Changing working practices

Reflecting on some of the things I do while working, and how these have changed over my career so far.

Black and white line drawing of an ancient scribe at work.  The man is using a pen to write on an upright parchment.

I promise to get back to some more technical blog posts soon, but at the moment thinking about my career seems to be the focus of my writing.  In this post I'm going to talk about some of the things I do while at work, and how they've changed during my career so far.

The big one - working from home

I can't really write a post about changing working practices without mentioning the shift to primarily working from home, and if you were to say to me 20 years ago "most people in your sector will work from home in 2023" I'd probably have looked at you funnily.  Even 20 years ago I knew it was possible, but there's been so much focus on people being productive because they're in the office that I wouldn't have thought the move likely.  Indeed, some companies very much have a "presenteeism problem", where they feel staff can't work effectively except from the office (or management don't trust the staff to [1]).

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe working from home works for all organisations, industries, or people, but unless the office was 15 minutes' (pedal) bike ride away I probably wouldn't take an office based job now.  Some of my colleagues find they work better from the office, and certainly there can be more team cohesion that way.  For me, if I go into the office it's 50/50 as to whether I get more or less done.  I agree with a colleague though that some of the non-work conversations that happen when I (or others) pop in occur because people haven't seen each other for a while.

Currently I go into the office about once a week.  My commute is about 40 minutes each way, and the desk setup isn't as good as my setup at home.  When I work from home there's a number of walking routes I can use at lunchtime, whereas I don't know the routes in the office (and those I do know aren't as appealing, being next to main roads).

I wonder how long it will be until the vast majority of office buildings are completely empty.  My current office probably has 100 desks in it (at a guess), yet when I'm in there's generally twelve people at most working from the office.


When I started working at the council I quickly found that I couldn't recall everything I'd done the day before, let alone weeks ago.  Partly that's because our ticketing system wasn't very searchable, but it didn't improve much!  In response I took to writing a journal in Microsoft OneNote.  I recorded what I'd done each day, citing ticket references and articles.  I also included details on fixes to problems, with screenshots.

When I left the council the first time, I passed my journal on to some trusted friends because of the fixes contained within.  After a few months I got a message that said "your journal just saved me hours", and that was something I used to hear a lot - the value of documentation was proven 🙂.  After six months I was back at the council, the grass hadn't been greener on the other side, and I took my journal back and carried on.  On leaving for the last time I had almost a page for every day that I'd worked there, either in OneNote or Google Docs.  As IT was being broken up, I decided to delete that journal (which also saved it ever being requested under the Freedom of Information act).

In my current role I don't journal as much.  As a one man team I'm incredibly busy, and I just don't have the time.  I still maintain a OneNote journal with key items in it, but certainly not one page each day any more.  My Outlook calendar has a lot of appointments in it though to remind me what I've been working on.  Our ticketing system is relatively easy to query too, so if I need to see what I worked on that's easier.

Scripting and automation

For years I've keenly scripted repetitive work whenever I can.  In my first full time job I wrote a VBS macro in Microsoft Outlook so I could click a button, answer a few questions, and create a "thank you for your ticket" email.  When I moved to working for the school, every school holiday I would spend an hour writing a logon script (Microsoft batch) to perform maintenance.  That way all I and my colleague had to do was to logon to each computer and click "next" occasionally.  Later at the council I moved to PowerShell and automated as much of our "duty officer" process as I could [2].

While the use of scripting and automation hasn't changed, the language I'm using has.  I'm pleased that I can map my language journey, and I try to use current languages where I can (so much less batch and VBS these days, more PowerShell).  I'm going to look at Power Automate soon to see what else I can automate from my workload - I just need time.

I know that I'm more adept at some languages than others, so sometimes I might use PHP to read a file and manipulate it rather than PowerShell.  When migrating firewall configuration from a Cisco ASA to a Fortinet Fortigate I used PHP to script that config rewrite.

Let's not forget Outlook (and Google) rules too, and I use an increasing number of these.  Some examples:

  • Automatically categorise emails sent to IT as "Internal IT" (I still get notifications)
  • For companies that email me unsolicited ("cold call" style), addresses get added to an auto-delete rule
  • Auto-delete ticketing system notifications for items that I review daily anyway

Document collaboration

I know back in 2019 I wrote how Google's GSuite wasn't ready for enterprise, but the document collaboration features in GSuite (now Google Workspace) are significantly better than those in Microsoft 365.  That said document collaboration in both platforms is significantly better than the old days, where we'd email documents around for comment and end up in versioning hell!

For me, gone are the days of emailing a Word document around and saying "what are your thoughts?".  I'll share the document with you via Google Drive / Microsoft SharePoint instead.  If you email me a document for my comments I'll make them on the document and share that with you instead.

I do wish more people would use sharing features, rather than emailing documents around.  Once the document is out there you can't get it back.  At least with sharing you can stipulate how long the file can be accessed and prevent downloads!

Browser choices

Internet Explorer is (was?) crap.  There, I've said it.  Most of us knew that already.

For years I've been a huge fan of Mozilla Firefox, and I still use this as my primary browser at home.  Sometimes I'll use Google Chrome, particularly if I'm in a Google based environment.  For my consultancy, and in my current full time job, I use Microsoft 365 and I've opted to use Microsoft Edge when working on Windows.  Partly that's because I'm not installing another application (Firefox or Chrome) to support, and partly because as Microsoft's browser I expect it to be well tested with Microsoft 365.

To be clear, if it was still Internet Explorer, rather than a Chromium based browser, I'd not be using a Microsoft browser.

Predictions for the future?

I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was more "AI" (machine learning) in my future, and I've started to have a play with Google Bard (blog post about that coming soon).  I've already had people at work ask me what my security position on using tools like Chat GPT, Google Bard, and GitHub co-pilot are.

I can't see myself returning to an office full time, not unless there are some really clear benefits to doing so.  That said, if I was running my own business full time I'd consider having an office away from home, if budget allowed.

It'll be fascinating to see what changes over the rest of my working life, and beyond.

Banner image:   "Scribe at work" (cropped), from, by j4p4n

[1] I can completely understand that, as whenever I used to hear managers were "working from home" I'd often assume that was code for "not doing a lot".  Partly that was because management were allowed to work from home, and we mere proles were not!

[2] Side story - I initially spoke to my boss of the time about scripting this process, and he said no because "I like how it's done at the moment".  That was manually, and by everyone in the team but him.  After a few months I decided that was silly as we were wasting hours a day.  The boss was on leave and I spent a couple of hours scripting the process.  Our boss didn't notice for months until he spotted a duty officer ticket logged on a bank holiday Monday, when none of us worked.  He was fine with it being scripted, and a variant of my script is still in use to this day.