Remote Working – Hardware and Software

Ready to start your career as a remote worker? Well you’ll need the right tools to ensure you are as connected to your colleagues as if you were sitting beside them in the office.

  1. The obvious one – you need a PC or laptop. The debate of laptop v PC isn’t one for this article so we’ll leave this one to the discretion of the workworker or client. In some cases, the client will supply you with a company built machine to facilitate company policy around items such as security, VPN access, software licences and such, but you should ensure you have one of the top end machines available. Consider upgrading every two years. If using a client machine, understand up front how this will be delivered to you and also how this will be supported remotely, up to and including hardware malfunction. Some clients may provide virtual machines for use and this brings a number of advantages but make sure you’ve enough bandwidth (more on this later).
  2. Next up is where workwork helps our members and clients transition smoothly from an on-site worker to an effective remote workworker. Remember, we want to mirror the on-site experience of face to face as much as possible so we need to invest a little more than usual in this area. This comes in several ways. Having additional monitors and the use of video cameras to ensure as close as possible a representation of co-located working is essential for the productive workworker.  Workwork recommends using wall mounted brackets to fix the screens above your normal workstation and thereby keeping a line of sight with your team. Your video camera should be on at all times. It is important for your colleagues to know that you’re at your desk without having to make any extra effort to reach out via traditional communication methods. Your ever-presence makes ad-hoc contact and discussion accessible and will closely mirror the experience of working side by side for communication and knowledge sharing. Understandably this will appear a little strange at times knowing you’re potentially being watched regularly but the research done by the workwork team shows that workworkers become accustomed quickly. It should be a similar experience to being in the corner of an open plan office. As the client continues to embrace and invest in remote working, their on-site offices will also embrace aspects of this hardware and software such as video conferencing in all meeting rooms and open-plan area virtual online worker screens etc.

One for the future is Beam’s telepresence solution, SmartBeam. I’m not sure if the workplace has evolved far enough to have a robot on site in the office replicating your presence but if you’re interested in seeing potential future takes on remote working, there is a very good article here

3. Connectivity

Again another obvious one, but you cannot be a remote workworker without high quality connectivity.  workwork can help you test and certify your line speed for any validation required by clients. We also have relationships with several leading broadband providers which we can use if you find yourself in an area of challenging broadband performance. Your laptop or desktop should be connected directly to the broadband router via the Ethernet cable for optimum performance as WiFi speeds will not match direct cable connection speeds.

You should consider investing in added redundancy in the event of a connectivity failure issue such as external cables being damaged or an outage from your provider. Solutions exist such as Vodafones 4G WiFi router which can be purchased in Ireland on bill pay. Understandably it is an additional expense people would generally try to avoid but it is a small price to pay for peace of mind for both you and your client. For those with difficult mobile reception, research with all providers which one offers the best 4G coverage in your area and select accordingly

4.  Video & Voice

Your choice of video and voice software tools will sometimes be limited by the preferred methods of the client but in other cases there are easily affordable work collaboration tools available. In some cases particularly if you have been provided a client machine, the client may also include a softphone with a DDI for your use but we recommend you focus on using VOIP tools with video presentation as much as possible. For many clients you will see Skype for Business (the rebranded version of Microsoft Lync) is their preferred method of internal communication amongst teams. It provides a solid VOIP service integrated with the active directory of the clients network and will provide voice access to the entire team. It is also good for instant messaging, video calls, and most importantly conference sessions. A number of cloud competitors have emerged in recent years to challenge the Microsoft dominance in this space, workwork particularly likes Xoom and Google Hangouts. The former is available for a nominal monthly subscription fee and Hangouts can be used for free. They both also come with handy mobile apps. Other online collaboration tools such as VSTS, Jira, Slack etc. will generally be dictated by the client

5. Collaboration & Communications hardware and software

In all instances it is essential to invest in a decent headset that is comfortable and of sufficient quality both in sound and microphone. There are many options available in your local PC store to pick from or can easily be purchased online. Consider a Bluetooth wireless headset as an option to give added comfort and freedom of movement when in the office. Plantronics, Sennheiser and Jabra offer a range of quality solutions that can be easily sourced online. For conference calls where you are having limited voice interaction from your side, Jabra also have a range of quality conference speakers that you may wish to invest in for added flexibility. If you want to stick to more traditional methods such as normal phone lines, in the likely event you no longer have a landline you may also wish to invest in a physical VOIP desktop phone and a VOIP phone service from a company such as blueface, although in workwork’s view this is a luxury. You would be better to invest in a broadband redundancy solution and rely on your mobile on the rare occasion you may need it.

For video calls and video conferencing, all laptops come with built in cameras as standard but typically they suffer from low resolution. Video conferencing can be a challenge when not done correctly and when you don’t have a proper camera in front of you. Depending on what study you read, body language is about 60% of communication. That’s why we at workwork are fully behind video conferencing as a key aspect of a successful workworker. Surveys of our clients and team members repeatedly flag the importance of a face over a voice and the ability for a personal connection between remote team members is dramatically enhanced by the use of video. Get a decent camera and pitch it at line of sight in a permanent position. Your team mates viewing your face hunched over a laptop, low resolution with your image projected onto a widescreen monitor in the office is something you want to avoid. Some of you may recall when Steve Jobs pulled the impossible with Apple on the brink of bankruptcy in 1997 when he returned as iCEO and announced an investment deal from Bill Gates and Microsoft. In one of Jobs rare publicity gaffes, Bill appeared as a  giant head via satellite feed in the auditorium. One you want to avoid on a daily basis. Anyway, both Microsoft and Logitech have a number of quality cameras in the market that can be easily purchased locally or online. workwork recommends investing a camera that offers autofocus and autolight adjustment,  some of the better ones have remote adjustment features. You don’t want to be the person on the video call that is regularly adjusting their camera with their hand mid-sentence and all we get at the end of it is a grainy resolution and issues with lighting.

6. Whiteboard

No office meeting would be complete without a trip to the whiteboard to sketch out your next architectural creation or process map for the benefit of the team. Being remote, this one is obviously a challenge but one that can be overcome with a little bit of investment. We all know Skype for Business has a whiteboard app but I’ve yet to see many people try sketch something with their mouse quickly and successfully. Slype for Business doesn’t make the whiteboard function available on iOS or Android devices annoyingly as of yet. For those of us not blessed with a surface tablet or an equivalent touchscreen windows laptop, you could consider using a cloud app such as Scribble, your iPad or Android tablet beside your desk and a cheap stylus to recreate the whiteboard experience. A picture paints a thousand words and this little trick will make a significant difference to your collaboration capabilities.

The workwork team will engage with each client in advance of any role opportunities to determine the best collaboration tools and equipment are in place for successful remote working and consult on areas for improvement if required. All role opportunities will outline the tools that will be in use within the clients organisation and ensure access to all will be made immediately available to new starters. The end result of all of the above is a private working space where you can enter and get in the zone straight away each morning. You will be 100% accessible at all times by your co-workers and can reach out immediately to any team member as required, relaxed in the knowledge that you have a proper working space with full connectivity and all necessary collaboration tools at your fingertips. This seamless experience will ensure you are a fully productive and contributing member of the team at all times while both the client and you benefit from the proven workwork approach and the many advantages that come with remote working.

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