Safe Surfing with Virtual Public Networks

Ah, privacy. It may be something of a relic of the past these days, as every website seems to track your surfing to either try and sell you something or do something even more nefarious, often involving African princes and lost inheritances or the (Not Really) Canadian Revenue Agency and iTunes gift cards.

Who hasn’t searched for something on Amazon or eBay and wound up getting pushed advertising for the same product (or alternatives) for weeks no matter where you were travelling on the web? I once put some car tires in a cart at one site, changed my mind, and then had that almost-purchase haunt me like some kind of spurned spirit for months all over the net. Call it the Ghost of Radials Past.

But you don’t have to make it so easy. And if you are now working, shopping, and surfing for fun from your home office, you have an obligation to ensure that outside agencies cannot track your activities. This is, of course, also smart practice for anyone and everyone, given the number of scams, ransom attacks, and other cyber crimes being perpetrated today.

So get yourself a VPN. What’s that mean, you may ask? Well, a VPN is a Virtual Private Network. This functions as kind of a shortcut around your ISP (Internet Service Provider), blocking the ability to observe what you do online. While that provider can see that you are connecting to a VPN, everything from that point on goes through that VPN. And VPNs–the good ones that charge a subscription fee, at any rate–do not track or keep logs, which means you are as close to anonymous as it is possible to be online.

Here’s a good way to envision how this works. Think of the internet as a big apartment building. If you’re using a VPN, you can only be seen at the front door of that building. Once you go inside, you can head to any address you want without being monitored. If you’re not using a VPN, you’re allowing your internet service provider to follow you from door to door, and keep a log of every address you visit.

This sounds rather complicated to the average person. It isn’t. Here is what you need to do to get online with a VPN:

1. Pick a VPN provider. There are a lot of very good ones online. I won’t recommend a specific one, as I have not tried all of the better choices to be able to provide a fair assessment. A quick Google search will lead to countless reviews. Some of the better bets include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, IP Vanish, StrongVPN, and more. Expect to pay anywhere from $60-100 US per year for full VPN service, either in a lump sum or as a monthly subscription.

2. Do NOT sign on with a “free” VPN. Nothing is truly free. Avoid these supposedly gratis companies, who could well pay for their operating expenses by tracking and selling your data. Speed is also a major factor here. Remember that you are routing your internet traffic away from your ISP and onto the VPN servers. This can mean a hit to speed and connection stability. With a good, subscription-based VPN such as the ones noted above, you will not see any speed decreases or connectivity down times. The VPN that I use actually seems to make my surfing faster, for the most part.

3. Install the VPN company’s proprietary app. Most VPN subscriptions include the ability to install an app on a set number of devices like PCs, phones, and tablets. I’ll just cover the PC in detail here, but the apps are similar on all devices. The VPN service that I use has a basic Windows tray app that starts automatically whenever the computer boots up. I use this app to choose a current location from hundreds of options all over the planet, spread across nearly 100 countries. There is even a built-in kill switch, so if my net connection ever goes down, even for a split-second, all internet traffic is instantly halted to preserve my privacy. I even have access to 24/7 online support, so I can send text questions to live operators if I ever encounter any issues.

4. Head online as usual. Do your thing, for work or play. Yes, it really is that easy. VPNs have evolved from what was once reserved for techies to a set-it-and-forget-it service that is as extremely user-friendly.

And that is about it for getting started with a VPN. Given the surge of remote work since COVID-19 arrived on the scene in February, and the inevitable rise in cyber crime that spring into action to take advantage of this, you need to protect yourself as much as possible when online. Make your first line of defense a VPN.

Cheers!

Home Office Frills–Because It Isn’t All About Work

COVID-19. Economic turmoil. Restaurants and theatres closed. Sports leagues shuttered. Grocery store shopping in hazmat gear. Cooped up working from home.

Doesn’t sound like fun, does it? And it isn’t. While we couch what’s been happening over the past couple of months in sterile conversations about what we’re calling the “Great Remote Work Experiment,” this is a decidedly unsettling time for most of us. So don’t even try to pretend that everything is normal. Be easy on yourself if you’re not as focused or productive as you would like to be. We are living through the worst pandemic in a century. You should not freak out. But you also do not have to pretend this is all cotton candy and puppies.

