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The Most Productive Home Office Setup

How to be better at remote work and webcasting

I was recently called out during an evening webcast I was hosting because people couldn’t see me well. All of the artificial light in my office was insufficient for my built-in laptop cam. The nature of web meetings pre-COVID was to occasionally jump on a video call to collaborate on a document or view mockups and images. Now, with online meetings replacing group presentations, staff and client meetings, the focus is often digital face to face communication. Reading facial expressions, and as one legally deaf friend pointed out, reading lips, enables us to better emulate being in the room with a person.

People who were used to working in an office setting are also having to learn how to collaborate through productivity software. While working from home, you can’t drop by a co-worker’s office for an update on a project or review updated sketches together in the conference room.

The longer people are required to work from home, the higher the number of workers continuing to telecommute will be after COVID-19, according to Global Workplace Analytics. You likely already have your work from home office set up, but here is how to make it better, more secure and productive.

Lights, camera, action!
Think of an internet meeting as a video production. If you are well lit with a decent microphone, you will come across more professionally. For most business purposes, however, you do not need high end or expensive equipment.

After researching my lighting dilemma, I chose the RJUN 10″ LED Selfie Ring Light with Tripod Stand and Cell Phone Holder on Amazon for $40. The doughnut-shaped light evenly illuminates my face, and has three different light filters. Some other brands seemed to have a flimsy tripod.  The sturdy RJUN tripod extends tall enough to be just above my monitor or laptop screen. It also comes with a selfie stick attachment which holds my cell phone in the middle of the light, for journeys out in the field.

The microphone was a little harder choice. Your built-in laptop mic may be fine for general purposes, but if you want to boost your audio quality a bit for web meetings, I would suggest the Blue Yeti USB Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone, which gets solid reviews.

Woman working from home at her desk

Protect Your Privacy
There have been serious security breaches with popular web meeting software, including Zoom. Read my recent article on ensuring safe online meetings in the related articles section below this post. In addition, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN. By using a VPN, all of your internet traffic is rerouted through a secure server. This keeps you, your information and location anonymous and encrypted. So, if a hacker did manage to access any information exchanged in your Zoom call, it would be completely unintelligible. Read more about using VPNs in the related articles section.

Collaboration Software
When we are not working together in an office, technology can fill the gap, providing new ways to collaborate. Instead of emailing or calling a team member each time a piece of work is done, collaboration apps help you create online projects, where you can see updates in real time, send notifications for questions or prompt someone to take the next step. You can also share project assets, such as documents, slide decks or images.

Tracking who is doing what, and if they have completed a task on time helps with accountability. Another benefit is tracking how much time employees and contractors spend on a project, which is very helpful for billing.

Collaboration tools enable more productive team work. However, it is important that all team members understand the software and how to use it. Three weeks into a software launch where I was the technical advisor, a company principal asked the project manager if Basecamp (collaboration app) was the same type of software as Zoom (a web video meeting app). A project manager should not assume that everyone is on the same page. It is best to go through a quick tutorial in an online meeting and discuss any questions on how the project is structured.

Because of varying technical skills on a project, one consideration is picking software that is easy to use. Here is a review of the best collaboration software for 2020. I use the free version of Airtable to track client projects and time spent on tasks for billing.

Define your space
If you are fortunate to have a room at home to dedicate as an office, great! But also communicate to others in the house when you need quiet time and don’t want to be interrupted. If you have to carve out space in a room used for another purpose, still try and set the space up like a complete office. Consider separating the space with a couple of tall potted plants.

Make sure you have good room lighting, or add a task lamp, to avoid eye strain and boost your mood.

Comfortable chair
Back issues are a risk with prolonged sitting. Invest in a good ergonomic office chair, and make sure to take a break every 15 minutes to stand up and stretch.

Clutter Control​
An organized desk will help with productivity and actually reduce your stress. One way to reduce clutter is to use less paper by using digital tools for note taking.

If you can, set up your office with focus areas at different depths- your computer in front of you, art or a TV monitor across the room and a window for longer views. Keep items you need to access frequently within easy reach. Have a place away from your desk to relax and take a break.

Check out this article from The Balance for more tips on home office organization.

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