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Working at home versus home working

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A training company is offering companies guidance on how to maximise productivity for those working from home (or home working)

Working at home versus home working – understand the difference? Employers will need to grasp the nuance of each if they are to successfully utilise remote working, be it fully or partly, long term.

Dr Barrie Kennard

That is the view of Dr Barrie Kennard, head of professional practice at training company Call of the Wild.

While the company has itself successfully transitioned from operating from a very physical environment to a hybrid physical/virtual one, it is now helping other companies do the same by helping managers understand some of the key differences around attitude and behaviour that can impact the productivity of employees.

He notes that since workers have returned from their summer holidays, many will now be back into a work routine. However, the remainder of this year and early next will be different. Many will still be based at home. In view of the length of time many have now been based at home, he argues that perceptions around where they work and how they work has changed over the last 20 months.

According to a recent ONS report, more than 25% of the working population have worked remotely since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns in the UK.

Indeed, Call of the Wild pivoted its own offering away from leveraging the stunning, physical landscape of the Brecon Beacons, where it is based, to inspire learners to embracing the digital world and running its courses virtually. This has now evolved, with the relaxing of restrictions, into a hybrid online and face to face offer.

It designed this online offer in an innovative way, sending participants on some courses physical props to enhance their digital experience and filming real-life scenarios for use in training exercises where participants could select different outcomes based on their decision making.

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In many ways, this benefitted the company. Suddenly, geography was no object, and it has been working with companies in the US and Europe as a result.

But its founders also increasingly realised that not everyone is working in the same way whilst working remotely. And they started to wonder why.

Dr Kennard says the company started compiling intelligence on the different factors that can impact productivity and attitude during home working, while devising solutions and fixes to improve the environment for staff.

To help companies grappling with this same problem, it devised a checklist companies can use with employees and can conduct a free audit for companies looking to maximise the productivity of homeworkers in the long term.

Dr Kennard says: “We started to realise that there are many factors that affect how we work at home. The big thing to start with is the actual physical space available. Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated home office; for many, the dining table or kitchen worktop becomes their work area and that has to be cleared away each day.

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“In this case the work area may be accessed by others, which can be a source of distraction or embarrassment. In the early days of lockdown there was also the issue of home schooling and general childcare that also impacted on how the working day was organised. Many managers and leaders were required to understand the amount of ‘time juggling’ their staff were engaged in.”

But he says that almost 18 months since the first UK lockdown, and since Call of the Wild first started offering its training virtually, attitudes around working from home have changed – and the provision of companies matured. And he is keen to stress an important nuance that has emerged.

“There is a definite attitudinal difference between those who say they are working at home and those who say they are at home working. Could it be that it is the wording used that sets the comparative importance of the activity? Perhaps the phrase working at home suggests working has more importance whereas home working implies a reverse of priorities,” Dr Kennard says.

“It seems that if one is working at home then work is the primary activity for a set amount of time. Other tasks are completed at times to fit in with work breaks or around the set working hours. In contrast, when someone sees themselves as home working, the opposite is the case. Domestic/family tasks take precedence over work.”

He acknowledges that the difference is subtle, and everyone’s circumstances differ. “If families assume that having someone at home who would normally be ‘at work’ means that they are available for family-related activities, they may exert pressure upon the home working family member. This provides a genuine problem of conscience when forced to choose between work and family time. Our audits have really helped to define the demarcation between the two.”

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He suggests the best remedy for this is to actually ‘go to work’. “The journey to work may only be into another room but by setting a mindset of travelling to a workplace it may be easier for everyone in the house to accept that you are at work.”

He also suggests setting regimented work times and break times and taking the time to call colleagues in the same way you would have a coffee chat. And he adds: “The terminology for hybrid working of the future is smart working!” 

(Lead image: Ron Lach / Pexels.com)

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Council backing for Small Business Saturday

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Swansea Council is backing Small Business Saturday by continuing to encourage people to shop local.

