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Remote working isn’t a problem – clinging to office-based practices is a problem | Alexia Cambon

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There have been few moments in the history of work as pivotal as the one we find ourselves in now. It took a pandemic to normalise remote working, and, despite the fears of many CEOs, most organisations saw no demonstrable loss of productivity. Now, the global workforce is demanding its right to retain the autonomy it gained through increased flexibility as societies open up again. Pre-pandemic, it was not uncommon for an employer to ask staff to justify their need to work from home. Post-pandemic, employees may ask employers to justify the need to come into the office.

Yet many organisations are still resisting this more flexible future. They argue that employees’ wellbeing is compromised by remote working, and that unless they are brought back into the office, many more will suffer from “Zoom fatigue”.

But remote work itself is not the problem. The problem is that, though most office workers are currently working from home, the way we work is still inherently office-centric. For the past nine months, my team and I have been researching how maintaining this way of working in a remote environment is actually what is causing significant damage to employees. It’s never a good idea to force a square peg into a round hole. In today’s context, office-centric work is a square peg and the remote environment is a round hole.

Pretty much all of our work practices – when we work, where we work, how we work – are designed around location. Worse still, they were designed decades ago, and it is only now, with the pandemic forcing change, that we have been given the unique opportunity to question those structures.

Take the “when” of work. By default, our days are organised around 9-5, a system that was formalised for factory workers by Henry Ford in the US in 1926. Many of us do not work in factories however. Why are we hanging on to this linear day as the only schedule in which work can be done? More importantly, the linear day is unsuitable for the remote environment where we do not have concrete signals to start or end our work day, such as the commute or the dress code: 40% of the remote workforce are working longer hours as a result.

What would happen if organisations looked outside this way of working, and trusted employees to set a non-linear schedule, based on their individual circumstances, that kept them healthy, sane and productive?

How about the “where” of work? It is apparent just from the language we use that the office is still viewed as the headquarters for work. Even the term “remote” implies that you are away from the place work is usually done. The dominance of the office was necessary in a time without home internet or laptops, but we are long past needing to prove that work can be done outside an employer-owned space.

The “how” of work was perhaps the most worrying discovery of our research. There is a long-held assumption that the hallowed meeting is the best way for us to collaborate. This culture of meetings was established in the 1950s, before methods of work that allowed us to collaborate outside meetings (back then, that meant memos passed from one secretary to the next) had today’s speed and efficiency (email, instant messaging, shared drives).

Virtual meetings are cognitively draining – when was the last time someone held a mirror in front of you during your in-person chat so your brain had to process your every physical move? Forcing us into more meetings to compensate for the lack of office “water-cooler moments” is only increasing fatigue – our study found that employees are 24% more likely to be emotionally drained by additional meetings. What would happen if we were to work asynchronously by default, and set limits on time spent together during a day, or even a week?

It is these outdated, office-centric work designs that are making us tired. We are not working within systems that are built for the environment we are in. And until organisations stop to reassess why we work the way we do, and fundamentally change those aspects that are significantly outdated and not fit for purpose, fatigue will continue to rise. Bringing people back into the office full time isn’t the answer – workers don’t want to give up the flexibility that gives them greater control of their lives. They want systems that work for the environment they are operating in.

In essence, we need to stop designing work around location, and start designing work around human behaviour. Employees will work better, stay at their organisation longer and keep healthier if they are placed at the centre of work design – trust me, we have the data that proves it.

This is what we should be asking ourselves: if 9-5 had never been invented; if “office” were a foreign term; if the concept of a meeting sounded like gibberish – in short, if today were day one of the history of work – how would you design how you work?

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New York’s mayor is getting paid in bitcoin. But can he pay the bills with it? | Eric Adams

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New York’s new mayor gets his first paycheck on Friday – and as part of his bid to keep the city “on the forefront of innovation”, he’ll be receiving his wages in cryptocurrency.

“New York is the center of the world and we want it to be the center of cryptocurrency and other financial innovations,” Eric Adams said in a press release.

But even in the center of the world, trying to live on ethereum or bitcoin might be a struggle. The subway won’t take it, and it’s hard to fit dogecoin in the quarter slot at the laundromat. So what will Adams actually be able to do with his paycheck?

Will he be able to eat?

Yes. Getting groceries might be difficult – in 2019, Whole Foods began accepting cryptocurrency via an app-based payment system called Flexa, but a customer care representative said on Thursday that the company was not currently taking cryptocurrency.

