It’s almost a year since our last ClickNwork blog post. Pitiful, I know.

There is much we want to tell you about how ClickNwork is changing, but we want to do it with a bit more of a fanfare when we’re a little closer to the launch.

Instead, I want to talk about commuting or rather, if you work from home, not commuting.

I live in England, a country of many advantages and joys, but also one of a number of frustrating and annoying traits.

We have, for example, a temperate climate largely free of the elemental extremes of some countries, so when the weather does turn a little vicious, as it did earlier this week, infrastructure and human will seems to turn to a pathetic mush.

It was no surprise, therefore, when Hurricane St. Jude, which ripped through the country on Sunday night and Monday morning, completely disrupted people’s travel plans, and especially the usual Monday morning commute. Trees uprooted and deposited on train lines quite understandably rendered many tracks unusable until cleared, and that can take a while. The roads fared little better.

I can remember the days, when commuting to London from various outposts, of anticipating disruptions (typically caused by snow, which always seemed to baffle the hell out of what was then called British Rail), by setting off even earlier to maximize my chances of getting to work, even if it took all day to do so.

On one occasion, living about 30 miles outside London in a dire place called Chatham, in Kent, I set off early in the snow, making my way to Chatham rail station for the early o’clock train to Victoria. We made it a few miles down the line to Rochester, and out the other side, before grinding to a halt a short hop from Sole Street, where we sat (or, in my case, stood) for seven hours in a packed train while various BR operatives tried to free the wheels of ice with large jemmy bars. We, meanwhile, entertained ourselves by singing to them through the windows the Ian Drury and the Blockheads song “Hit me with Your Rhythm Stick” (in the charts at the time, in 1978), swapping unfinished crosswords and, in our part of the train, breaking in to the annoyingly locked buffet kiosk looking for anything to eat or drink.

We found only cold drinks – including beer – and, in true commuting spirit, even left the money to pay for them.

Attempts to disembark attracted shouts of “get back in or you’ll be electrocuted”, because they hadn’t switched off the electricity, just in case they might eventually free the wheels.

After the seven hours or so, and several failed attempts to get a diesel engine to us to pull us along to the Sole Street platforms, they switched the power off and invited us to walk the half mile or so along the line to the station.

A train full of cold, bitter, rather angry commuters then piled in the imaginatively named Railway Inn, right outside the station, to wait comforted by a tipple of choice for the promised train to take us back down the line and home.

I apologise for the long discourse, but this is one of the top commuting events that always comes to mind when I celebrate the fact that I no longer have to do that.

Many of the other commuting events – like standing on cold, wet and windy platforms waiting forlornly for trains that might not even exist, or cramming in to overfull tube trains with what seems like a million other wet and steaming travellers – just sort of blend together in a sort of unpleasant, malodorous memory sump.

It’s not attractive, I know, but I cannot prevent myself from enjoying a certain schadenfreude when seeing TV pictures of thoroughly miserable commuters beset by the fallout from the British weather.

So I sit in my garden office, a short five-second commute from the house and within spitting distance of the kitchen kettle, happy to be away from all that.

And then, just to add the cherry on the cake, there was this article in the New York Times that talked about how commuters waste time in cars when they might otherwise be socializing or, perhaps more importantly, exercising and becoming healthier. The article cites a number of studies that indicate that the further your commute the less healthy you are likely to be (in terms of blood pressure, stress, heart disease, cholesterol…) – e.g., a short commute might be possible on a bike or on foot.

And it’s true. My lack of daily commute (ignoring the five second trip across the patio) means I now have much more time for a daily routine of intensive exercise and an exhausting social whirl. It’s just the inclination that I’m missing!

Anyway, I must go. I have to pop to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Coffee breaks wait for no man!

November 8, 2012

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Filed under: ClickNwork News,Quality of life,Research,work-from-home — Roger @ 2:46 pm

I often read work-from-home articles, snippets, blogs etc, and many of them try to tell you how you should go about it: don’t wear your pyjamas; do wear your pyjamas; set yourself a fixed working day; leave your day flexible; take regular tea/coffee breaks; find time to take the goldfish for a walk…

…anyway, you get the idea.

But, there’s no “one way”. Everyone is different, likes to work in different ways, and responds to this or that stimulus in different ways.

So, I’m not going to tell you how to run your day when you work from home…actually, I am, a bit.

