Writing (30 minutes)
Directions: For this part, you are allowed 30 minutes to write a short essay entitled Should Parents Send Their Kids to Art Classes? You should write at least 150 words following the outline given below.
Should Parents Send Their Kids to Art Classes?
Part ⅡReading Comprehension (Skimming and Scanning) (15 minutes)
Directions: In this part, you will have 15 minutes to go over the passage quickly and answer the questions on Answer Sheet 1. For questions 1-7, choose the best answer from the four choices marked A), B), C) and D). For questions 8-10, complete the sentences with the information given in the passage.
Bosses Say “Yes” to Home Work
Rising costs of office space, time lost to stressful commuting, and a slow recognition that workers have lives beyond the office—all are strong arguments for letting staff work from home.
For the small business, there are additional benefits too—staff are more productive, and happier, enabling firms to keep their headcounts (员工数) and their recruitment costs to a minimum. It can also provide competitive advantage, especially when small businesses want to attract new staff but don’t have the budget to offer huge salaries.
While company managers have known about the benefits for a long time, many have done little about it, sceptical of whether they could trust their employees to work to full capacity without supervision, or concerned about the additional expenses teleworking policies might incur as staff start charging their home phone bills to the business.
Yet this is now changing. When communications provider Inter-Tel researched the use of remote working solutions among small-and-medium-sized UK businesses in April this year, it found that 28% more companies claimed to have introduced flexible working practices than a year ago.
The UK network of Business Links confirms that it too has seen a growing interest in remote working solutions from small businesses seeking its advice, and claims that as many as 60-70% of the businesses that come through its doors now offer some form of remote working support to their workforces.
Technology advances, including the widespread availability of broadband, are making the introduction of remote working a piece of cake.
“If systems are set up properly, staff can have access to all the resources they have in the office wherever they have an internet connection,” says Andy Poulton, e-business advisor at Business Link for Berkshire and Wiltshire. “There are some very exciting developments which have enabled this.”
One is the availability of broadband everywhere, which now covers almost all of the country (BT claims that, by July, 99.8% of its exchanges will be broadband enabled, with alternative plans in place for even the most remote exchanges). “This is the enabler,” Poulton says.
Yet while broadband has come down in price too, those service providers targeting the business market warn against consumer services masquerading (伪装) as business-friendly broadband.
“Broadband is available for as little as ￡15 a month, but many businesses fail to appreciate the hidden costs of such a service,” says Neil Stephenson, sales and marketing director at Onyx Internet, an internet service provider based in the north-east of England. “Providers offering broadband for rock-bottom prices are notorious for poor service, with regular breakdowns and heavily congested (拥堵的) networks. It is always advisable for businesses to look beyond the price tag and look for a business-only provider that can offer more reliability, with good support.” Such services don’t cost too much—quality services can be found for upwards of ￡30 a month.
The benefits of broadband to the occasional home worker are that they can access email in real time, and take full advantage of services such as internet-based backup or even internet-based phone services.
Internet-based telecoms, or VoIP (Voice over IP) to give it its technical title, is an interesting tool to any business supporting remote working. Not necessarily because of the promise of free or reduced price phone calls (which experts point out is misleading for the average business), but because of the sophisticated voice services that can be exploited by the remote worker—facilities such as voicemail and call forwarding, which provide a continuity of the company image for customers and business partners.
By law, companies must “consider seriously” requests to work flexibly made by a parent with a child under the age of six, or a disabled child under 18. It was the need to accommodate employees with young children that motivated accountancy firm Wright Vigar to begin promoting teleworking recently. The company, which needed to upgrade its IT infrastructure (基础设施) to provide connectivity with a new, second office, decided to introduce support for remote working at the same time.
Marketing director Jack O’Hern explains that the company has a relatively young workforce, many of whom are parents: “One of the triggers was when one of our tax managers returned from maternity leave. She was intending to work part time, but could only manage one day a week in the office due to childcare. By offering her the ability to work from home, we have doubled her capacity—now she works a day a week from home, and a day in the office. This is great for her, and for us as we retain someone highly qualified.”
For Wright Vigar, which has now equipped all of its fee-earners to be able to work at maximum productivity when away from the offices (whether that’s from home, or while on the road), this strategy is not just about saving on commute time or cutting them loose from the office, but enabling them to work more flexible hours that fit around their home life.
O’Hern says: “Although most of our work is client-based and must fit around this, we can’t see any reason why a parent can’t be on hand to deal with something important at home, if they have the ability to complete a project later in the day.”
Supporting this new way of working came with a price, though. Although the firm was updating its systems anyway, the company spent 10-15% more per user to equip them with a laptop rather than a PC, and about the same to upgrade to a server that would enable remote staff to connect to the company networks and access all their usual resources.
Although Wright Vigar hasn’t yet quantified the business benefits, it claims that, in addition to being able to retain key staff with young families, it is able to save fee-earners a substantial amount of “dead” time in their working days.
That staff can do this without needing a fixed telephone line provides even more efficiency savings. “With Wi-Fi (fast, wireless internet connections) popping up all over the place, even on trains, our fee-earners can be productive as they travel, and between meetings, instead of having to kill time at the shops,” he adds.
The company will also be able to avoid the expense of having to relocate staff to temporary offices for several weeks when it begins disruptive office renovations soon.
Financial recruitment specialist Lynne Hargreaves knows exactly how much her firm has saved by adopting a teleworking strategy, which has involved handing her company’s data management over to a remote hosting company, Datanet, so it can be accessible by all the company’s consultants over broadband internet connections.
Passage Twenty-five (Exploration of the Titanic) After resting on the ocean floor, split asunder and rusting, for nearly three-quarters of a century, a great ship seemed to
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