Working from home: Some hacks for remote working
In this last article in our series on working from home, we’ve got some handy tips to help you work remotely. In the last few articles, we’ve given advice on some of the best bits of kit you can buy to help you work more effectively from home.
So, say you’ve got all the kit, you’ve got it all set up and now the time has come to get down to some work, but there’s always the temptation to have another session on Doom Eternal or watch your favourite political extremist YouTuber’s latest video. It’s important to be able to avoid distractions to be able to get on with your work. Here are some tips to help you get on.
Create a dedicated space for working
Don’t make the mistake of trying to work sitting down on the sofa (like I’m doing as I write this) with your laptop on your coffee table, or even worse, on your lap. (I know, how ironic). Switch the TV off, and don’t have any music on. Okay, we know, some people have an incredible ability to focus on their work with music on at full volume and Sky News on the telly, but statistically you are not one of them.
The kitchen table isn’t a great deal better, but it’s a start, as long as there aren’t too many family members lurking around who might need to be told politely to go away. Having your own space to work, in a study, spare bedroom or even your own bedroom (and preferably in a room without a television), allows you to isolate yourself from your family or flatmates. Also, having a dedicated workspace also helps you kind of mentally delineate between work and non-work, if that distinction even makes sense in the new reality?
The best place to work is a spacious and tidy desk with a comfortable office chair. IKEA has some great deals on office furniture. The Linnmon table top with Adils legs, as seen in the picture here, starts at just £16, for the smallest 60cm by 100cm size and in a basic finish, and the Millberget swivel chair (not pictured) comes in at £65, hardly breaking the bank.
Having a potted plant on or near your desk will help create a pleasant environment to work in, as long as you remember to water it, unless it’s a fake like the one in the picture of course. The similarly fake IKEA Fejka potted plant, pictured below, is available for £17 here.
The Cherry Tree Executive reclining office chair for £105.99 plus £9.99 delivery from Amazon, pictured left, is another affordable and ergonomic solution that your back will thank you for in a few years’ time, when it’s not crooked and twisted beyond all recognition. Plus, it’s not one of those God-awful gaming style chairs that are certain to make you look like some obnoxious twat, which is always a bonus.
Get a fast broadband connection
You can’t help how fast the maximum internet speeds are in your area; Hull of all places topped the UK’s list of fastest download speeds in 2019 — although the world is a somewhat different place now than back then; you don’t know if some hysterical nutter has decided to burn down your local street cabinet because of Bill Gates or something — with an average speed of 87Mbps, hardly earth-shatteringly fast; and if you live in Truro, Perth or Llandrindod Wells you’re unlucky as you have the slowest average download speeds in the country at 24, 25 and 26 Mbps respectively.
However, these are average speeds and you will most likely have a choice over how fast a connection you have. It’s worth investing the extra few quid because, as we become ever more dependant on the internet and have ever more devices itching to connect to our wi-fi routers, you could most likely do with all the extra speed you can get. In some areas, gigabit fibre-optic connections are available, and as the name might suggest, they offer speeds of 1Gbps and above. (1Gbps is a thousand times faster than 1Mbps if you were wondering.) These highly-prized ultra-fast connections are only available in a select few cities at the moment, but if you’re lucky enough to live in one of those cities, it may be something worth looking into, although bear in mind that these connections are rather pricey.
Even without switching to a faster connection, there are still things you can do to improve your internet speeds; a wired connection is always better than a wi-fi connection. We switched from connecting wirelessly to our router to using a wired ethernet cable to the router and our download speeds went up from around 20Mbps to over 80Mbps. If this isn’t an option, move your router as close as possible to your main work computer, and if possible, with a clear line of sight. Wi-fi signals weaken as they pass through walls so the less walls the signal has to travel through, the faster and more reliable your connection will be.
But don’t rely too much on that single connection
You may have the latest gigabit fibre optic line, but there’s always a chance your broadband might start playing up, whether your router’s damaged or some numpty workman has stuck his spade through your phone line, so having access to a second internet connection is a smart idea. There’s not much point getting a second broadband connection because in all likelihood, it’ll still be coming via the same Openreach cable so if said workman does cut through your line, you’ll still be screwed.
A better idea would be to make sure your mobile plan has unlimited data, then you can use your mobile as a wi-fi hotspot if the worst happens to your broadband connection. The mobile companies don’t like you tethering, but the EU passed a law a few years ago saying they couldn’t stop you or penalise you by throttling your internet speed. No doubt Vodafone and EE are lobbying Boris and co to repeal such regulations as we speak, but for the time being you’re free to use your mobile data connection for whatever you want. You could even use it to mine cryptocurrency just to piss off your service provider. Don’t worry, Guy Verhofstadt has your back. For now, at least. I’m rather proud of my own personal record of mobile data usage in a single month, which, at over 2 terabytes is pretty monumental. Watching Netflix all day in 4K will do that. Even better than using your mobile as a hotspot, buying a dedicated mobile wi-fi hotspot will usually provide better performance, wider range and longer battery life as its only job is to provide internet so it’s not using up power making calls and powering a high-resolution LCD or OLED display. Plus, it’ll mean your phone battery won’t be drained by you constantly using data. Sometimes unlimited data can be cheaper on a mobile hotspot plan too.
