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March 10, 2020

Crowd Sourced Tips for Working From Home

If you find yourself working from home – read these tips from myself and others on how to get the best out of it

With the virus likely to disrupt everyone's daily lives, I thought passing on my recommendations for working away from an office might be timely. I previously published this on LinkedIn and received some great additional tips which I've inserted below.

Your environment and your family

Something home working articles don't mention is the difference between working in an office where people tend to get their head down, and being at home where beeping washing machines, delivery men, and your family bring interruptions. 

At home you will have to figure out a way to handle the pull of domestic life, which being non-corporate means a mental leap from the complexities of the capital markets to the realities of daily life. The freedom to achieve 'flow state' in an office environment is difficult with phones and colleagues, but also difficult at home unless you can be left alone.

Recommendation: Find somewhere to work and shut the door. Being out of sight reduces the chance of interruptions. Also set expectations with your family on when you need to be left alone.

Physical space

Your space needs may reflect your corporate approach. Some of us are 'clean desk' people and only need a coffee table to work from, but others may want to use their space as a visual memory with post-its, papers, reports and paraphanalia. If you're the latter, make sure you work space is left alone. 

And the other key thing is this: keep warm. Our central heating goes off in the morning and back on in late afternoon. Sometimes I find myself with cold fingers and hands and reluctant to type. Get yourself a room heater which doesn't make a noise. Fans are quick to warm a room but not good when you're on a conference call. I use an electric radiator with a thermostat, which keeps the room warm enough not to notice the cold.

Recommendation: Find a space and make sure people respect your ownership. Keep warm.

Follow up: Make sure you have lunch ready and @Nadiya Kosminina said: "Indeed, take a box with home made lunch from your kitchen to your “office” spot :)."

Follow up: @Neil Murphy said:

  1. Find some time to go for a walk.  Nothing more depressing than realising you’ve managed 234 steps in a day (home office to kitchen x6!)
  2. Clock off at the end of the work day.  With no colleagues around you it’s way too easy to carry on working until somebody else comes home.

Your Computer

Some of you may already have a laptop from work, in which case you may be all set. But for some people you can't access the same systems and shared drives from home as you're not on the office network. In this case you may need a virtual private network, which your firm will need to provide and configure. A VPN will let you computer connect into the office and appear to be on the same network, unblocking access to internal websites and shared drives.

Another consideration is screen size. I like to use my laptop when I'm out and about, but at home I prefer having a big screen so I can have multiple windows open. Almost all PCs and all Macs support external monitors giving you extra screen space for email and document editing. This also comes back to your work space, as you'll need a way to place an additional screen above or to the side of your laptop.

Recommendation: Get a big screen. Find out how your company provides access to on-site systems.

Computer Access & Security

Your company may already impose policies to control access to your laptop. If you're using your own computer at home, you need to keep your work and home life segregated. Consider having a seperate login for work, with a strong password and keep it private from your family. Also use a screen saver to lock your computer after 5 minutes to cover tea breaks and interruptions.

A more complex consideration is theft. Physical security can be achieved by using a locking steel cable (such as from Kensington) and securing your computer to an immovable object. But assuming your computer is stolen, you need to enable encryption on your discs. The idea being that access to the data on your internal drives can only be achieved using your login and password. On a Mac this is all built-in and can be enabled via System Preferences. I'm not PC expert so you'll have to figure that out for yourself.

And finally, being hacked at home. Enable any necessary firewall options on your home router, and likewise on your computer too. Your router settings might interfere with the need for a VPN above, so be aware. Ditto for anti-virus software on your PC. Mac users rarely use anti-virus software as Apple keeps locking down more and more of macOS. Make sure you have the latest OS version installed whatever machine you use.

Recommendation: Fix your computer to an object. Enable drive encryption. Enable your firewall. Keep your OS up to date.

Apps

And finally which apps make life easier?

Chat: I recommend Slack, some like Skype. Slack works well for teams and is much richer in support for sharing content, tracking conversations and interacting.

File sharing: If you're not covered by your firm already my own preference is Dropbox. I also have Google Drive, OneDrive and Box for different reasons. Dropbox gives you 2Gb for free, plus apps for your desktop and phone. You can share specific folders with teams, send links to files via email, and sync across multiple devices. And it has version history – a lifesaver for an accidental deletion. @Joanna Rickets said "I'd also recommend ensuring your devices are set to sync ensuring you never leave a window open and unsaved on your desktop in the office, that you realise you really need when you log onto 365 from your laptop at home!"

Email: If you don't have a corporate policy, the desktop version of Outlook supports all email accounts and does Exchange or Office365 very well. It covers meeting invitations which in the office environment is essential. Be aware that an IMAP email account doesn't support calendars, only Exchange / Office365 does this (and Gmail but not very nicely IMO).

Screen sharing: Slack has this built-in but only shares an entire screen. If I share my giant iMac screen it makes the mouse sluggish and isn't useful for someone trying to view it on a laptop. My recommendation is Zoom, it works well, lets you pick a specific window / app to share, has chat, and a whiteboard. You can speak and share at the same time, and do video too.

Project management: This is trickier as people's needs vary. I used to use Wunderlist until Microsoft took over and its future looked uncertain. I would definitely recommend using Evernote – create folders, making notes on meetings and projects, share with colleagues. Everything inside Evernote is searchable including PDFs and images using OCR. Another is Trello – you can have multiple projects, tasks lists and 'boards' to keep things organised.

Image sharing: A quick way to take a screen shot and send a link to it, is Light Shot. It has a nice screen shot tool with annotation, but the killer feature is saving your screenshot on-line and having a pre-made link to send to someone to look at it. And all free. e.g. https://prnt.sc/rci7ax 

Backups: If you don't have some way to copy your important work to another physical drive, then do so ASAP. You can't have your work interrupted if you lose files. If you use Dropbox for everything, your work is then safe 'in the cloud' and for the many years I've used Dropbox it has never gone down, and never been hacked.

Diagrams: If you're in a PC then Visio is part of Office365. If you're on a Mac then Visio doesn't exist, so I strongly recommend OmniGraffle which can read and write Visio and export to many useful formats.

Phone calls: From home I like to join calls hands-free using a headset. In this case I use Skype with a calling plan which lets me call any phone in the world cheaply. @Simon Molyneux said "All good tips Bill. I would add maintaining personal interactions, with colleagues and friends, whether by video or phone.  Along with Neil's walk, this will help with some of the mental health challenges of working from home."

Time management: @Martin Ing said "Also important to be aware of time, sometime that awareness changes when working from home. It's easy to sometimes skip lunch or slip into the dinner time and beyond, whilst trying to  finish that extra piece of work or final email ahead of the next day back in office."

Recommendations: See above

And finally

If you've never worked from home, give it a try. It has benefits and downsides. It can be good if you need to concentrate and you can avoid interruptions. It gives you the freedom to handle domestic life. But it can also feel like you're isolated, so use apps like Slack or Skype to allow ad hoc interraction with your colleagues and remain in touch.

Recommendation: Check your corporate policies and support for home working early and be prepared. Keep warm. Have tea breaks, don't binge on the biscuits! (Oh, and get dressed, you never know who want to see you on video!)

If you read this far, here's my corner of chaos: https://prnt.sc/rcimef


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