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How to survive and thrive while working from home


I’m one of the roughly 5% of Americans who work full time from home. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now. If I could manage it with a 28.8K modem internet connection back in the day, you can do it today in the age of broadband.

Here’s how.

Broadband: You need the internet to work successfully from home. The faster your connection, the better. If you live alone — or at least if you’re home alone during your normal working hours — and if your work is mostly text-based, a connection of just 5Mbps should be enough. But if it’s the coronavirus that’s keeping you at home and you have a partner who’s also working online and kids with little else to do than stream Netflix or Disney+, you’ll need more, at least a 25Mbps connection.

Videoconferencing: You’ll also need fast broadband if you’re going to be attending videoconferencing meetings with your co-workers. You should also, of course, install the app for whichever videoconferencing service your company has standardized on. It doesn’t have one? Almost all the videoconferencing services are offering free packages so you can give them a try. Personally, I like Zoom, even with its privacy concerns.

If you’ve never done videoconferencing before, check out this guide to videoconferencing so you can make the most of it and avoid foolish mistakes.

Instant messaging/real-time group chat: If your office has standardized around Slack or Microsoft Teams, clearly you’ll need one or the other at home. My preference is good old Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or the more modern Google Hangouts Chat. If you want to run your own open-source, cloud-based service, check out Mattermost.

Remote desktop: Do you need access to your office desktop because your laptop doesn’t cut it? It’s always best to have a business laptop that you can use in a pinch as a do-anything, ready-to-run work desktop. But if you don’t, check out such remote desktop programs as TeamViewer, SplashTop or Microsoft Remote Desktop (MRD). But forget about Apple Remote Desktop. It just doesn’t work well.

Windows: Don’t patch your Windows 10 computer unless you must. Windows 10’s patches are infamous for going wrong. It’s bad enough that your office IT staff has to cope with them. You really don’t want to try to troubleshoot them at home on your own. See “How to handle Windows 10 updates” for instructions on delaying non-critical updates.

Time management: Need to track your time? Check out Timely. It enables you to both schedule work jobs and track the time you actually spend on them. That said, the only way I can track what’s due when is with Google Calendar. The business calendar version is part of G Suite.

Project management: There are a lot of project management programs out there, but it’s hard to beat Basecamp. It’s full-featured and remarkably affordable: $99 a month, with unlimited users with no user fees or project limits.

For workflow management, you should check out Asana. But, fair warning, it’s so flexible that if you don’t set it up right from the get-go, you can end up with a messy spaghetti diagram. That’s not a tasty dish.

That’s the tech side. Here are some suggestions on how to keep your sanity based on my decades of doing this.

Get out and walk. Staying on your prat all day long isn’t good for your health, physical or mental. I walk for half an hour twice a day.
Keep regular business hours. There are two really common time problems with working from home. The first runs like this: “I’m at home, so I can watch TV, I can play World of Warcraft, I can … whoa, what time is it?” The other runs like this: “I’m at work, and I must work all the time. I must not slack off. I must … whoa, what time is it? “ If you work 9 to 5 at the office, try to work 9 to 5 at home.
Stick to your diet. You’ve head of the freshman 15? That’s the weight everyone is said to gain when they first go to college. There’s also the work-at-home 15. Snacks are so accessible, and no one is watching! Also, we all tend to eat more when we’re under stress, and boy, are we ever stressed out these days. Try to eat healthy when you snack. Instead of chips, try an apple. Instead of a soda, drink unsweetened tea, or even good old, hydrating water. Your scale (and your work clothes, which you’ll have to get back into eventually) will thank you.
Dress for work. You’ll be tempted to wear your jammies to work or your most comfortable T-shirt and shorts. Don’t give in to this unless you habitually work in comfy clothes anyway. If you’ve always worked in business attire, sweatpants and flip-flops aren’t going to feel like work to you, so keep wearing your business clothes to get into the right frame of mind.
Set up a dedicated area for work. It can be as little as a cordoned-off section of your kitchen table. But scattering work across your home leads to scattered thought.
Make it clear to your family and roommates that when you’re at work, you’re at work, even when you’re at home. You’re not available — but you’re not inaccessibly locked down either. Set your limits, but still pay attention to the others at home. After all, you talk to other people at the office, right?
Get a comfortable chair. Unless you use a standing desk, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in that chair. It’s worth spending some real money on a good one.
Get a pet. I’m not kidding. Especially if you live alone, having a furry companion will make your life a lot more fun. Just make sure your new office space is pet-proof.
Use your new home videoconferencing gear and IM software to talk to friends and family. I’m an introvert’s introvert, but I still talk to my people on a regular basis. They help keep me together, and your folks will do the same for you — and vice versa.
Don’t obsess over the news or check Twitter or the like every five minutes. Strive not to give in to temptation. It won’t help any, and you’ll just make yourself more upset.

You may never love working at home. It’s great for me, but it’s NOT, in big capital letters, for everyone. Still, if you follow my advice, you’ll get good work done and come out on the other side with your wits still about you.

Good luck, my friends.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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