Whilst everyone initially thought the global pandemic was going to be a brief event which blew over and like returned to normality, it looking increasingly likely that the truth is rather different. Habits are being changed, lifestyles and different and employees are demanding more from their employees. How do businesses, especially those heavily reliant on ‘places of work’ react to these changes, ensuring their employees stays efficient?
As I’ve previous posted, I’ve found the whole lockdown experience quite challenging; adjusting to a new working environment, working in a team who aren’t within earshot, and still trying to deliver results has been difficult. What has become crystal clear now though, is that this isn’t going to be a brief ‘experience’ that disappears as quickly as it came – this could well be the new normal (sorry to coin the most overused phrase this year!).
Being a techie, the first thing this made me do was looking at my home set up, and see if there was anything I was missing equipment wise to ensure I stayed as efficient as possible. I mean, what else can a techie do?
|1x 27″ Monitor & 13.3″ Laptop Screen||2x 22″ Monitors & 13.3″ Laptop Screen|
|No Dock||USB-C Dock|
|Trackpad||Mouse & keyboard|
|No headset||USB Headset|
|Adjustable chair||Adjustable chair|
As you can see, this is a very basic comparison of home vs work equipment wise. When you look at it solely focusing on equipment, it looks like home isn’t much of a poor comparison to work, but even now I find challenges.
Problem #1 Screen real-estate.
I find not having 2 monitors a real chore, and as good as the 1920 x 1080 screen is on my Dell XPS 13, it doesn’t compare with having a full 22″ (even though that isn’t exactly great).
Problem #2 Environmentals
Despite me not being a fan of office lighting (its hardly the nicest to look at), at home I find myself continually closing and opening curtains to fight screen glare, opening and closing windows to deal with the ever reliable British weather – but it genuinely gets on my nerves
Problem #3 Desk Space
My employer Stagecoach have always been very generous when it comes to desk space with every member of staff having a ~2m wide desk which has been very handy when it comes to social distancing (:rolleyes:). At home, space is at a premium, and 1.2m makes it a little bit tight.
Absolutely not a problem #1 My chair
No matter where I’ve worked at, I have never found a chair comfortable. So a number of years ago, I went out and got a fantastic Herman Miller Aeron. You will recognise them from pretty much every office single scene from every single american drama. Before anyone asks, I didn’t buy it brand new (they are circa £1000), I got one second hand from an auction and despite it looking a bit tired nowadays, they are very adjustable, and super comfy with handy lumbar support. Well worth the investment!
If you’ve bothered to read all of the above, the take away is trying to ensure you have a dedicated workspace. I know a number of people reading this will say “I have kids”, or “I don’t have a spare room” or whatnot, I understand where you’re coming from. But try and and utelise what you’ve got, whether that be a dining table, or in my dad’s case, and ironing board (I actualled laughed when I saw this!). Its important to ensure that this dedicated workspace can be packed away at the end of the day, or the door closed to separate work life, from home life – otherwise you’ll never switch off!
This is has been a particularly challenging one this year, it has eased towards the end of the summer months, but in the UK, particuarly in the Manchester area, is heading back towards further social distancing measures.
Over the past 6 months most businesses, public and private have adopted video conferencing / collaboration software, whether that be Teams, Zoom or Webex. I’ve gone into detail on them in a few of my other posts so won’t go into detail on their features, but I will talk a little about their uses from a social interaction perspective.
A few ex-colleagues regularly take part in ‘brew mornings’ (how northern!) and Zoom meeting at a virtual pub, which looks hilarious. And although these, on the face of it, seem to be a bit of a gimic, a lot of businesses and employees have been making use of these since lockdown 6 months ago – so they clearly hold value. People who live alone may need that interaction for their own mental health, and there has been a numerous articles regarding the longer-term affect of mental health (Mental Health Foundation and NHS) whilst being at home, so make sure you get involved if your business runs them, or start one up if they don’t!
This sounds like the most bizarre heading to consider, but I know a number of my colleagues, me included have had Internet issues whilst working from home. I think a lot of the challenges have been the result of the whole family utelising the Internet in one way or another. Just a few months ago, one of my colleagues informed me that his poor router was being battered by his daughter watching Disney+, his son on his PS4, his wife watching Netflix, all whilst he was attempting to work via VPN on a Teams video call. I’ve even read an thread of reddit where someone had hit his monthly limit on his broadband contract with his ISP which prevented him working for 3 days – a real world problem I honestly hadn’t considered.
Lastly, this was well publicised in the media was ISPs globally struggling for bandwidth on a regional and national scale (Financial Times). There were calls both in Europe and across the pond in the US for the streaming behemoths (Netflix, Facebooks, et al) to limit and throttle their services to prevent failure of the global network. A stark reminder to us all that just a small change in our habits leaves a global communications network on the edge!
When lockdown started, this section wasn’t a problem for me. My wife was on maternity leave and my first born child was in the house, so in some ways lockdown was a benefit for me. I was able to reguarly nip downstairs, feed him a bottle or play with him for a few minutes. Now my wife is back at work, and the house is empty again – meaning there isn’t the same incentive to step away from the computer.
I’ve tried setting alarms on my phone to get me off my chair, but its made no difference so I’m looking for alternatives to ensure I’m not sat at my desk all day other than for lunch, water top-ups and toilet breaks! If you’ve got any suggestions – I’m all ears!
Before all the non-InfoSec people jump on the security-bashing bandwagon, this is still kinda relevant. No, you’re not going to get some weird peeping tom stood on a ladder outside your home office window looking (if you do, I suggest calling the police), and I’m sure you’re wife or child isn’t going to leak business-sensitive data to your closest rivals or local media, but there are elements that you need to be weary of.
First up, VPN. Yes, I know we (probably) all have it, and have had for years, but I’m sure many of you are able to turn it off and still access work tools. Believe me, its worth doing – the only ‘defence’ between you and Office 365 for example is your Windows firewall. No next-gen firewall with IDS/IPS, URL checking, web app firewalls, anti-virus/anti-malware – the list goes on. Put your VPN on, and unless your IT runs some weird setup – you’ll be protected exactly as you are in the office.
Physical Security is next, and no I don’t mean having Hulk Hogan as a bouncer at your front door. I mean ensuring that your laptop isn’t left in view on your sofa or dining table. It sounds obvious – but techies (generally) get good laptops, MBPs or XPS’ – they are worth stealing and people will.
So what things will I look to do at home. I think a lot of my frustrations come from the environmentals which affect my productivity. So either a second monitor will be needed, or going down the ultra-wide monitor route like Michael Cade at Veeam. There are plenty of good options from the likes of Dell which satisfy my requirement there, its just the cost which is a little eyewatering.
Desk wise, I think longer term I’d like to try and squeeze a 2m desk into this space, given my working from home is highly likely to stay permanent a few days a week. It’ll also be helpful for my wife who works from home on occasion too.
Other than that, learning to take breaks will make a difference for me, too often do I stay at my desk for 4+ hours straight despite me preaching to the masses about how bad it is for them! Hope this has been helpful for just a few people, even if it just spawns a thought or two.