Working from home is no longer the hottest topic today, now that most of us have been muddling along with this new reality. I for one for the last 2 months have been making due with what I have, for the most part, however as reality sets in I’ve started to reassess my current setup and quickly realized how ill-prepared I am if this was to continue for another 6..12..or 18 months into the future.
The essentials (a working computer and internet) to get by for occasional work from home won’t cut it if you are expected to work for 40+ hours a week for another 52 to 80 weeks. The assessment started with the basics and I worked my way up to things that will optimize my productivity and comfort.
Do your video calls often jitter or freeze in mid-sentence where you often scream out hello hopelessly until the connection resumes?
If you’re experiencing this issue typically it’s related to either your router or your internet speed that is not fast enough to support the higher consumption, when you have all members of your family drumming up demand at the same time.
Warp speed upgrade:
Ask your internet service provider (ISP) to bump you up to the next tier and see if the issue resolves itself. If it doesn’t improve, ask your provider to drop you back down to where you were before.
Wired over Wireless:
Wireless connectivity has incredible performance, but at times when there is too much demand or interference, it does struggle a bit more to sustain its reliability. Especially if you have an old router that is trying to support 10+ devices at your house (yes it can add up pretty quickly: personal phone, work phone, laptop, tablet for each individual in the house, plus tv, security camera and everything else that relies on the house Wifi).
A cheap and reliable alternative to replacing your router is connecting your computer to the router with an ethernet cable (Cat5/Cat6). Pro-tip: get a slightly longer cable than you need, so you can tuck it neatly around the corners. Ethernet cable: https://amzn.to/3ctpoIq
Cable clips: to help you neatly tie the cables against the baseboard, as you run it from one end of the hallway to the other. https://amzn.to/2WQZ1FN
If you don’t remember when was the last time you purchased a router, most likely you either have a really old router or you have one router/modem (2 in 1) combo hardware your ISP provided when you initially signed up with them. Likely you got by with these solutions before but will start experiencing poor performance when you have the entire family at home consuming high bandwidth content all at once.
Getting a dedicated router should do the trick. There are plenty of options, but focus on getting a router that:
- Has AC wireless standard support (there’s a newer one: AX – if you could afford it, then great more of a future proof. Otherwise AC is more than enough, as there aren’t many consumer devices in the market that can take advantage of the new standard).
- Size of the house: single routers typically are good enough for a small space like a condo or a small townhouse. The moment you have a larger home, you will need a mesh system or a better network for wireless Access Points (essentially multiple wireless signal repeaters) to give you better coverage throughout the house.
Working remotely has many challenges, primarily the lack of fluidity when you are conversing with your colleagues. It is paramount now more than ever to invest in good equipment that will make your remote life easier. This impacts yours and your colleagues quality of life at work.
Sometimes you can’t hear them, or they can’t hear you. Often a computer microphone picks up a lot of surrounding noise in a call, a headphone that is situated right next to your mouth will do a lot better job in focussing on you alone and ignoring the background noise.
- Affordable and relatively well built: https://amzn.to/2WqJwp5
- Better built ones from Jabra, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser and Bose are great choices to have: https://amzn.to/2LlZFpk
Standard issued business laptops are built to handle excel sheets and word docs but not necessarily great for video conference calls. Most often you end up seeing the silhouette of the person rather than their face. Whether you are in a serious conference call or catching up with colleagues with virtual coffee, it makes a world of difference when you get to see their faces and for them yours.
- Get better lighting that sits right in front of you, so it lights up your face during the call. Instead of directly shining the light at you, point the light towards a wall where the light can bounce back to evenly light your face. This will help even the lowest quality camera to perform well. https://amzn.to/3cnsWfk
- Typically webcams are fairly low cost, however during this outbreak – many have bumped the prices for webcams. If you can get your hands on a reasonably priced one, then it is a worthwhile investment. We use this one (bought for ~$100): https://amzn.to/3by9ITf
Some workplaces go beyond the basics and conduct ergonomic assessments to find the best equipment your organization is able to afford to ensure your highest comfort. During these difficult times, you can only sympathize for that $1500 chair and $300 keyboard/mice combo that is currently weeping at your office out of loneliness and collecting dust. If you can grab that equipment from work, then please do so as safely as possible.
For those of us who do not have access to office equipment, there are low-cost ways to achieve better ergonomics than to slouch on our sofa all day. You can have a dream setup for under $600 in total, this includes a standing desk as well as monitor/keyboard and an office chair that you can use to take brief rest. It’s an investment you’re making now so you don’t have to spend later at the Chiropractor’s office.
- Sit/stand electric desk: Get one that is electrified so you don’t have to crank the desk up and down as you keep switching your position throughout the day.
- Option 1: Costco has a full sit/stand desk that’s electrified (similarly IKEA has one like that as well) https://www.costco.ca/tresanti-black-adjustable-desk.product.100508151.html
- Option 2: Convert your existing desk to accommodate you with a standing alternative: https://amzn.to/2yRPiab
- Keyboard and mouse: Working directly off the laptop for a short period of time is perfectly fine, but continuing to do it day in and day out will start impacting your posture. Do a self-check if you’re on a laptop right now, is your head bent over with your upper back slouched forward? Ya that isn’t doing you any good. https://amzn.to/3fIwfA0
- Monitor: In addition to allowing you to work with a better posture, it also gives you more real-estate to work with. There are plenty of options out there for monitors, get one that you can afford and one that has the input requirements compatible with your laptop (input options: VGA, HDMI, DVI)
- Single monitor: https://www.costco.ca/aoc-24v2h—24in.-fhd-ips-monitor-(1920-x-1080).product.100650907.html
- Want a sweet dual monitor setup: https://www.costco.ca/hp-24f—23.8-in.-ips-led-monitor-bundle%2c-2-pack.product.100645893.html
Gentle reminders are often appreciated
Share this article with your colleague who might benefit from some of these tips and tricks that could improve their remote work.