One way to deal with the stress is to have fun with your home office. Chances are good that you have been and will be spending more time here than ever before. Make sure that it isn’t all about work by adding creature comforts. Here are a few ideas to make your home office a little more home and a little less office.

1. Set up a good music system. Okay, this isn’t necessarily for everyone. But I know that easy access to music has always been part of my working environment, both at home and in whatever external office I have occupied. If this is important to you as well, take the time to build a proper system either in your home office or in a nearby room. Use an amp and speakers that you enjoy listening to, not just whatever your PC spits out to internal speakers or crappy workplace desktop models. I go a little more hardcore here than most, with a small desktop amp, a tube amp to warm up that harsh digital sound, a DAC, and good bookshelf speakers, running lossless tracks from my own music collection in JRiver Media Center. There are plenty of options available to make this simpler. But if tunes are important to you, make music a big part of your home office.

2. Subscribe to a good streaming service for music, current affairs, and podcasts. The number of options here are incredible, whether you want to send music to your desktop, stay current with the news, or listen to true crime podcasts. There are countless free online radio stations as well, whether you want to listen to the AM station down the street or jazz from Amsterdam. Again, take the time to look at different options and match a service with your interests. Tidal, for instance, is great for higher resolution music, but it’s more expensive than rivals Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify.

3. Adorn your workplace with art that you enjoy. Remember that this isn’t the actual office, so you don’t have to worry about offending any sensibilities, calling down the wrath of HR, or even staying with something staid to maintain workplace street cred. That could mean a velvet Elvis, moving your kids’ artwork into the office from the fridge, or whatever else relaxes and inspires. I have a Milton Glaser Dylan beside my monitor, framed classic horror and sci-fi movie posters on the wall behind me, and a boarded Amazing Spider-Man #122 on the other side of my desk. Indulge yourself here. Create a work space that is as much clubhouse as it is office.

4. Collectibles and other décor also have a role in any home office. Don’t crowd out the actual work with, say, your spectacular arrangement of Star Wars action figures. But reserving space for tchotkes and collectibles can have the same impact as eating comfort food on a stressful day. No further comment on the geeky stuff I have in my office, although I will note that I always use a Zoom backdrop during meetings.

5. Establish a readily accessible place in your office for drinks and snacks. While you might not have the room for a mini-fridge, designate a spot for actual comfort food, a kettle, coffee maker, and so forth. This lets you graze during the day and grab quick pick-me-ups as needed. Also, having food and drink at hand can be helpful during tele-conference meetings, when you can’t just run to the kitchen. Having refreshments in the office also helps with the ever-present battle against procrastination, as heading downstairs for a drink or a snack can easily turn into a lengthier break than you were intending to take.

However you do it, spend some me time on making your home office homier. Your mental and emotional well-being will thank you. Happiness will increase your productivity. A little music, Robert Bateman on the walls, Hummel figurines on the desk, whatever works. No judgment here. Just take care of yourself.

Cheers!

Remote Working: Pandemic Fad or the Real Deal?

We all know that remote working is as spreading almost as rapidly as the damned coronavirus itself, but does it have staying power? Is working from home really going to be the new normal, an integral part of corporate culture forevermore? Or will it burn out as the pandemic danger recedes and people go back to the familiar old 9-to-5?

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say “Maybe.” Honestly, right now it’s hard to know where we’re headed. If I was kidnapped and hauled off to a Vegas casino right now–and I’d have to be tied up and thrown into the cargo hold of a plane to go to Sin City these days, with the mayor down there threatening to turn her town into a petri dish with slots–I would put cash on “Yes, we’re not going back to the office anytime soon.” But I’d hedge that bet and move the money around a bit to minimize risk.

Human nature is awfully hard to predict. While people are afraid right now, we forget our fears awfully damn fast when danger recedes. So I’m not sure home offices will look all that appealing once the lockdowns start to lift. Many are suffering from cabin fever right now, being unable to get out much or at all with almost everything shut down. Unless you’re into bowling in Georgia, of course, and then you’re all good.

A lot of people working from home for the first time at the moment are also not experiencing what regular working from home is truly like. This is a special situation, to say the least. New remote workers are crammed together with makeshift work arrangements, maybe with a laid-off partner at home, and maybe with a kid or three as well since all the schools are closed. That is a long way from the typical peace and quiet of working in a home office, likely with a spouse off to work elsewhere or secluded in his or her own office down the hallway, and the kids away learning their A-B-Cs.

