Friday, September 04, 2020

The new work flexibility

Many organisations are talking about enabling more flexible working as lockdown is relaxing and that’s brilliant. We don’t want to go back to the days when most people who worked in offices were required to be there from 9am until 6pm every week day.

Flexibility is great, it allows people to start earlier or finish later to suit their preferences and responsibilities, it allows for part time or condensed hours, it allows people to schedule medical appointments without having to take time off in the middle of the day, it allows people to work from home if they want, maybe every day, perhaps once a week or perhaps while they wait for a plumber to turn up, or for a morning if they have an afternoon meeting that’s closer to home than it is to the office.

It’s also understandable that as lockdown eases, people want to work from home as they have legitimate concerns about working in a crowded office or taking long journeys in crowded public transport where the ‘mandatory’ rule about mask wearing isn’t enforced and therefore isn’t obeyed.

As a freelancer, I work (in normal times) in a variety of places, sometimes outdoors, sometimes indoors, but always my home is my office base and I am used to that and happy with it (though I prefer face to face working with students or colleagues.)

However, not everyone can work from home and statements about flexible working can become virtue signalling from companies that actually want everyone to work from home so they can save on office costs. My partner works for an organisation that used to be very averse to flexible working, requiring everyone to be in the office every day unless they had meetings out of the office. Now, however, the same organisation seem to want to push everyone to work from home all the time. My partner however is looking forward to returning to the office and we don’t have enough space in the flat to both work comfortably at home full time.

This new commitment to flexibility is tied to the organisation’s desire to cut costs and doesn’t necessarily help employees:

1. Some people’s homes aren’t ideal for working in:

You may be sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop balanced on top of a cardboard box or on the sofa with your laptop on your knees. You may be trying to balance working with educating your children. You may be trying to do your job in one corner of the room, while your partner is trying to do their job in the other corner of the room.

2. It’s important to realise too that working in an office does have benefits:

a) the ability to interact with colleagues more effectively, it allows for conversations in passing, whether that’s a nice social break or an interesting insight into a work project. It allows for the development of a corporate culture (for good or bad!) and effective team working.

b) an effective separation between work and home, which many people find really valuable, if the commute isn’t too long.

Yes, there are times when video conferences are very useful (if people are scattered geographically) but for many people they are more tiring and less effective than face to face meetings.

It's also worth considering that the much vaunted environmental benefits of mass home working aren't as clear cut as many commentators seem to think. Yes, if everyone worked from home then there would be fewer vehicles on the roads and less air pollution and less fuel used. However, if everyone's working from home then it's likely that everyone will be given their own printer/scanner/photocopier rather than sharing the office equipment and lots of individual homes will likely be lit up and heated or air conditioned all day rather than just the offices.

As we move into the new normal that lies beyond the COVID_19 pandemic we need to offer better working conditions to everyone and that means that flexible working should allow employees to work as they want to, as long as they are able to do the job they are paid to do. So it should be equally fine for people who can’t or don’t want to be in the office to work from home with good video links to their colleagues, but it should also be fine for people to work in the office except for the occasional bit of homeworking if they need to wait in for a plumber. Plus, people should be supported in their choices, whether that’s by supplying them with the required technology to effectively do their job from home or by ensuring that the office is a safe place to work – regularly deep cleaned and provided with the necessary protective equipment, good ventilation and social distancing.


A version of this article first appeared here on Pendemic. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020


Malawi is a small landlocked country in Africa (where I lived for a couple of years).

It's one of the most vulnerable of African countries, where the first confirmed cases of COVID_19 have been reported. The impact of the coronavirus on the people of Malawi could be devastating.

Malawi has only 350 clinical doctors to treat a population of 18 million people. Even the largest hospitals lack the basic equipment needed to treat the most serious cases.

Chifundo UK and Chanasa Malawi are two small sister charities whose aim is to empower girls and women in Malawi. They are now making masks and gowns for those who care for people with COVID-19. 

The focus of this appeal is to support the health service for the poor and vulnerable in the Blantyre District.

Admittedly, we don’t have all that we need in this country to combat COVID-19, but the situation is so much worse in a poor country like Malawi.

You can find out more and support this appeal here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scenes from Edinburgh cemetries during #DailyExercise

The UK Government is, at the moment, allowing us out for one form of #DailyExercise once a day in addition to visiting the shops (as infrequently as possible), travelling to work (for those with essential jobs that can't be done from home) and medical emergencies including helping those who are self isolating.