One of the few good bits of advice I have seen is to think about doing some training. It’s very easy, working in isolation, to keep doing things the same way you used to. It might still be appropriate, but it might not be.

I’m not talking about going on a week’s course in the Maldives on Excel macros, but if there is one, I’m on my way.

It shouldn’t, however, be too onerous to carve out an hour or two a week to learn new things.

We re-homed a dog a few months ago. A six-year-old terrier crossed with God knows what, but clearly a breed known for insolence and stubbornness. We took her to dog training classes – something that obviously hadn’t previously featured in her life – and, lo and behold, she learned stuff, which she was happy to demonstrate, although usually only when richly rewarded. Even allowing for the normal 7-year dog-human lifespan conversion rate, she’s still younger than me, but I was not to be put off from learning new things myself. My brain’s not as nimble as it once was, but move aside the tonnes of useless rubbish, and there are still a few corners that can accommodate new things.

I was doing a PowerPoint presentation a few days ago and was getting a bit bored with the tools available in the software. I seem to have used all the charts a million times, played with all the 3-D format options to try to find something that looks in any way different, and made pretty patterns with the texture options until I felt slightly nauseous. So, I went looking on the web for help – well, inspiration really.

I found a lot! Too much really, but that’s the beauty and the beast of the web. A lot of it was plug-ins and add-ons to purchase, but just knowing they were there was useful, and I did also got a few ideas that I could adapt without spending money.

I then resolved to spend a little while each week to learn (and sometimes re-learn) something useful for work – a little professional development, if you like.

I need to learn more keyboard shortcuts for my new iMac, to help stop me automatically using old Microsoft shortcuts that don’t work on the iMac or instead do something completely surprising; there are some functions in Excel I need to re-learn (I recently spent ages trying to re-learn lookup tables); and there are any number of elements of English grammar with which I need to be better acquainted (is it really wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?).

That’s enough to keep me going this month.

Here endeth the lesson for today.

October 17, 2012

Filed under: ClickNwork News — Roger @ 7:27 am

I just read an article about a marketing company that, in the author’s words, made a “strange, but important, business decision”.

My initial reaction was “why strange?”

The decision was to go completely virtual, with staff working from home and communicating not face-to-face but via phone or Skype.

It’s what we at ClickNwork have done for 12 years!  Welcome aboard. We thought it a good idea over a decade ago, and we haven’t changed our mind in the interim.

There’s a lot of chat on the web at the moment about the pros and cons of telecommuting, and frankly the jury is still out. It doesn’t work for all people and it doesn’t work for all companies, but there are a lot of instances where it would suit but is not happening, mostly for reasons of prejudice against the work-from-home concept.

A recent story in the Economist says “with office space in London and New York so costly, many firms save money by encouraging staff to work in their pyjamas. Instead of having to bury their noses in strangers’ armpits on crowded trains, they can work via e-mail, Skype and virtual private networks”.

That’s a bit of a mixed message – on the one hand it raises an important benefit of telecommuting (no physical commute), but tempers it with the comment about “pyjamas”, in a way that could be construed as derogatory. I can’t see a problem with working in your pyjamas – I don’t, by the way – if you get the work done (although video conferencing could cause some embarrassment).

And this is the crux of the “work-from-home” debate: the extent to which people would at home “slouch on the sofa watching daytime soaps, pausing occasionally to check their BlackBerrys” or “do real work, undistracted by meetings and gasbag colleagues”.

I think this is a non-issue if the work is managed properly: i.e. managers have a good understanding of how long the work should take, and then monitor that it is being done on time and to a high standard. If this isn’t the case, the worker might “slouch on the sofa” at home, but that worker might also find any number of ways not to work hard in the office.

The Economist article mentioned that Daniel Cable (London Business School) has found that companies still reward “presenteeism” – i.e. turning up for work physically rather than virtually – and that telecommuters are less likely to be promoted. Managers apparently rate those in the office to be more dependable and industrious, “regardless of the quality of their work”. All that says to me is that those “managers” couldn’t manage the proverbial alcohol-related celebration in a beer manufacturing plant.

I remember when I worked for Coopers & Lybrand in London, many moons ago, I preferred to get in early so that I could leave at a reasonable time in order to enjoy some sort of evening at home. As I left, my colleagues that had trickled in an hour or two after me in the morning instinctively glanced at their watches, and some said “only working half a day then?”

