11 things we’ve learned during a month of working from home

Justin Davies, Chief Information Officer, Ovato

COVID-19 has relocated many of us from our traditional workplaces. With the sudden announcement of lockdown and the need for social distancing, not everyone was prepared or set up for the shift to working from home.

As a result, many were pitched into an arrangement short of the usual technology they require to do their jobs efficiently. Now that we’ve all spent a month working from home and learned a thing or two about the dos and do nots, it’s important to get your workspace organised for the long run.

1. Have your own space (If you can)

While plenty of us are used to living with limited space, it’s still extremely important to have a space at your home that’s dedicated to work.

That might mean a dedicated corner of the dining room table or it might mean a home office. The critical element is making sure that it’s yours and yours alone.

When we’re in the office, we’ve got our own area to work with, even if we hot desk. We don’t share our laptops with another person throughout the workday. To keep focused on the task at hand, make sure you’re able to work in a space of your own.

2. Get comfortable

Working from home might have taken you out of the office, but that doesn’t mean that all the good ergonomics that modern workplaces strive for should be abandoned. Make sure that the chair you’re using has decent back support and check that your monitor – whether it’s a laptop or multiple screens – is spaced properly, and that you’re not leaning forward, squinting and straining your eyes.

Your eyes, neck and back will thank you for it.

3. Use multiple monitors

It might not be possible for everyone, but for those that can, aim to work with multiple monitors. It’s hard to deny that working across multiple displays makes for a better work experience.

The preference is for two or three monitors in total, which includes your laptop if you’re using one. You should use the extra displays to spread your workload across and staying organised. By spreading your work across multiple screens, you can have all your work open and visible at a glance without having to constantly jump between tabs, applications and browsers.

4. Peripheral planning

Investing in a separate keyboard and mouse to your laptop allows you to distance yourself from the laptop screen, but if you can go wireless for these peripherals, then all the better.

It’s important to keep the clutter of your workspace down and removing cables from the equation certainly helps. A separate keyboard and mouse also increase your control, means you’re less likely to be fighting with a trackpad on your laptop and allows for a more ergonomic and comfortable setting.

5. Everyone deserves music

When working in an isolated environment, music can make for great company. While we all have very different taste, streaming services such as Spotify offer more genres and artists than any reasonable person will ever be able to listen to.

You can find anything that appeals to your tastes, although you might want to keep the tunes relaxed so they don’t take over, unless of course you’re in the mood and want to pump it up!

6. Get outdoors(ish)

For your mental health and productivity, you need to make sure that your work environment is set up in a friendly, airy and light area.

Try to take advantage of nature. Set up with a garden view if you can or put some live greenery in eye shot. Plants improve mood and create a more relaxed vibe, and on top of all of this, are good for purifying the air around us.

7. Video conferencing

MS Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts. They’re indispensable now, and a large part of how we’re doing our jobs.

When you’re in a video conference, try and look directly at the camera as it creates the perception of eye contact and shows you’re engaged with what’s going on. Make sure that you’re muting your mic when you’ve not talking so that kids, machinery, garbage trucks emptying your recycle bin or the odd passenger jet aren’t drowning out the rest of the participants. And finally, if you have a webcam, make sure it’s turned on for meetings. People want to see your face, and it makes it easier to interact with each other when you’re working remotely.

Be mindful of what’s in shot behind you from your webcam. Think photo content, general mess, and TV’s in the background. And don’t forget that you can use the canned backgrounds available in the conferencing apps too.

8. Revisit your infrastructure

Some people will find that their home internet isn’t as good as their work internet, but it’s essential to have a good connection. All providers offer slight variations on speed and data allowance.

Keep in mind that there are no guarantees you will get the speeds they are advertising as they buy access to the network and share it among their subscriber base. Some over subscribe users, selling more plans than their network access can carry. This is just a buyer beware item, so avoid locking into a long contract until you’ve gauged performance.

9. Cable management

Cable management isn’t something you’re likely to have thought about a great deal prior to working from home, but it’s one of those things that will really impact your output if it gets out of hand.

A rat’s nest of cables that you’re constantly having to kick out of the way or rearrange on your desk will quickly become a daily annoyance. Use Velcro cable ties or plastic twirl to bundle cables and keep everything at your new work area organised. That way you’ve got more space, and the peace of mind of an organised area.

10. Turn off your VPN

Work VPNs give us access to the non-web-based applications only accessible internally. To access those systems, the VPN provides staff with network access, which means when you connect from home, the path is:

1. Your work device, most likely a laptop or PC

2. In-home WiFi, unless you’re connected to your router through a cable

3. Internet provider to the web

4. Web to workplace and secure entry via the VPN

5. Application access

6. Return results via the path above in reverse

Your speed results when connected to the VPN will be much less than what you can achieve direct to the web via your Internet Provider. Therefore, it’s recommended you don’t use the VPN for email, general internet use and especially video conferencing, as it will reduce the quality audio and visuals.

11. Look after yourself

While you’re at home, do whatever it takes to look after yourself physically and mentally. There are a heap of small and easily made changes that can help. Start the day with some exercise. Make your communications with your team more relaxed and remove formality. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need it. If you’re on the phone or using a laptop, change the scenery by going outside and spending some time working in the sun. Put your computer to sleep and walk away from your workspace when you’ve done enough for the day. That’s you, or family time.