Frustrated remote worker

Off-premise

The current remote work experience isn't fit for long-term use but there are solutions in the works, says Jason Walsh
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Image: Andrea piacquadio/Pexels

12 May 2022

It seems that Apple is serious about getting its staff back to the office. Following several aborted attempts to frogmarch workers back to their desks, the company has said it will now require staff to be on the premises three days a week.

Cue an immediate revolt, with staff saying the company’s rationale for dragooning them back to Infinite Loop had more holes than a Swiss cheese. Notably, one senior staffer, machine learning chief Ian Goodfellow, even went so far as to quit, no doubt safe in the knowledge that someone else will have use for his skills.

It’s a curious phenomenon: the remote versus on-premise working debate can be argued both ways, but as more and more computing power is moved off-premise it seems some are struggling with the idea that staff might do the same. Of course, seeing the modern office as a Foucauldian panopticon is hardly a new idea, but it does speak to a failure of imagination when management is so afraid that workers will down tools if not observed at all times that they do away with doors and walls, resulting in noisy offices in which it is impossible to concentrate.

 

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On the other hand, there are risks: lack of connection to colleagues, for one, as well as loneliness and burnout. In addition, should staff push the issue too hard, there is always the possibility that businesses might decide that a job that can be done 50 kilometres away can be done just as well 5,000 kilometres away.

One thing we can be fairly sure of is that Apple’s staff are at least likely to face few technical issues when it comes to remote working. What about the rest of us, though? Remote working worked during the pandemic because it had to, but the various lashed-together strategies, tactics really, often left plenty of room for problems, including technical ones.

Lacking support

As anyone who has ever been designated the unpaid technical support agent for a relative – which, I imagine, is probably most of the people reading this – could tell you, fixing tech problems, particularly user problems, remotely is a challenge. Questions like ‘what do you see on the screen’ are often met with maddening responses such as ‘nothing’. Not everyone can be a tech expert, of course, and explaining things is difficult when there is a mismatch in knowledge – not everyone can be a teacher, either. Installing remote access software is certainly an option, but could we do with something a little more specific? Something that reduces the labour involved?

Dónal Ó Duibhir, founder of PanSift certainly thinks so. PanSift is a remote and automated troubleshooting tool, created by Ó Duibhir after time spent with major tech and telecoms multinationals.

Remote working has a mixed reputation today: it works, and many employees are demanding it, but while it would not have been possible without the deep penetration of IT into business, the IT itself can be as much of a problem as a solution for many businesses, particularly small ones. 

“It’s really frustrating if you’re not physically present. You can send out a laptop and pay for someone’s ISP, but if they don’t know how to set something up it can be a nightmare,” said Ó Duibhir.

Ó Duibhir said there was another issue, too: simply bad support.

“Let’s be honest, there are a lot of cowboys in IT,” he said.

Remote working is here to stay, but greater simplification of business IT needs to occur, not to mention deeper education and training. Technical problems can, and should, be solved with technical solutions. However, we also need to address broader social ones, from seeing IT skills as being about more than performing office tasks and social media posting to considering why so many of us have sought to stay out of the office if it is at all possible.

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