As the Economist article says: “Visibility creates the illusion of value. Being the last to leave the office impresses bosses, even if you are actually larking around on Facebook”.

Daniel Cable believes that homeworking will lose this stigma only when most people do it, or when the boss is telecommuting.

“Come on in, the water is lovely!”

October 5, 2012

Newsletters – Limbering up again…

Filed under: ClickNwork News,outsourcing,Research,work-from-home,Writing — Roger @ 9:00 am

As you must by now be aware, we aren’t very dedicated bloggers, but we aim to improve.

One of the reasons for this negligence – and I know it is a pitiful excuse, but I’m really good at those – is that our attention has been firmly fixed on realigning the business in a way that we believe gives us a more sustainable future and involves a great many more work opportunities for ClickNworkers – which, after all, is the reason we started this whole thing over ten years ago.

One of the things we do a lot at ClickNwork is help companies track important issues and over recent years we’ve spent a lot of time and money working with our sister company Business360 (and its suite of newsletter sites) to build and run a newsletter system that will help people and companies track issues more effectively.

It’s been a long and often painful process (don’t ask us to provide details unless you like seeing grown men cry), and the system we’ve built has gone through various stages, including being discarded and rebuilt to provide additional functionality – you can see from a previous post that we thought we were close well over a year ago.

Anyhow, we’re now pretty much there and the exciting thing for ClickNworkers is that it will help us provide additional work opportunities.

If things go well (IF!), then it should mean that we quickly grow the team (of researchers and writers) who work with the system.

The system is easily scalable both in size and scope, which could mean many, many more work openings, and that’s what we aiming for.

We aim to cover many more areas (different industry sectors, emerging issues etc.) and also work in more languages, making it easier for our clients to track issues across many countries.

The system isn’t yet fully live but you can see how it’s coming together. Here are links to archives of alerts that track specific topics:

P&G Activity Overview

Functional Foods or Natural and Organic Food Tracker

Innovation Around Important Food Trends

FMCG Sustainable Business Initiatives

Retail Trends and Innovation

Foreign Investment In China – Personal Care And Retail

If you want to create your own alert, feel free. Subscribers get better options and more content (isn’t that always the way!) but there is still a lot of good stuff available for free, including all the general newsletters we send out – see archives here:

http://www.dietnews360.com/archive

http://www.personalcarebusiness360.com/archive

http://www.personalcarecompanies360.com/archive

http://www.healthandwellness360.com/archive

http://www.foodbusiness360.com/archive

http://www.foodcompanies360.com/archive

http://www.retailbusiness360.com/archive

Finally, we want to thank the people that have put in the most effort. You know who you are, but others don’t – so thanks to Yurri for keeping going with the rebuild; Beth, Carol, Obie, Mei and Sheilah for identifying the material and making it system-ready; and Paul and Allan for providing the summaries.

July 1, 2011

Balancing work and pleasure

Filed under: ClickNwork News,Quality of life,work-from-home,Writing — Roger @ 7:51 am

This is a post by guest blogger, Business360 Researcher and ClickNworker, Anne Jordan 

“Anne Jordan’s book, showing the Boldini portrait of Lady Colin Campbell held in the National Portrait Gallery, London”

The internet has enabled a lot of people to work at home and put into practice Charles Handy’s concept of “portfolio working,” where you earn an income from a range of sources. Working at home has certainly enabled me to become a “portfolio worker,” juggling freelance work as a business researcher with the longer-term project of researching and writing a book. The freedom to do both these activities has given me the opportunity to achieve a lifetime dream, whilst still earning a living! 

Since leaving full-time employment I’ve built-up a client base, mainly from my network of contacts, and undertake a combination of ad-hoc business research and regular research/writing projects. A lot of my work is related to the financial services sector, or consumer goods, but it can be anything. I love the variety and intellectual challenge that this provides. 

At the same time I’ve written the biography of a Victorian woman: “Love Well the Hour: The Life of Lady Colin Campbell (1857-1911).” This has been the largest research project I’ve ever undertaken, and needed me to apply my skills to a new subject and write in a different style for a different audience. The book was published in December 2010 but the work doesn’t stop there. I’m now spending time on marketing the book, and starting to get to grips with Facebook, a new blog site and Twitter. The ultimate aim is to get the book dramatized and although it’s too early to give details, I’ve started talks about a possible TV production. 

