Working at home - The experience

Friday 3rd of April, 2020

#lifestyle #work

Well, it was coming eventually - the coronavirus article. However, I don’t want to dwell too much on the current pandemic. Instead, I want to focus on how this change has affected our work, as some of us have started to work from home (myself included). So, I wanted to talk a little bit on what it’s like, what the challenges are, and my final thoughts.

Just a little background on my work first, I work at Explore Learning, an extra-curricular Maths and English tutoring centre for children between the ages of 4-14. Without spoiling too much more, let’s get into the bulk of our article.

What is it like?

Different. Just different.

There are no words to really describe the change. You may be curious to know how Explore Learning decided to adapt to the changes presented. Well in quite a timely fashion, Explore Learning introduced ”Explore at Home” - a service that provides 1 on 1 tutoring from the comforts of your own home via Microsoft Teams.

It’s also worth noting that before at Explore, we would tutor at a 1:6 ratio of tutors to children. This gives the child a brilliant opportunity to develop and recieve support without straining staff resources. Another change in our tutoring that came about was timing. At Explore Learning centres, you can simply drop your child off at any time during open hours* to recieve an hour-long session (providing you as a parent have enough sessions to use). However with this new system, parents would instead block out a slot each week, akin to a more traditional tutoring service. Said block of time would be the same each week, and with the same tutor as well.

These are some of the main changes that this new system has brought, but have there been any challenges with the implementation of this new system?

*Some “open hours” are dedicated to extra courses, such as an 11+ course and SATS preparation courses. As such, these times are limited to children who have specifically joined those courses.

Challenges - a technicians nightmare

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a technician. However at my workplace, I’m simply the somewhat IT-savvy individual.

So basically, I am IT guy (If you get that reference, I love you).

And with an online 1-1 tuition system, using Microsoft Teams for video sessions with each child, problems are bound to arise. And of course, if you’re in a workplace like that and you have any semblance of technical prowess, people will assume you know how to help them (and luckily, I did most of the time).

This first week has been quite the technical palaver (as you can tell by my lack of recent articles). A number of tutors at our local centre didn’t have the equipment needed to adapt to the changes gracefully. Microsoft Teams needs a bare minimum of 4GB of RAM to function, so some tutors had to upgrade their systems to adapt to the new system. My laptop doesn’t struggle too much, although it does start to heat up a lot when running other process as well, so I keep it on charge throughout my sessions to keep it powered.

I spent this first week of the new system tutoring my sessions, as well as supporting my collegues with tech issues as best as I can without hopping on the line and disrupting their current session (I did it once).

But this is only the tutor side of tech issues. Bare in mind, that we have over 160 families at our centre to cater for. Tech issues can and will also abound from these places. However, tech issues on their end aren’t exactly an issue I, as a tutor deal with. That goes down to the manager for the day. So, if there are technical problems say, a non-working microphone. It’s either up to the tutor to come up with some solution they can do without the managers assistance (i.e. using the Microsoft Teams messaging) or getting a manager involved to provide some form of solution (i.e. calling the parent and using speaker phone to communicate throughout the session). If I bump into an issue that requires a manager, I’ll usually just tell the manager the issue and whether they can help me use a supported method (like calling the parent).

My employment aside, it has impacted my work routine at home. In that first week, I drastically lessened my work at home to a bare minimum. As we settle into this new system and routine however, I plan to again start my web development and blog posts up (including the site redesign).

Of course with all this said, the coronavirus has impacted many industries and businesses on a technical level, and issues are bound to pop up within these first few weeks.

Final thoughts

It’s officially been 1 week and 2 days since this system has launched, and we’re now steadying in our complications and reaping the rewards of the introduction of this vital system at such a critical time.

If this outbreak had occured at a time where technology was not where it is now, we would all be in shambles. But, this digital age has enabled us to keep going, despite the despairity of the situtation. I’m not trying to downplay the severity of the virus, but instead to reflect upon the potential of a situation like this occuring years in the past. Would we have coped? Perhaps not.

As a note for any regular readers, I’m going to try uploading posts every Friday now. I tutor on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Friday might be a good little window to slip in an article, but we’ll see how that commitment goes. Stay safe.


Written by Anthony Ingall who makes stuff in Peterborough. You should follow him on Twitter or GitHub.