Festival of Work

This year was the first year I’ve been able to attend the Festival of Work, therefore as a starting place for reflections I have to start with the inclusive nature of a remote conference. I’ve come away with pages of notes, feeling inspired and energised. All without leaving my sofa (oh except for when I jumped on the exercise bike for one of the sessions). 

Given we’re in a lockdown and I’m homeschooling four children, I was able to plan home-school around sessions and still join the family for meals. I’d never have been able to do this if I had to travel. Even better, my 9 year old son joined me for the closing keynote on Thursday, made some excellent notes and we had a great discussion about the work I do afterwards. 

Amazingly, despite sitting on my sofa in my PJs, I felt I was at a conference, I felt like I was part of something along with other people. I couldn’t see the numbers of people or engage directly with those people but yet I still felt part of something big. 

I’d certainly not have been able to attend a conference like this for all three days without it having a significant impact on my family. And perhaps that isn’t so bad for three days once a year but when we add that into all the other impacts and throw in a bit of mum guilt a remote conference for me is a brilliant option.  

I had a front row seat (great for a short person), personal control over the volume and I didn’t have to annoy a whole row of people when I needed to the loo! I was also able to surround myself with notebooks for writing down all the thoughts racing into my head. As someone whose mind goes off in all sorts of directions when listening to inspiring speakers being able to organise my thoughts as I go along is a huge plus for ensuring I take away the maximum benefit. 

Knowing I can go back to recordings later is also a huge plus, for me I wanted to watch live. I blocked my diary as if I was attending in person. I know that if I have the attitude “I’ll watch when I can fit it in” I never will. So in the main, watching live was my priority. However, it’s a huge plus that when I want to attend two sessions run at the same time I can come back to the other and I have put time in my diary for the next week to make sure those get watched. 

I really hope we’ll be seeing more conferences delivered like this, the experience was amazing. There is a slight downside of missing the networking and opportunities to speak to those around me. Twitter provided a bit of this, and is a great addition to a live session to see what others are picking out. Maybe there is a future for a blended approach, allowing all the benefits I’ve mentioned above with the option for in person attendance and networking. I for one hope this type of conference is part of our future. 

Even whilst writing this lots of thoughts are buzzing around what could be done to make such a great conference even better. I’ll be back to blog some more detailed thoughts later.

The festival was also packed with learning, I’ll reflect on the key themes I took away from the event (all of which I will be blogging on specifically in the coming weeks). I mentioned “blended” above and that was a word that came out and ran through many of the sessions.  Of course our new and changing experiences of work were reflected. Discussions around homeworking and the challenges of doing this in an enforced way. Equally there were people discussing new ways of living – one speaker mentioned leaving his work at the end of the day to join his boys to play cricket in the garden, something he couldn’t have done before. Another spoke about walking in green spaces compared to the sardines and armpits of the London Underground. For many years we have talked about work life balance, talk which focused around work being something we go to and then leave at a reasonable time in order to balance in our life. With new ways of working we’re able to blend the two – going out for a walk in the middle of the day, playing with our children, enjoying a hobby, all of which can actually break up the working day and fit with it. I like the idea of a work life blend over a work life balance. 

Diversity and inclusion was another running theme. Having read Caroline Criado-Perez book Invisible Women I was really excited to see she was delivering the closing keynote. I was even more pleased to see diversity and inclusion not just left to a token at the end but running through the event. John Amaechi delivered an amazing opening key-note on the second day. Both Caroline and John spoke about the importance of research and data, understanding the impact of policies, procedures and practices on a diverse range of people. We cannot assume the default human is a white male, this is not representative of all people. Hannah Fry reinforced this in her opening key-note on Friday where she spoke about AI and the risks of giving algorithms an air of authority. Algorithms can only work with the data they are provided, if that data is not diverse the outcomes will not reflect diversity.  

Crucially raised by both Caroline and John – the solution is not to train minorities. As Caroline put it “why can’t women be more like men?” is not the right question. If the system works against any particular group – it is the system that must change not the group. 

Overall an amazing Festival of Work – I’m left with my brain going overdrive trying to reflect on everything I have learnt! 

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