But the vegan mayor might have better luck at restaurants. Yelp allows users to filter for restaurants that accept cryptocurrency – though calls to the spots and visits to their websites suggest some of the claims are inaccurate.

He could also use a workaround and purchase a gift card with bitcoin using one of various platforms such as Bitrefill and Fold. That could get him a coffee at Starbucks or an order through DoorDash; it also works for Amazon, Netflix and other companies.

(Adams’s cryptocurrency paycheck is itself the result of a workaround, since department of labor regulations require the city of New York to pay employees in dollars. The mayor’s office says the paycheck will “automatically be converted” to cryptocurrency before it is made available to him, using the platform Coinbase.)

That means that Adams’s paycheck must first be converted from dollars to cryptocurrency, then be converted to a gift card, and finally be used to buy a smoothie. Efficient!

Another trick: he could turn to PayPal, which lets users spend cryptocurrency for transactions (Mastercard has a similar program). But the app first converts the cryptocurrency to actual dollars – creating another pointless cycle and contributing to a system that, according to Cambridge researchers, uses more electricity per year than the country of Argentina.

Will he be able to keep the lights on?

Probably not without turning to his actual bank account. Con Edison, New York’s enormous electricity and gas utility, does not accept cryptocurrency payments, a representative said. Cryptocurrency does a great job of draining the world of energy, but using it to buy some back appears difficult.

Of course, he’ll be living in Gracie Mansion, the New York mayor’s residence – meaning, presumably, he won’t be paying these bills anyway. Nor will he have to worry about whether his landlord accepts bitcoin.

Will he be able to get anywhere?

Not if he wants to take the subway like a normal New Yorker or any other transportation provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA doesn’t accept cryptocurrency, a spokesperson said.

If he gets stuck, Adams might be able to hail an Uber using his paycheck, but it could be a long wait at the corner. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, indicated in February that he was open to accepting bitcoin in the future, but when is unclear. In the meantime, he could buy an Uber gift card.

Will he be able to use the very internet that cryptocurrency depends on?

Again, he could have trouble. Verizon Fios, New York’s biggest internet provider, does not appear to offer a cryptocurrency option for online payments. Adams may find himself turning to his pre-mayoral savings if he wants to check the price of bitcoin.

So what will he actually do?

Adams’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he may well just “hold on to it as an investment”, says Neeraj Agrawal, communications director at Coin Center, a non-profit focused on cryptocurrency policy. “That has become the more common use of bitcoin these days.”

Or, if he’s feeling really financially innovative, he could go totally virtual: it won’t get him a ride on the subway, but he could buy the word “MetroCard” as an NFT for the equivalent of about $30.

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The assailants were pixelated, I’d know them anywhere • The Register

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Stop that uterus! It stole my wallet!

What do you mean, “Can you identify the uterus in question?” It looked like a uterus! Or, as we’ve been singing it all through Christmas, a wooooom*.

Talk about getting the new year off to a bad start – I’ve just been robbed by a delinquent reproductive organ. Yet the all signs were there: I knew 2022 would be doomed back in early December when I read that the Salzburg Schokolade company, inventors of the mighty last-minute-airport-gift-shop chocolate ball Mozartkugel, had gone bust.

No, an oversize Toblerone will not suffice. M&Ms? In the bin, pal. Mr Ambassador, you can stick your Ferrero Rochers up your arse. Mozartkugeln were my faux-posh-but-actually-quite-cheap traveller chocs of choice. And now they’re gone forever!

First Bowie, then this. The world is falling apart.

A kindly officer of the law tries to bring me back to my senses following my unexpected mugging. Yes, thank you, I would like a drink. I’ll have an Adios Motherfucker*, please.

Without batting an eyelid, the policewoman strides down the corridor to the drinks machine, taps a few buttons on the display and returns after just 30 seconds with my glass of blue liquid revival. That was quick. The drinks machine must be a Mixo Two: an ingenious local invention that claims to be able to mix any of 300 cocktails in half a minute.

I glug it down, spit out the lemon slice and cherry, and hand back the little umbrella. I decide I’m feeling particularly agitated and may well need more calming down. 299 to go.

Now that my thoughts are clearing, I admit it’s possible my assailant might not have been a uterus after all. It might have been a whole human. I tell my police interviewers that my initial impression of a uterus suggests that it may have been a woman. I am lectured for the next 10 minutes on my questionable observation with the aid of infographics and a flipchart.

