For millions of Americans, working remotely is now not an option, but a mandate. Approximately 95 percent of the U.S. population is under stay-at-home orders put in place in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Many of these people are "knowledge workers" - expected by their employers to continue to perform the functions of their jobs as usual and maintain normal levels of productivity.
For seasoned remote workers who are accustomed to using coworking spaces or home offices, these directives present little to no deviation from the norm. However, for those used to the routine and structure a traditional office environment may provide, the transition could be less than smooth. Luckily there are a host of technological tools that can help make things easier. Below, we give our top three tech must-haves for newly remote employees.
Why have a boring regular phone call when you can have a video call instead? Zoom, quickly becoming a favorite 'tether' among people looking to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, ought to make your list of possible platforms. Of course, employers who are a bit behind the curve and have yet to adopt any videoconferencing solution at all may wonder why their workers can't just use FaceTime, which comes free with the iPhone.
"When it comes down to it, FaceTime is basically a feature that adds video to a phone call," Matt Binder writes in a recent piece for Mashable.com. "A service like Zoom is specifically set up to handle enterprise-level video conferencing. That’s probably what you want to go with for your work-at-home needs."
Zoom allows users to chat, share files and screens, and even record calls. While it does have a free basic plan, none of the more advanced administrator controls is included in it. However, Zoom is scalable and can be affordable even for a start-up. Paid plans start at just $14.99 a month.
The investment is likely to pay off. Video conferencing made a whopping 87 percent of remote workers feel more connected to their teams, according to recent survey data.
Virtual collaboration tools
Another tech gadget that should have a place in most remote workers' toolboxes is some sort of real-time collaboration solution. The leader among these is Slack, which allows for file sharing, integration with email, Google Docs and DropBox, and a chat feature. It also allows users to organize projects or clients into "channels" to which specific employees can be invited in order to track, view, and contribute to content relevant to their workstreams.
While there's a free version here, too, the paid version of Slack will probably also pay dividends in the long run for any organization that adopts it. Luggage maker Away started using Slack so employees could communicate in real time and more quickly and effectively address customer concerns and questions. The result: The company has been lauded for its fast, helpful customer service, and projects on which achieving agreement among team members once took weeks now takes about a day, according to Away co-founder Stephanie Korey.
You may not have had to worry much about security when you were working from a traditional office with a dedicated IT team, but now that it's just you at your dining room table using the family Wi-Fi, should you be more concerned? As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
First things first, enable encryption on your router. This will scramble the information on your network so it can't be read by snoopers. Next, keep tabs on your work laptop. Remember, it's still your employer's property, so those who aren't authorized to use it really shouldn't. If you have young children at home and if they like to play on your electronics (wait, why did we put an "if" in there?), make sure to get your computer out of their reach. The last thing you want is to go get a cup of coffee and return to your work station to find that your 4-year-old has 'cleaned' your keyboard with bubbles.
If you're printing documents, remember that your home is now an extension of your office, so any sensitive information that would be shredded when you were commuting ought to be destroyed when you're working at your house, too.
Finally, if your work is of a sensitive nature and you don't already have a VPN, consider getting one. A Virtual Private Network connection "encrypts data traveling to and from your laptop or phone, and hooks you up to a secure server, essentially making it harder for other people on the network, or whoever is operating the network, to see what you're doing or grab your details," David Nield writes for Wired. Good VPNs are usually not free, but they're worth the cash outlay for your employer.
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