Our route for our #DailyExercise takes us through a small community park and two cemeteries. You can see the nature notes from these walks over on my Crafty Green Poet blog, but here are photos of some of the most notable gravestones in the two cemeteries

Monday, March 02, 2020

How International is the English Language?

I'm used to rejection. It's part of life being a writer and in fact I can see a lot of value in the 'aim for 100 rejections in a year' idea. However, the best rejections offer constructive criticism or are neutral in tone. Today I received a really rude rejection from an American editor who suggested that though 'people in Scotland may speak like that' people in America would not want to read it.

Now I accept that there may be good reasons that my story didn't get included in the anthology in question but this is not a good reason. 

The characters are Scottish, the setting is Scotland, sometime in the medium future. There are three styles of speaking in the story, there are those who speak an urban Scots-influenced English, those who speak a Western Isles style of English influenced by the rhythms of Gaelic (the first language of many people in those islands) and there is a character who speaks a very careful English because it's his second language and he doesn't want to make errors. All the ways of speaking are slightly different than they are now, because, well it's the future and language changes.

I haven't included swear words or particularly obscure Scots words and I've kept all elements of Scots in the dialogue, rather than in the narrative. To my eye, all the characters speak a readable form of English, with some influences from Scots and the rhythms of Gaelic. This makes the characters more individual and adds authenticity to the story. After all, people in Scotland don't actually speak like Americans and I certainly don't want to think that in the medium future, we'll all have, like, American accents.

Why shouldn't Americans want to read this? After all, Scottish cinemas show loads of American films and we have to listen to accents and dialects from across the States. I can't imagine a British editor would tell an American writer that they couldn't accept a story set in America because the characters sound too American!

People have different ways of speaking and reflecting that in fiction is surely a positive not a negative.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Ghosts of the Christmas Market

For many years the citizens of Edinburgh had enjoyed a Christmas Market on the plaza outside the art galleries. People gathered in the winter dusk to browse the stalls, drink mulled wine and enjoy the Christmas lights.

However, trouble has been brewing.

The evil moneymakers from XS Xmas want to expand the market. Without seeking planning permission, they have erected scaffolding across the whole of East Princes Street Gardens, covering the lawns and removing the memorial benches. Many citizens of Edinburgh are shocked, but the evil moneymakers rub their grubby hands with glee as the cash strapped city council cave in to their demands and give them retrospective planning permission.

'Of course you can bury our beautiful gardens in cheap market stalls all selling identical products and overpriced food and drink' say the council officials.

But underneath the gardens, something stirs.

Many years ago, where these gardens now stand, there was a stretch of water known as the Nor-Loch. Criminals lurked on its shores, broken-hearted damsels threw themselves into its dark waters and innocent women were branded witches and drowned in its stinking depths.

Their ghosts have long haunted the gardens biding their time.

As XS Xmas and local dignitaries take to the podium to officially open XS Xmas Edinburgh, the scaffolding begins to shake. At first people applaud, thinking this is a special effect of the type XS Xmas are known for. But the shaking continues, a thunderstorm unleashes a deluge, unearthly screams are heard from the ground and the crowds flee.

As the scaffolding gives way and the Christmas market disappears in smoke, the broken hearted damsels, the wrongly accused herbalists and those who had been pushed into crime by poverty mass onto the podium. Before the dignitaries realise what's going on, they have been driven into the rising waters of the stinking Nor Loch.

On Christmas Day, people are once again enjoying mulled wine in the traditional Christmas market area, looking across the gardens, now restored to their rightful glory. At night, eerie wails are heard, that sound strangely like 'we only wanted to make lots of money!'

Inspired by true events

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Last chance to vote for your favourite Scots word!

The Scottish Book Trust are asking people to vote for their favourite Scots word!

You can see the shortlist and vote here!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Through the shadowy gate

late summer shadows on the entrance to Saughton Park, in Edinburgh, which recently reopened after a period of refurbishment. You can read my blog post about the recent opening event held in the park here on Crafty Green Poet and also see more recent photos of the park on my Crafty Green Poet blog here and here.

For Shadow Shot Sunday.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Marching for the EU and drinking Turkish Apple Tea

Drinking Turkish Apple Tea on the shady verandah of Cafe Truva in Edinburgh's Royal Mile after the anti-Brexit, pro-EU march.

  (We also had slices of the delicious Cafe Truva orange chocolate cake).

You can read more about the pro-EU march on my Crafty Green Poet blog here

for Shadow Shot Sunday.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Architecture in Shadow

It's a beautiful sunny day today, offering some great shadows on the buildings in the centre of Edinburgh

For Shadow Shot Sunday.