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Work from home guide: Equipment, software and tips

Set up your home office for success and be on top of your game whether you're working from home or running your own business remotely.

While we’re all spending more time indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, millions of us are trying to work from home or even run a business remotely for the first time. Whether you suddenly need video conferencing, or you’re just desperate for a decent chair, we can help. We’re tracking down hard-to-find equipment and updating our guides each day.

Equipment you need to work from home

There’s no golden WFH checklist that suits everyone but there are a few key ingredients you should try to tick off:

  • A quality monitor. The larger the screen, the more multitasking you can do. The better the resolution, the less eye strain you’ll suffer.
  • A comfortable office chair. We’re in this for the long-term, so get yourself an ergonomic, adjustable chair with plenty of backside cushioning to minimise aches and pains.
  • Fast Internet. You’ll be surprised how a better broadband plan, or even some tricks to maximise bandwidth, can help your Internet speed.
  • Webcam (if you don’t have a built-in camera). Video conferencing has become a standard requirement for employees working from home.
  • Headphones. This is especially relevant if there are kids in the vicinity.
  • Desk. Even if it’s something small that gets you off the kitchen table, a desk gives you a chance to distance yourself from other members of your family.
  • Software. Your home computer may not have all the software of your office laptop, so think about downloading the likes of Microsoft Office, Zoom, Skype, Chrome, VPNs and even Spotify.
  • Mobile phone. You probably already have one, but for hot-spotting, staying contactable when away from your desk, and multitasking, you may want a new phone or an upgraded phone plan.
  • Printer/scanner. Not all workers will need one, but if you do, the trick is to find a printer that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to refill with ink.

11 tips to successfully work from home as an employee

Waking up, eating, sleeping, relaxing, parenting and working all in the same place isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s likely not your cup of tea. But in these testing coronavirus times, like it or not, you’re going to have to do some work from home.

I’ve been working from home for almost two decades and one of the most common things I hear from friends and colleagues is, “oh, I could never work from home.” That suggests there will be quite a lot of adjustment for many of you.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to offer the following 10 working from home tips that I try (not always successfully) to apply each day.

1. Start early

My dad has a saying that I’ve found to be very true as I’ve emerged from out of his shadow: “one hour before lunch is worth two hours after.” The biggest mistake you can make working from home is to assume you can sleep in and work late. After all, it’s not like you need to account for transit, right? (Well, only as you transit from the fridge to the desk!)

It’s much harder working form home to stay focused as the afternoon approaches than it is in an office. The weather improves. You get more peckish. Your body yearns to go for a walk or exercise. Kids get home or, if they’re already at home, start getting cabin fever. The 9 to 5 just may not be as effective at home for you as it is in the controlled environment of a workplace.

I like to get up; get stuck into a few hours of work before 9:00am and then give myself some space during the middle of the day to take a breather and recoup. Or to take the pressure of performing at the end of a day.

2. Improve your Internet speed

This may seem obvious, but everything is bottlenecked by broadband internet. When you’re working from home, productivity needs to be maintained no matter what else is going on in your home (or the street). You can’t find yourself needing to engage in a video conferencing meeting at a time when everyone else in the house is on a different Netflix feed.

An obvious starting point is to compare broadband plans and to see what else is available on the market. While getting something new installed may take some time, it could also be possible to upgrade your existing plan with the same ISP to a faster category in the interim. It will cost more, but that investment could be worth it.

There are other options available to you outside of upgrading your ISP. Many people use underpowered routers to distribute their Wi-Fi around the home. Older models work on slower 802.11 standards (such a, b and g) rather than the newer n and ac standards of most current day technology. Your router could be bottlenecking your speed, so check what else is out there.

There are also ways to improve Wi-Fi speed in your home through the placement of your router and the connectivity of your internet of things devices. And in a worst-case scenario, you can back up your home broadband with a good mobile broadband plan. Then you can always hotspot using 4G to get around any congestion issues in a pinch.

3. Don’t multitask with entertainment

You’ll be tempted to double dip while working from home. To get your work done and catch up on the latest episode of your favourite TV show at the same time. Or to have a YouTube video running in a little window, filled with people faceplanting and bellyflopping.

