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How to Work Remotely

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What You Need to Know

  1. Working remotely can bring benefits to both employees and employers.
  2. There are a few simple considerations that can make remote working effective and productive.
  3. Ensure you have the right equipment to enable you to do your job where you need to do it. Fast and lightweight laptops, mobile phones, and tablets are essential, as is a headset for making calls.
  4. You must have a fast and reliable internet connection. It is also advisable to have a back-up option readily available.
  5. Have a defined home office space to enable productive working and avoid potential distractions.
  6. You should be extra-cautious about security with your company equipment and data. There are a few simple rules to follow.
  7. Keep strong and clear lines of communications with the office open. Remember they only know you are working if you tell them. Also try to attend any regular office meetings and social events.

Overview:

Working remotely, or working from home has been growing in popularity in recent years as both employers and employees have begun to see the considerable benefits it offers.

For the employee it offers the opportunity to improve your work-life balance, avoid that nightmare commute which eats into your day, and get away from the numerous distractions that come hand-in-hand with the modern commitment to open-plan office design.

For the employer, it can see a sharp improvement in employee productivity, and offer an opportunity to reduce costs as you are no longer having to make use of their equipment, power, and even office space.

But the prospect of working remotely can seem daunting for some, especially at first. Will you feel cut off from your colleagues? Will you be able to resist the allure of daytime TV? What happens if you have a problem you need help resolving.

This UK Net Guide looks to address all of those worries and highlight the preparations you should make to be a confident and effective remote worker.

Equipment:

It goes without saying that different jobs require different tools and in some roles, the specialist equipment required is likely to make remote working either difficult or completely impractical. But for those of us with a regular office job, there are just a few simple but essential tools of the trade we need to enable to function almost anywhere.

  1. A mobile phone – something that most of carry on a day-to-day basis anyway, but an essential tool for remaining in contact with colleagues and clients. These days there isn’t much that your bulky desktop landline phone can do that your mobile cannot, and your mobile allows you to nip to the shops or do the school run without fear of missing that important call.

One thing we do have to be aware of though is signal strength – having a reliable signal is vital, and as remote working is particularly appealing for those of us living in rural areas, you don’t want to have to be standing on a chair in the spare bedroom to make a call. More on this below.

  1. A laptop or tablet computer – Again a tool many of us possess already, but having a computer we are comfortable using, with the right software uploaded, and a strong and reliable internet connection should allow us to do the bulk of the tasks we would be doing at our desk in the office.

The right software is essential here as you must be able to access your company’s existing emails and any other software packages you make use of day-to-day. Whether these are accessible online, or can be specifically downloaded onto your machine, your company IT department should be able to assist you, as well as providing a troubleshooting service for any problems you may encounter.

  1. A compatible headset – Meetings being held by conference call or via the various web-conference providers is fairly common in most office these days, but if you are dialling in from home, it is highly advisable to have a headset which is compatible with both your laptop and mobile phone.

For these vital calls, you want to be sure you can be heard, that you avoid any echoes or possible background noise, and that you don’t miss anything important, so a headset offers that essential high quality audio you are looking for. If you are working at your desk for the day and expecting regular calls, it is also a good way to speak to people without having to break stride on any other wok you are doing.

If your remote working job is likely to involve travelling around, you will want to be looking for equipment which is both lightweight, and with a strong battery and fast start-up time to enable you to maximise productivity and minimise any technologically enforced downtime.

It is in the interests of companies to provide remote workers with the right equipment to ensure they are best able to do their work, so many companies will be willing to give you these tools if they haven’t already. Raise the issue with your boss when making the arrangements to work remotely.

Home office:

If you are going to be working primarily from home, it is vital to establish a workspace where you are both comfortable and which will support your productivity.

It is recommended that this should be a quiet place, ideally set apart from the rest of the house. If you have a separate room which can function as an office this is ideal, otherwise set up your office space in a bedroom or lesser used reception room. This is important to avoid distractions, especially if there are other people at home with you during the day. Establishing a defined working space is also important to enable you to switch from work life to home life easily and, during the working day, avoid potential pitfalls like daytime TV or that pile of laundry you have been meaning to do.

You will also want to ensure that you have the usual office comforts easily available for you. A kettle to make tea or coffee, a supply of water, a pack of biscuits or some fruit to eat. Keeping these in the office rather than having to go to the kitchen will also help to clearly define you home and work life.

Also try to have a definite start-time, lunch break, and finish time to further define a working day and ensure you continue to put in the necessary hours. The benefit to you comes from saving on commuting time and on occasion finishing your work faster than you might in the office. Don’t fall victim to long lie-ins and panicked midnight finishes unless you are convinced this work pattern is what makes you most productive.

