Telecommuting in 2020 is no longer simply a choice. The coronavirus pandemic, known as COVID-19 for the year it was first discovered, has changed the world. Working remotely, usually from home, has become the only way for many people to continue working.
Many have dreamed of working from home, but that’s all it was – a dream. Tucked in the world of fantasy people sometimes slip into was the idea that they could be their own boss, set their own timetable, even get rich – in pajamas and slippers. But until recently, it was only a fantasy for the majority.
A surprising number of people (around 20%) would agree that going to work every day, with a schedule and working environment controlled by someone else has some real advantages. Such conveniences as having a nice workspace, a predictable schedule and all the necessary tools at hand make working at work the preferred choice.
Dreamers have always dreamed. But when you asked someone what they would do if their boss told them to choose whether to work at home or the office starting tomorrow, they would probably choose the office, because it is easier.
The interesting statistic about working remotely is that employees actually prefer it, once they experience it. And even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, working from home was rising rapidly. From 2005 to date, there was a 173% increase in telecommuting.
COVID-19, the global pandemic believed to have started in China in late 2019, has forced the subject of telecommuting in 2020. For a vast number of people, working remotely from home has become the only choice they have.
That fact raises the question: How do you do it? Obviously, a computer of some type with internet access is required. But that is only part of the equation in today’s very competitive world. Email and text messaging, alone, are not going to be enough. What tools are available to make it work?
The good news is, there are many tools available to make working remotely work. We’ll look at a few. These include slack, Zoom, G Suite, Microsoft Teams, Streamlabs OBS, and Vcamm.
Tools for telecommuting
- Quality Internet Connection
It might seem obvious, but not all internet connections are the same. It might be something you can live with, in normal times, but you can’t afford to have your internet go down when you depend on it for working remotely.
Furthermore, if you normally just use your smartphone for connecting to the internet at home, you should consider getting reliable home internet. You can indeed use your phone for a hotspot to connect your laptop to the internet, but that uses a lot of data. Worse, if you’re depending on it for work, some subscriptions have limits set on mobile data, after which they slow right down, go way up in price or just stop working.
The Slack chatting app is designed to help employees stay connected. Unlike email, it only allows communication on the employee network. This is so that business communications are kept private, encrypted and thus secure.
The basic version of Slack is free. It works well for light use in small teams. The standard version offers more storage and other features for a very low monthly subscription.
- Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is the new name for Skype business connections. This lets you make larger group calls, as well as live document collaboration.
MS Teams, like Slack, starts with a free service. Their motto is “Work remotely without feeling remote.” Its starter plan has limited file storage but offers a pro version for only $5 per month.
- G Suite
G Suite is Google’s business subscription version of their popular Google Drive, which includes software such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
User accounts for the platform are secure, offering features such as 2 Factor Authentication to protect data and documents.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Google has begun offering their G Suite customers free access to their Hangouts Meet video-conferencing service.
There are a lot of free programs available that let you have face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. Some of them, like Google Hangouts and Zoom, also let you bring in more than one user, allow you to have group meetings.
But at the time of this writing, only Zoom has end to end encryption. Others, including Facebook, say they are going to bring in such encryption, but we’re still waiting.
My experience with Zoom is excellent. The free version gives you up to 40 minutes for a single meeting and allows you to host up to 100 participants. That will also give you unlimited one-on-one meetings, an unlimited number of meetings and online support. That is pretty amazing for a free service.
Their prices for their paid features are very modest. These features include much longer meetings (up to 24 hours) and cloud recording, among others.
Despite the recent negative publicity, Zoom remains one of the safest means of web conferencing available. Furthermore, the issues that have arisen should non-issues if proper security measures are followed. Never click a link in a text stream!
- Streamlabs OBS
Streamlabs OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is live streaming software built on the OBS platform, but with some extra features. While very popular with gamers for showing off their skills, it is also very good for making presentations to groups.
The platform gives you the ability to present personally in real-time, while also being able to bring in slides, share your screen, bring in videos, and a whole lot more. Like other Open software, it is free and excellent. The features are too many to mention. If you need to make presentations where you appear “in person,” this is a good choice.
You also have the ability to stream to both Facebook and Youtube, giving your viewers greater choice.
- Xsplit Vcam
Xsplit Vcam is an excellent addition to streaming software like OBS. It lets you provide a nice background for your video, rather than whatever is behind you in the real world. Your choice of background is only limited by the photos (videos) you have or can find.
Vcam has a free trial, but to remove the watermark, which you will want to do for any kind of use, there is a small, one-time fee. It’s well worth it. Vcam saves you any need for a green screen. All that is required for quite decent results is good contrast in your choice of background. If there isn’t enough contrast, you or parts of you will disappear…
Working remotely has many advantages. A big one, both for employers and employees, is the money saved. It costs a lot less for an employer, in most cases, to have employees working from home.
Naturally, an employee also saves money on things like transportation, food, and even apparel.
But what are the hidden dangers?
We are all almost certainly aware of the lure of social media and the incredible amount of time that can be wasted on it. However, recent studies have shown that social media use by employees, in most cases, is not reducing productivity.
In fact, the opposite is often true. Employees who use social media during the workday tend to be more productive, not less.