In the meantime I still have to pay the bills, so clients like Business360/ClickNwork have been invaluable. Every month I undertake a four-day regular task for a professional services client of Business360, and then do ad-hoc work between. The four-day task is the only firm commitment, so other work is slotted in from a range of clients, providing the flexibility to plan in time to also work on the book. 

As a child with my head constantly in a book, I always told adults that I wanted to write a book when I grew up … but never knew what I wanted to write about. When the subject finally came to me, years later, it was the ability to work from home that enabled me to achieve that lifetime dream. 

If you would like to read more about my book, see my website or the publisher’s website. 

http://www.ladycolincampbell.co.uk 

http://digbig.com/5beehp

January 13, 2011

Just to prove a point

Filed under: Quality of life,work-from-home — Roger @ 9:38 pm

Many apologies for neglecting the ClickNwork blog for so many months. But we’re back, and raring to go.

We have just added a post about some of the work we’re doing in newsletters. We’re excited about it and see it as a great opportunity for us and the people that work for us.

But this post is personal. All about me!

This blog is partly about raising the awareness of the benefits of working at home, or “working from wherever”.

I usually live in England, most recently on the Kent coast, within sight of the French coast, but we decided last year to spend some time with my family in New Zealand, and that’s where we are now.

I’m working in a cottage, owned by the family, within about 50 metres of one of Waiheke Island’s beautiful beaches. The island is a 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland, and it’s a stunning place.

I count myself very lucky to be able to up sticks, put my laptop under my arm, travel half way around the world, and, after a few days of transition (sorting out the broadband connection etc), be up and running again.

I can now look out on a serene picture of a calm bay of deep blue seas, spotted with a few boats, and surrounded by the sound of cicadas and birds, like the Tui.

That contentment is heightened by images from back home of snow and ice, and commuters waiting around on cold railway platforms or by exposed bus stops, stamping their feet and looking decidedly miserable. Believe me, I ain’t ever going back to doing that!

ClickNwork in action – powering newsletter sites

Filed under: ClickNwork News,Quality of life,work-from-home,Writing — Roger @ 8:49 pm

ClickNwork  usually works behind the scenes delivering services and providing professionals to meet specific roles, like research, or data entry, or writing etc. Mostly, the companies we work with don’t want publicity and we respect that. But lately we’ve been doing some work where our partner is happy to provide details and I thought I’d give some details as it gives a good example of how things at ClickNwork actually function.

Business360 has created a series of websites that are geared to delivering highly focused business information to industry professionals. The idea behind these is that while we’re all inundated with information getting reliable, accurate and timely material on really specific topics is hard. For example, if you’re manager of Dove soap, how do you get a full picture on competitor activity in the US, or if you’re interested in marketing healthy snacks, how do you get a comprehensive view of research into what alternative ingredients and how other companies are using them?

Business360 has built a system to deliver these sorts of services and ClickNwork is managing the resource.

Currently we have 4 researchers involved (Beth in the US, Carol in France and Sheilah and Obie in the Philippines). These people track information on very specific topics and, when they find material that is good and newsworthy, they upload it to our system.

We then have a number of writers who prepare short, sharp summaries of these selected articles. Currently we have 8 writers involved – Paul and Devin in the US, Allan in the Philippines, and, getting to know the ropes, Alan in Thailand, Jun in the Philippines and Janet and Bill in the US.

As with most work ClickNwork manages, none of these people are on permanent contracts although we do expect the work to grow and continue. Business360 likes the freedom it has to scale back with contract workers if need be and is more confident about taking on more because it has this optionality.

The individuals themselves have a target number of hours a week but they also have flexibility about when they put in the work – some work in the morning before their fulltime work, some in the evening and some through the day.

There is also great diversity around lifestyle and motivation. One writer is a professional abstractor who wants to spend more time at home, one runs his own newsletter and this work fits in nicely with his other assignments, one is writing a book and likes to be able to earn some income without moving from his desk, another is a primary care giver and needs to be at home and one is retired and just wants something to structure the day around and provide a little bit of income. This wouldn’t and couldn’t work in a regular work setting, but here, with the right infrastructure, it works just fine.

