Working From Home

Working from home has become a hot topic again, as the light at the end of the Covid tunnel is shining brighter and brighter every day. 20 million people in the UK have already received their first vaccine dose. That's nearly one third of the population!

Prime minister Boris Johnson recently said that workers will return to the office in a few short months. Today, a director at a large office and retail complex said that people are keen to return to the office.

Although I believe it is often the case, especially for those with children or those living with flatmates and without adequate space to build a proper home office setup, I feel that going back to the offices is more often an expectation of the business rather than the will of the people. They want to get workers back to the business factory under their watchful eyes, wearing a suit and consuming business juice (i.e. coffee) and lunch sandwiches sold by the major coffee and fast food chains you can find at every corner in London.

Personally, I have very little desire to return to the office. I enjoy working from home despite the Zoom fatigue and I think I'm also more productive at home. Some financial companies such as Goldman Sachs and Barclays see working from home being only temporary and a challenge to their culture and communication. I don't think they ever asked the opinion of their employees.

Some other banks like Lloyds have plans to reduce their office space by 20% after a staff survey found 80% of them wanted to work from home. Large tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft also have abandoned the conservative office culture approach and are supportive towards the new trend of working from home.

I'm on the work-from-home train, definitely. This is what going to the office typically means to me in practice:

  • Pay over £2,000 annually for a Zone 1-4 season ticket
  • Spend more than 2 hours every day on a packed train commuting to the office and back
  • Give up drinking good coffee from ethically sourced beans
  • Put soy milk in my coffee as the office probably won't have any oat milk available
  • Cannot play music on my own stereo system
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones 8 hours a day as otherwise it's impossible to concentrate on anything
  • Queue to the toilet after lunch as there's always too few of them
  • Use standard quality displays instead of my own 5K displays
  • Use standard quality office chair instead of my own high end chair
  • No chance to go out to have a one hour walk in my local park in the afternoon before continuing work for couple more hours

Then the positive sides:

  • Get to know my team mates better
  • Chance to socialise at the after work in the pub

I think that for me something like 80% at home - 20% at the office model would be more suitable. Monday to Thursday at home, Friday at the office, to get the best part of both worlds.

Media Wars

Many of you have probably heard about the ongoing battle between Facebook and media corporations in Australia. A proposed law known as the News Media Bargaining Code requires large internet companies such as Facebook and Google to subsidise local news media companies for sharing links to their content. After threatening to entirely pull out from the Australian market, Google finally reached an agreement while Facebook took a completely different route. Facebook has decided to start blocking people from sharing any links to Australian media. This blocking mechanism turned out to be very flawed and it's actually blocking not only links to news content, but also blog articles hosted on private blogs, non-profit organisations’ websites and even critical information channels such as bushfire alerts.

The big picture is naturally more complex than that. Public broadcast companies such as ABC in Australia, BBC in the UK or YLE in Finland are also in trouble. These public broadcast companies have always had an important role in delivering content to the citizens. Public broadcast companies are promoting the cultures of the nation. They for example offer a channel for arts and music performers to reach out to new audiences, they give minorities access to information in their own languages and they provide an independent source of news to the public. By independent I mean not dependent on ad revenue, clickbait headlines or monthly subscription models, unlike tabloids and many traditional newspapers. Private media does not work for the public benefit unless it provides a source of income for them or strengthens their foothold in the market. They are in the media business to make money. This is why well funded public media is very much needed.

I may simplify some things here, as sometimes public broadcasting media can be very tightly coupled to the politics and the ruling government. In Finland, YLE was known to be very left leaning and ultra conservative. Left leaning here means that any kind of criticism towards the Soviet Union was not allowed (see the concept of Finlandisation to understand why) while conservative values kept popular content such as rock music out of their broadcasting frequencies. YLE only became more open in the 1980s when small commercial radio stations together with cable and satellite TV channels such as Sky and Music Television started gaining more attraction from the public while glasnost and perestroika opened the doors from Soviet Union to the west. In 2013, the TV licence fee based funding of YLE was scrapped for good in favour of a public broadcast tax, raising concerns for the return of political influence on the YLE content and the future of YLE and journalism due to funding cuts.

Unlike you may think, Facebook and Google are not just offering internet based services to the consumers. They are advertising companies with ad revenue as their biggest source of income. You don't pay for their services, you and your data are the product they sell to the advertisers. Internet media companies are competing with newspapers and TV channels for the ad revenue. Advertisers obviously go where they get the highest return on the investment, i.e. where people viewing the ads are.

This leads us back to the topic of the video I linked above. In Australia, Morrison's government hasn't been doing a good job in keeping the Australian Broadcast Company ABC living and breathing. ABC has faced budget cuts and the overall cost of the service is constantly under scrutiny. Australian media is very much dominated by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which is a hated media corporation pushing its slimy tentacles in politics and giving their support to the politicians that are willing to do their bidding. The political oppponents get bashed without mercy on their gossip and tabloid releases. Media should be the watchdog of the power but in News Corp's case, they are the ones who are running the show.

In Finland, private media companies have their own battle to fight against YLE. A Media Union founded by these companies filed a complaint to limit the functions of YLE as they see YLE having a competitive advantage, making their position in the market more difficult than it's supposed to be. A new law has just recently been proposed to limit the type of content YLE can produce and publish on the internet. This law would pretty much prevent YLE from publishing text articles on their website unless they are coupled to audio or video content. Minority languages, educational content and public service announcements with other similar important news content are an exemption. The same discussion is going on in several European countries although there are also opposing voices.

Personally, I don't think internet platforms should subsidise media companies for linking to their content. They already send traffic to these websites for free, providing more visibility and page views. I like Facebook even less than News Corp, but in this media war I hope that these two goliaths will end up destroying each other, giving more space to small media outlets and restoring the glory of professional journalism. World class journalism is very much needed in these troubling times when the far right is once again rising, demonising media, especially public broadcast companies, and attacking journalists by summoning their minions to target them in social media.

Beast From The Baltic

The past couple of weeks have been really cold. The media calls it the Beast From The Baltic, a bit like the Beast From The East, which brought proper ice and snow in London three years ago when I moved here from Berlin. There hasn't been much snow, to be fair, but the temperature has dropped below 0ºC and even stayed there for several days. It should be getting warmer soon though. I can feel the spring is just behind the corner!

There hasn't really been much going on. Just an endless groundhog day all over again. I just wanted to give some kind of an update to tell that I'm still here.