For some people, the coronavirus pandemic was their first experience working remotely, but remote workers are not a new phenomenon. As the Internet has become more sophisticated over the past few decades, more people are able to skip the office altogether and report in from wherever they happen to be, whether a hotel, coffee shop or home office. More jobs are taking employees on the road, necessitating tools like video conferencing, remote access, virtual assistants, and file sharing.
As broadband gets faster and we look forward toward 5G and satellite technologies, more jobs could employ remote teams. Furthermore, more individuals can run their own businesses from home rather than having to report to an office. It sounds too good to be true, but businesses small and large have already been formed by someone with a laptop, a reliable Internet connection, and a marketable skill. Many of us are already working online from within our offices, participating in conference calls, sending emails to colleagues in our own companies and their affiliates, and doing research online. Working from home is simply the logical next step.
There are numerous benefits to offering remote jobs or running a business from home. Businesses that use remote workers save a lot on overhead: less office space and fewer resources such as water and electricity are used. If there is an office outside of the home, it doesn’t have to accommodate as many employees. Some employees, such as graphic designers, social media managers, and content writers, can compliment their normal working hours whenever inspiration strikes, even with simple remote access. Employees who may be under the weather won’t bring it to the office and spread it to their coworkers, but can still be productive if they want to. People with functional disabilities, such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease, can also maintain full time jobs that work around their conditions.
What do I need to work remotely?
There’s a lot to know about working from home, even though it sounds simple. Having the right equipment is the most important thing. To effectively work on the Internet from home or on the road, you should probably have:
- Reliable Internet is a must. Whether you work from your phone, tablet, a laptop, or other device, your Internet or WiFi connection is what holds everything together. If you are working from a home office, you need enough speed to run all the devices you will have online, from your Bluetooth printer to your webcam for video conferencing. On the road you might not have much choice, but the right research can point you to places where Internet is accessible.
- A device to interface with. Some jobs can be done on a cell phone or tablet while others require computers and sophisticated software. You know what tools you use to do your job at the office, so be prepared to have them at home or on the road.
- Conferencing capabilities. This might include simple apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams, or it might be something more complex like Skype or Zoom. When it comes to video conferencing, or any video devices on your home network, you want to make sure you have the bandwidth to operate them, as recording video takes more of your Internet speed than most other functions, even viewing streaming video. This is also affected by the number of people in the conference and whether or not you are its host.
- A reliable printer/scanner. When you are working remotely, a scanner is more likely to be used, but having printing capabilities, especially in a home office, is a plus. Most of your work is going to be transmitted electronically to colleagues, but anything hard copy will need to be printed out and scanned to be made electronic. This is another area where reliable high-speed Internet is a must, especially if you send large files.
- If you work for a company, odds are they have a remote network and a troubleshooting desk in the IT department. Make sure you have access to the remote network or someone you can call if you have problems connecting. If you work from home, this is less of an issue, but you still want to be able to access your portfolios when on the road, so investing in a cloud service to store work online can be a very worthy expense.
- Security software. Whether you work for yourself or a boss, your work and your clients’ data is private, especially if you work in the financial, legal, or healthcare sector. Many Internet packages have options for security, so if you are setting up your own network you have options available. Companies and offices often have their own network protocols, but it is up to you to be up-to-date on them.
What do I need to watch out for?
Remote work is great. It allows for more flexibility in your schedule and for you to work in a comfortable environment. However, it also has its own pitfalls. Be careful of falling into bad habits and be ready to deal with emergencies. Here are some things you should know about working from home:
- The importance of taking breaks cannot be overstated. When working from home, it is easy to fall into the trap of not taking breaks. You’re at home, so your whole day is a break, right? Actually, taking breaks, such as going out for a walk or playing with a pet, will help keep you focused and from burning out. When you don’t take breaks, you get tired more easily, and that can lead to distractions, or worse, naps!
- Managing distractions is the flip side of the breaks coin. To work from home effectively you have to ensure that you aren’t allowing yourself to be sucked in by all the leisure activities you have around you. Just as you can’t sit at the office and play Solitaire, you can’t sit at home and do it either. That includes allowing your family to distract you. Well-meaning loved ones often mistake a remote worker for someone who is home, and assume chores are going to get done or even that they can socialize with you. A vacation day from school can keep the kids home and demanding your attention as well. Working from home includes balancing our family lives with our work, and it is important to set boundaries, both for your loved ones and for yourself, to manage distractions.
- Internet parity refers to how close your upload speed is to your download speed on your Internet connection. When working from home, it’s important to know what your parity is, because most residential connections have low parity. This means that download speeds are significantly higher than upload speeds. Most people use the Internet to shop, stream, or play video games, all of which require a minimum of uploading and not a lot of upload speed. However, working from home might require the sharing of large files, and higher upload speeds can be the difference between sharing those files in minutes or hours. Video calls also use a lot of upload speed, especially if you are the host of a conference with many participants. If you work remotely for a company this may not be as much of an issue, but is still a consideration. If you run your own business from your home, it is a primary consideration when shopping for Internet plans.
- Business continuity refers to the company backup plan in case of a disaster, such as a major weather event or an international pandemic. When you work remotely, a disaster could be something as simple as a power outage or an interruption in your Internet service. If you run your business from your home, this can even be catastrophic. Whether you have an established backup connection, such as a satellite Internet connection, a mobile hotspot, or a backup location, it is as important to plan for the Internet being down as it is to plan how you’re going to use it. This is especially true if you do business from a remote location.
- Make sure you stick to a schedule, even though you are working from home. Get up at the same time you would if you were reporting to an office, and follow similar routines. Sometimes all it takes is getting into the right mindset to be productive when working from home, but when you can work in your pajamas and don’t have that commute, you can easily throw your schedule off. This can lead to sporadic sleeping, excessive fatigue, and even a bit of apathy, all of which can burn you out. You don’t necessarily have to dress in your best business attire, but you should definitely dress in something other than your casual, lay-around-the-house clothes. Never, ever take naps on your breaks, because you might awaken more fatigued than when you laid down!
It is easier than ever to work from home as our telecommunications technology improves. More companies are using remote workers to do online jobs rather than relying on face to face coworking spaces. More people are able to work and make money online, even when they can’t show up to an office. Remote work can be a win-win situation for everyone in the Information Age, especially as we make transmitting that information faster and more efficient. All you need is the right Internet connection. Compare your connection or shop for a new one by telling us where you live, and see what is available in your area, even if you don’t work from home!