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Lessons from an Old Hand at Remote Work

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Photo of working from home outside
Image: alexbrylovhk - stock.adobe.com
I’ve been a remote worker for over 30 years. During these years of working from home and while on the road, I’ve made adjustments, discovered some good solutions, and collected suggestions from other remote workers.
 
Here are some recommendations culled from my experience for your and your team’s use.
 
Wi-Fi Fixes
I try to avoid using Wi-Fi in my home, knowing that I get the highest bandwidth by connecting to my router via a cable. If you can work near your router, I suggest doing the same. Wi-Fi is convenient, but the farther away from the router you are, the lower the bandwidth you’ll get.
 
Did you know that Wi-Fi connections can encounter about a 10% packet transmission rate, thereby reducing your effective speed? Then there’s the problem of competition for the Wi-Fi bandwidth within the home environment. When I record a video, I make sure no other apps are competing for Wi-Fi bandwidth. Otherwise, packet loss results in poor sound and picture quality.
 
I have gigabit service to my router. However, my laptop is limiting my speed to about 100 Mbps. If you don’t have a newer laptop, you may consider investing in one for an increase in the effective bandwidth available. Likewise, if you haven’t replaced your router in the last five years, then think about doing so. A router upgrade can reduce your Wi-Fi problems, too.
 
If you’re videoconferencing, consider reducing the video quality. This will reduce your bandwidth requirements.
 
I, like you, receive software updates. Inevitably, they come at the worst times. Avoid bandwidth conflicts by scheduling your software updates.
 
Working Outside
Getting some fresh air during the day by working outside may be attractive, but moving outdoors will probably reduce your Wi-Fi coverage. Consider using your cell phone as a hotspot for your laptop. Review your cell plans to determine if this option is available, and how much it might cost.
 
Outside lighting can be problematic, making it difficult to see your screen. Set up your laptop in a large box as a visor that shades your screen from the sunshine. And don’t forget when you head outside that your furniture isn’t going to be designed for office use. Change out your chair to something more ergonomic, and make sure the laptop is at a comfortable height. Get up and walk around about every 20 to 30 minutes — same as if working indoors.
 
Avoiding Distractions and Noise
When my sons were young, I closed a door to show I was busy and they had to knock to get my attention. Now you can connect a busy light to your laptop as another indicator that you don’t want to be disturbed.
 
Background noise, which is inevitable, can interfere with your concentration, not to mention cause a disturbance in conference calls and recordings. To avoid these problems, I use a noise-cancelling headset.
 
Cats and Dogs
When I had cats, they walked on my keyboard and took my screen into functions I never knew I had. Cats are also known to chew on cords. So, do your best to keep them out of your office. And if you’re not inclined to do that, look for no-chew products, such as a wireless mouse.
 
I now have a dog. Fortunately, he doesn’t bark while I am working, conferencing, or recording. However, I once forgot to eliminate the squeaky toys from my office — and everybody on a conference call could hear.
 
Mics and Cameras
When you’re not talking, be courteous and mute your microphone. A speakerphone may be easier to use compared to the microphone in your laptop. Position your camera to avoid a light or window behind you. Frame your head and shoulders in the view. Lift your head up. Periodically use a microfiber cloth to clean the camera lens.
 
Email, IM & Team Chat
Turn off automatic notifications. Review your emails in batches, not one at a time. Update your email signature, as well as your IM and team chat status indicators to inform others that you’re busy. Also make sure your email signature includes contact information while working remotely.
 
Screen sharing
Shut down apps, programs, and notifications on your screen. Avoid sending others your Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other notifications during a conference.
 
For more suggestions, I suggest checking out The Wall Street Journal’s tech guide to working from home. You may need to rely on these tips permanently. More people are getting used to remote work and many businesses are embracing the idea of keeping their distributed workforces, too.

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