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 be working remotely or from home and communicate using email, phone, Zoom, Skype, Loom, or Dubb etcetera. As a result, it is important to not only learn how to develop a favorable remote work environment for employees but also to ensure good communication and results while working virtually with clients.
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 target of working remotely is increased productivity. There are many benefits, such as saving time, by not traveling. There will be less distraction, so you may be able to focus at a deeper level in comparison to your own office space.
Space – You must create a dedicated quiet office space at home. A specific place to have your laptop and phone with electrical points for all chargers. This also includes any other tools of the trade, such as a calculator, camera, iPad, etc. Ideally, you will use the space at the same time you would normally work in an office environment. Whether that be 9 to 5 or another shift you work. Ideally, you should have more flexibility at home to work your own chosen hours. It’s also a good idea to print a backdrop with your logo on it, for when you are on camera.
Head Space – For your own sake and sanity, you will need to structure the day, and take coffee and lunch breaks as usual. Be prepared and have food and liquids stocked up. It could even be a healthier way of working to prepare ahead of time. Make the effort to talk to other people. Call a client, Facetime a friend, Whatsapp a workmate, or nip in to see a neighbor. Use this as an opportunity to test your video and audio setup.
Time – Block off time slots to get tasks done. Work 45 minutes to an hour at a time and then take a break, a walk, snack, call or check your email. These focused blocks allow you to be productive, avoid burnout, or reduce stress. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get your head fully immersed in a given task. After 20 minutes, the mind can start to stall. To find out what works best for you, practice completing work early morning focus or late afternoon, whatever is right for you.
Computer – You will need to invest in a personal computer. This will give you more flexibility and options in your work environment. Having your own computer quickens your response time to clients, and helps to develop familiarity with the programs on your computer used to complete tasks. You will also need internet access, preferably high-speed broadband. A router or repeaters could also be beneficial to extend your wireless capacity to your chosen workspace.
Desk – Purchase a stand to raise your computer screen up to eye level. This will help you to avoid neck strain. It also enables you to work more comfortably in different locations. I went for the Duronic sit-stand desk and love it. You may also need an anti-fatigue mat to go provide more stability and ease on your feet.
Email – We use Office 365 as a team, but you have loads of choices. Utilize email to provide recaps from meetings, and updates to future events. 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 completing tasks and working remotely. The platform is ideal for one-to-one meetings or small groups. It also is free for 40 minutes for groups up to 100 and longer for two people. Unfortunately, the video quality is reduced after two people. You could use Skype for meetings as well 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.
Another platform you can use is Webex who also offers up to 100 attendees on their free package. Webex also offers 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 to see if you like the service. Streamyard is also becoming very popular and has a free option for up to six people in a meeting. Google Hangout Meets is free for up to 10 people, with up to 100 in its UberConference mode, for $15 monthly.
Note: How to download ZOOM…
1. Open your computer’s Internet browser, Chrome or Safari for example, and navigate to the Zoom website at Zoom.us. You can subscribe and create an account or simply download the program.
2. Click sign up or scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Download” in the web page’s footer. This link here will also lead you to the download page.
3. On the Download Centre page, click “Download” under the “Zoom Client for Meetings” section.
4. The Zoom app will then begin downloading. You should then click on the .exe file to begin the installation process. Once installed, you will need to log into your Zoom account, which can be set up via the Zoom website if you don’t already have one. Once created, you can use Zoom as normal for all of your video calls and online meeting needs. As a subscriber, you even get your own personal ID or static personal meeting number for creating meetings.
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 the option to move it. Tools such as Screen Link are also handy to record on your phone and save to your laptop, with no need to transfer files.
We also use Loom to record videos, as in video messages, to send to clients to explain things like 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, 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. 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 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 are 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. 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. We also use the Teamwork Desk to provide a Support desk for our support clients. Chatbots are useful for visitors on your website to 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 or Chatra. 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 desktop access. NB: Be aware these tools can slow down the website load times. Maybe add a script to lazy load the app.
Camera – Your laptop camera may work fine, but test it as the cooling fan may generate 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 to create the various tasks, assign them to the correct people, and 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 or make comments to, other people on the project and the client. The time used is recorded for every task, so the tracking is very clear. You may want some form of time trackers 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. 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 can substitute physical business networking events and will allow more people to attend. Utilizing zoom 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.