Being thrust into working from home has not been without its other hiccups, too. Remote working has social and psychological challenges, especially if you live alone. The sense of isolation can be powerful, and C-19 hit so suddenly that many simply had no time to mentally or physically prepare for it. Then there are the tech issues of quickly trying to set up a home office, so you can do your job outside of the regular workplace. And the let’s not forget about the inevitable communication quibbles that come when a team that usually has its members all in the same place for 35 hours+ a week suddenly has to do all of its talking and planning on tele-conferences or over email and other forms of text messaging.

So I could easily see a snap back coming. C-19 restrictions finally lift and I can envision many, many workers racing back to the office, desperately looking for some sort of freedom, human contact beyond the home family unit, and an escape. I can already hear that famous old Simpsons sound effect–the slamming door, racing footsteps, and car tires peeling out–echoing all over the country on Victory Over Covid Day.

With all that said, remote working is still here to stay. C-19 may or may not spark an immediate and permanent revolution. But working from home will continue to grow because it, well, works, for both employer and employee.

Study after study has shown that more flexible working arrangements lead to tremendous benefits for everyone. (I could cite examples, but there are so many that it would be like footnoting a reference to the sun rising in the east.) Employees gain greater job satisfaction, productivity, and a positive work-life balance. Employers gain a happier workforce and all of the good things that come with enhanced productivity, which leads to more focused employees committed to sticking around. Plus everybody saves some money, with less emphasis on such expenses as commuting and the need to maintain office buildings for staff.

The Great Workplace Experiment of 2020 has come with a ton of hurdles. None of this sudden shift to working from home has been particularly easy for anyone. There will be some bounce back to the traditional office. We may have suddenly moved to a remote work culture for all of the wrong reasons, thanks to the devastation of COVID-19. But we will continue to cultivate and expand this remote work culture for all of the right ones, as it is simply the better way forward for both employer and employee.

Cheers!

Tech Time! Gear Advice for the Home Office Newbie

Let’s give some love to the IT guys. Especially right now, as the move to home offices forced by COVID-19 has resulted in all of us needing to become more hands-on when it comes to technology. Whether your company is providing you with IT advice or you’re a freelancer doing it alone, the need to be self-sufficient at home is a big deal right now.

And what does that mean exactly? Well, it starts with assessing what you have on your desktop and around the house. Many have already done this, as we are now getting awfully close to beginning the third calendar month of C-19 in North America. But as we all settle in to remote working for what’s looking like the long haul–and maybe even for good, depending on how many companies decide to turn this crisis into a great opportunity to save money and improve the lives of their employees–it’s a good time to take stock.

1. Invest in a good workstation PC as the anchor of your home office. You don’t have to go crazy with some $10,000 rig capable of playing bleeding-edge games through 2025 or anything, but you should go beyond what was acceptable for a basic work machine a couple of months ago. Don’t scrimp on a video card, either, especially if you’re doing a fair amount of video-conferencing. Programs like Zoom can occupy a significant amount of processing power, so ensure that your machine can handle the demands of video calls. Oh, and also pick up a UPS, or Uninterruptible Power Supply, to keep your workstation running if the juice goes down.

2. Consider going to a multiple monitor setup on your main home office desk to enhance productivity. I have to admit that I always thought this was overkill, particularly when I watched someone actually set up three screens in an in-person meeting. Kinda hard to do that and also pay attention to the people around the table. But then I got used to doing it at home with a laptop and saw how useful it was to focus on main work projects on one screen while checking in with supplementary tasks on the other. Now I’m just unhappy that I can’t fit a pair of 32” monitors on my desk without evicting speakers, a few gadgets, and a cool Darth Vader action figure.

3. Do not forget about your internet service and router. While the standard 40Mbps down cable connection is generally all you need to Netflix and chill with a couple of TVs at the same time and let the kiddos play Minecraft, working from home may require an upgrade. Consider calling your ISP and looking at greater speeds, particularly if you will be doing video-conferencing from. This is particularly important if you have a lot of little people under one roof right now with the schools closed. You don’t want to lose connections during meetings. Spend an extra few bucks on a solid router (this generally means dumping the subpar one you got from your ISP) to ensure that your wifi strength is solid around the home, and even out to your yard if you plan to get some sunlight this spring. You can go with a strong tri-band central router or a mesh system (generally best if you have a larger home and need to spread out your coverage). Big brands like ASUS, Google, Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link have models to suit all needs.