I highly recommend not doing this. Squash this temptation flat. Even at lunch, leave the TV off. Your half-hour break will quickly stretch to 45-minutes if that’s how long an episode takes to finish. You don’t have the strength to press pause. No one does! Not to mention that at home, you’ve got to clean up after preparing food, which tends to happen after the TV show has ended.

After work, however, go for it. You can compare your Internet TV streaming options here.

4. Walk and work

In an office environment, you tend to do a lot of movement relative to what you do at home. You might even rack up thousands of steps just getting to work on your commute. Then you go to meetings, walk about talking to colleagues and even just go out for lunch and coffee. All of that goes out the window at home unless you force it.

I have set up a little 1000-set walk around the block that takes about five to 10 minutes and I do this once every 90 minutes or so. This activity does wonders for your longevity through the day and can break the cabin fever you get staying in your own home. I then time this in with phone calls I need to make, or at a time when I’m due to check in-company messaging or emails, so it’s not “wasted” time.

5. Headphones

There can be plenty of distractions at home you rarely experience in a workplace. That’s become even worse now that many of us are working at home during coronavirus alongside kids thanks to the closure of schools. Be it your children, your partner in the kitchen, the next-door neighbour’s dog, the people renovating across the road, garbage trucks, or whatever, the domestic experience can be quite distracting.

So, get some good quality, even noise-cancelling -headphones, and block it out. Here’s a guide to Bluetooth headphones you can use, and a guide to music streaming services.

6. Set realistic goals

Working from home requires far more discipline that working from an office. Psychologically, it’s your place to unwind and relax. All your chores and those odd jobs around the house that you can usually ignore are now in your face. You’ll think, “I should really get those sheets washed while the sun is out,” for example.

This problem exponentially increases if your partner is also working from home or you have children.

It’s therefore important to set realistic goals each morning and to be flexible in how you can achieve them. This ties into the aforementioned “start early” strategy, but extends beyond that. I like to start with about five hours of work to do in any given day. That’s because an additional three hours of work always finds its way into any other given day and you therefore have room to accommodate it.

An unplanned long phone call from a client. That sudden Zoom meeting your boss just requested. A Government press conference that impacts your business and needs to be analysed. One of your children vomiting all over their bedroom floor and developing a fever. Stuff just happens.

This approach allows you to set a goal and then, when something suddenly comes up, for you to reschedule it without overburdening your day.

7. Be available

Unless you’re a sole trader, chances are you’re working with other people even if you’re doing so remotely. You could be working with hundreds of people simultaneously through intra-company services like Slack, or even just over good old-fashioned email. Nothing makes a boss or colleague question your productivity more than not responding quickly.

While it’s important to set goals and stay focused be keeping distractions to a minimum, when working from home it’s also smart to keep one eye out for messages from colleagues or employers. Ignore everything else if you need to, but not those. Even if your response is, “can I call you back in an hour, just under the pump finishing this report.”

I’ve found that modern businesses are a lot more trusting of your productivity at home than old-school employers. A good rule of thumb is just to be cognisant of the trust level your employer is putting in you and don’t break it.

8. Keep communication channels separate

At work, you get work calls and you get work emails. At home, you get communication from your work and from everywhere else in your life. If every time you press send-and-receive, or pick-up your phone, your non-work landscape is getting downloaded then it will distract you. It’s a shame your friend Jane is “totally freaking out right now,” but that’s a conversation for another time.

Make sure you’re accessing your work emails through a separate email client so they don’t mix. And on your mobile or desktop, turn off notifications for your social media channels. If you simply cannot block it out, perhaps try a separate work mobile phone altogether.

9. Be computer smart

Perhaps one of the most daunting prospects you will face working from home is dealing with the lack of any IT support. If your email stops working, or you can’t remember the Wi-Fi password or everything suddenly freezers, no-one is going to come up the hallway and fix it for you.

The best way to keep ahead of these issues is to have a powerful, recently built computer. Your old desktop that the kids use for school projects, or that is only used for Amazon shopping and emails, may get you into trouble. You will likely need to install new software that you use from work that requires more power than your computer is used to. It could drag it to a crawl. If you’re not using the latest Windows or Mac OS, these could simply not install at all.

