Working Remotely

Just received word this afternoon that my office will begin working remotely starting Wednesday in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For anyone that routinely works remotely - do you have any tips or best practices that someone like me would find helpful?

I’m currently overseeing a couple of (small) departments (less than five people in total), and am in charge of sales and business development for my company. Most of my time is spent overseeing all levels of studies (from feasibility to FEED, pretty much the conceptual/upfront engineering), proposals, and business development efforts. Of course, I’ll be doing a lot more teleconferencing than face-to-face meetings for a while.

I appreciate any insights or helpful hints that anyone might have. Thanks!

Note: we recently (last six months) started using Microsoft Teams, which I think will be very helpful during this time. Any tips of that platform are welcome as well!

Clear yourself lots of space on the desk and use a proper chair, mouse, screen and keyboard. The lack of distractions can be really good for letting you concentrate on complex jobs - that might mean you have to make a special effort to get up and walk around from time to time. Watch the amount of time you dedicate to a day’s work. It can be hard to stop.

Trust your team to make good use of time, but don’t abandon them. Scheduling phone calls with people can be a way of striking this balance.

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Teams looks good to me as well, though I haven’t used much of its functionality yet.

I’ll second Zeusfaber on the good desk setup. As someone who doesn’t have a good setup, I took stock of my situation today and realized I’m going to be in an ergonomic and productivity slump if/when I’m sent home to work.

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Yes, home has always been set up along the theme of “anti-work” for me. Once I get in our reclining sectional and relax, it’s sleepy time if nothing interesting is going on.

Ill second (or 3rd) zeus’ comment. Im in the attic, and have a dedicated desk (used to have it since I did some working @ home in the past, occasionally).

Also, I was able to recover an abonded/'old docking station from work (which is compatible with my current laptop), and bought myself a monitor, which is hooked to the docking. I have an USB keyboard and mouse, so I only need to dock my laptop, and Im ready to go. Whenever possible, make sure it is that easy to start. That really lowers the bar.

Working from the attic means I have little distraction. I wouldnt want to sit on the table in our kitchen, with the wife and kids humping around all day (no offense to them).

A good chair is also something Id recommend. I have a crappy one, and need to relief by but every 15 minutes.

Make sure to walk to the coffemachine regularly :-)

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Thanks for the responses so far, all.

I’m definitely going to take your collective advice and spend some time this evening setting up my home office with more “intent”. I had previously planned to set up shop at my dining room table (where I normally do work from home on the weekend here and there), but I can see that getting really old, really quick over multiple hours/days. Out of pure serendipity, I actually ordered a new computer chair this weekend which will arrive sometime tomorrow. I do have a dedicated keyboard, mouse, and second monitor that I’ll be using.

I’ll certainly keep the coffeepot running - I have stocked up in case supply starts running low :coffee:

Some good advice, above.

I’ve been working at home for the last several years, not as part of a team.

You cannot get an adjustable chair that is too good. My last 3 computer builds are top of the line… high end gaming machines with quality, non-gaming monitors. Monitors are adjustable for height, tilt, and rotation. All desktops have 2TB M.2 SSDs with the exception of the first which only has a 512GB M.2. All have 8TB min HDDs. All are liquid cooled, Kraken. They are also connected to a NAS. Keyboard and mouses (mice?) are high end gaming devices. Razer Basillisk Extreme and Razer Huntsman Elite. My toys… and with the exception of the second build all ASUS motherboards.

My directory structure is Work\Client Name\Project Number and Project Name and I create a new project as it comes in. I use the same numbering system as for my eMails and copy the eMail project name and paste it to the new folder name. I have a heirarchy of sub-folder names with the same sub-folder names that I use for larger projects. Work is saved to the HDD. All software and OS is on the SSD.

I use Libreoffice for corr and spreadsheets, as well as Smath. I print my calcs using DoroPDF and append the *.pdf files. Same with drawings. These are stored in my Drawing folder, in the project folder. The project folder has all drawings, sketches, etc. I often use the ‘snapshot’ feature of Adobe reader for creating sketches.

My work is backed up to a 256GB USB stick a couple of times a day using a program called Free File Sync. This can be configured to save only files that have changed. The USB stick is transferred to another desktop at the end of the day. Backup includes main machine, secondary machine and USB. There is a hole… I do not have an off-site storage. If I take work outside of home, it is carried on an encrypted 256GB USB stick which has all client files. A recent exception… I was recently in the hospital for a couple of weeks and my son brought my laptop and client files to the hospital on non-encrypted USB stick (current active clients were advised of this).

Currently working on my laptop because I cannot access my desktops… I need to build some ramps to gain access. Laptop is an ASUS Zenbook Pro with only an M.2 drive and I have a portable M.2 SSD attached via Thunderbolt as well as USB stick. Back up and orderly folder creation is essential. If working with a team, everyone should be using the same folder heirarchy.

The rest is just plain engineering.


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Thanks @dik; at your advice, I’ve actually gone through and checked my files between our network and my local PC to make sure everything is in the “right place” - all of our back-ups are network based, so getting everything to the proper location is important, especially going off-site.

This is rough file heirarchy:

Project Number-Project
00 Shortcuts
Drawing Notes
Shop Dwgs

I’m in the same boat: Working from home. Since my wife already works from home, and my son’s school just closed, not only did we have to set up our computers, but also arrange them so that each of us wouldn’t interfere with the others. Fortunately there are (barely) enough rooms in this house to do this.

Another thing I have lucked into is that I had a drafting table at home, not being used, but with some thought and adjustment I’ve been able to set its top perfectly flat and use it like a standing desk. This is an ergonomic boon for me. I’ve got an adjustable desk at work, too, but I don’t always use it. Now I have to do much of the day standing, and getting used to it already.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well the transition to working remotely has gone for us - I’m at least as productive as I am in the office, if not a little more so. Meetings have continued without a hiccup and work seems to be progressing well.

Microsoft Teams has made the switch to remote 100x easier - I’ve gotten accustomed to the interface and functionality and find it fairly robust. I can make direct calls, video conferences, and meetings right in the program, as well as post files for real-time editing amongst team members.

The tips above were very helpful - setting myself up in a dedicated workspace, with the “right equipment”, has paid dividends already in my sanity :slightly_smiling_face:

Teams is great. We made the switch a few months ago, so fortunately we had some time to get acquainted. And find out all the great features.

For those working with teams, there’s a handy little feature when you’re on a videocall. You can blur the background, so people don’t get distracted when you’re on the talk (and in my case, I have all laundry behind - I don’t want colleagues and vendors to see my underwear :grimacing:).

When you’re on a, click the three dots/ellipsis and look for the blur option in the menu that pops open.

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Another great tip that I’ve stumbled across is the ability to “add” someone into a call or meeting in progress.

In the Participants tab of a call, there is a text field where you can type someone’s name and select them to invite them directly into the meeting. Very convenient and fluid, especially during impromptu calls that pop up during the day.

A couple of other Teams tips for anyone that may find them valuable:

I’ve found that you can set up meetings for a “Channel” in Teams versus inviting each individual person. I have a Team set up for a study we’re working on and have set up a recurring weekly meeting just for the channel. It’s automatically added to each person’s calendar and allows them to determine if they need to attend that week (i.e. providing an update if they have a deliverable they’re responsible for).

We are also tracking action items and progress via a list shared to the Team (hosted on Sharepoint). Each person can go into the file and update it in real time as progress is made - it’s helped everyone stay on the same page as far as “who’s on first” and who has started what work.

Grab the text and code books you need.