4. Ensure that you have a reliable printer and scanner or an all-in-one unit. This was my first challenge to overcome when C-19 locked me down, because A.) I despise printers, B.) I rarely use them, and C.) I’ve grown accustomed to using printers elsewhere (mooching) on those rare occasions I need a hard copy of something. I was able to get by with a basic HP all-in-one inkjet. YMMV, though, depending on how much or how often you need to print physical copies of work. Laser printers have become increasingly affordable, even good colour models. There are tons of choices, of course, making it impossible to throw out any recommendations. As always, start with online reviews and match your machine to needs and budget.

5. A good smartphone and sufficient data plan are vital. This may be a “Well, duh” moment for most, but it’s surprising how many people–especially here in Canada, land of some of the priciest cellular services on the planet–cheap out on both phone and plan. I know, because up until the start of this year, I was one of them. You don’t have to splurge on the latest and greatest Samsung or Apple superphones, but make sure you have something with enough power to handle business apps and video-conferencing. And that your carrier plan offers enough data, so you’re not stranded mid-month. All of your data usage will be going up right now, so plan ahead.

Dig in. Don’t be intimidated by having to be your own IT provider. Spend some time with online research and learn about what’s out there, so you can make the best buying decisions and operate the most efficient home office that you can.

Cheers!

Happy Together: Keeping the Boss Satisfied From Home

Everything changes when the boss isn’t just down the hallway. With corporate teams now spread all over the place working from home, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are checking in with your manager on a regular basis. Keeping the big guy or gal happy is vital–particularly right now during the C-19 crisis, with so much of these working arrangements new to so many people. Everyone is scrambling to keep operations as normal as possible in these extraordinary times. Do your part to be a solution, not a problem.

The biggest responsibility you have is, well, being responsible. Although many are working from home out of sheer necessity at the moment, remember that remote working involves trust. It’s a privilege. So start by establishing your hours of availability. Let your supervisor know when and how you are working. Maybe this will just mirror office hours. Maybe this will involve a switch to deadlines and focused work that is not as heavily linked to a 9-5 schedule. Just be sure that you are all on the same page here.

Remember that you are still working as part of a team. In addition to completing tasks, whether on deadline or as part of regular office hours, you need to be there for your fellow workers. When you are all in an office together working a set schedule, this is as easy as walking down the hall or picking up the phone. When you are all at home, you need to pay more attention to messages and organize communications. You don’t want to be the guy who leaves people hanging for hours or even days on answers to questions, requests for a resource, and so forth.

With that said, you also have to establish some boundaries with the boss. One of the big potential pitfalls of working from home is trading in the old 9-5 for a 24-7 where you are expected to be available around the clock. If you are working from home for the first time, be sure to talk all of this out with your supervisor. Working times and responsibilities need to be clarified to everyone. Otherwise, things will go off the rails.

Keep things personable whenever possible. Working from home makes it easier to compartmentalize and separate the two worlds of life and workplace. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as out of sight can be out of mind. Remain visible as a person, especially to your superiors. Don’t just fade into the background as the face on the occasional video call and the name on emails. Your career may well depend on it.

Go into the office whenever possible. Don’t head in unnecessarily, especially right now given the C-19 restrictions in effect across much of North America. But don’t be a stranger. Stop over for in-person meetings, take somebody out to lunch, and so forth. Use virtual methods to maintain office relationships, too. Have video chats that are not strictly about work matters. Pick up the phone instead of sending emails. That sort of thing.

All of the above really breaks down to three simple words that you need to follow when working remotely: Don’t isolate yourself. That can be easier said than done during a pandemic lockdown, but it’s vital to make it clear that you are still a key member of the office team, even when that office may be at your home.

Cheers!

Should I Wear Pants? The Secrets of Video Conference Success

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Video conferencing in the age of COVID-19 is both impressive and intimidating. Gone are the days when you could rest assured that your coworkers on the conference call wouldn’t be able to judge your lack of makeup, tangled hair, and dishes piled up on the kitchen counter. Now they want to see you as well as hear you. Thanks a lot, Zoom. 

