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  • Todd Gillespie

So, you're working from home huh? 6 Tips on getting it right!


It appears this working from home stuff is going to be the new norm. At least until Rona decides to bug out anyway. Working from home can be extremely productive – but you need the right stuff! Go without it, and you’re heading for trouble!


Get your space right

This is so important. Just because your kid went off to college doesn’t mean you should setup an ironing board in his room, plop your laptop down on it and get to work! Even if you could, the smell would get to you. Yeah, you know the one. Well, I guess technically you have no idea where it originates from, but its been there for months. It’s like 3-month-old milk and rotten broccoli got together for a collaboration effort. Are you sure he’s your kid? Anyway, not important, moving on.


Get your room right. Preferably have your own dedicated space. This should not be the exercise room/office combo (again with the stench). No, this room should help you get in the right mindset to work. Therefore, it should also not be the kitchen table, unless that’s all you’ve got.

Get a comfortable desk and chair. You’re going to work out of here now, so let’s not sit on the extra wood dining room chair that puts your butt cheeks to sleep after 20 minutes. Get something with some cushion and support! Make sure you’re comfortable and that your arms hit the desktop keyboard comfortably. You should be using correct posture and sitting up straight with your feet flat on the floor. But we’ll settle for comfortable!



Decorate the place up a bit! If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated office at home, make it your own! A picture or two on the wall and some artificial plants go along way! The point is to make it a place that you want to be in!


Get your head right

Working from home is great, but you’ve got to get your head around it! Our standard work environment had its distractions – Facebook, Insta, and the stories Joe from accounting told to name a few. The biggest thing missing from your home office is your boss!


So back at work, you may have found yourself heading down the Facebook video vicious circle, but the threat of your boss finding out about it always kept you in check. Well except for March Madness time when you threw caution to the wind. You don’t have to worry about that one this year – Thanks Corona! The point is your boss isn’t at home with you. You can easily get lost and blow an hour looking through social media or hunting down that perfect dress for next weeks Zoom meeting.


I suggest you use a practice called time chunking to get things done. Set aside complete days, or hours within a day that are totally dedicated to a specific task (or related groups of tasks) that ultimately lead to the completion of a goal you’ve set.



It is so easy to become bombarded by text messages, DM’s, emails, phone calls and for some of you weirdos even Tik Toks. These constant interruptions lead to a day that felt busy but was hardly productive. Use these time chunks to filter out all the noise. Put the phone away, shut down email, and definitely close Twitter. Stay true to the chunk! Work on the tasks that will get you to the goal. If need be use software like Trello or Monday to keep a checklist. Or, and this is crazy idea, write it down on actual paper! You’ll be surprised by how satisfying it is to draw a line through a completed task!


Get your communications up and running

We use a lot of communication tools. Many of us have a desk phone, a cell phone, one or two email addresses and all those social media accounts. How does your customer contact you? This is what is important. Think about your customer. Even if your customers are technically coworkers, you’re still providing a product or service to them, so you need to be able to communicate with them. Do they contact you through email? Phone? Extension number?



The point here is to make communications easy. Before you leave the office, can you forward your calls to your cell phone? Can you simply pack up your office phone and plug it in at home? If you have the right VOIP system you sure can. You can also have an app on your phone or a softphone on your laptop that will emulate your business phone system. Check with your IT folks about that. If you’re a small or medium sized office, call us, we’ve got some great solutions that will allow you to do this, and will likely save you money on your phone bills. (I promise no more sales pitches – but seriously check it out here!)


What about meetings? I bet you’ve got em! I remember a time when I had meetings to discuss other meetings. Really.


How are you handling them? Look at video conferencing software. There are a lot of great ones out there that don’t cost an arm and a leg. We like Zoom. I know everyone does, but it has a great feature set and its cheap. You can even get a free account that will allow you to hold meetings for 40 minutes. Try it out.


Gear!!

There is definitely some gear out there that will up your cool factor while working at home and make things much easier on you!


I’m going to assume you have a work issued laptop that you’ve drug home with you. For starters, get yourself at least one monitor to go along with it, but preferably two. Monitors aren’t that expensive, and you can even hit us up for some refurbs if you want to save some money (ok, so I lied about no more sales pitches - $149 bucks gets you 2 Dell 24” monitors installed at your house!). The important thing to figure out is can your laptop handle dual monitors without having to buy an expensive docking station? They can all handle one. Just make sure you get the right cord – HDMI, DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort, VGA, etc. Look at your laptop’s ports, look at the monitors ports, then take yourself over to Amazon and buy the right one.



