Now that’s your problem: A Short Guide to the required Infrastructure for Working from Home

Working from where you want is awesome. You get to be more in control of your workspace, put up any poster your want, have a picture of Oprah on your desk, save on gas, and avoid talk radio.

Being in control of your environment is something that sort of sneaks up on you though. Until you have a power outage (not that likely), internet outage (highly likely GRACIAS COMCAST), or coffee outage (sweet zesus please no) you won’t appreciate the fact that it is both a freedom and a responsibility.

You need a minimum set of stuff to work from home comfortably. Most remote workers just pull a chair up to their existing home office and just start working then slowly replace things over time as they realize that things that were the company’s problems are now their problems.

A slightly less than definitive list of your new problems

  • Coffee/tea/cocaine
  • Hardware and The Network
  • Ergonomics
  • Noise

Coffee, Tea, Cocaine

So your old job provided free coffee.  When you get your oil changed at one of those 10 minute lube places where they take parts of your car out and show them to you to shock you
(look at how pink this oil filter is sir!) – even these places have free (slices of) coffee.  But sadly there is no free coffee at your house.  Or tea.  Or Mountain Dew.  Or Mountain Dew Tea (read the New Yorker TO THE EXTREME).

So you start out with a $20 coffee maker, then you move to a Keurig, then a nicer coffee machine, then a coffee press, then essentially the machine that is in the Starbucks, then the machine that is in the only coffee-shop still around after Starbucks came to your town.   Anticipate these costs and buy something that prevents you from going out for coffee/tea/cocaine everyday.

Hardware and The Network

Your employer and coworkers don’t care about the difference between you being offline due to an IT issue or you watching Nacho Libre instead of working.

I’d suggest the following bare minimum:

Create a Plan B connection

If you have Comcast or some other dependence on an entity not motivated primarily by their service performance or your overall satisfaction with them then you are going to have Internet outages. Now is a great time to figure out who in your neighborhood uses DSL (if you have cable) or Cable (if you use DSL) or dial-up (if you live next to your Mom). Now is also a good time to crack their password aka learn their kid’s/dog’s names and ages.

Create a Plan B location

If your power or internet goes out for a few minutes just ride it out, but if you need to jet somewhere else in the middle of a conference call for example be ready to do so. Have your bag packed and have a location in mind within 5-10 minutes of your home. Don’t think coffeeshop – think Dunkin’ Donuts.

Create a Plan B device

Your company probably provided you with a computer. Great. Be aware of what happens if your kid takes it and puts it into the toilet then throws it into the backyard where a wolf grabs it and runs off and it isn’t a wolf that you recognize so you can’t follow it. Kids are totally unpredictable. Your personal computer can run VM software and have basic email and work connectivity. Your phone can check email and let people know that you are offline for a bit if your primary machine goes out. Take the time to get anything that is easy to get up and running in places before the worse happens.

Ergonomics

I used to work for a large company that had remote workers policies and websites and salary tables and probably a budget line item for buying people headsets in the southeast region. They employed three (aka tres) people in an Ergonomics department to help people not get overuse injuries at work. One of these people specialized in “remote assessments” which is basically when you videotape yourself in your home office working and this total TSA-wanna-be-weirdo watches it and gives you advice about your setup.

I thought that this was a little bit silly at the time but its quite wise on the part of the company. At a typical office job they have spent about 1K on a nice chair for you and a nice desk. At home you might be working from an old sewing desk and a lawn chair. As a recent “victim”* of a back injury I’ve found that my ergonomic setup at home was a leading cause. I have invested in the following:

  • Standing desk setup
  • Sitting desk upgrade (better chair, raise the height of my desk)

You owe it to yourself to work on this. Some basic information:

  • 90 angles are better than slumping
  • The middle of your monitor should be right where you look when your neck is neutral (if you use a laptop its probably too low if you use its keyboard)
  • If you are outside of the middle of the bell curve in terms of height in either direction you are move prone to back issues if you sit a lot
  • Getting up and moving often

More information secretly embedded as links in this sentence.

Noise

Some of my 87 children have some overlap with my work day after they get home from school. This means that at any point in my last 2 hours of the workday one of them can scream out “You are the worst mom ever” or “I’m going to marry Niles from One Direction and you can’t stop me” and I can’t really do anything to prevent hearing it or the people I’m on a conference call with from Iowa hearing some version of it. There are a few moves here:

  • Buy a really really good bluetooth headset with a hardware mute button. Learn to tap on it with the speed and accuracy of an old timey telegraph operator with a gun to his head
  • Buy a Daft Punk headset and work only whilst wearing it (available for purchase here)
  • Manage your schedule so that external distractions like this don’t interfere with your most productive times. I for one prefer to be on conference calls during this time rather than doing highly intense focused work (like playing Jenga with my cat).

But please enjoy the freedom

So with all this said I’ll also say that there is a list of things that simply aren’t acceptable within an office environment that are at home that might be beneficial to your productivity and your health. Keep these in mind and remember that you can make changes as you move along. A short list to get you think:

  • Standing desk and sitting desk (hard to pull off in a traditional cube farm)
  • [Advanced] Standing on your hands desk (type with a pencil in your mouth like a boss)
  • Treadmill desk – walk slowly away from cardiovascular disease as you make a crapload of typos
  • Stationary bike desk – slowly pedal as you destroy your laptop with your own sweat

 

* Victim: a person who, though years of inaction, causes a serious problem and then deals with the consequences of their own actions.