1. Why you should work from home more often

    Posted July 28, 2008 in work  |  No Comments so far

    I’m lucky to have an employer with a sensible telecommuting policy – all of our staff are entitled to spend one day per week working from home.

    If this isn’t something your company does, this column from the Economist provides a useful summary of the reasons why they should.

    The benefits of telecommuting are realised in the following areas:

    • Personal productivity – the telecommuter gains on average two hours of time normally lost to the commute
    • Environmental impact – avoiding the commute means a drop in personal CO2 emissions; if enough people did this, the global drop in energy consumption could be huge
    • Business benefits – it’s increasingly recognised that working from home can lead to productivity gains and cost reductions for the business; see the link above for a discussion of these.

    However, it’s going to take some time for working from home to break into the mainstream. Working practises will need to change quite fundamentally in order for less technology-centric workplaces to move to a telecommuting model. But companies should start to move in this direction sooner rather than later.

  2. Word clouds and silver linings

    Posted July 14, 2008 in projects, research  |  No Comments so far

    Recently I carried out some user testing on a late-beta website. At the end of each test session, participants were given a piece of paper listing over 100 adjectives – both positive and negative – and asked to tick the ones most applicable to the website they’d been using.

    As the week of testing came to a close, it was possible to flick through the responses and get a sense of what adjectives were the most popular. However, it was less easy to convey this to the client in summary form.

    Of the 100 options available, just over 30 had been chosen by at least one participant, meaning that rendering the results of the survey as a bar or pie chart would be at best inelegant and at worst unintelligible. And I couldn’t chop the least popular choices just to present a simple overview, as this would skew the data and paint an artificially positive picture of how the participants had responded to the site.

    In the end I drew the results of the survey using a “word cloud” model. If you’ve used, well, the internet in the last couple of years you’ll have seen these (although the term itself may not be so familiar!). Each adjective that had been chosen at least once was displayed in the ‘cloud’, and its text size was determined by how many participants had chosen it. This meant that the most popular options stood out clearly and the less popular options, although less visible, were still legible if the diagram was studied closely.

    The resulting cloud met with a positive reception when presented to the client and helped to provide a quick and effective summary of the test sessions, especially useful for people in senior management who didn’t have time to go through the detailed analysis of the tests.

    Although I used Visio to create the cloud, there are a number of tools online that can be used to quickly generate word clouds of your own. Wordle, at http://www.wordle.com, is the one I’d most recommend.

    I’m not convinced that they’re always useful but you never know when you’ll end up in a situation where a word cloud might come in handy.