I’ve been working from home on-and-off since the early eighties and full-time since the early nineties. I even have a radio studio at home to do recorded and live broadcasts for CBS News Radio and its affiliate stations.
Laptop and/or desktop PC
The basics are pretty simple. You need a computer (a laptop or desktop will do). I have both a laptop and a desktop and my desktop has two large monitors, which makes it a lot easier to manage my workflow. Still, even while homebound I find the laptop handy to let me work in other parts of the house or the backyard. Before I stopped leaving the house, I would often work from coffee shops, but right now I’m staying at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go somewhere.
Obviously you’ll need internet access. All speed plans are adequate for basic needs and most are fine for video conferencing and other reasonably intensive tasks, unless there are several people using the network at the same time. Nerdwallet has a handy chart recommending different speeds for different purposes. They recommend 3-4 Mbps for standard definition video conferencing and 5-8 Mbps for high definition streaming. If you can get 15 or more Mbps you should be OK but more is better and typically not that much more expensive. If your family is streaming video on the same network, you might need even more speed. I have 200 Mbps which costs me a bit more but gives me plenty of headroom.
Make sure you have a decent WiFi connection and if you have a large home and plan to work from other rooms, consider getting an extender or mesh network that extends your signal to various part of the house and grounds.
Phones and PC calling
Many people just have a cell phone, which is fine. But you might want to consider adding a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone as a backup or for added convenience. Ooma has the best deal for a one-time price of $80, you can buy an Ooma Telo, which connects to your home router and provides a jack for one or more phones. If you still have wiring from your old landline, you can plug the Ooma into a landline jack and support every other jack in your house. You can also get cordless phones that connect to the Ooma device. And, if you have Google Voice (see below), your Ooma line will not only ring when someone calls that number, you can also configure it to show that number on caller ID.
Google Voice is a free service that assigns a single number to ring up to 5 phones. That could include your cell phone and landline or internet phone and you can add your office phone, a partner’s phone etc. Google Voice gives you free domestic calling (of course) and very low cost international calling. And it can also be used to record incoming calls. It can handle text messaging and has provides a machine transcript for voicemail. I’ve been using it since it was in beta and can’t imagine working without it.
Headset: With Google Voice, Skype and other services you can also make calls from a PC or a Mac. You might not need a headset, but it’s a good idea. There are plenty of inexpensive USB headsets on the market. At $38, the Sennheiser PC 8 USB – Stereo USB Headset for PC and MAC with In-line Volume and Mute Control is more expensive than some, but it’s so good that I use it to record radio broadcasts when I’m on the road (I have a studio mic for broadcasting from home).
Accessing your work network
If you work for an enterprise, you should contact your IT department to figure out what you need. They may ask you to use a virtual private network (VPN) to tunnel into their network, they may have you download software or mobile apps, or they may simply have you log in to a web interface.
Small business collaborating: If you’re part of a small business, you can easily set-up your own network for sharing files and communicating using free or low-cost tools. Dropbox, Google docs, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud are among the popular services that offer some free and some paid storage for sharing files. You can also have group chats using Gmail or Google Hangouts, Slack and other services. See below for video conferencing services.
Google docs allows you to not only share documents but work on them collaboratively. Everyone at ConnectSafely.org, the small non-profit I run, works from home and — for years — we’ve been collaborating and sharing files using Dropbox and Google Docs.
Don’t get into trouble: Be aware that if you’re using a work-issued computer or if you’re connecting your own equipment to a work network, you must follow the appropriate use policies, even if you’re working from home. Don’t go to any websites that aren’t appropriate at work and beware that you have no expectation of privacy when using a company network or computer.
Home network & shared devices
Aside from adequate bandwidth and full-house coverage, make sure your home network is secure, including a unique password for your router. Also, if you are sharing a device with others at home, be sure you have your own unique sign-on so that your kids or spouse don’t’ get into your work space. This isn’t just a security measure, it also protects you from them accidentally messing with your files.
There are some great tools that let you have face-to-face interactions with coworkers, colleagues and customers and — during this crisis — some of the companies are waiving fees for their premium features. Check out Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeetings, BlueJans, RingCentral, Skype and others. Here’s advice from Inc and here’s advice from PCMag.
Look sharp: If you’re on a video conference, make sure you’re properly dressed and groomed. If you normally wear make-up, you should apply it before a video conference if you want to look your best. This is especially true if you have a HD or 4K video camera.
Sound matters: Depending on the quality of your devices mic, you might need a headset. If the sound is breaking up during the meeting, try turning off the video or making sure no one else in the family is putting stress on your network by watching video or other intense usage.
Taking care of yourself
Be sure to take breaks at least once an hour and get up and stretch even more often. Some people say it’s a good idea to maintain regular hours. You might even want to get up and the usual time (well, adjusting for not having to commute), get dressed “for work” and treat your home office just like your regular office.
Your office space: If possible, dedicate a room for your office. It doesn’t have to be large or fancy. If that’s not possible, pick a space in a room that others aren’t using much.
You need a comfortable chair, a desk or table that’s the right height and perhaps a space heater or fan to keep you comfortable. Consider an air purifier, especially if you have allergies. It’s not cheap but I have the Dyson Pure Cool Link TP02 Wi-Fi Enabled Air Purifier in my office that comes with an app and a remote control that lets me set a timer so I don’t forget to turn it off.
Have plenty of water on-hand and healthy snacks available. Resist the temptation or skip meals or overeat or eat junk food. Do have a good lunch. Before the coronavirus hit, I would go out to lunch at least a couple of days a week by myself or fellow work-at-home friend. Now I pretty much stay at home.
Make sure your housemates and/or family know you are “at work,” and ask them to keep interutions to a minimum. If you have a family phone line that you’re not using for work, try to avoid answering it. If you have young children, see if you can arrange for someone else to take care of them while you’re working. I love my kids but —when when they were little — I had someone else take care of them while I was a work.
This too shall pass
We don’t know how long the threat of Covid-19 will be with us, but it will pass and life will return to normal. For now, try to relax. Take every possible precaution but don’t overreact or panic. And don’t check your stock portfolio, it will only add to your anxiety (except on up days).