Given the recent developments around coronavirus (Covid-19), now seems like a good time to look at how to work from home and steps you could take to get yourself ready for remote working:
Step 1: Internet
The first problem for any home-worker is access to good broadband speeds. Being able to access emails, download attachments and visit websites will be affected by the speed of your home internet. So to check your speeds, use the speedtest.net website when you are at your house and on your home WiFi. This will give you a rough outline of the speeds. Try to run the test 3 or 4 times to get an average picture of the download and upload speeds.
- Download speeds relate to how fast webpages appear and how quickly you will receive your emails and their attachments
- Upload speeds will show how fast you can send out emails
If you are lucky enough to be connected to a fibre broadband service, your speeds will be over 100mbps, and will be more than enough to work from home with. If you have standard broadband, you are likely to get speeds in the mid double digits, such as 40-60mbps. This will also work fine for most internet services, such as emails, web pages and online audio/video (FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp).
The main concern is if you are below 20mbps, and especially if you are in the single digits. This will not be enough for a reliable connection. You may scape by for lighter work such as sending small emails and light web use, but forget reliable audio and video links
If you have a poor landline broadband connection, all is not lost. Your mobile phone may be able to help! Check the speeds using the free Okla Speedtest app and check this at home, without being connected to your home WiFi. If your mobile signal gives you a decent data speed, then this could be used as a link for your laptop or iPad. But you need to be careful here about one major drawback- data allowances. Check with your mobile phone provider about your data limits. It is possible that you are on a limited data plan and if you go above that allocation you will be charged per MB. This can get very expensive and so it is important to check this in advance. In Ireland, 3 tend to have unlimited data allowances, whereas Vodafone and others limit use to a certain number of GBs.
If you have checked your limits and are happy to use the service, then here is how to use your phone as a Personal Hotspot:
- on your iPhone, turn on Personal Hotspot (Settings -> Personal Hotspot). Note the password here as this will be required below.
- on your Mac or iPad, join the new iPhone WiFi network being given out by your device and join the network by using the special password (as noted above)
- now your iPhone will have a Personal Hotspot icon at the top of its screen, showing that it is being used
To save data, try to turn on personal hotspot when you need it and turn it off afterwards. For example, set up a number of emails in your outbox and then turn on hotspot to send them out in one go.
Step 2: Email
Many people do not have a good record of their email settings. Try to gather the information you need such as:
- what is your email account's username and password
- what type of email service are you using: POP? IMAP? Exchange?
- can you use a website to sign into your email account to view and reply to your messages? (called webmail)
- if you have an IMAP account, do you know the incoming and outgoing mail server settings and port numbers- it's good to have a record or screen shot of these
- the worst type of email account is POP, as this does not sync easily between multiple devices. If you do intend to work from home, try to see if you can change your account from POP to IMAP or Exchange in advance (check with your email provider about this before you adjust any settings)
Is you email set up on your phone? You can add the account to your phone and then you can turn it off so it is silent, but available with one tap. You don't have to have it on all the time if you dislike being interrupted in the evening and at weekends, but it can be useful to have the facility should you need to access them remotely.
Step 3: Screen Sharing
If you have an office PC and you need to access this from your home iMac, laptop or iPad, you can use one of the screen sharing services such as TeamViewer or Splashtop. With permission from your employer (!) and with the right software, you will be able to access your work Mac/PC and view the screen as if you were at the desk.
- TeamViewer: this is a handy app for occasional screen sharing. You need to have TeamViewer open and running on your work computer to be able to then access it from your home on your Mac or iPad. Under Mojave and Catalina, you also need to give TeamViewer access to Accessibility settings on your work device, otherwise you may not be able to move the pointer on the work computer. Check out this document from the TeamViewer support site. The main drawback on TeamViewer is the cost- if you use it regularly, you will be asked to pay a fee, and the app will stop working unless you do this. It's great for occasional logins, but expect to pay for professional and commercial use
- Splashtop-: our favourite app for professional use is Splashtop. This costs about $60 per year for 2 computers, and $99 per year for up to 10 computers. If you are going to be using screen sharing a lot over the next few months, this is the app to go for. It needs two parts: 1/ the Splashtop app on your home Mac/PC/iPad, 2/ the Splashtop Streamer app on the Mac/PC you wish to access
Step 4: Cloud Services
If you are going to be working from home, it can make sense to place your work files and folders in a cloud service, so that those can be accessed from any of your devices. Assuming that this does not cause problems for your employer's data policies and security rules, you could move your desktop files into a service such as iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. A few pointers:
- don't load everything in there- be organised and try to create a clean set of folders and files so you know where things are
- files should only remain in cloud services for as long as you need them to be in there. Don't dump your entire life in Dropbox- try to spring clean and think through what you need. With the screen sharing apps (above) you could add more at a later date
- you will pay for large amounts of data- for example iCloud and Dropbox give a small allocation for free and then you will need to upgrade to a paid account. Even more of a reason to be well organised
- you must have a good broadband speed to use cloud services
- you should look at the smart sync features in cloud service, so all of the files don't have to come down from the cloud to your laptop or home device; instead you bring them in as you need them.
Step 5: Accessories
A few extra tips:
- try not to work on your laptop on the desk, where you curl your shoulders in over a laptop. For better posture, place the laptop on a few books so it is up at eye-level and use an external mouse/trackpad and keyboard
- use a set of headphones for calls. With Bluetooth headphones, this is a great way to free you up to move around as you talk, or to take notes on your keyboard at the same time
- don't forget your backups! You can pick up a small USB drive for home backups for less than €70
- Apple's iWork office suite (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) is free to all Apple users through the App Store. You can also download a copy of Microsoft Office for personal use for €69 per year (from microsoft.com)
- FaceTime might scare people who hate using video, so why not use the FaceTime Audio feature for calls-only. They are free to other users and every Apple user in your Contacts app will have a small video and audio icon beside the word "FaceTime". Tap the audio button to make an audio-only call the other user for free. This has much better sound quality than mobile phone calls!
I hope some of these suggestions help to keep people working, even if they do need to spend a bit of extra time at home over the next few months.