What You Need to Know About Working Remotely During a Pandemic

How to optimize your remote work experience during and after our pandemic in a new normal way of working.

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Your Work Space

Don’t work from your bed. Yes, there are all sorts of nice, comfy reasons why this might seem like a good idea. You don’t have to change out of your pajamas, it’s the shortest commute to work EVER and on those cold mornings, your bed is so warm and comfortable. But you have to trust me on this one. You need to set up a proper workspace.

  1. Do yourself a big favour and use a proper office chair. Don’t use a folding chair, a dining chair nor even an armchair. Believe me, your body will thank you for it later. It doesn’t have to be very expensive. The most important thing is that it has an adjustable seat height and provides good support for your body weight. Ergonomic office chairs would be the best type, but practically any modern office chair would be better than your lawn chair.
  2. Have two types of lights over your workspace — a general ambient light that lights up everything evenly and a desktop task lamp for lighting up documents, drawings, your keyboard and spilt coffee on your desk. Good lighting reduces eye strain. And when it comes to good video calls, it’s a must. (More on that later.) Natural indirect daylight is best. Try to avoid direct sunlight. It’s not good for vampires and also not good for your eyesight. If you’re near a window, that’s great. Just get blinds or curtains so that you can control the amount of direct sunlight that lands on your desk and monitor.
  3. If you live with other people, try to set up your desk in an area that is away from regular traffic. It needs to be an area where you can work in private away from the noise and interruptions of your family, partner or roommates. If that is physically impossible, you may need to visually and acoustically isolate yourself from everyone else. Turn your desk so that you are facing a wall and put on noise-cancelling headphones. A free-standing partition like a shoji screen or even a rolling whiteboard would help create a barrier for you to concentrate on your work with minimal interruptions.

Your Work Tools

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Compensation

Don’t forget to ask your employer if they have a compensation program for the extra expenses that you will incur by working at home. By not providing office space and office workstations to its employees, your company is saving a lot of money. It’s only fair that they pass on some of those savings to you.

  1. Office furniture.
  2. Office supplies and peripherals.
  3. Internet data and telephone/cellphone costs that are over what you normally pay before you started working from home.
  4. Home office floor area used. If you’re a contractor, you would normally factor this into your fee. It would be difficult to justify charging rent for only a portion of your home. You wouldn’t expect your mechanic to charge you for his garage lease on top of what he’s charging you do to an oil change, right? However, if you’re an employee, your company may have a formula for compensating you.
  5. Small home improvements that you need to make a functional home office. Many governments are providing financial incentives to help small businesses in the form of low-interest loans or subsidies. Your employer may also be able to help with this.
  6. The premium for any rider insurance that you might need on top of your home insurance for using your home as a place of work.

Communications

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Stack

This app is the most popular for a holistic communication platform for any remote workgroup. It scales up easily to fit any company size. It organizes conversations in channels so that any user can see every detail of a conversation in real-time from start to finish. It allows superior tracking of information than a regular email chain which as you know can get very messy with buried information and missing attachments. Upgrades allow users to integrate Stack with email and other applications to increase productivity and data management.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft wouldn’t be outdone by Stack, so this app also has a channels communication platform similar to Slack. MS Teams also has a video chat and document sharing ecosystem when you combine it with Microsoft 365.

Twist

This is a more graphic version of Slack. It organizes conversation threads in a similar way and tries to be less in-your-face with notifications than its competitors.

Meetings

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Zoom

This video meeting app is by far the best. There are certainly others that I’ve listed below, but Zoom is the easiest to use, the most reliable and has the most features. It has four basic pricing plans plus a convenient Zoom Room video conference solution that uses their own hardware. There are some basic tips that you need to know in order to have a successful video call.

  1. Adjust your camera level so that it matches your eye level.
  2. Lean a bit forward so that your shoulders are square to the camera. Pull down the back of your jacket, shirt or top to give your shoulders a clean line.
  3. When you’re talking, look into the camera and not at the screen.
  4. Unclutter the background. Avoid anything too distracting like your clown head collection. You can also replace your real background with a virtual one with Zoom.
  5. Wear colours that do not blend into your background.
  6. Turn on the Zoom Touch Up My Appearance feature because we can all use a bit of help.
  7. Upload a good profile picture of yourself that will be seen by everyone when your video is turned off.
  8. Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking to avoid background noise for everyone else on the call.

Google Meet

Video call with Google.

Skype

This was the go-to video call app before Zoom. It does have a handy live subtitle feature that translates languages on the fly. You can probably imagine how well that would work.

Microsoft Teams

Video call with Microsoft that is built into the Microsoft Teams platform.

Project Management

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Trello

This app organizes tasks using a Kanban board system. It is very graphic and intuitive. The free version has enough features for most small workgroups, but you’ll need to upgrade to a subscription version if you have a larger enterprise in order to incorporate a variety of powerful add-ons to this useful app.

Basecamp

This is an all-in-one project management solution that allows everyone in the company to communicate, coordinate, track tasks and share resources. There is only a paid subscription version, although you can try it for free. It is highly scalable and very powerful despite having a very simple user interface.

Asana

This app has a variety of templates to suit your needs. It helps you organize people and tasks as a calendar, timeline, Kanban board or a list. It has many powerful useful features that go beyond just project management. You can use it for communication, set goals, set up automation in your workflow, manage people’s workload and many other features. There is a free version as well as subscription versions.

Hive

Similar to Basecamp, this app is also an all-in-one company integration solution that has many useful task management, communication, collaboration and resource management tools. It is subscription only, but you can try it for free. It has a core set of templates to get you started quickly.

Airtable

This is a database management that allows you to organize just about anything in a very graphic way. It is highly customizable that allows you to build the exact database system that suits your needs to keep your tasks organized. It also comes with a large variety of templates. It is available as a free version as well as more feature-rich subscription versions.

Team-building

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Looking Ahead

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Mental Health

Even with all the video conferencing, telephone calls and electronic communication, you are still essentially alone. Over time this can take a toll on your mental health.

Women Workers

RBC Economics studied the effect of the pandemic on women workers in Canada and found that women’s participation in the workforce is at the lowest point in 30 years. This is mainly due to the fact some of the hardest-hit industries like retail, food services, accommodation and child education are dominated by women. Moreover, as the economies of the world reopen, women are usually the ones who will stay at home to look after their children as the fathers return to work. Even the remote working mothers will be expected to somehow manage to work and look after young children because daycares and schools are not open. All of this puts enormous strain and pressure on women workers.

Harassment

Just because you’re working on your own, that doesn’t free you from predators and abusive coworkers. The same rules of conduct apply for remote communications as they do when you’re physically in your office. If you feel that you have been harassed due to your race, gender, disability, religion, age or socioeconomic status, you need to report it to your HR department if you have one or at least to someone in management.

Your Wage and Job Security

When you’re working in a city with a high cost of living like London or San Francisco, companies pay more to attract workers to work there. Many workers live in the suburbs and commute into work to save money on housing costs, to live in more spacious surroundings or have a better quality of life for them and their families. But if you’re a remote worker, you could be 50 km away from the company office or 500 km away in another town with a lower cost of living. You could even be 10,000 km away in another country!

I work in film and write, but not necessarily at the same time. Words in An Injustice! and Slackjaw.

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