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Remote Work: Not Your Parent’s Work Environment

By: Kelly Gillespie, Business Account Consultant

As many of us have experienced recently, the traditional brick-and-mortar office isn’t the only viable option for performing our jobs these days. In the wake of the pandemic, business leaders have needed a more open approach to remote work, and the IT/Cybersecurity folks have made a mad scramble to have the right equipment, security, and applications to make the experience feel seamless.

So now you need to be prepared for more remote work. The gear you hurriedly assembled to get it done during the last few months sufficed under the circumstances, but might not be the best long-term solution. Not to worry – we have guidance on the “what” and “how” to set up a remote or a mobile office! Let’s start with the basics: equipment.

What are you using and why?

This sounds so obvious that you will roll your eyes (at first), but it is the very essence of setting up remote access. Examining the functions of your job will help you determine your equipment needs. Allow me to expand…

Desktop PC

While a desktop PC is the most powerful and least expensive option, it is not necessarily the right one, especially if you are a road warrior in sales or field service. If you’re a power user who does database work or graphic design, for example, you may need a desktop.

Laptop

Everyone loves the laptop, but is it the right tool for the job all the time? Since laptops are essentially miniaturized versions of desktops, they generally lag behind in processing power and storage technology. They can have significant limitations, such as memory, input/output ports, operating system support, and power. If you are a field service engineer, a laptop is usually a must-have, but many other jobs don’t require the full function of a laptop.

Tablet

With the rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) adoption, a tablet can typically cover the bulk of most job functions – email, productivity suites, and web interfaces, including remote desktop access, to most SaaS line of business applications. The downsides are lack of support for dashboard accessories, such as secondary monitors, full size keyboards or mouse, and enhanced security software.

A few essentials for the home/mobile office

Here are a few items you need in order to make your remote work life much easier. Let’s assume that you have a dedicated workspace with a decent desk, chair, and lighting – all important and essential items – and focus on the gadgets and more to round out your remote office.

Internet Bandwidth

It should go without saying, but your home internet connection may not be sufficient to the needs of supporting a home office. Check with your IT folks to see what kind of bandwidth you need to operate remotely.

Monitors

Regardless of your computing platform, monitors are key to being able to do it without ruining your eyes or happy thoughts. At a minimum, desktop or secondary monitors should:

  • Be at least 21” diagonal screen
  • 16×9, high definition (at least 1080 pixel) configuration
  • Support HDMI connection as most newer laptops have native HDMI ports

You should have at least two monitors (one can be a laptop screen). Productivity software works best when you have extended screen real estate to work with, not to mention using multiple web browser windows.

You also may want to consider a monitor mounting system to improve your viewing angle and ergonomic comfort, not to mention gaining some of your desk space back.

Adapters/Docking Stations

If you are using a laptop or tablet, one of the essential accessories should be a docking station. This will provide multiple ports, including connections for monitors, USB, and even Ethernet. Otherwise, you will need to buy separate adapters for each device type you want to connect and you will likely only be able to use one at a time on ultra-slim laptops or tablets.

Extra Power Supply/Cable/Charger

Who hasn’t gotten to the client meeting or presentation and realized their laptop/tablet was almost out of battery and the power supply wasn’t in the bag? Keep one on your desk and one in your bag. Same with your phone charger. ‘Nuff said.

Webcam/Microphone/Headphones

As we have all experienced over the last few months, video web meetings are the new norm. Most laptops and tablets have a decent webcam for a single person, but the built-in microphone is not of the highest quality for the best audio experience. Use a USB microphone and headphones if you are doing video meetings with more than just the person seated directly in front of the laptop. An external webcam is also a good investment when displaying a meeting room or larger group.

External Hard Drive/USB Drive

For backups and nothing else. And like your Mom said, don’t ever take USB drives from strangers. You don’t know what has been on that drive and could inadvertently find yourself with a virus.

Miscellaneous Items

You may want to consider a few other items to make your life easier.

  • Cable organizers – Because who wants to have to fight cables for desk space?
  • Printer – Yep, people still read things on paper and occasionally even send them via postal mail.
  • Surge protector/UPS – Even though laptops and tablets run on batteries, you probably want to plug more than one thing into that impossible-to-reach outlet behind your desk. Also, both of these devices can offer some protection against electric spikes to your laptop or tablet.
  • Notebook – No, I’m not talking about anything electronic, just plain old paper and pen. Having a pad of paper to jot down the odd note or phone number is just indispensable.

Software you will need, but probably haven’t thought about yet

You have your remote/mobile office all set up and you are feeling pretty smug about it because you can check email, share documents, check inventory, etc. That’s great, but what happens to all of that information when you click a suspicious link or visit the odd website only to find that you are the unhappy recipient of malware?

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Don’t leave home without it. In fact, use it at home, too. Your IT department may have a specific VPN application that you need to use, so check with them first, but on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, having and using a VPN is essential.

Anti-Malware/Advanced Endpoint Protection

You wouldn’t dream of leaving your house unlocked while you are away, so why would you leave your data unguarded? A good anti-malware program is essential, especially for mobile devices. Check with your IT department first, but make sure all of your mobile devices, including your smartphone, have security software installed.

Backups

Your best line of defense, especially against ransomware or theft of a device, is a regularly scheduled, secure and tested backup. Not only should you backup your laptops/tablets/smartphones, but what about all of that data in the SaaS cloud? You guessed it: that needs to be backed up as well.

Some stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with security

Here are some miscellaneous pieces of software/websites you may find useful when working remotely:

  • Binaural Beats – atmospheric music that enhances your creativity, relaxes you, and promotes general wellbeing
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking – Tired of typing? Use Dragon’s dictation software!
  • IFTTT – Want a way to automate mundane tasks or connect separate calendars? If This, Then That (IFTTT) is your answer.
  • RescueTime – This is an app that helps bring some discipline and sanity to your remote work by tracking your screen time between productive and distracting apps and websites, even blocking the distracting sites when you need to focus.

The Tax of Remote Work

Finally, working remotely isn’t just about technology, it is about how you can efficiently and effectively operate outside of the traditional workspace. Here are a few tips.

  • Structure your workday just as if you were in the office, no matter where you are.
    • Have a definitive start and stop time.
    • Take breaks, just as if you were in the office.
    • Keep a daily ‘diary’ of your workflow using OneNote, a calendar program, or even a giant old legal notepad.
  • Minimize distractions and set boundaries
    • Ditch the personal social media accounts and email during work hours.
    • Roommates, spouses, family, and friends need to clearly understand that even though you are home, you aren’t “home”. Set clear expectations for your workspace and interruptions.
    • Plan your work and work that plan. Lay out the day’s tasks and items that need to be complete, and work through them.
    • Use appropriate music as a background. Instrumental music works best for most people.
  • Interact with co-workers on a regular basis. Possibly the most difficult hurdle for remote work is a sense of isolation. Make a conscious effort to connect with coworkers via phone or video.

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