Connectivity:

As noted above, there is little point in having the right equipment if you unable to connect to the internet and your company network. Without reliable connectivity you could have spells of being unavailable to both clients and colleagues, which will make you less productive, and therefore less valuable to your employer.

There are a number of solutions which you will want to consider, depending on the likely nature of your remote working:

  1. A fast and reliable home broadband service – if you are working primarily from home, it is worth investing a little more than you might otherwise on a high quality broadband service that is both and reliable. If you are likely to be downloading and uploading data on a regular basis, you will also want to ensure that it is an unlimited service.
  2. A fast 3G or 4G mobile data connection: if you are going to be doing plenty of work on the go, using your mobile phone or tablet, you will want to sign up for a 3G or 4G connection which is both fast and unlimited, to ensure you can do you work anywhere.
  3. Mobile Internet dongle for laptops: Most mobile phone providers can provide dongles to allow you to use your laptop on their 3G or 4G network. Again if you will be working on the move, this can be an essential option.
  4. Public Wi-Fi services: There are a range of public Wi-Fi services, such as ‘The Cloud’ available in most urban areas up and down the country that offer another connectivity option. Some of these services are free, however they can be notoriously unreliable, so should not be relied upon. Instead, think about signing up to a monthly tariff, which should offer you are more reliable service. Be sure it is available where you are going to need it before relying on it though.
  5. Secure Network Access: Many companies are understandably cautious about making their resources available online, so if you are working on anything confidential you might want to look to establish a secure way to access company resources. Options such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are available, and if your company has previous remote workers, it should already have a system in place. Speak with your management and company IT department.
  6. Accessing company files: You want to be sure that you can always access your files and documents, wherever you are. A VPN will be essential for any sensitive files, but for more mundane files, you will want to explore options for a cloud storage facility such as OneDrive or Dropbox, which allows you to access your files through your laptop, tablet, and mobile phone, as well as online. A corporate account with one of these providers will usually offer increased capacity, and a faster service.

You will want to discuss all of these options with your management and IT department, and ensure that your chosen solutions are tested and reliable. Ideally, you want any problems to be able to be repaired remotely as well, but to cover the odd occasion this isn’t possible, it is worth having a back-up connectivity solution on stand-by as well.

Security:

Working in the office ensure that both your equipment and data is being used in a safe and controlled environment. Remote working, whether at home or on the go, makes it more necessary for you to take security precautions. There are a few simple rules that you can adhere to ensure safe and secure remote working practices:

  1. When provided with a VPN or another secure programme for accessing your network and transferring date, but sure to always use it and follow the correct protocols to ensure mistakes aren’t made.
  2. Try to use secure online storage for your files and documents. The risk of losing physical storage devices such as USB drives is high, so don’t use them unless you absolutely have to.
  3. If taking equipment and documents on journeys, be sure not to leave them visible and unattended in public places, such as in a parked car, or on the table on a train.
  4. Think about buying a laptop security cable if you will be using your laptop on the go, so you can attach your laptop to something like a table leg and minimise the risk of theft.
  5. Think about buying protective cases or covers if you will be travelling with your equipment to avoid the risk of damage.

Communications:

If you are working remotely, it is important that you remain visible to other members of the team, to ensure that you are not ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to them, and don’t begin to feel isolated yourself.

Again there are a few simple rules to ensure you remain an essential and integral part of the team:

  1. Be available to your management and team members as much as possible. This might be via mobile phone, email, skype, or an instant messenger service. If you are contacted by a colleague endeavour to respond promptly, giving such communication a slightly higher priority than you might in the office.
  2. Attend all meetings you are invited to remotely, unless there is an exceptionally good reason why you cannot. Wherever possible try to do this via video conference to ensure visibility to team members and also let you see them.
  3. Provide regular updates for management and colleagues on the work that you are doing. This is vital to ensure you get the credit you deserve for your work, that those in the office are aware of what you are doing and don’t duplicate anything, and to allow you to make any changes should circumstances demand it.
  4. If you have a regular monthly or bi-monthly team meeting, endeavour to attend as many of these in the office as possible. This helps to reinforce your position as part of the team, and minimising the risk of being perceived as a distant voice on the end of the phone. It also allows you to build relationships with staff members, meet new team members, and hold any other meetings or discussions that might be needed. It is also worth making the effort to attend as many office social function as possible for similar reasons.

 

Further Reading

  • This Guardian article addresses some of the perceived reasons why more of us aren’t working from home already.
 

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