Ten technology tips to improve work from home

Now that we are past the initial scramble to start working from home, it may be time to reflect on how to improve our effectiveness and reduce or eliminate irritants. I’m calling the required technology components the enterprise-grade minimum viable product (MVP) for working from home.

Mark Perrin, a partner at Corvelle Consulting, an IT consultancy in Calgary, Alberta encountered clients where the IT department established a comprehensive computing infrastructure to support work-from-home employees and contractors. However, at the start of the pandemic, due to the sudden and huge demand, clients encountered lags in setting up their staff to work from home. Some staff had not worked remotely before. Some did not have laptops or remote access configured for the company’s infrastructure. Some staff were not aware of the video conferencing tools available to them or how to use them. Climbing this learning curve caused delays in ongoing work as staff shifted to working from home.

Let’s look at the technology tips that achieve an effective MVP for working from home.

Application software

Some IT department have not communicated their technology components for working from home well. So, before you independently kluge together an ad hoc application solution for downloading and sharing corporate documents using Gmail and Google Docs, ask your IT department for their recommendations and expectations.

Here are my tips for improving application software that ensures an effective MVP for working from home.

1. Organization network access

Initially, organizations quickly installed VPN client software on laptops for work from home to access the organization’s network. After launching the VPN client, you will launch Remote Desktop Connection that will connect you to the workstation on your now vacant desk. If your workstation has crashed or has been powered off, you can’t connect unless the organization has allowed you access to an alternate workstation and no one else is using that.

The more capable enterprise-grade solution is to install the CITRIX Receiver app on laptops that will be used when working from home to access the organization’s network. Using this software, you can launch one or more applications that are part of your CITRIX profile. CITRIX uses its own dedicated servers that are not dependent on your in-office workstation. From CITRIX you can additionally launch Remote Desktop Connection that will connect you to the workstation in your now vacant office.

2. Organization application access

You will access most of the organization’s on-premise applications such as financial, production or inventory management via the VPN client software or CITRIX Receiver as described above.

Some of the organization’s applications are software as a service (SaaS) applications. Examples include SalesForce CRM, Oracle Financials housed at a cloud service provider or a data service provider such as Bloomberg. In most cases you will continue to access SaaS applications using your browser.

3. Telephone

You may be surprised to learn that I like my land line and my cell phone. However, for international calls, using an app such as Google Hangouts, Skype, or WhatsApp may be a more reliable approach on the other end and the cheapest for your organization.

The enterprise-grade telephone solution is to select only apps with end-to-end encryption for added security.

4. Video calling

There are quite a number of credible software packages for video calling. The most common ones are Apple FaceTime, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom Meetings. The functionality differences are not large.
The enterprise-grade solution is to select only one and provide related training. That avoids endless, annoying coordination about which app to use.

5. Team Collaboration

Using a team collaboration software packages is a must for working from home. During the initial scramble, everyone made independent selection decisions.

The enterprise-grade solution is to select only one team collaboration software package and provide related training. The most likely choices are:

  1. Google Meets for those already using Google Drive.
  2. Microsoft Teams for those already using Microsoft 365.
  3. Zoom if you don’t need the document collaboration features of the other products.

6. Document management

As you work from home, you will inevitably update existing documents and create new documents. It’s a bad idea to store these documents using a public repository such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Box even though that can be tempting because it’s so easy to set up an account at one or more of these services. The problems with this public repository approach include:

  1. You’ll never have time to reintegrate these documents later into the company data repository even though you have every intention of doing so.
  2. You may be dealing with documents that contain confidential data that should not be stored on public data repositories.
  3. It may be difficult to share documents with your team.

The preferable enterprise-grade solution is to store these documents on a company network drive or in the document management system as you would have done if you were working in the office.

Computing infrastructure

Many homes operate an adequate computing infrastructure for occasional work and lots of play. However, this infrastructure will be inadequate when parents are mostly working from home and children are online for school.
Here are my tips for assessing your computing infrastructure and then implementing the required upgrades to ensure an effective MVP for working from home.

7. Adequate Internet access

Start by checking your Internet access speed. Here’s the SpeedTest link to use. Your ISP typically offers this capability as well. You want the download speed to be greater than 100 Mbps. The upload speed is generally about 10% of the download speed.

For an enterprise-grade solution when you’re downloading many large files or showing a lot of videos, have a spouse also working from home and more than one other person in the household, you will want the download speed to be greater than 300 Mbps. Upgrade if necessary.

8. Reasonable network

A reasonable in-home network will have 802.11n or 802.11ac Wi-Fi access points. If you are still using 802.11a, b or g Wi-Fi access points, it’s time to upgrade.

If your Wi-Fi connectivity varies significantly from one part of your home to another, first move your Wi-Fi access point upstairs from the basement. If that move doesn’t solve the problem, install a more robust enterprise-grade solution by:

  1. Upgrading to a Wi-Fi mesh network.
  2. Installing a CAT5 or CAT6 wired Ethernet network for at least the work from home part of your house.
  3. Changing the default password for admin access to your ISP-supplied modem.
  4. Setting the wireless security protocols of your Wi-Fi access points to WPA2.
  5. Splitting your Wi-Fi network into two portions. One access points is for guests and one for residents. The guest network provides access to the Internet, but not to your home network.
  6. Configuring your network router to prioritize real-time work from home traffic like video conferencing over video gaming.

If you have other equipment that relies on Wi-Fi such as a security system, a music system, cordless phones or a baby monitor, confirm that these devices are not interfering with each other or your Wi-Fi network by checking the Wi-Fi band and channel they are set to use.

Do not install Wi-Fi extenders to improve connectivity in dead zones. While Wi-Fi extenders are appealing because they are cheap and easy to install, they cut the Wi-Fi speed in half within their zone.

9. Laptop

If you’re using your own laptop while working from home, it should exhibit these characteristics:

  1. Fairly recent model.
  2. Up-to-date operating system, browser, anti-virus, firewall.
  3. Up-to-date version of Office if you’re working in the Microsoft orbit.
  4. Microphone and speakers working.
  5. All outdated software you don’t need, or use removed.
  6. All bloatware, that’s software that came with the laptop to entice you to install it, removed.
  7. All minor hardware issues such as broken mouse, keyboard, USB ports, repaired.

For a more suitable enterprise-grade solution, since you’ll be using this laptop a lot while working from home, add a docking station to connect various peripherals. The typical peripherals include:

  1. A full-size keyboard.
  2. A mouse.
  3. One or two monitors.
  4. External speakers.
  5. External microphone.
  6. Ethernet network connection.

10. Printer

A surprisingly large number of households operate without a printer. Now, while working from home, you will likely want to print a document from time-to-time.

For a more suitable enterprise-grade solution, acquire a faster inkjet or laser printer that can be network-attached for sharing.

HR policies

Widespread working from home typically triggers an update of the organization’s HR policies. Familiarize yourself with what the organization has published and expects of you to avoid nasty misunderstandings later.

What technology components would you recommend in an MVP to successfully work from home? Let us know in the comments below.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulzhttp://www.corvelle.com
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

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