Being held on Saturday December 4, Small Business Saturday is a UK-wide grassroots campaign that encourages people to support small businesses within their communities.

The Swansea Council plea follows on from the authority providing over £150m of support to local businesses throughout the pandemic.

Grants of up to £1,000 are being made available to support start-up businesses, with grants of up to £10,000 being provided to help businesses throughout the city upgrade the look of their properties.

Free bus travel schemes are helping support local shopping, along with the provision of free outside public space use for businesses to expand. The council is also helping businesses by working with the Welsh Government to provide grants through the Transforming Towns scheme.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “Our local, small businesses have been there for us throughout the pandemic, and the council is there for them too.

“So as well as all we’re doing as a council to help our small businesses as part of our economic recovery fund – which has now been increased from £20m to £25m – we’d also continue to encourage people throughout Swansea to support their local traders both on Small Business Saturday and beyond.

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“This is important because it boosts our local economy while helping sustain and create jobs for local people.”

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of communities right across Swansea, so they rightly deserve our backing.

“From innovative new businesses to those which have been in our communities for generations, many people enjoy the retail and social opportunities they provide both in the city centre and throughout all others parts of Swansea. This is an especially important time of year for our businesses too as we head towards Christmas, so I’d encourage as much support as possible.”

The council has also launched a Shop Local Swansea campaign to encourage people to shop more locally by supporting smaller, independent businesses in their communities. The campaign includes a Shop Local webpage with listings of businesses in communities including Clydach, Gorseinon, Gowerton, Killay, Morriston, Mumbles, Pontarddulais, Sketty and Uplands.

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New Swansea processing facility will ‘recycle the unrecyclable’

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Resource recovery expert Fiberight has set up a new facility and Centre of Excellence in Swansea that will use innovative resource recovery techniques to increase the capture of materials from waste for the production of market-ready recycled materials.

Based at the Westfield industrial estate in Waunarlwydd, the plant will recover and recycle valuable resources from household waste using Fiberight’s core water-based process, HYDRACYCLE™.

This economically sustainable process captures more than 70% of recyclable materials in the household waste stream, including packaging such as bottles, bags, wrappers, tubs and trays, plus food waste, paper/card, metals and aggregates (glass and grit). Recovered materials will be recycled and used in higher value products for the circular economy.

The plant’s current capacity is 12,000 tonnes a year to enable Fiberight to conduct R&D and validation work. The initial input feedstock comprises plastic-rich materials rejected from waste sorting facilities (MRFs) across England and Wales. This reject stream contains significant amounts of recyclable materials that can be recovered and recycled along circular economy principles – capturing these lost resources.

Nick Thompson, co-founder and Managing Director of Fiberight Ltd explains that Wales was chosen as it is the ‘leading UK nation in terms of recycling rates and resource recovery’.

He says: “Having developed the concept for a ‘resource refinery’ or ‘manufacturing facility that uses waste as a feedstock’ more than ten years ago, we have developed a unique process that is now tried and tested.”

Nick emphasises how their concept brings processing infrastructure to the UK, rather than relying on exporting to other countries to ‘finish the job’, adding: “This creates a massive opportunity in the UK to take the hundreds of millions of pounds of value lost by burning, burying or exporting waste and turn it into high value resources, which can be fed back into our manufacturing industry. As both national government and local authorities seek better processes and strategies to deal with waste, we are here to demonstrate we can deliver it.”

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In early 2022, the capacity will increase to 40,000 tonnes a year as a pre-commercial facility and employ local people. Long term, the aim is to create a 120,000-tonne commercial plant by 2026 with 40 jobs.

Processing waste via HYDRACYCLE™ significantly reduces carbon emissions by minimising the volume of waste requiring end of life disposal. The process saves 780kg CO2 emissions per tonne of waste input by recovering and recycling waste that would typically be buried or burnt.