If your laptop has two types of display ports, then you can run two monitors. Typically, these are not the same port. You may have one VGA port and one HDMI. Maybe it’s a mini-DisplayPort and an HDMI. In these cases, you’ll need two different cords, or maybe an adapter, to plug into the two monitors. Once you’ve worked on a laptop with two large external monitors, you won’t want to go back to just the normal screen!


So, we like gear at Black Dog IT. Okay, we really like gear! One of the most important pieces of gear in your home office is your wireless router. This piece of equipment is responsible for routing traffic through your network and for the connection quality and speed that your devices will get.


Of course, your speed and connection strength are determined by several factors, but they are limited to what the weakest link in your network can handle. If you pay for 100 mb download from your internet provider, you are really paying for a theoretical or “up-to” speed. It may not be quite that good. As it goes out through your network, be it wired or wireless, it is only natural for it to lose some speed along the way. If your router is old and inefficient you may see a huge drop in speed over what you’re paying for. You may also suffer from the dreaded Wi-Fi dead spots in your home. We really recommend you move into a mesh network setup at home. Mesh puts multiple devices within your house to blanket it with Wi-Fi signals. We’ve seen speed increases of 40% or more just from installing new mesh gear! You can also kiss those dead spots goodbye! Some great products out there are Google (Nest) Wi-Fi, Netgear’s Orbi line and a killer product from Ubiquiti called Amplifi. One more blatant plug - we can get a Mesh System in your home starting at just $299 installed!


Pro Tip – the 2-in-1 modem/routers that you get from your internet provider are all junk. Sorry. I just haven’t seen them work well in many places. Put it in bridge mode and put some decent gear behind it, like those we mentioned above.


Security

Wow! If you’re still reading along – good on ya! It either means my writing is top notch or you paid no attention whatsoever to my time chunking comments above!


Cyber security is everyone’s business. Many workplaces have security appliances and software in place to protect their work networks and the data contained on them. Small businesses usually lack behind. Their lack of attention here is almost always due to budget constraints and many simply don’t think they’re a target. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true as small businesses are specifically sought out because the bad guys think they’re an easy mark!



Guess who else is an easy mark? That’s right, you, sitting there in your tiger stripped bathrobe looking like the Tiger King! If you’re like most people you’ve got a cheap home router with outdated firmware and you’re rocking free endpoint protection from Microsoft or AGV. OK, hopefully your endpoint protection (the software that provides security for your laptop/desktop) is provided from your company and is better than the free stuff. Don’t get me wrong, its better than nothing, but there is a reason its free.


You may or may not be able to do much about the safety of your company laptop. That is their job, but you can help by providing better protection at the edge of your network. What I mean by that, is your router/firewall sits at the edge of your home and the wild wild west of the Internet. It controls the data this coming and going. If you’ve got an outdated piece of equipment out there, you’re asking for trouble.


At the very least, log into the router and go to the administration area. In there will be the firmware version, and likely a button that will allow you to check for new versions. Do that! If there is a new version download it and install it. Also, while you’re in there, look at see if there is an auto update feature for the firmware. If there is turn it on!


If there isn’t an update, the capability of performing one or the only update available is from three years ago – its likely time to upgrade. Remember, in most cases, this is the same device that handles your Wi-Fi, so upgrading will likely get you better signal, and better security.


Dogs and Kids

Take it from me, the charm of these two groups comes and goes. Sure, there’s nothing like having Sparky lay at your feet quietly while you’re working away. However, when he decides to go bonkers over a leaf blowing across your yard in the middle of that important Zoom call, he suddenly went from Benji to Cujo in the minds of everyone on that call! Remember here, the mute button in Zoom is your friend!


Kids and Dogs will test your will. Especially the two-legged ones. They will violate your sacred work at home space. They will break you down. They will win. I’m sorry, but they’re stronger than us. When they come in asking for fruit loops and cartoons, you’ll find yourself bellied up to the kitchen island, spoon in hand, watching the Amazing World of Gumball – spreadsheets be damned!



All you can do is try to mitigate the damage. Set clear rules that they are to leave you alone at certain times. Give them structured activities during that time – let them know that we all have work to do during this time. Worksheets, books, educational games on the iPad – use your imagination. If all else fails, Disney+ is cheap.


Make sure you’re taking breaks. You should be spending that time with Fido and the kids. If they know you’re going to be around to toss a ball to, or to read them a story at a certain time, then maybe they’ll refrain from busting through your office door every ten minutes.


But probably not!


Good luck and stay healthy!

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