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Work From Home

The coronavirus pandemic changed a lot of things the world over and here in the US. One of the biggest changes is how and where many of us work. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs during the early days of the pandemic, mostly in 2020. Those hardest hit were in hands-on and service sectors where in-person was required.

But, so-called knowledge or information workers weren't hit quite as hard because many of them could transition away from an office to work from home (WFH). These are workers whose jobs heavily center around a computer and maybe a telephone.

These job fields include accountants, remote faculty, customer service, medical billing and transcription, graphic designer, translator, writer or editor, and many others. My field, I.T. (Information Technology) also lends itself to WFH.

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Early in the pandemic as offices were closing to slow the spread of COVID19, many of my business clients needed hasty setup of remote work solutions. I was insanely busy for months getting all these clients kitted for WFH. Once I had the forced-into-it wave completed I was able to take a breather and ponder what an existential shift this represents. We've crossed the rubicon with respect to portable work. There was no way we were going back to the old days.

Now, 2.5 years later (as of this writing), workers whose jobs could be done remotely are demanding that as an option -- a condition for accepting a job. Employers wanting to hire good workers are, at the very least, being forced to acquiesce somewhat to those demands. More forward thinking employers are eagerly embracing WFH, realizing this is the new normal, and seeing that it's truly a benefit for the employer and employee.

To that end, I've been setting up new WFH solutions for employers wanting to offer it. Only it's not under pandemic-forced duress this time.

Feel the Benefit

The benefits for employees are manifest:

  • Reduced or even no commute, giving back many hours of personal time per week. As well as saving on gas, vehicle maintenance, and significantly reducing carbon footprint. That reduction in commuting frees-up precious roadway for those who cannot WFH. A win-win!

  • Relaxed need for infant or child care even during working hours, depending on particulars

  • Possibly give up a vehicle and all the expense that entails

  • Reduced expenses for nice office clothing and laundry/dry cleaning

  • Relocate to a more desirable, possibly less-expensive area

  • Better work-life balance with an accommodating employer

It's not just employees that feel the benefit. Employers get a boost, too.

  • Improved retention. Lots of people really like working from home.

  • Access to a wider pool of talent. Employers aren't limited to the people who live within commuting distance.

  • Lower overhead costs. A full time WFH employee need not occupy office space. Allowing certain employees to WFH might save a growing company from having to expand into larger offices.

The Technology

The first wave of WFH'ers was pretty ad hoc. People had to cobble together whatever workspace at home they could manage. That might be a single laptop on the kitchen table with a chair that wasn't designed for hours-long sitting. But now, some years later, WFH is rapidly becoming a mature and proved methodology.

Assuming your job lends itself to remote work, there are things we can do to make that happen.

If you're a hybrid worker, you might be in the office 2-3 days per week and WFH for the remainder. How you connect to your employer's network can depend on this. Hybrid workers probably have an office computer. While you're at home, you might remotely connect to that office computer and access your programs and files as though you were sitting in the office.

For 100% WFH employees who don't even have an assigned computer or spot in the office, they could access a "headless" remote-only server. This allows multiple remote users to simultaneously log into a single computer at the office, probably located in the server or comm closet.

This way, all employees, whether FT office, hybrid, or FT WFH, can access the company network to access files, etc. Various cloud-based collaboration products exist, as well. Meet, Teams, Slack, and Zoom are some examples.

There's lots of remote access/control solutions available: TeamViewer, LogMeIn, GotoMyPC, SplashTop, AnyDesk, Remote Utilities, and others. Some of these have free (but limited) options, others are subscription based. But they all share a common theme: They mirror the host-end display and send that content to the remote-end. They typically work well enough and are pretty easy to set up. But it's still only second-best.

There is one technology that's baked right into Windows* and that's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). RDP is the gold standard remote tool performance-wise. When using RDP to access your office computer from home, the experience is virtually flawless. It really is like sitting at the office. RDP is also way less expensive than the popular 3rd party subscription-based services.

* The OS (Operating System) used by virtually all small and medium businesses.

To take full advantage of RDP, you'll want your home workspace to mimic your office setup. e.g. If your office computer has two monitors then you'll want two monitors at home. RDP supports multiple monitors. If you have the space and resources, you'll want to optimize your home office to be as comfy as you can make it.

See my accompanying article Comfort, Performance, and Productivity for tips on what makes a good workspace.

If your employer uses "VoIP" (Voice over IP) phones, then your office telephone (with all the buttons and features) will work at home as well. Imagine that! You can be fully immersed in your office experience with your computer and phone just as though you were there in person.

If your employer doesn't presently offer a WFH option then you might ask about it. More and more employers are warming to the idea today as it's proved itself an effective methodology in the right circumstances. An effective strategy to help your case could be that you'd be more accessible in the event of emergency. This is where negotiating hours and what constitutes "an emergency" might be required.

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