A typical HYDRACYCLE™ plant will deliver the equivalent carbon saving of removing more than 20,000 petrol cars from the road each year when compared to business-as-usual landfill and/or incineration.

To facilitate the plant’s development, existing equipment and items from Fiberight’s US demonstration facility has been repurposed for the Swansea site. Fiberight has also been supported by various R&D-funded projects, including Innovate UK and the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU).

In addition to creating skilled jobs, Fiberight’s plant will see the output from the paper and card found in waste being used as animal bedding, biomass fuel, or converted into high end sugars for chemicals production processes; and the plastics will be separated and transformed into a range of materials and fuels. Any true residual waste would be used for energy generation.

Looking ahead, Fiberight aims to establish the facility as a Centre of Excellence that will demonstrate the core HYDRACYCLE™ process – plus several bolt-on technologies all in one location – recovering and recycling a variety of waste materials into high value products.

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The concept is to showcase what can be achieved by taking this new, innovative circular approach and how much value can be realised from mixed waste streams. Alongside commercial operations, R&D work will continue, including testing different feedstocks as well as responding to new opportunities.

Nick adds: “Our next generation recycling technology captures around 70%-plus of whatever waste a council isn’t recycling and transforms it into valuable recycled materials and products. We are excited to be part of an active sector in Wales which is open to new innovation and approaches.”

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New home on Port Talbot enterprise zone for MMEngineering

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Defence engineering specialists MMEngineering are enjoying record growth as they prepare to relocate to their second home on the Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone.

Established in 2016 by James Morton and brothers Chris and Martin McDermid, the company has grown by 30% over the last year reaching a turnover of £2.6miliion. This is expected to exceed £3.5 million in 2020/21 with increased customer demand prompting the need for additional space.

An initial loan of £175,000 from the Development Bank of Wales enabled MMEngineering to set-up in a 6,000 square foot unit on Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone. The company has now signed a new ten year lease for 20,000 square feet. The cost of the move and fit-out is being funded by a £250,000 loan from the Development Bank of Wales. The interest rate of both loans has been reduced by 2% as the business is based in an enterprise zone.

Employing 19 people, MMEngineering designs, manufactures and installs high quality blast and flood defence solutions across the UK and internationally with exports to Thailand, Singapore and South East Asia.

Chris McDermid, Director of MMEngineering said: “The last two-years have been a roller-coaster of a journey as we simply did not know how Covid-19 would impact our performance. Our confidence certainly took a knock last year but with the on-going support of the Development Bank of Wales, we’ve been able to refocus and we’re now busier than ever but lack of space has been limiting our efficiency and ability to grow quicker.

“Staying on the same enterprise zone enables us to benefit from more space with a smooth transition. We also maintain the discounted interest rates which is helpful in terms of reducing the cost of borrowing and lowering monthly payments therefore minimising the impact on cashflow. Of course, we have an existing relationship with the Development Bank but the whole process really has been very quick and straight-forward which is exactly what we needed to be in a position to secure the new unit.”

Donna Williams, Development Bank of Wales & Chris McDermid, Director MMEngineering

Donna Williams and Stewart Williams from the Development Bank of Wales support MMEngineering. They said: “MMEngineering has exceeded all expectations over the last few years with a real surge in growth but the business has been physically limited by space.

“With our support, the team can now increase production capacity and deliver on demand; improving efficiency and preparing for the next phase of growth without needing to relocate away from the area. In fact, Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone is an ideal location given the support available for businesses like MMEngineering as we work with Welsh Government to offer reduced interest rates on our loans by up to 2%.” 

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There are eight enterprise zones in Wales. With access to a deep water harbour and excellent rail and road links, Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone benefits from access to enterprise class connectivity,  a range of affordable accommodation and support from Welsh Government and the local authority. With a strong manufacturing heritage, there is a loyal and skilled labour pool living within a 30-minute commute.

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