You will also no doubt have to multitask, with lots going on at one time on your computer. This requires not just power, but also memory (also known as RAM). You may need more hard-drive space to hold that new software. Then if it’s something like an Adobe product you need to use, graphics cards come into the equation. Old monitors can be horrid on the eyes, too.

With that all in mind, now could be the time to buy a new laptop or to upgrade your desktop computer. Alternatively, you may want to get some new anti-virus software and see if it can audit your computer for gremlins slowing it down. It’s also worth familiarising yourself with places like the Whirlpool forums or Stackoverflow. Here you can workshop IT problems with community members that are eager to help.

10. Define your space and its rules

There’s a saying; “don’t mix business with pleasure.” That mantra is never truer than when you’re working from home. Do your best to define and cordon-off your workspace separate from your living space.

In times like the coronavirus pandemic, that can obviously be quite challenging. For example, you may have suddenly found yourself working on the kitchen bench in an apartment. But that’s where your distractions are. Where a child can put yogurt-covered little fingers all over your keyboard when you go to the toilet. Where you must push all your paperwork to the side just so you can eat.

It might be worth considering other temporary measures. Shifting the two kids into one room so you can dedicate the other to your office. Parking the car on the street and setting up in the garage. Buying a small desk that fits in your bedroom. Be creative.

Once you have that space, create its rules and stick to them. For example; Mummy is not available for snack requests between 9am and midday. When the door is closed, Dad is working. If the doorbell rings, I’m not getting it. And so forth.

11. Don’t overwork

Stop laughing; if you’re new to this work from home thing, you may be wondering how you could ever find yourself overworking. But when your work is always there with you – not sequestered away in a distant office – you’ll be surprised by how often you lean towards doing it.

Suddenly you will find yourself answering emails at 9:00pm at night. Or telling your kids, “I’ve just got to get this job done,” in the middle of a Saturday. Or even just skipping or reducing your lunch break day after day.

This behaviour turns happy homes into sad houses. It ruins relationships. It crushes your health, your spirit and your mental wellbeing. And it does it slowly, so you don’t see it happening.

That’s why it’s important to nail the other tips I’ve listed above. That is an unhealthy side-effect of working from home that sneaks its way into your daily routine, then your weekly routine, then your life, before you know it. So be aware of it and be watchful.

What are the benefits of working from home?

Using home as a work base is simply not an option for some professions, but many employers are adopting a flexible approach when it comes to work-life balance. More and more companies have started opening themselves up to a new structure where employees can work from home either full-time or on an as-needed basis. The big question, though, is will it be beneficial for you?

There seems to be a divide when it comes to the option of working from home. Many people believe they’ll get nothing done and feel isolated working alone, while others maintain they will be happier and more productive working away. We take a look at the benefits of working from home to help you decide if a more flexible working arrangement is right for you.

1. No transit

Even if you’re a naturally early riser, the slog of transiting every day can be exhausting. With 33–45% of Australian adults found to be sleep-deprived most nights, commuting to work every day can ultimately impact your productivity as well as your health. Especially when you get home late after a long public transport ordeal.

No matter how many coffees you knock back the following morning, there’s no denying that a lack of sleep negatively impacts your motivation along with your wellbeing. By working from home, you give yourself the opportunity to set a better routine by getting back the time usually lost to the commute. This means less stress on nights when you can’t get to bed early or can’t seem to fall asleep, as well as higher productivity levels the next day.

On the flip side of this, working from home may also present an opportunity to start your working day earlier, meaning you can clock off earlier too. Either way, flexible working hours can greatly improve your work-life balance.

2. Saving money

Without thinking about it, we can spend quite a lot of money on work-related costs. From petrol or public transport fees to make the commute, to indirect costs such as laundry and dry-cleaning of work clothes, the monetary cost of working can start to add up.

By working at home at least one day a week, you can cut back on expenses that are otherwise unavoidable. For instance, workers with children may find they’re able to reduce or forgo childcare arrangements. (Perhaps a bonus for after coronavirus has its run!)

You can also save money on food and drink by having lunch at home instead of being tempted to eat at the cafe around the corner from your office.

3. Control your distractions

The biggest fear for many people when working from home is they’ll be too distracted to be productive. Often, though, getting away from a workplace environment can actually help you to stay focused because you’re in total control of your working space.

