What Do I Need to Work from Home?

What Do I Need to Work from Home?

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Coronavirus Sign

Many employees are working from home for the first time Credit: PA

All of us are finding ways to work from home during the current lock-down and we all have different requirements to make things easier for us, but there are two things we need to think about. First, how long will you be working from home, three or four weeks, three or four months, or could we all permanently move towards working from home.

Secondly, who will be paying for the equipment and services you need: you or your employer?

If you’ll only work from home for a few weeks then you probably can use what you already have. However, if it is for a few months or permanently then you’ll need the same standard of equipment and services you have in the office.

If you are paying for your own equipment, or adding to it for a few weeks, then you need to take an economical approach, but if it is for longer or permanently then your employer should be providing the same standard of equipment as you have in the office and ensure that you workplace at home is ergonomically suitable.

The good news is that you may end up being more productive when you don’t spend hours commuting or in meetings, taking long lunches or catching up with the latest gossip.

The bad news is that you have to set and stick to office routines without the external pressure to turn up on time, take regular meal breaks, and keep to a reasonable sleep schedule. Every company has early birds and night owls, so their work times are likely to diverge. However, you must overlap during some agreed office hours when everyone is always available.

So what are the essential items you are going to need?

Laptop, Desktop or Tablet?

If you’ll work from home for a short time, you won’t need much in the way of extra equipment. If you have your own laptop, you will only need an external USB keyboard and mouse, and you may already have those. After that, you can think about a separate monitor, an external hard drive for backup purposes, and either a powered four-port USB hub or a docking station to connect them all together.

Laptops have bad ergonomics so you should not use them for sustained periods of work. You can solve this problem by making your laptop work like a desktop, by putting it on a commercial riser or a pile of books and plugging in an external keyboard and mouse. Your eyebrows should be roughly level with the top of the screen, so you can work without slouching.

Buy a docking station if you can. If you plug your laptop and all the peripherals into a docking station, you only need to unplug a single cable from the laptop to be able to take it somewhere else. That makes it easy to get a change of scene by working in another room or in the garden.

One of the problems with using a laptop, even with a docking station and risers, is that you loose a lot of desk space and so a desktop PC may be right for you if you have limited desk space and can put the PC tower underneath your desk. With laptops you are also usually limited to two screens: the laptops own screen which typically may only be 15″-16″ and a plug-in monitor, which would normally be much larger. Swapping from a small monitor to a larger one for different tasks can cause ergonomic problems with different eye line and focus points and so a desktop PC where you can use matched screens and even more than two monitors, should you want to, could be better for you.

So what about using a tablet? For quickly accessing emails, a quick piece of web browsing or a short video meeting then tablets can be useful. But for serious work then forget it!

Broadband Matters

You probably won’t be able to work from home without an internet connection. Broadband shouldn’t be a problem because peak usage is in the evenings when many people are streaming movies or TV or playing games. Even if everyone starts video chatting, there is easily enough capacity for homeworkers during the day. However, if you also have kids at home during the day, their FaceTiming and Xbox habits may slow your connection and download speeds. Moving as close as you can to your Wi-Fi router can help, or you should consider switching to a cabled connection to your router.

You should have a plan B for when your broadband goes down – a smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard, or a spare laptop and a tethered smartphone – and an alternative way of connecting to the office, even if it means using a hotspot while parked outside a local coffee shop. Sort out all the log-in and connection details and test it before you actually need it.

Remote Connections

Sooner or later if you are working from home you’ll need to access to data on your office PC or network. So being able to remote into work is essential. Although there are many options available the main choices are Microsoft Remote Desktop, TeamViewer, and LogMeIn. While these three all provide the same basic functions, each one has its individual pros and cons.

Remote Desktop is built into Windows but requires you to have either Windows Pro, Enterprise, or Ultimate versions installed on your office PC to remote in and there is a little bit of setup that needs to be done for this to work. The downside of Remote Desktop is that it will only work for a Windows-to-Windows connection, but it is free.

TeamViewer costs £31.90 a month for a business license but it is much easier to set up than Remote Desktop. Just download TeamViewer on both the office and your own PC. You will then get a code and password for both PCs. Simply enter the code and password for the computer you want to remote to and your connection will be set up and ready to go. TeamViewer is available for any PC running macOS, Linux, or Windows.

If you need to access multiple remote PCs then LogMeIn allows you to do that. However it is not cheap at £299.99 a year for access to two remote PCs. There is a free 30-day trial that you can sign up for but after that, you will have to buy a license to continue to use the program. LogMeIn is web-based and so when you sign into the web portal, every remote PC that you have tied to your account is shown. This makes for logging in and finding the PC you need to remote into very easy, just click the PC and you’ll have access to it.

Video Meetings Aren’t The Same As Face-to-Face.

But they come very close! Video meetings are important when you work from home even if it’s not essential, it’s useful for quick video chats with colleagues. This fosters camaraderie, especially if you start to feel lonely working on your own. It’s also easy to do, thanks to software such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, TeamViewer and more.

You will look and sound a lot better if you buy a decent webcam with 1080p (Full HD) resolution. If you don’t want to use a webcam – it does take a while to be comfortable with being “on camera” – at least get a headset with a microphone. Gamers love them so there are all kinds of models available at reasonable prices. You can also use them to listen to music, thus eliminating background household and traffic noises.

Top tip

Almost every operating system supports multiple users, so set up a separate account for work. Make this account look as much like your office PC as possible, with the same wallpaper and the same icons in much the same places. That way, when you work from home you won’t be distracted by whatever games, social media or entertainment services you use when not working.

There’s Always our Tech Helpline

If you have any questions about what you need to work from home or any other computer-related questions, give us a call on 0345 319 4877 (local call rate). We’ll be happy to help you.

Smarter Technologies Ltd, Unit 1 Broadfield Industrial Estate, Seymour Street, Heywood, OL10 3AJ | Company No.: 07172781 | VAT No.: 794 7491 68