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Thursday31 July 2014

Free yourself from computer slavery

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In your working life you may sometimes feel that you are chained to your computer. Instead information technology should be seen as an opportunity for more freedom in how you work.

Hot desking, much favoured by facilities managers in large corporate environments, is sometimes viewed as a cynical way of accommodating large numbers of employees in expensive office space. In a small practice it can be seen more positively, as a means of creating flexibility in the working patterns in your office – both in the arrangement of team members and the accommodation of part-time employees.

The IT infrastructure for hot desking broadly follows common practice for any office but it becomes more important to take some overlooked items to the next level. For example, a centralised file and email server is an absolute necessity, while allowing preferences, desktops, email setup and personal folders to follow users around the office is critical to untethering people from particular machines.

If you are using a Windows server this is achieved using “roaming profiles” or “offline files”; with an OSX server you use “portable home directories”.

In setting up these services practical constraints need to be set on the size of personal data, to avoid unacceptable slowness in moving data from one computer to another. If users have laptops which need to work away from the office, the system needs to be configured to allow a cached or synchronised copy of the user data to work independently on the laptop.
Obviously, if you want to be able to move from computer to computer then it becomes important that each one has a similar performance and a standardised selection of software installed. If some computers are less well equipped than others you will find that some desk spaces seem to be distinctly colder than others!

Mobile phones have done much to untether users from specific extensions, but where landlines are still the norm, it is still possible to be flexible. On a very simple level this can be achieved by using Dect cordless handsets, while some equipment allows users to log their extension number into the local handset as they move around.

Flexible telephony

Computer-based telephony such as Skype can also provide a more flexible alternative to landlines. Not only can costs be cut but you can pick up Skype calls on a wide variety of devices from mobile phones to your computer to purpose-made wifi handsets. Skype offers business users an office-wide business account and extension management tool. Adding a Skype online number to your account ensures that you can receive calls via Skype made from any ordinary handset made to an apparently ordinary landline based number.

If you are thinking of relying on Skype calls on your mobile you will need a compatible phone (iPhone or Android) and need to check your mobile provider allows you to make Skype data calls.

But be mindful that as you use technology to free up the way you organise your workplace, you will become more reliant on it. Computers fall over, internet connections go down and, as seen just before Christmas, even global services like Skype can have outages.

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