Choosing my words more carefully, I try to provide a full description of the thief. It all happened so fast. The last thing I remember, I had escaped the pandemonium at home – workers fixing the WC again – and settled down in a nearby cafe for a break. Well, primarily for a pee in their restroom, then I felt obliged to order a coffee. While waiting for it to arrive, I opened my laptop and continued browsing the hundreds of images taken during Mme D’s recent MRI scan.

Here’s one.

Screenshot of MRI scan of patient's uterus

Protect the innocent: to avoid identification by a web-scraping AI, this uterus has been pixelated. [Click to enlarge]

Prior to this, my only knowledge of MRI scanning comes from British colleagues at the IEEE who are finalising the unveiling of an IEEE Milestone plaque to commemorate the development in London during the 1980s of active shielding of superconducting magnets.

Mme D had a more detailed prior knowledge of MRI scanning as the result of watching every episode of House on Netflix. She reported that her only disappointment was that the operators seemed to concentrate on the scan rather than discuss their sex lives or call each other an idiot before suddenly dashing out the room after answering a call on their cellphone.

What neither of us expected was to be handed a CD of the highlights.

It doesn’t just contain a folder of images but a Windows autoplay program to browse them in detail. My favourite feature of the CD is the Cinema View, which plays back the scans at 25 frames per second. In fact, I had settled down in the living room with a Kia-Ora and carton of popcorn to watch Mme D’s innards on the big screen when the workmen arrived and enforced an early intermission.

It was when the coffee arrived at my table that I realised my wallet was not in my usual pocket, or indeed in any of my unusual pockets either. “Robbed!” I wailed. “No tip!” wailed the waiter. The police were duly called.

What was the last thing I saw before the incident? Er… a uterus. I describe it in as much detail as possible, at 25 frames per second.

So, I ask, are you going run it through your vast, secretive photo-fit database of the population, using some whizzy AI to shortlist the candidates?

Ah no, they respond, we’re not allowed to do that. And then they wink. All of them, in sync, which is a bit creepy. Then I am sent on my way, gently steered back up the corridor in the opposite direction from the Mix Two.

This is the usual conundrum. Scraping the net for the purposes of building a database for security services is still illegal unless you have really good PR, and the use of AI to crawl around the net and randomly apply face recognition to identify ne’er-do-wells is ethically dubious. In most cases, it can’t be done at all (yet).

On the other hand, machine learning is a fabulous tool for health research, if only we can throw enough data at it. The problem is that more people would be happy to share their medical data if they thought it wouldn’t be subsequently misused. And it will always be misused: that’s what personal data is for.

The last thing I’d want is for my photo to turn up on a hit-list of Interpol’s most-wanted criminal uteruses.

Back home, I am comforted by Mme D, who had been wondering what had prompted me to leave the house while a team of plumbers, electricians, interior decorators, plasterers, architects, stone masons, ironmongers, seismologists, stage illusionists, tap dance instructors, steel drummers, and celtic swordsmen were trampling all over it to refit the toilet for the fifth time.

I mumble a reply, collect the now-soggy popcorn and drag myself back into my office.

“By the way,” she calls, “you left your wallet on the kitchen table so I locked it in the filing cabinet.”

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Back when he ran an office in London’s trendy Hoxton, he attended several cocktail workshops – an essential skill for the Silicon Roundabout crowd. The one thing he learnt was that everything is topped up with sugar water. Bleuh. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

*As an infant, I reasoned that “wooooom” was the kind of thing that a sheet-clad apparition moans while a haunting a castle. It was the holy ghost.

**Vodka, rum, tequila, gin, blue curacao, 7 Up, sweet & sour mix.



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‘Hiring is a big challenge for the IT industry’

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Citrix’s Meerah Rajavel discusses the biggest challenges in today’s IT landscape, from remote working and talent shortages to security.

Meerah Rajavel is CIO at Citrix a multinational cloud computing company that provides server, application and desktop virtualisation, networking and cloud computing technologies.

Rajavel has more than 25 years’ experience at well-known tech companies such as McAfee, Cisco and Forcepoint. In her current role, Rajavel she leads the company’s IT strategy.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

Many companies viewed remote work as a temporary solution to the pandemic and business leaders continue to push for a return to the old days where employees work in the office every day. But we just did two polls on LinkedIn and Twitter that show this isn’t likely to happen.

That’s going to challenge a lot of organisations, because working remote isn’t easy. When it comes to addressing the technical aspects of how employees can cope and remain productive, you’ve got to walk in their shoes and understand how they leverage technology to achieve business outcomes.

