Working remotely and communicating digitally – a short guide

Remote working, tips & advice on working from home

“For many people working remotely is new. For people in our industry it is commonplace. Communicating digitally with clients or work colleagues is all very doable. In most cases there has been no necessity to learn how to make this work, up until now.
But current circumstances now dictate that a lot of people will need to work from home and communicate using email or phone, Zoom or Skype, Loom or Dubb etcetera.”

This a simple guide to working remotely.

The idea of Working remotely was the distant future that just got became the present” For some tips and tools – see below.

The Aim
The target is productivity and possibly increased productivity. There are many benefits such as the saving on time you make by not travelling. there will be less distraction so you will be able to focus at a deeper level than you might in your own office space..

Ground Rules

Space
You will have to create a dedicated calm office space at home. A defined place to have your laptop and phone with electrical points for all chargers. And any other tools of the trade, calculator, camera, iPad etc. Ideally, you will use the space in the same times as you would in an office environment. Be that 9 to 5 or whatever shift you work. Although you should have more flexibility at home, to work your own chosen hours.  Maybe print a backdrop with your logo on it, for when you are on camera.
Head Space – For your own sake and your own sanity, you will still need structure to the day, to take coffee breaks and lunch breaks as usual. Be prepared and have food and liquids stocked up. It could even be a healthier way of working. Do talk to other people, call a client, Facetime a friend, Whatsapp a workmate or nip in to see a neighbour. Use this as an opportunity to test your video and audio set up.
Time – Block off time slots to get tasks done. Maybe 45 minutes or an hour at a time and then take a break, a walk, snack, call or check email. These focused blocks should allow you be productive and avoid burnout or reduce stress. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get your head fully immersed in to a given task. And after a further 20 minutes the mind can start to stall. So find out what works best for you, early morning focus or late afternoon, whatever is right for you.

Tools

Computer – Obviously you need your own laptop. You will need internet access, preferably high speed broadband. Maybe a router or repeaters to extend your wireless capacity to your chosen workspace.

Desk – Get a stand to raise the computer screen up to eye level, as this will help avoid neck strain. I went for the Duronic sit stand desk and love it. You may need an anti fatigue mat to go with this.

email – We use Office 365 as a team, but you have loads of choices. Avoid free options and use 365 or GSuite to ensure more security, more options, better experience etc. Talk to your IT partner, who can remotely set up all your team members. If you need to share passwords use 1password or LastPass.

Video – We recommend you create a Zoom account and test it out with some colleagues. Book an online meeting with someone and practice. It is ideal for one to one meetings or small groups. It is free for 40 minutes for groups up to 100 and longer for two people. The video quality is reduced after two people. You could use Skype for this too, if Zoom does not suit you. We stopped using Skype after Microsoft bought it, as the product became very poor and undependable. However we do use Microsoft Teams and to be honest it is better than Zoom, at this time. Or use Webex who also offer up to 100 attendees on their free package. These platforms also offer a recording option, so that you can record your meeting and save a copy. The paid platforms give you more options and more storage space. Start with the free option. Streamyard is becoming very popular and has a free option for up to six people in a meeting. And Google Hangout Meets is free for up to 10 people, with up to 100 in its UberConference mode, for $15 monthly.
Test the video placement before having each meeting. Check that you have good lighting. Avoid having a window behind you or people moving around. When sharing your own screen ensure it is not cluttered and has a neutral background. You can use a Gimbal to hold the camera and give you option to move it. You can use tools like Screen Link to record on your phone and save to your laptop, with no need to transfer files.

We also use Loom to record video as in video messages to send to clients to explain things, or to do how to videos. This is in place of an email in a text format. We just use the free version. There are also other similar products such as  Dubb , Screencast or Screenflow or opt for  Bonjorno and Bombbomb, if you want to create video sales funnels or send video emails etc. You could use two of these apps.