With that said, it isn’t all bad. Being able to see everyone in a meeting is a net positive, no matter how much you want to hide your slovenly homemaking. Here are five key tips and tricks to getting the most out of video conference meetings: 

1. Be prepared and be on time. This means that you should test your tech (video, sound, and don’t forget about lighting), position your camera properly (please, no up-nostril shots or a view from below like you’re about to ask somebody to put lotion in a basket), and ready everything else you will need during the meeting like notepads and devices. You want to enter the call like you were walking into a real meeting room. Not being prepared for a video conference is just like showing up late in person; it just doesn’t look professional. 

2. And speaking of looking professional, be sure and dress the part. Dress code is typically a little more relaxed for video conferences, so you generally don’t need to throw on a suit (which will likely be seen as overkill, especially if everyone on the call knows that you’re Zooming in from your house). But be sure to ditch the ratty U2 t-shirt, do something with your hair, and maybe even remember to take a moment to shave (not always easy during the razor holiday that is the C-19 crisis).

3. Practice etiquette during the video conference by muting your mike when not speaking and shutting off your camera feed if you need to get up (which can seem rude; also, this way you don’t have to wear pants for the call!). Try and remember to look into the camera when speaking, not the video feed on your monitor. This gives you a more authoritative presence, particularly if you need to make a point. Looking at the camera also means that you’re looking at your coworkers, which removes some of the awkwardness of a video conference and gives it a more conversational feel.

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4. Stay on point. While it can be very tempting to multitask when sitting at the computer, especially if the meeting is wandering into a topic that you’re not personally invested in, this comes off extremely rude. Don’t be the guy who’s constantly checking emails, typing away, or looking at a phone.

5. Finally, don’t go crazy on video-conferencing backgrounds. There is a lot of background overkill going on these days as people set up green screens and have fun with this new normal. Yet even though it’s tempting to play with the background settings so you look like you’re on a beach or on the bridge of the Enterprise, these images and videos can look tacky in business settings. Less is more. Feel free to use something if you want to preserve your privacy, have a messy office, or are concerned about kids or pets wandering in from stage left. Just pick something somewhat professional, like an office or even a snazzy café.

Any other ideas from readers? Please share in the comments here or on our SLX Remote Works Tips and Tricks Facebook page.

Cheers!

Working Without a Net Thanks to Tech Tools

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One of the trickiest things about working from home is actually also one of the trickiest things about working in an office. Efficiency is a challenge no matter if you’re in a cubicle farm with a dozen co-workers crammed into the stalls around you or you’re logging in from a home office with a cat in your lap and a kid in the kitchen.

When working remotely, though, you might as well consider yourself as something like a tightrope walker. You are truly up in the rare air of the big top without a net below. In an office, you don’t always have to be working at maximum efficiency when it comes to communications, addressing work projects, and so forth. Sure, it helps. But when you’re on site, there are loads of easy options for face-to-face meetings, wandering into the next office for a pep talk, or simply grabbing lunch with your coworkers and coming to grips with a big assignment. Osmosis is a real thing in the office world.

At home, forget it. A lot of the supports of the in-office environment just aren’t available when you are on your own at home. So this means that you need to take advantage of the tech tools on offer for remote workers today.

First up is a good way to facilitate communication. Forget about email and texting. While both may be great for quick queries, they don’t let you really talk, or focus your conversations around a specific task or set of tasks. For this you need something a little more robust, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Hangouts Chat, Discord, or one of the many other popular team messaging programs out there. 

One potential caveat? Letting things get complicated with too many channels or groups. Assess what you’re doing every so often with your team, otherwise these programs can create conversations as convoluted and as impossible to follow as email threads.

Project management software is also vital. What you and your team here will employ will generally be the choice of your employer. Just make sure that you use whatever is provided here. While you of course still have to check in with your manager when working remotely, you need to rely on a digital assistant as well to keep you on track.

Remember, you can’t just wander into the next office to ask a question. So let your project management program guide you. Some of the best bets currently include Asana, Basecamp, Allthings, and nTask, all with varying features and costs.