This means not having to stop and chat with co-workers in the kitchen when you’re pushed for time and just want to grab a quick cup of coffee. It also means not having to drown out the loud phone calls, music and chatter that surround you in an office environment with a large pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

At home you have the final say on everything in your environment. From the noise level to the air temperature, you can cater everything to suit your needs so you’re as comfortable and motivated as possible.

4. Fewer sick days

While you should always prioritise your health and take sick days when you need them, the option to work from home when you’re a little under the weather can cut the number of days you actually need to take as sick leave. Currently, full-time Australian employees are entitled to 10 paid sick days a year, but this may not be enough for some people. Especially those with small children who are passing illnesses on to them frequently.

If you just have a head cold and are feeling a little run-down and clogged up, you may still feel motivated enough to work as long as you can do it from the comfort of your home. Not having to make the commute to work and having the option to stay in your trackpants with an endless stream of tea may be all you need to get through the day without having to take it off entirely.

Workplaces that encourage you to work from home if you’re unwell also help everyone to stay healthy in the long run, as those who are sick won’t be there to generously spread their germs around.

5. Work from anywhere

Working from home doesn’t have to literally mean from your house. Thanks to mobile broadband and free Wi-Fi services in certain locations, if you aren’t bound to your workspace, you have the opportunity to work from anywhere convenient or pleasant for you.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be an option during the coronavirus lockdowns, but is something to consider ongoing.

If you find yourself feeling uninspired, you can take your laptop along to a park or cafe. It might just be the change of scenery you need to really knuckle down and get things done.

It also allows you the freedom to travel without having to take leave. If you want to go interstate to visit family, for instance, you can still work during the day as usual and spend your nights and weekends with loved ones, making it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance. With many airlines now also offering Wi-Fi onboard, you might not even have to take leave for the travel time itself.

6. Less stress

On average, most people spend between one and three hours travelling to and from the workplace each day. Traffic and crowded public transport can often make you flustered and disgruntled before your day has even begun. Add to that constant distractions and office politics and a working day can get stressful pretty quickly.

Not only is stress bad for your health, it can also make it harder to focus and stay motivated. While working from home can’t eliminate the stress factor of the work itself, it can significantly decrease it in other areas of your life if you stick with the tips offered at the top of this article.

If you’re feeling stressed or otherwise struggling with your mental health, making arrangements to work from home for at least part of the week could be the way to go.

Are there any downsides to working from home?

As with everything in life, working from home comes with pros and cons. There are plenty of benefits, but you should also consider the negatives before speaking to your boss about a more flexible working schedule. Some things to consider when making your decision are:

  • Isolation: Some people really enjoy the social dynamic of a working environment. Since work can provide a location to meet others and make friends, removal from this environment can be depressing for some. Whether or not you will feel lonely working from home will ultimately depend on how often you intend to do it, your personality, your relationships with co-workers and your accessibility of resources to keep in touch.
  • Distraction: Many people feel less distracted being in control of their environment and working in their own space, but this is not the case for everyone. Workers with young children, for instance, may find they’re continually interrupted if no-one else is available to mind them. Some people also have difficulty separating home from work and may be tempted to use some of the time in the day to take care of other responsibilities. Things to consider are your own self-discipline, as well as who else will be home with you.
  • Missing out on developments: Things can happen very quickly within the working environment and without being there in person, you may find yourself missing out on important updates. If you’re working from home, speak to your boss about trading emails or instant messages to ensure you’re staying in the loop.
  • Working hours: While working from home can present you with the option to work better-suited hours, some people have a tendency to overwork in this scenario. You may feel the pressure to prove yourself and your abilities in this new arrangement. You also may not register it’s 5pm in the same way you would in an office environment when everyone is packing up to go home. If you do decide to work from home, ensure you’re sticking to your regular hours and set yourself an alarm to let you know when it’s time to clock off.

So, should you work from home?

At the end of the day, the decision to work from home for at least part of the week will come down to your individual needs. Well, unless you’re reading this during the coronavirus lockdowns, in which case working from home isn’t a choice at all.

In general, however, if you’re less concerned about the social aspects of a working environment and feel you have a good level of self-control, working from home can have some really positive impacts on your work-life balance and overall wellbeing. If you tend to feel lonely without the company of others or find yourself easily distracted, you may want to stick to your current working arrangement.

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