The ongoing issues around the COVID-19 Coronavirus have many companies (where it’s applicable) trying to sort out ways for their workforces to work remotely, aka “work from home”. It’s an area I can actually claim a decent amount of expertise in, because I’ve mostly worked out of a home office for the best part of the last two decades.
But for many, an enforced work from home regime – or study from home, or for that matter managing children at home while trying to work – will be an entirely new experience. Thankfully the technology for doing so has improved massively in the years since I first started. I can’t cover every eventuality – but here’s some (mostly) tech based tips to give you an early leg up.
- Set out a space: This isn’t a technology tip, but it can make a huge difference. The mobile nature of devices like laptops make it possible to work from your sofa, but that’s generally a bad idea unless it can’t be avoided. If it’s feasible, set yourself an actual “home office” space to work from, because that way you can block yourself off when you’re in that space to work-related tasks. Obviously a spare room is ideal, but even a defined corner of a kitchen table can make a huge difference in letting you get your head into that “work” space – and out of it when it’s time to clock off.
- Consider your hardware needs: Your workplace may provide a laptop, but that’s really just the start. There’s some solid productivity benefits to having a separate keyboard and mouse, and for some jobs multi-monitor setups can also greatly boost what you’re able to do. Obviously this one comes down to budget as well, and whether your work is happy to provide any kind of additional hardware, or if there’s home gear you can temporarily repurpose to this effect.
- Sort out your meeting needs: Almost nobody likes meetings, and sorting out how they’re meant to work when you’re not face to face used to be a real headache. These days there’s plenty of choice in the online meeting space market, from solutions such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to more bespoke software depending on your needs for shared workspaces and documents.
- Get the software you need: This could be a mix of online packages, like Google Docs or Dropbox, but it’s also wise to have some offline capability for if your broadband is shaky. On the schools front, if you’ve got kids who aren’t attending school but have options for online study – especially for those in year 11 or year 12 – then they’ll typically have access to software packages such as Google Docs and Office 365 that can be installed on their laptops or tablets to keep them as productive as possible.
- It’s OK to take breaks: Most bosses won’t like me saying this, but it’s true. In the average office, you stop to chat to colleagues, or hit the bathroom or go out to buy a “quick” coffee. That break might be 10 minutes, but at home breaking out that time can feel like you’re “slacking off”. It’s not true, though – you need regular breaks from work to actually remain productive. Here, timing apps that follow ideas like the Pomodoro technique can make it easier to log your time and allow your brain periods where it can cool down.
- You don’t have to hoard things: OK, again, not a tech tip. But it’s true. Think of everyone in this situation, not just yourself!
- Check your broadband: The typical peak hours of broadband usage in Australia are in the evenings, when folks return from work and school and go online to do everything from online gaming to video streaming. That could well change as thousands of workers try to send documents and conduct video meetings during the day. If you’re on a cheaper NBN plan at a lower speed tier that’s done you just fine because all you do is a little light Netflix at night, you may want to consider bumping yourself up a speed tier to ensure that everyone in your house can actually work, study or relax if you’re forced into a two week or longer isolation period.