Working Remotely, Effectively: The 7 Things I Use To Get The Job Done At Home

remote work tools - coffee and laptop

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I love my job, most days.  I hate working when the tools I need aren’t readily available or are painfully slow. You know what I mean.  When I want to edit a document, it needs to be there, now.  When I want to move files to a shared folder, they need to scream over there, now.  When I’m updating the CRM with customer meeting notes, you know the drill: NOW.  When my tools are not available, or aren’t running efficiently, I find other things to do – Target run, laundry, Netflix episode, whatever.

As a boss, I want to make sure all members of my team have what they need, now!  In the current environment that means having the tools they need to work remotely, as efficiently as possible.  Here are the seven items I use to work remotely, well.

1. Laptop

This may be obvious, but employees need a solid computing platform at home to run the applications they rely on for business; even cloud-based software needs local computing resources.  Either help out with an old but serviceable desktop computer, invest in a cost-effective Google Chromebook, or splurge on the latest Microsoft Surface or Apple MacBook – get some horsepower locally.

2. Mobile Phone

No one has a home phone anymore. No one other than my parents have land lines – or they shouldn’t.  IP phones, like the Polycoms or Ciscos at your office, can work if you have the networking infrastructure to support them. At home, most of us just use a personal cellphone for business; guess what, it is awesome!  My iPhone 8 Plus is the best mobile computer I have ever owned (I will upgrade to an iPhone 11, eventually, but this one is paid off).  My phone can run Zoom, GoToMeeting, JoinMe, and WebEx video conferences. It can run Slack, Skype, WhatsApp and other chat features with my team. It can even run some cloud-hosted VoIP softphone apps like Voyant and RingCentral.  Summary: I do not need a home phone – I just need a good mobile device to run those cool new apps.

3. Wi-Fi

Again, maybe obvious, but today you need a solid Wi-Fi solution in your home to keep all those computers and phones connected.  Specifically, the cellular service at my house is bad, awful by all our standards today – I get two bars, consistently…  Without Wi-Fi assisted calling (enabling “Wi-Fi Calling” under the “Cellular” settings on my iPhone) I would be in a world of hurt.  All those life-changing features I called out in #2 up there would be non-existent.  I should probably place Wi-Fi higher on this list, but I am throwing the phone makers a bone here as the software they have built is pretty awesome.  In summary, get some good Wi-Fi, preferably 802.11n or better.  No need for all that crazy 802.11ac with 15 antennas, just a solid 802.11n router with external antennas, so you can point those things in your direction.

4. Security (VPN and Firewall)

At home we don’t typically think about security When we do, we mostly think about physical security, like from ADT – keep people out of my house, please.  Cyber Security is more work related; the IT gals and guys at the office think about that, right?  Well, guess what, now you are doing enterprise sensitive work, at home…  right?  You now have to think about how secure your home office is from cyber threats.  The good thing is, most equipment makers have included firewalls and VPNs, or enhanced security features, in lots of gear – including routers.  The first step would be to always use a VPN whenever connecting back to the office. That creates an encrypted path for sensitive data.  Next step is to increase your local cyber security with a firewall.  If you do not currently have a firewall in your network environment at home, get one.  Or, make sure that any new devices you add have built in features like Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDS/IPS) and basic web filtering rules so you can block unwelcomed sites.  Thinking about security today is easier than ever before; don’t forget about it.

5. Multiple Internet Connections

This one is more tricky, costly, and not as obvious.  Let’s say I have a great Comcast Xfinity service at my house (which I do), and let’s say that on an idle Thursday at 2:08 p.m. central time that connection goes down for 8.25 minutes.  If I was working at the office, I wouldn’t know or care about that. But when I was home on a conference call with a potential client, that 8.25 minutes caused me to lose my…composure.  What was that 8.25 minutes worth to me?  What was that 8.25 minutes worth to my business?  Well, I can tell you that this 8.25-minute outage drove me to surf the CenturyLink website to find the lowest cost DSL in my area and schedule an install for the following Tuesday.  Get this: for $45 per month I get 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload in my house – cool.  I think that 8.25 minutes is worth $45.  For me, that was an easy call – my time is worth that much.

Now, I did not get rid of my Comcast, no, no, no.  That Comcast line, when it works, is very fast; I get something like 350Mbps download and 150Mbps upload and they keep increasing it at no extra cost to me – so I want it.  My kids use lots of that bandwidth when they are streaming Frozen 2 on Disney+.  I need the rest of that bandwidth and the second connection for my work stuff.  I use both connections with an SD-WAN appliance to load balance them.  This way, if either of the connections acts up, the SD-WAN appliance steers the traffic to the other connection – creating a Never Down network for me to do my work.  Pretty cool, I think so!

6. Battery Backup

This may be a bridge too far, but I live in the Midwest and we have spring thunderstorms and winter blizzards, both of which like to knock out power at the most inconvenient times.  I experience about one hour of power outage per season.  Not bad, but not convenient when I am, again, working from home. I bought a very basic APC battery backup for my most critical equipment (see the list above).  This $300 investment keeps all my gear up and running regardless of weather or power company maintenance – and remember, the Internet keeps running if your ISP router is on this battery backup. Nothing can stop me from using the internet!

7. Coffee

Fuel for creativity and staying power for getting through the 247 emails that I need to review and remove from my Inbox. Coffee is my fuel of choice.  I have team members who are Mountain Dew fans or energy drink aficionados. Whatever gives you boost to get moving, do it.

I hope this list has been helpful; it has helped me work through winter snowstorms, sick kids home from school, and spring thunderstorms that bring down trees that I need to remove, later.  The key to success to any endeavor is preparedness. I guess today’s work environment highlights this reality.  It is time for us to improve our work-from-home environments; the good thing is that is pretty easy to do. 

Let me know if I missed anything. Shoot me an email at msiegler@ecessa.com to upgrade my list!

Thanks for reading,

Mike