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Working From Home, A Primer

How to telecommute during the pandemic

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If you need to telecommute or work from home during the COVID-19 crisis, I have a few tips to share. I’ve been working remotely from a home office for the last 14 years. I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Hopefully, I can flatten your telecommuting learning curve.

What You Can Do To Telecommute More Effectively

1. Create A Quiet Workspace
Ideally, you want to create a quiet workspace; such as in a spare room preferably with a door. Ideally, you want a real desk with a proper office chair. Sure, the kitchen table works, but unless you live alone, it’s not ideal for a variety of reasons. You want a place of your own for work, where you can concentrate and be on the phone with limited interruptions. If you need affordable office equipment CSS Office Solutions is a great place to find top-quality new and used desks, chairs and such.

2. Use UPS’s To Stabilize Your Home Network
An Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) provides clean, stable power and emergency power during outages. They prevent the highs and low power oscillations from cycling your equipment and making your network unstable.

Use a UPS on your modem, router and computer(s). I have a different size UPS on every group of devices on my network. It has done more to stabilize my home network than anything else. I’m partial to APC UPS’s because they last forever and you can get replacement batteries easily.

3. Store Your Data On A NAS Or In The Cloud
Store your data in the cloud and/or on a Network Attached Storage device (NAS). If your computer crashes, your data is still accessible from another device. Dropbox, a Google Drive, Apple or Amazon all offer cloud storage. I prefer to use a NAS from QNAP replicated in the cloud on Dropbox for greater security.

4. Set Up Two Computers
Use two desktops or laptops. If one device becomes unstable, you just swap over to the other device without missing a beat. Then you can fix your broken machine when you’re not on a deadline. I find two identical machines work best, at least for your main machine. This does not have to cost a fortune. There are many excellent off-lease office machines available for a lot less than you think.

5. Clone Your Boot Disk
If you clone your boot disk, you can swap it out and be back up and running in minutes if you find your machine starts crashing on you. All for the cost of a spare SSD. This is especially useful when a software update suddenly causes your system to crash, and you don’t have time to troubleshoot what’s going on. Cloning software often comes free with your secondary SSD drives. The cloning process generally takes an hour or so, and then you put the spare drive in a drawer for when you need it.

6. Use Two Different Virus And Malware Tools
Minimize your hacking risk with a combination of Bitdefender and Malwarebytes. They tend to catch different threats, and they work on your mobile devices too.

7. Get A Decent Video Camera And Microphone
If you don’t have a built-in video camera and microphone on your computer, get one. They cost between $80 and $200 for a decent USB version. I find the Logitech webcams to be quite reliable on my main workstation.

8. Consider Using Two Or Three Monitors
If you have the desk space, using two to three monitors will do more to improve your productivity than almost anything else. You don’t need the best monitors, either. There are lots of used gaming monitors on Kijiji for under $100. It’s a low-cost way to make you more productive.

9. Accessing Your Office Machine And Network
If you need to access your office machine from home and you don’t have a virtual private network (VPN) in place, consider using a tool like RemotePC. You can take over your office machine, as though you were sitting in front of it. You can print remotely, access your business network and transfer files between your work and home office with ease. And all without messing around with static IPs and VPNs.

10. Get A Multi-Function Laser Printer / Scanner / Copier
You’ll be surprised how often you need to print something off for mark-up, to sign or whatever. You be surprised how often you need to send paper to someone. You’ll want an efficient way to scan and email printed documents back to someone. Make sure your multi-function device can scan double-sided documents directly to email. It saves a lot of time and hassle. It’s particularly useful when you need to work with a remote bookkeeper or an accountant. You’ll be surprised by some of the excellent devices available in the off-lease market. You don’t have to pay a fortune here either.  TRSOfficeware.ca in Calgary offers a variety of small and large, new and used equipment.

11. Remote Meeting Software Works
We’ve used GoToMeeting to run remote meetings for what seems like forever. It works really well. It’s stable and allows for 26 users to attend a meeting at once. More and more, our clients are using Zoom for meetings, and it also works quite well. There are many other options available too. To help you evaluate alternatives here is a useful link from TechRadar.

12. Invest In Team Collaboration Software
When you need to work with a bunch of remote people on projects, help desk tickets or process direct messages as a cohesive unit, you’ll want a cloud-based collaboration tool. We’ve used a bunch of different solutions over the years, but the one we like best is Teamwork.com. It’s the hub of an integrated suite of cloud-based software for project management, help desk ticket management, chat message management and client management. The suite is a comparatively low-cost solution, built for small businesses. It is quite easy to set up and use.

13. Use A Work Cell Phone Not Your Home Phone
It’s essential to keep your home and work life separate when they are occurring in the same space. It is just too easy to mix it all up. Take it from someone who struggles with the separation; do your best to compartmentalize from the start.

14. Office Ergonomics Is Important
It’s easy to spend long hours in front of your computer. You can do a number on your back, neck and wrists if you’re not careful. Invest some time making sure you’re not injuring yourself. If you have space and the funds, consider buying a proper chair and maybe a standing desk or a lift desk. After 14 years of doing it the hard way, I finally invested in a standing desk and a wobble chair last year from a company called Inhabit Workplace Wellness. I wish I had focused more on ergonomics a long time ago.

15. Lighting Ergonomics Is Important Too
It is important you have proper lighting in your workspace. If you’re stuck indoors, using 5000 Kelvin or daylight bulbs goes a long way to make you feel better about working from home. Proper lighting will help you concentrate, reduce eye strain, discomfort, and headaches.

16. Create A Work Routine
Being productive at home requires dedication and structure. To keep the many household distractions at bay, set up a work routine. Dedicate specific hours to completing your work and then stick to it. You’ll find it much easier to stay on track.

There are many more things you can do to work effectively at home. But these are the most practical and useful things that I find make a difference. I hope this list helps you remain safe and productive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Author

John Watson is the president of Accrue Performance Marketing. John is an author, sales and marketing coach and strategist who lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He's consulted to start-ups, business owners and corporate executives since 1993. John's passions include entrepreneurship, digital marketing and customer data analysis, leadership and personal development, writing and photography.

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