Flexible working in practice

By Stuart Sumner
16 Aug 2013 View Comments
laptop-in-green-park

Everyone is jealous of primary school children when they get to have their lessons in the park on hot days. Given the heatwave that the UK has been basking under throughout July and August, Computing thought it would do likewise. Purely in the interests of productivity, you understand.

Further reading

It's not a bunk-off though, honest. Telco operator EE recently sent us a new mobile 4G wireless hotspot, so we thought what better way to test it than to trial it in one of London's largest open spaces: Green Park.

We set up under a tree opposite the gates to Buckingham Palace, and were up and running in minutes. The whole process was incredibly quick to set up - you just select the network and input the password just as you would for any other WiFi connection. The connection proved to be stable, with no one dropped at any point, and it was perfectly fast enough for 5 people tweeting, web browsing, and emailing at once.

In fact the biggest technical hitch came with Computing's Graeme Burton, who wandered off while we were buying comestibles on the way.

Four members of the team were using Lenovo Thinkpads, and I used a Microsoft Surface Pro. Here are the team's thoughts.

Graeme Burton

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Back in the day when I were a trainee on another publication that shan't be named, the sub-editor used to download his work to his Psion Series 3 handheld computer and edit it down the pub over a cheeky sharpener (or two).

While the technology may have changed, the temptation to work anywhere-but-the-office hasn't.

The thing is, there's a very good reason why offices have desks and chairs, little chests of drawers - not beanbags and rugs. It's the mode by which office work can most comfortably, efficiently and productively be done.

So working in the field - or Green Park - wasn't necessarily such a productive experience.

First, there's the environment. It really is impossible to get comfortable on a patch of grass, while working with a laptop and a mobile phone.

On the one hand, the laptop screen is always too small, while the modern smartphone always has issues with battery life - if it isn't charged to the max in the morning, you can be pretty sure it won't last the day.

Indeed, there's nothing empowering about having to keep a watchful eye on battery life and the battery in the Alcatel 4G wireless hotspot went from fully charged to nearly dead in less than five hours. A BlackBerry z10, which can also be used as a wireless hotspot, would have melted down in fewer than three hours, by my estimations.

Networking is clearly a thirsty business.

Working from the park on a bright, sunny day, meanwhile, also means shifting around to stay in the shade, or risk sunstroke.

And then there are the distractions: it's bad enough with all the temptations of the internet to divert attention away from real work, but the middle of a park, pub or wherever you might choose to work flexibly offers all that and more.

Indeed, while the office offers free tea and hot mud (Nescafé), beveraging up in the park is a significant stroll away. Nor is there anywhere to store your lunch until lunchtime.

And it certainly doesn't help when someone (editor Stuart Sumner) also brings a football along - strictly for use at lunchtime (11am-2pm) (that was for teambuilding purposes - ed).

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