The Art of Working From Home
How to telecommute successfully
Last updated Wednesday, May 13, 2020
I am an Iowa Solutions software developer, and I have been working from home for the past 17 years. No snow days for me, and fewer sick days too. As my primary role is coding, I find it much easier to concentrate when I'm left alone. I can crank the music between phone calls, and enjoy a run of several uninterrupted hours to completely focus on projects and tasks.
Currently, many people are having to adjust to the concept of working from home for the first time and the latest business reopening guidance from the City of Cedar Rapids recommends that employers continue to allow employees to work remotely if possible. For some, working from home may become permanent.
With this in mind, I thought I would share some tips and experiences that have helped me stay productive and focused while working from my home in Cedar Rapids. Perhaps some of it will be helpful to you, too.
No matter where I am, I must still be able to communicate with clients and work with team members all day, every day. Uptime is a top priority. So in addition to my primary cable internet connection, I have a backup connection too. It adds about $60 a month to my costs to have that second (DSL) connection, but it means I'm never down. All my essential equipment including switches, routers and computers are connected to battery backups (UPS) to survive brief power outages.
Anything in the house that has an ethernet port is hard-wired. This includes desk phones and my main computer. WiFi is acceptable for mobile devices and casual internet usage, but for reliability and speed there's really no substitute for a wired connection.
A quality internet router with dual-WAN capabilities completes my setup. If one ISP fails, the other ISP kicks in automatically and I don't miss a beat.
The Work Space
I have found that the separation of work space from home space is necessary for both productivity and relaxation.
Finding space at home for your office can be a challenge. If you're able to carve out a dedicated room - even a guest bedroom - for work purposes, there are several benefits (especially if there are other family members at home during your work day). When you're away from the family hub, sequestered in your closed-door office, other family members understand that you're not accessible. That lack of physical presence when working is no different than when you used to leave for the office every day so from that perspective, it provides a sense of normality for everyone.
A dedicated space is great for phone calls, video conferencing and concentration too. While there's certainly an expectation of the occasional barking dog or crying child in the background at the moment, it's really best to isolate ambient sound as much as possible when talking to clients and coworkers. If a client doesn't know you're working from home at all, that's even better.
There's one more big benefit to having a dedicated office in your home... When the work day is over, you can leave it behind you and close the door.
My home office allows me to respond to emergencies 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. However, if it's not an emergency, it waits until I walk into my dedicated space again the next business day. Just because I work from home doesn't mean I don't need the same downtime as someone who works in an office building.
To be at my best every day, I need to maintain a healthy balance between work and relaxation. Having a dedicated office space really helps me achieve that goal.
The Gear To Get Things Done
Working from home is my life. For that reason, I spent some time and money making sure my space was optimal. A business-class office chair and large desk were essential. I chose glass for the desk because my office is a bedroom, and the glass surface helps the space feel larger than a solid piece of furniture would.
I also arranged my desk so I wasn't staring at a wall all day. As you can see from the photo, dual monitors along with a quality webcam and some webcam lighting guarantees I'll look good and professional even on gloomy days or evening calls. My desk phone is connected with clients and coworkers via Microsoft Teams and the Teams Cloud PBX, a cloud-based phone system which allows our whole company to work from anywhere.
Microsoft Teams also offers me instant chat messaging with all our technicians, engineers and management so I have my choice of email, phone call, video conference and text chat to communicate with other Iowa Solutions team members whenever needed.
Through a combination of web applications, local applications and Remote Desktop Services (RDS) I'm able to access every piece of software and all the systems I need to do my job. A robust Multi-Factor Authorization (MFA) security system ensures that everything stays locked down to only me, and only my equipment.
Working from home is a big adjustment, and it can be hard to deal with the loss of the social and cultural aspects of a regular workplace. But it doesn't have to mean isolation, reduced functionality, or a feeling that you have to be on the job every waking minute of the day. It can work well, and and here's how:
- Deploy reliable and redundant Internet connections
- Hard wire as much equipment on your network as possible
- Run UPS systems on routers, switches and computers
- Create a dedicated office space with four walls and a door
- Invest in a comfortable chair and desk
- Set boundaries for family members when you're working
- Set boundaries for managers and coworkers when you're not
- Take advantage of software like Teams to stay connected
- Consider deploying cloud-based phone systems for enhanced connectivity
- If you video conference often, especially with clients, consider investing in some lighting and a good webcam
- Work with your IT provider for secure, MFA-based remote access to business applications
Iowa Solutions engineers and technicians continue to work, both in our facilities and remotely, to guide our clients and provide them with the tools they need to keep their business operational. If you need help, we're just a phone call away.