Audio – Ensure that there is a microphone in the laptop and test it. Or use your earbuds and phone microphone. Test the speakers. Use a dedicated headset for better sound. As microphones go, you can use your inbuilt computer microphone if it has one, but the sound may be very tinny. Record a video and send it to yourself to find how how well the tech is working for you. You could buy a simple microphone for about €40 or get a Blue Yeti for about €115 which was our choice  or the Pro for €175. They are used for podcasting, as is Rode or Rode Procaster and the Shure SM7B. Again test everything before any meeting.

Screens – If you have not already got one, invest in a second or preferably third screen to give you more space to work and use video conferencing at the same time. You can use these two extra screens when working on spreadsheets and editing docs or just viewing email and chats, whilst you work on the other screen. The productivity goes up for everybody when you use two or more screens.

Chat – You can use Whatsapp or Slack or whichever Project Management tool you use. We use Teamwork for this. And we use Teamwork Desk to provide a Support desk for our support clients.
Chat bots are useful to have visitors to your website engage with you in real time. We have also used Drift and Tawk, but currently use the free Hubspot Chat. Live Chat is very popular, as is Intercom and Facebook Messenger. This means that visitors can talk to us as if they walked in the door of the office. They all offer an app for your phone as well as the desktop access.

Camera – Your laptop camera may work fine, but test it as the cooling fan may generate a background noise. The phone camera might work better. Or go online and buy a camera with 1080p for as low as €19 for a Trust webcam or get a decent one for about €100. The Logitech C920 or the Logitech Brio are highly recommended You can also buy a camera tripod to get the camera sitting in the best position for you.

Cloud storage – You may need to use Google Drive to share files and folders. Or use Dropbox to do so. There are other options like Sync etc. Talk to your IT contact or provider about security for shared storage. Use WeTransfer to send large files in a zipped format – free up to 2GB.

Project Management – We use the paid version of Teamwork to create our projects and we add the various tasks for each project. This allows us create the various tasks, assign them to the correct people and to record the time used by various people on the team to accomplish each task. You could also use Asana or Basecamp, to name two more well known options.  In Teamwork we can add files and notes to each project. We can ask questions of or make comments to, other people on the project and the client. Time used is recorded for every task, so the tracking is very clear. You may want some form of time tracker such as Teamwork, HubStaff or Time Doctor to record time spent working by remote employees. Teamwork can even invoice our clients directly for all time used and send them detailed reports.

Webinars – There are many apps for having webinars or large online meetings for larger numbers of attendees, such as Ever Webinar, Live Stream, Webinar Jam or Go to Webinar. This can replace a live event. And you could get more attendees. You can also record it and have people watch it in their own time. On a smaller scale Zoom and Webex will do this too. So you can do staff training or client presentations. It might take some getting used to, but it is pretty commonplace nowadays.
Prepare – As usual do test the audio and video in advance of any meeting. Oh and do not forget to dress correctly for a meeting, even if it is online. PJs are fine when not online. Use the Chat function to ask questions and always defer to the Host in any meeting, to avoid chatter or squabbles, when there should be one voice at a time. Ensure there are no background noises, chatter or traffic. Speak slowly and clearly. Remember that some attendees may not see you, especially if they are using a small screen. And always remember that people can see you, even when you are not speaking.
Digital Networking – This will take over from physical business networking events and allow more people to attend.
Scheduling Meetings can be done using Calendly or Go to Meeting to show your available time slots or you can just use your Google or Outlook Calendar.

Benefits
Certainly there is a bit of a learning curve for many people in order to make this work well. But this is the future and it is being forced upon us rapidly. Before long it will all be working smoothly for you and you will see the many benefits of being able to work remotely.
These include the lack of commute or travel time, more time at home, better family time, more comfort and perhaps have an improved diet. You should be better able to focus, to be more productive and more creative. It really is all about time which is precious to us all.

It does take some discipline, to work on your own initiative, but can certainly be done very effectively. The technology is there to have meetings, do presentations, work whenever it suits you and be as productive as you like.

It is time we all embraced the benefits of working remotely and communicating digitally.