Here in the UK we have had an especially cold winter so far and, for many people, getting into work has been a real challenge. More people live some distance from their workplace now than ever before, and this is especially prevalent among more junior members of academic staff. So, should more of us be encouraged to work from home, especially in weather conditions like these?
I am very lucky because, at my university, there isn’t a culture of having to be present in the office for the sake of it. Of course we have to be there to do our teaching, to attend meetings, to offer one to one guidance to students but, other than that, we are ‘allowed’ to do our research, lesson planning, marking etc. at home if we want to.
But could we do even more from home? What about having meetings via conference calls and webcams? And, more controversially, should we cancel office hours and just converse via email? Do we even need to be present to teach? We could run wholly online modules, with lectures delivered as podcasts and seminars run as discussion forums online!
Most people think this is going too far. Although working from home (and indeed any sort of flexible working arrangement) is beneficial to a point, it is also important to have face to face contact with colleagues and managers, nevermind actually being present for students.
However, while not becoming the rule, it is useful to have these sorts of arrangements in place in case of a weather-related emergency such as the snow fall we have had recently that has prevented us from getting to work. Instead of the work place grinding to a halt, these alternatives can be put in place ensuring that students and colleagues are not left with no contact at all.
Hopefully in the New Year we’ll have some milder weather and travel to work will not be a problem! In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers. I’ll be back in 2011!