This is almost certainly at least partly because it helps to relieve stress. Another possible reason is that many people tend to reward themselves with a quick check of their Facebook or Twitter feed, or maybe a Youtube video, after finishing a task. Social media then become a motivating force, rather than a detriment to productivity.
For employers, measuring employee performance and productivity has proven to be more effective than trying to discourage or block social media.
Furthermore, it has already been proven that trying to block social media in the workplace is futile. It is completely impossible for employees who are working remotely.
One of the drawbacks of telecommuting for employees is the lack of social interaction. It is no mystery why many employees tend to hang out together after work. Humans are social creatures. We tend to build up a certain level of stress throughout the workday, and hanging out together on breaks and after work helps us to unwind and to maintain a healthy mind.
Working from home, on the other hand, does not offer the same level of social interaction. Without it, people, especially those who live alone, can become lonely, stressed out and even depressed.
Some of that can be alleviated in “normal” times by going out for lunch, if it’s convenient enough, and going out after hours to unwind. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, that isn’t possible. That creates a real problem for those working remotely. Experts are already suggesting that even after this virus pandemic is over, another pandemic could already be in place, a severe mental health pandemic.
This is where social media becomes not only a potential reward for completing a task but an absolute lifeline for employees working from home. This is where employers should consider some sensible, but generous guidelines for social media use that actually encourage their telecommuting employees to indulge a little in social media throughout the day.
It might seem counterproductive, but it is almost certain that without a certain amount of freedom and encouragement in this area, production will fall right off over time. The mental health of remote workers is critical, especially during a pandemic like this one.
Most of us are already aware that sitting all day is not healthy. But while most workplaces have timed breaks, the same is not necessarily true at home.
It is important for employers to encourage employees working remotely to get up and walk around from time to time. The same applies to someone who is working at home. There are apps available that will remind you to take a break and change positions or walk around.
Exercise is critical for the maintenance of good health. Good physical health is critical for good mental health and both are critical for good performance and productivity.
During the pandemic, more and more restrictions are being placed on people in various locations.
While some people can and should go for walks, bike rides or runs every day, governments are placing more and greater restrictions on movement to “flatten the curve” and gain control over the COVID-19 pandemic. In some jurisdictions, it is forbidden even to exit the home, except for emergencies and necessary shopping.
It is therefore necessary to find ways to exercise inside the home. It’s important to set aside a specific time every day for exercise. Many things can be done without any special equipment that will provide an excellent workout.
Running on the spot
This doesn’t even require track shoes, since it is in your own space. Simply run on the spot for the equivalent time you would normally take (or should take) to go for a run. You can even watch TV or Youtube videos while doing so!
Stand facing the wall. Put your arms out straight and your hands against the wall. (Make sure your hands are dry and not sweaty or greasy!) Then, without moving your feet, bend your arms until you can just touch your nose to the wall. Then push back out. Repeat it at least ten times.
Try to increase the number of times and speed over time. Challenge yourself! That makes it more fun, which is also good for your mental health.
These are easy and very good for you. They will help you build both core strength, while also being a good cardio exercise.
Simply sit on the floor in front of your couch or chair, tuck your feet under, and start doing situps. Start with a number that isn’t too difficult and work from there. Make it fun! Challenge yourself to reach a new milestone each week.
For a little bit more of a challenge, pushups are good exercise, too. There is a right way to do them! This is where a visit to Youtube can really be of benefit. But don’t stay there too long. Remember to keep proper limits on social media consumption, including Youtube.
When starting with pushups, rather than being discouraged if it seems too difficult, you can begin by only lifting your upper body until your strength has increased to the point where you can lift your entire body from your toes to your head.
Just like you would at the gym or after a good run outside, take a nice shower. It is a fantastic stress reliever, and you’ll feel great afterward.
Try turning the temperature up as high as you can stand it for several minutes near the end of your shower. Then turn it right down as cold as you can go. Finish up with a brisk rub down with a towel. You will feel great with loads of motivation!
Music is a good way to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Music fills your space and makes it feel like you are not alone.
Play upbeat music. Try something new. If you haven’t gotten into it before, try classical music. It never loses its beauty, and you’ll start to notice that it’s actually awesome to work to!
It’s important to stay connected. Employees and contractors need to stay connected and can easily burn out without it.
But as an employer, it’s really easy to get caught up in all the other day to day business.
It’s important for you, as an employer, to set up channels for connecting with people who are working remotely.
An excellent way to stay connected is to have weekly or even better, daily Zoom meetings. Also, you can write a weekly NewsLetter. They should be mandatory for everyone because unless they are, it will be too easy for the less gregarious employees to miss.
Zoom meetings allow everyone to meet together, share concerns, brainstorm, and just chat with real, human faces in front of them.
Hint: Don’t make them too formal. If you need to have a really formal meeting, make it at a different time. During this COVID-19 pandemic, especially, just provide a place for people to get together and socialize. The mental health benefits for your employees will more than make up for the time spent, and productivity will not only not suffer for it, but will likely increase.
These are interesting times. Very few people alive, today, especially within the workforce, ever dreamed of living in such a situation as a global pandemic like this. No one could imagine having to stay home and work from home, not by choice, but of necessity. No one imagined a world where physical social interaction would be forced to cease.
The good news is, we have the tools for remote working, but even better, we have the tools to continue to be the healthy, active social creatures that humans are.
Please leave your comments and suggestions below!