Lastly, you need an online filing cabinet that everyone uses to track and share files. Chances are awfully good that you were using something like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or another cloud system even before you started working from home. But now that you’re not physically present in the office much or even at all, everyone on your team needs to rely on one resource. That way, everyone can be independent and efficient. Once more, remember that you can’t easily talk to your office neighbour if you’re looking for a particular document or image file.

In some ways, relying on tech tools as a remote worker is a little like being able to delegate authority. Be sure to embrace the desktop options that you need to be successful, as even though you may now be working from a home office hundreds or even thousands of miles from the HQ, you can’t afford to act like you’re completely on your own.

Cheers!

Time Keeps on Ticking

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Time. It’s not only the subject of some of my favourite songs that I love to listen to when ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, it’s crucial to working from home. Time management is absolutely crucial to being successful as a remote worker, as you have to preserve a good work-life balance without going overboard as a workaholic or a slacker.

Honesty time. This has long been a challenge for me. I have always been a self-employed remote worker, typically working on deadlines instead of with any sort of regular routine set around a standard office schedule. I also typically worked freelance, which inevitably led to feast or famine periods where I had loads of work or none at all.

As a result, I became accustomed to binge working. At times, I would go right around the clock. I pulled all-nighters the same way that I did as an undergrad, when I was forever up until dawn to finish papers so that I could slide them under the prof’s office door on deadline day. And there is something exciting about this approach. It’s all or nothing, seat-of-the-pants gotta get the job done!

I’ll always remember working a conference in LA, staying up all night playing cards with friends in Hollywood, getting onto a plane at dawn (crazy turbulence on the flight home, couldn’t sleep a wink), being hauled off to a house party by the friend who was picking me up from the airport (thanks, Mike), and finally going home to edit a tech book on deadline. By the end of all this, I had been up around 48 hours. I don’t know how I got the edit done coherently, but I did. I never heard any complaints about it, at any rate. And their cheque sure cleared. So mission accomplished. 

But I absolutely don’t recommend this way of life now. All-night blitzes are okay and even fun when you’re young and single and can handle it. They aren’t nearly as enjoyable when you’re in your 40s, have a spouse and/or kids, and responsibilities in life beyond simply taking what they’re givin’ ‘cause you’re workin’ for a living.

Remote working is great. It frees you. It inspires you. And it can improve your quality of life, especially if — sales plug alert — you’re working from home in a place like the St. Lawrence River Region, an area that practically forces a superb work-life balance upon you with its wealth of outdoor beauty and recreation. 

But there are some serious caveats. You can easily let work take over your life for lengthy periods of time, which will then force you to take similarly extended breaks when you burn out. Remember that slow and steady always wins this race. Your sanity and physical health will thank you, too.

Basically, don’t be young me. Even if you have the luxury of working on deadlines. Set a schedule. Set some boundaries. Remember that with the change over to remote work for so many of us in the brand new C-19 world, we are all in this for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep that in mind and schedule your time appropriately, so you reach the finish line in health and happiness.

Cheers!

Newbies! Five Top Tips for Working from Home for the First Time

Who likes lists? Apparently everybody. Every other article on the web seems to have been crunched into a list of the best ways to change your oil, depilate your nether regions, bake brownies, or whatever. So here are SLX’s top five tips for those working from home for the very first time: 

1. Scheduling

At the top of the charts with a bullet is maintaining a schedule. Working from home can easily go one of two bad ways if you don’t set limits and schedule your time 

Those two bad options? Getting consumed by your work and making sweet love to your desktop PC and/or phone 24/7. Or the other extreme, which is hitting up matinee movies or the gym (well, not right now with C-19, but one can dream…) when you should be checking in with the bossman. 

So maintain regular work hours as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be 9-5. But keep a routine. It will keep you sane. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with coworkers and managers. You’re working from home, you’re not an indentured servant. 

That said, this will be your biggest challenge when working from home. I’ve been mostly working from home for over 20 years, and it is an eternal dilemma, especially when working on deadline. Be kind to yourself if you lapse, but get back up on the horse as soon as possible.

2. Compartmentalizing

Never let working from home take over your home. Designate a work space, whether you create a formal home office or set up in a kitchen nook. Keep it separate from your home spaces as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll soon find that work is creeping into every aspect of your life, from having dinner with the family to when you’re trying to Netflix and chill in the evenings.