The key to keeping employees engaged lies in providing consistent, secure and reliable access to the systems and information they need to get work done – wherever it needs to get done. And it takes more than just flipping the switch on technologies. Culture plays a huge role in adoption.

Another big challenge IT is faced with is hiring. It’s difficult to find high quality candidates in the areas of security, design thinking and user experience, data science and analytics right now. And there are a few reasons for this. Security remains a critical priority for CIOs. In the hybrid cloud, remote working, BYOD world we now live in, more resources are required to ensure that corporate networks and assets remain safe. And demand far exceeds supply.

When it comes to design thinking, the paradigm is shifting away from user-centric thinking toward human-and-machine thinking. This requires designers to be well versed with the constructs of the possibility of artificial intelligence and machine learning and analytics in addition to user experience in their workflow design process. And that’s a skill that’s not widely available.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry?

In the last decade, the digitalisation of everything has caused every company – regardless of industry – to become a software company. From mobile banking and virtual healthcare visits to self-driving cars and automated food prep and delivery services, software applications are embedded into nearly every aspect of the economy and our lives.

And as they embark on digital transformation initiatives to support this trend, IT leaders need to align with their business counterparts and make sure they’re collectively approaching things from an inside-out, company-wide perspective.

For me, any type of change management needs to be broken down into three key focus areas: people, process, and technology. But it’s imperative that you start with the people because without first establishing a culture around the change, it will be difficult to achieve success.

‘Digitalisation of everything has caused every company – regardless of industry – to become a software company’
– MEERAH RAJAVEL

When it comes to people, we are particularly mindful of two important elements: culture and training. First, we’ve worked to establish a culture that encourages risk taking and organisational success over individual success. Second, we’re investing in training programmes that enable individuals to confidently transition to the new technologies or way of working and be immediately effective.

In digital transformation, technology needs to be integrated into the ‘flow’ of business, which demands IT and business to embrace shared methods and process. For process, we’ve anchored on standards like safe agile frameworks that make culture and operational efficiency key pillars of any project, to help iterative value delivery and ease of adoption across all areas of the business.

And perhaps most important, we’re investing in the technology – including our own – to help automate and integrate workflows so we can reduce time to production, minimise disruption to the business and increase effectiveness.

What are your thoughts on how sustainability can be addressed from an IT perspective?

In embracing remote work and enabling it through technology, companies can drive their ESG goals and create a more sustainable business and future.

Using digital workspace technologies, for instance, they can give employees access to everything they need to engage and be productive wherever they happen to be, reducing the need to commute and the carbon emissions associated with doing so.

They can also eliminate the need for applications and data to reside on endpoint devices and transition from energy-intensive desktops to energy-efficient laptops to increase their energy efficiency. And because no data is required to live on these devices, they can extend the life of their equipment and reduce waste.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

We did some research that showed 93pc of business leaders think the increased digital collaboration forced by remote work has amplified more diverse voices, resulting in richer idea generation. And as flexible work becomes the norm, the vast majority expect enhanced equity and collaboration to continue and fuel an era of hyper-innovation. And this excites me.

With flexible work, I see more innovation happening to converge physical and digital experiences. Whether it’s concept like metaverse or technologies like AI/ML and VR/XR integrated into the collaboration tools, all aim to enhance the experience and effectiveness for users in a location agnostic fashion.

What are your thoughts on the security challenges currently facing your industry?

The threat landscape has become much more sophisticated as a result of remote and hybrid work and protecting employees has never been more critical – or difficult.

Employees want the freedom to work when, where and how they want using the devices of their choice. And to attract and retain them in what is no doubt the tightest labour market the world has ever seen and keep them engaged and productive, IT needs to serve it up, all while ensuring corporate assets and data remain safe.

It’s among the biggest challenges we face. And to overcome it, we must move beyond thinking that security and user experience are mutually exclusive and take an intelligent approach to workspace security that combines the two following the zero-trust model to give employees simple, unified access to the apps and information they need, when and where they need it, to perform at their best.

We’ve also witnessed two major software supply chain attacks in the last 12 months with SolarWinds and Log4j.

The first is an example of how easily malicious code can be remotely injected into a simple software update delivered to thousands of enterprises and government agencies worldwide. The second highlights how threat actors are increasingly targeting the vulnerabilities in third-party software components to cause widespread havoc.

All of this underscores the importance of securing the software supply chain and adopting practices like DevSecOps.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.



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