If Coronavirus forces us to work from home, may as well make your Home Office nice

On an almost daily basis now, we’re seeing more and more company’s around the globe, ask (or tell) their employees to work from home. If you’re an employee that...

On an almost daily basis now, we’re seeing more and more company’s around the globe, ask (or tell) their employees to work from home. If you’re an employee that gets sent home to work for 14 days, a month or potentially multiple months, you’ll want to be setup well to be as productive as possible.

Most people who’ve worked for a startup are pretty familiar with working remotely. Often startups need to be scrappy and resourceful and that means not burning cash on physical office space. There’s plenty of examples of startup teams who all live in different countries, so it is possible, but for medium-large businesses with long histories of seeing employees each days, it will be a big shift, one that’s being driven out of necessity, rather than by choice.

If you choose to, or are asked to work from home, you may get through a day or two hunched over your kitchen table on a laptop, but if you want any kind of productivity, you’ll want to ensure you’re setup for the long-term, should it turn into that.

Below is a list of different elements you’ll want to consider.

Laptop

Chances are, you’re employer will provide you with a laptop to take home. This laptop will likely use technologies like Direct Access, VPN, or Citrix to securely connect back to the office.

Using a laptop to access network drives, the company intranet or services like payroll and HR are all easy enough, especially if the business is a long way down it’s cloud transition.

The difficult part will be printing and anything that needs physical signatures. While we’d like to think we’re all living in the future, the reality is, many businesses still rely heavily on paper forms to function. This may be the accelerant that drives rapid development of the most critical forms to be converted to an electronic form.

With the right workflows, these forms could be sent to the appropriate supervisor, manager or executive for approval.

Dock

In 2020, basically every laptop supports USB-C connections and a USB-C dock will enable you to setup your device as a workstation. If you already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse at home, you could connect those peripherals to the dock and simply connect a single USB-C cable to your laptop.

With this one cable, you can dramatically change your productivity, with faster, more precise interactions through a mouse over a trackpad, and that external display will provide that necessary screen real estate to enable at least dual-displays. While you may not have the nice dual-display setup you do at the office, this will at least move the needle significantly over just using a laptop.

Displays

I’m lucky enough to have a crazy 49″ super ultrawide Samsung QLED monitor, but most people don’t. If you have a gamer in your house, you may find a spare 27″ display laying around, or even an older 22″, but whatever you have, it’ll offer HDMI connections that’ll connect into the dock, or directly into the laptop’s HDMI port.

Mouse

Mice are one of those things that really speed up how fast you can multi-task. Drag and drop, double clicking and scrolling are all functions you’ll do hundreds of times a day. This means having a dedicated device for it makes life a lot easier.

Getting a cheap, corded mouse can not be under-rated. Even if your employer doesn’t provide this, I’d grab one yourself, it’ll be a resource you can use for years to come.

If you have unique challenges like ergonomics, you’ll likely have to spend a little more, but being comfortable is incredibly important.

Headset

Working from doesn’t get you out of taking phone calls, in fact, you may need to make and receive more calls. You’ll almost certainly be asked to participate, or host video conferences and meetings and a headset is absolutely recommended for the best experience.

These come in all sorts of configurations and price ranges, but I’d suggest one with noise cancelling, given you may need to block out some ambient noise (like neighbours or kids)

Webcam

For most meetings with your department or project teams, voice will do the job. There are however, some times that you’ll need to show off content you’ve worked on and video will be required.

Our laptops all have cameras in them, but these are usually cheap and nasty, often checkbox items included by the manufacturers. Even something as simple as being able to put the webcam on top of the external monitor you’re using, means you’ll want an external webcam.

One of the best in the market right now is the Logitech Brio. It offers 4K quality for a great price. If you have a dock, then an external camera will also need a USB port. Docks often have 3-4 USB ports, if you run out, don’t forget you can still use the USB ports available on your laptop.

Office Desk

An office desk is one of the hardest items to solve for. An employer has already invested in your office desk and they don’t come cheap.

Personally I went for the Ikea option. I imagined a day where I would be typing next to my daughter or wife, so I setup for a desk that offers two working spaces.

The desk configuration is made up of 2x 1.5m Linnmon table tops, sitting on top of 2 Alex drawers and an Alex Storage unit.

I actually spent a long time calculating the height of the desk, given it’d be fixed, but there is always the option of adjustable desks. Adjustable desks also come at a premium, but offer the best ergonomics for users.

Chair

Ergonomics in the home office, are just as important as ergonomics in the workplace. A key part of this is ensuring you’re comfortable and your back is well supported as you put in the hours.

Ensuring you have a great chair, will serve you well through the weeks or months ahead. The best chairs offer plenty of adjustments, in height, angles and lumbar support for your lower back.

While it’s tempting to use the chairs you have, like chairs from your kitchen table, these are designed for sitting for short durations, like the length of a meal, not for multiple hours at a time.

Given the price of a chair and the physicality of weight and size, it’s one of the more difficult things to get right. If your employer has invested in a great chair for you at work, it may be possible to come to an agreement where you take that home.

If you work from home on some frequency already, you may have already invested in one at home. A key aspect of the office chair, is matching it’s height with your sitting height and your desk height. There’s a great video on this which I’ve included below.

Internet

By now, Australia is getting to the end of the NBN rollout, one of the largest infrastructure projects the country has ever seen. Intended to provide high-speed broadband to the homes and businesses, having tens of thousands of employees working from home, will be the biggest test of that project.

Most of your web activity only consumes downloads, but there’ll be a much bigger demand for upload speeds as two-way video calls and screen-sharing becomes a regular part of working from home.

If you don’t have internet at home, then you may need to resort to cellular connectivity. This means creating a hotspot on your mobile and connecting to that WiFi network from your laptop.

Most things will work as expected, but applications like Outlook and OneDrive will stop syncing automatically in an effort to preserve data. You’ll want to have a conversation with your employer about this method of connectivity, as data overages can get expensive, fast.

Online Services

Thankfully collaboration in 2020 is easy. Between Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, participating and even hosting online meetings should be easy.

To have an effective online meting, you’ll definitely want to get a headset as mentioned above. Some workplaces may attempt to leave connections open all day, creating more of a virtual working space, but typically this is best done for 1-2 hours at most.

When it comes to the storage of documents, it’s unlikely your work locations changes your Governance requirements to store documents correctly. When you’re collaborating on documents with project team members, they’ll also need to be in an accessible location. SharePoint, OneDrive, Google Drive or iCloud could all work well for this.

When working from home, you may have a reduced set of work tasks. Rather than treating it like a mini holiday, you’d be well served to invest time into learning new skills for when we’re on the other side of this health pandemic. Make sure you check out online training sites like Udemy, Pluralsight or Lynda. This should definitely be claimable as a self-education expense, failing that, there’s always YouTube.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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