At the same time, feel free to move around on occasion to avoid going stir crazy. I take some Zoom calls in my office, others in my sunroom just to mix things up and get some much-needed vitamin D. I’m also looking forward to getting out on my deck when the weather improves. Just keep those locales temporary by not establishing a permanent work presence in them. Remember that computers, notebooks, etc. live in your office. They just occasionally vacation elsewhere.

3. Work Communicating

Proper communicating is vital to successfully working from home. You cannot do enough of it. Be sure to check in frequently with managers and coworkers. Set meeting times so you hook up for a quick chat via video-conferencing, even if you don’t have a set agenda or are working on a specific project that requires feedback or supervision

Face time is still important. Talking is still important. Even when working from home, the human connection is crucial if you want to make a workplace effective and productive. Make sure that you build and maintain personal relationships so that you are real coworkers, not just names on emails and Slack messages.

4. Personal Communicating

One of the best and worst things about working from home is the lack of interpersonal relationships in the office. Sure, you dodge that guy who wants to tell you about cutting the lawn on the weekend. But you also miss out on fun little interactions that make office life enjoyable and human.

Take the time each and every day to reach out to someone, either a coworker or a friend from outside of the workplace. This is particularly important for those who live alone, but it’s also key if home with a spouse and kids, as a sense of isolation can creep up on you when you’re focusing on a black screen for most of the day…even in a house full of people.

5. Me Timing

One of the big pluses about working at home is freedom. So don’t chain yourself to a desk. Power walk around the block or hit the stationary bike. Go out for lunch (again, one can dream…) in a local café, or take lunch to a nearby park. Hook up with a nearby friend for a coffee or a chat. I know that living here in the St. Lawrence River Region, there are loads of great options to get out and enjoy the riverside, even if I have just 20 minutes for a quick walk.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Feel free to post what works for you either here or on the SLX Remote Work Tips and Tricks Facebook page.

Cheers!

Talking the Talk

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Communication.

That single word is the key to the establishment of every successful relationship, which of course underpins every successful workplace. If you aren’t getting along with your boss, or have even had some strained casual conversations with coworkers — anyone else bombed a joke so badly that you worried about HR being called in? asking for a friend — chances are awfully good it’s because you weren’t communicating.

I first started working from home in 1997. It was a freelance writing and editing position in the electronic entertainment field (gaming, mostly). I did this for over 20 years on a full-time basis for virtually every magazine or website in the field, as well as a tech book publisher. 

My first gig was working as an editor for a UK-based site called Games Domain, probably the first pro gaming site on the net. We had writers all over the world. I had a diverse crew contributing to my section of the website from the US, the UK, Israel, and Switzerland. All were professionals in various fields. One was an investment banker (who has since gone on to become a neurosurgeon). Another was a university professor who specialized in the history of medicine. So, I’m not talking about Cheetos-scarfing dudes on mom’s basement couch.

We all were smart. We all shared common interests and even backgrounds. We all still fought like hell. As an editor, it was my job to dole out assignments, edit the articles (mostly game reviews, but also opinion pieces, previews, and corporate profiles), and get them posted online. But my main role was bringing people together. That wasn’t easy when we were all strangers in real life. Battles erupted over everything from first-person versus third-person voice to a memorable scrap about referring to (in a derogatory way!) Klaus Barbie of all people in a soccer piece.

But we got through it. We simply resolved to communicate more. To get to know one another as more than just email addresses. I started email threads that turned into longstanding conversations ranging well beyond games and work duties and into who we were as people. That led to understanding. Patience. One pointed argument that turned into one guy (not me, honest) crying tears of gratitude over how much we had come together as friends as well as coworkers. All of this led to a vastly improved work environment where we truly enjoyed each other’s virtual company and created some great editorial content for the site.

There is no magic technological solution to the communication question. We solved this problem back in 1997, when the net was so new and so dial-uppy that all we really had was email, dammit, and we made do with that when we weren’t walking to school uphill through four feet of snow in bare feet. Hell, even the glory days of ICQ were still a couple of years in the future. 

Talk. Online or off or both. Same concept, same end results. Get to know and understand one another. With modern tech like Zoom and other videoconferencing options bringing the workplace right into your home office, there is no excuse for not getting to know one another, to not forging solid working relationships even if you never meet your coworkers in person. 

We did it in 1997. You can do it in 2020. 

Cheers!