Remote-working (WFH) tips are everywhere nowadays, but here are the cumulative insights of someone who has done it for 15 years today.
When using collaboration tools be very aware of your surroundings including your home smart devices. “Even virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri could be listening into your calls!” says Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and CISO for privileged access management solutions company Thycotic.
Also, when using collaborative platforms such as Slack, this is not the time to take shortcuts at the expense of cybersecurity. Carson suggests these best practices:
- Use a headset when using video and audio conference calls, to prevent others being able to hear your conversations.
- For video conferencing, it is critical to use the right collaboration tool and the right security control settings (instead of default settings), depending on the nature of the content.
- Be aware that calls could be recorded, and always remind colleagues and peers when calls are being recorded.
- During this time home workers should receive training on how to use collaboration tools securely. For example, a common mistake that people make when screen sharing is that they share the desktop instead of the application so other attendees can sometimes see emails and what they are browsing.
- For collaboration solutions such as Slack now is probably a good time to get Single Sign On working accompanied with a strong privileged access management solution to control and secure access.
Similarly, as the massive work-from-home movement continues into its third month in May 2020, Caron has some cybersecurity advice to offer workers:
- Turn off bandwidth-hungry applications when they are not needed
- Always use your corporate VPN access when required—staying secure is vital
- Know when to switch between home internet or mobile internet
- Set up and use a separate home internet network for work to isolate personal devices
- Ensure your home internet router password is long and strong (use a password manager)
- Know your bandwidth limitations
- Monitor your internet bandwidth usage
- Use a good set of headphones and a microphone
“An issue that many are currently experiencing is that during normal situations their internet is usually fast, but when everyone else is also working remotely too, there is stress on the internet service provider’s capabilities. Know when to switch between home internet and mobile internet. If you have important calls or webinars you may want to switch to your mobile internet because during busy times, it can be more reliable and faster. If you are traveling outside your home country, you could purchase a mobile internet SIM card to reduce excessive internet charges just in case you’re stuck in a foreign country,” says Carson, who has had 15 years of WFH experience ranging from remote islands to a swine flu quarantine location to Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano region.
Plan, plan, plan
Productivity-wise, good preparation keeps you on track when you are telecommuting. Know what your priorities are. “This is one of the best tips I can share for working remotely because it’s so easy for a schedule to slip into disarray, especially when working at home or offsite.”
- At the beginning of each week look at which tasks you must achieve. Along with prioritization, block a period in your calendar every Monday to review what you have achieved the previous week, and to understand what must be completed before the end of the current week.
- It is good practice to set aside time to prepare and rank your tasks. Use this time to determine whether you have everything you need or if you need to reach out to colleagues for assistance. Label tasks that can be done alone and those that require another colleague’s input.
- Know what success looks like at the end of the week.
- Celebrate success and learn lessons from failure.
The troublesome timezone differences
Probably one of the most challenging issues with working remotely is dealing with time zones. This causes the most confusion when scheduling meetings and knowing exactly what time people mean. Ensure that everyone is synced about which time zone everyone will standardize on, or be explicit if different. Said Carson: “Using Outlook allows you to add a second time zone, which I find very useful. Or, when scheduling meetings with peers I sometimes put a placeholder in my calendar to see exactly what time it is locally. Use tools to help you get the time zone right when coordinating with co-workers.”
Always be mindful of the location of the people you are inviting to conference calls—it is never good to invite co-workers to a meeting at 2:00 am (and then wonder why they fail to join the call).
- Know your colleagues’ time zones
- Suggest a common time zone culture for your company
- Use tools to help you plan
When working remotely you may find yourself in a situation where your family is in the background. This is completely normal. It is not unusual to hear dogs barking in the background, or even joining in on the conference calls. It makes us stronger when we are open and understanding when remote workers have family and pets nearby.
- Crying babies happen: attend to their needs
- Screaming kids happen too: be attentive
- Barking dogs are part of life in some homes
- Cats walking on your keyboard? Yes
Stay focused with clear goals
Most companies have frequent meetings to align the team’s direction so they are aware of one another’s common goals. “Every quarter I put my goals up on the wall behind my desk so they are always visible. And I adjust them; goals can be moving targets. It’s vital that remote workers are aware of the team’s goals, accept them and acknowledge them. This helps remote workers move forward on a clear path to success without the need for constant micromanagement.”
- Have a clear set of goals and know what progress is being made
- Acknowledge your goals when they are assigned
- Know the dependencies on one another’s goals
Good communication is crucial
Do not underestimate the value of this tip: communicate frequently and use the tools available to you.
Communication is one of the most important paths to success. Never hesitate to pick up the phone and call when all other methods are not successful. “I always reach out when I need help or have questions. With so many tools available, we need to make use of them to communicate, such as audio and video, webinars, podcasts, collaboration tools, online meetings and messaging, etc. They are there to make your job easier and when working remotely, you should rely on them. Of course, it’s always important to have alternative options at hand. Technology can fail, so never rely on a single point of failure.”
- Communicate frequently via any means acceptable and secured
- Use the purpose-built tools available to help you
- If appropriate, use both audio and video
- Never hesitate to make a phone call. It can get the fastest results, with less risk of miscommunication
Mind your health
Prioritizing your health as remote workers is a best practice that cannot be emphasized enough. While working remotely, it can sometimes be unclear as to when you are meant to be working and when you are not. Routine can help put structure around when you are working and when you are off. Added Caron: “When I use my home office, I have a sign that says ‘working’ and when reversed it says ‘playing.’ This is also a good indicator for my family. Find a way to let your colleagues know what your working hours are. Get dressed in the morning, talk a short walk for some fresh air and have a set working time.”
- Your health is important—create a routine and stick to it
- Take short breaks from the computer to stand up or walk around
- Use a proper keyboard and mouse, and buy a good chair
- Choose your working location carefully; try to include natural light
- Use your full lunch and tea breaks
- Socialize with people via online channels, such as Teams or Skype
You are in control of your time, and when working remotely it is important to continue your professional development by learning new skills and new ways to be effective. When working remotely, you must set aside sufficient time to learn.
- Listen to a podcast
- Watch a webinar
- Take an online course
- Read a book
- Have a mentor to discuss self-development
We only stay valuable when we continue to increase our skills and knowledge. The best skill we can learn in life is the ability to keep learning.
“As you can see, working remotely is possible but it requires self-discipline. You must take good care of yourself by creating and sticking to a plan when working remotely. In today’s world, it’s so much easier to be productive when working remotely and companies are now far more accepting of remote employees. Of course, we are going to find some limitations in the tools, so learning how to adapt and scale is going to be a constant learning experience.”