Pictured: a mobile hotspot from UK network EE
Use different browsers for work and personal use
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Putting some distance between your personal Facebook account (if anyone actually still uses Facebook) and your work-related tabs helps with that mental delineation between work and play. Also, it’ll mean that you get tracked by AdSense and the like separately so you won’t be tempted by adverts for games or whatever piece of tech you’ve been planning on buying when you get paid.
Stick to regular hours
Okay, this goes against the point earlier about working from home allowing you more flexibility, but it’s sensible to try and keep your work hours consistent at least. It’ll help you stay on top of things and keep organised, plus it’ll make it a lot easier to stay in touch with your colleagues if you’re not sleeping until the afternoon and then trying to catch up by working until 4am. With that being said, if you are regularly in contact with colleagues from overseas, you may find it useful to sync up your working hours with your colleagues, and you may find it useful to have more hours in the day when businesses are open so you can go shopping or go to the gym, then start work either late into the afternoon or earlier in the morning. Still though, it is advisable to at least keep to regular, consistent hours and keep a healthy and regular sleeping pattern, if you can.
The New Normal
None of us know what the future holds, but it’s clear that things will never be quite the same again. Working from home will become more and more commonplace, and if you’re not working from home now, there’s a good chance you will be in the not too distant future.
Investing in the right kit will be worth it in the long run. A proper work space with a desk, desk chair, monitor and keyboard will be much more comfortable, and healthy, extremely important if you are to spend eight hours a day on your computer. Poor posture can lead to repetitive strain injuries and back problems which you certainly don’t want. As we talked about in our previous articles, there are a range of affordable options for PC monitors, mice and basic keyboards, with Amazon having a great range, although look around for the best price. You can connect a monitor to your laptop using your laptop’s HDMI or DisplayPort connection, or possibly USB-C if it has such a thing.
Mechanical keyboards such as the Vortex Race 3, as pictured below; which at the time of writing is in stock and available on the Overclockers UK store for £139.99; whilst more expensive, and often somewhat difficult to get hold of, are a truly premium purchase. Again, if you are to spend eight hours a day at your computer, a high-quality mechanical keyboard is a worthy investment. They provide a far more enjoyable and satisfying experience to type on than the regular ‘membrane dome’ style of keyboards that are pretty much ubiquitous in this age of planned obsolescence, and can last a lifetime if properly looked after.
A decent wrist rest is recommended too, to avoid straining your wrists; these are available on various online retailers in natural wood or an ergonomic memory foam; and a foot rest will also help no end with your posture, helping you avoid bad backs and opioid scripts in the long run (although there are worse fates than a fentanyl prescription), either the foam type like the ErgoFoam Ergonomic Under Desk Foot Rest which is pictured right, available at the time of writing for £34.67 on Amazon — or a more solid type, best suited for use while wearing shoes, such as the Kensington Adjustable Ergonomic Foot Rest which is available at the time of writing for just £14.34 on Amazon.
Using your laptop’s trackpad for any length of time is another sure-fire way to get yourself an RSI, so invest in a decent mouse. Bluetooth versions are available and can last months on a single AA battery. Your laptop will probably have Bluetooth built in, but if not then you can find a tiny USB Bluetooth receiver that will be hardly noticeable.
A three-in-one printer copier scanner, whilst less essential than a few years ago, is still an invaluable tool for use, either scanning invoices to send to HMRC to claim back tax refunds that you are entitled to (and if HMRC give you any trouble, having ourselves had extensive engagements with them over the years, we may well be able to assist you), or printing out documents to proof read at your leisure. Our previous article on getting the right kit mentioned a couple of highly recommended printers, both laser and inkjet. Lasers are generally better quality and more reliable, and cheaper to run in the long run, however if you want a colour laser printer it will cost considerably more up front than an inkjet model. Bear in mind also that, at the time of writing many models of printer are out of stock on many online stores, including Amazon.
A mobile broadband hotspot, in addition to your principle connection is a great way of insuring yourself against problems with your home broadband, especially at the moment; like the rest of us, many Openreach and other broadband provider’s employees are currently working from home which can mean network issues taking longer to resolve. That’s not to mention the general increase in network traffic as an indirect result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As this new way of working becomes ever more ubiquitous, you may not have much choice in making the shift to remote working, but far from being something negative, working from home can be an all-round more pleasant and more productive experience, with more flexibility and a nicer work environment than a crowded office, and probably with better food to boot. By being prepared, you can save yourself from a shock to the system as you try and get used to something that may seem initially alien to you, because make no mistake about it — lockdown or not — working from home is the new normal.