If things go well we expect to double the team in coming months as we roll-out the service.

Initially we are working in six main areas, and in each case there are a number of newsletters that users can choose to receive (most are for subscribers only but there are some publicly available ones that I’ve listed below).

You can see some of the output of our work here:

Food Business which has these newsletters and the archive to its free newsletter here.

Sustainable Business; newsletters, archive to its free newsletter.

Health & Wellness; newsletters, archive to its free newsletter.

Innovation, newsletters, archive to its free newsletter.

Diet News, newsletters, archive to free newsletter.

Personal Care, newsletters, archive to free newsletter.

July 1, 2009

Ditch the suit…slip in to something more comfortable!

Filed under: ClickNwork News,Quality of life,work-from-home — Tags: — Roger @ 9:13 am

I happened upon this UK-based site today…the National Pyjama Club. There are pictures on the ClickNwork site of the views from the workers’ office windows, but this reverses the perspective and shows pictures of the workers themselves, in their night attire, apparently working at their job, at home, clutching teddies or with their heads wreathed in still-damp towels.

No, I don’t have some sinister predilection for pyjama-clad home workers. I just like to keep abreast of developments in the home-working arena. Honest!

I thought this was an interesting idea. I think I mean “interesting”, but maybe I mean “inexplicable”.

I’m not sure whether most merely start the working day accoutred thus before changing in to something perhaps a little more in harmony with a professional environment - and I would like to state here and now that I really am not at all interested – but it does highlight one of the benefits of working from home: the freedom it gives you from some of the conventions of corporate life. Why don a suit, when the only sentient being you are impressing is the dog? He’d probably anyway be more impressed by a biscuit or a W-A-L-K.

I have to date tried to resist the temptation of letting sartorial standards slip too far when working at home, but I do have to confess to having periodically talked to clients in other time zones in a state of disarray one would find wholly unacceptable outside the home.  It’s not a regular occurrence, and I’m not proud if it (well, maybe a little bit), but “needs must” and all that.

Maybe we’ll have something similar on the ClickNwork website…but, then again, perhaps we won’t!

May 22, 2009

Where do you work?

Filed under: Quality of life,work-from-home — Roger @ 3:34 pm

My last blog entry got me thinking about where people work. The ClickNwork site has profiles of a number of people that work with us, and some of them have added pictures of the view from their office window. You can see them by clicking the the profiles for the individuals at http://clicknwork.com/profiles.asp.

They are very different: from the busy Chennai street market scene seen by Ravi to the sort of vista you would design for yourself (if you had the opportunity) that is enjoyed by Dave in New Zealand.

They could be working on the same project, doing the same sort of work, while all around them their very different lives are carrying on. I find it fascinating – perhaps I need a hobby? – and it underlines how rapid  communications have brought the disparate parts of the world together, to some extent.

I thought I’d add a picture from my window – just to prove that the sun does shine in England. The outlook is a bit short-range when you compare it with my colleague John’s view from his 17th storey office window, overlooking Central Park in New York. But he doesn’t have a shed!

 

The point is, you can work pretty much anywhere, but I would have thought that there would need to be some fairly specific reasons for the working environment arrangements below to be appropriate!

May 13, 2009

Working from home, the space age (and space-efficient) way

Filed under: Quality of life,work-from-home — Roger @ 9:34 am

I love working from home, but I have to confess that sometimes I wish the office was a little more difficult to get to, and with a slightly better vista.

My office is at the back of the house on the ground floor and I can’t resist checking emails if I’m anywhere on the ground floor of the house.

My view from the window isn’t horrible, but could be improved with slightly better positioning.

Having the office outside in the garden has been on my mind ever since I saw a friend of mine use a large wood cabin as his office in his garden.

I didn’t like the idea of working in what is effectively a garden shed – nothing against sheds, for storing bikes and garden equipment etc – but an article on the OfficePod drew my attention.

I like the idea and the look of it. The company claims it’s environmentally-friendly, in reducing CO2 emissions, and provides an extra room (if you’re constrained for space in the house) away from any distractions in the house. It’s not as cheap as setting up a desk in the house, but if that’s not an option, then maybe this is.

So, I started looking around for other similar products, such as the range of buildings from Kithaus.

  

 And there’s the Qube too.

 Actually, there are lots of “garden sheds” that I wouldn’t mind working in either!   

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