Remote Working Tips

A Good Chair

Workplaces recognise the importance of good ergonomics, they can justify the cost of desks and chairs to reduce the potential for injury and insurance claims. At home we often make do with what we’ve got, but this can lead to discomfort, aching muscles, long-term injury and less effective work.

When working remotely we may not be in a position to set-up a well designed desk, but we can at least ensure we have a good chair. Even if you’re stuck working at the dining table, replacing the chair with one designed for hours of use per day will make a huge difference; and if you’re like me and space is at a premium, you can use the ergonomic chair at meal times too.

# My Experience So Far

It’s been many years since I chose to replace my dining chair with an ergonomic one. These days I use a fully adjustable gaming chair, and I invested the time to get it set-up properly for me. I first replaced my chair because the gaming chairs looked cooler, but as I’ve got older and as I spend more time sitting at a desk at home I’ve found that I am able to maintain focus for longer periods, I sit with a much better posture, and I’ve reduced my risk of longer term injuries because of this.

Headsets

Although I’m listing this under remote work tips, I feel it is a peripheral everyone in an office should have and use. When conducting a video conference or call the headset plays two important roles. The first is the prevention of others around you from being subjected to your conversations. The second is it improves the audio by enabling full-duplex (multiple parties can speak at once) and generally improves audio quality.

# My Experience So Far

In terms of being nice to those around you, when working from home my partner and I are located in the same room (she’s currently studying). While I am on a video call for work she is often attending a lecture or involved in a workshop. By using headsets we are both able to continue our work without disturbing the other person.

The bigger benefit is the audio quality. In a number of video calls I’ve found that I have had situations where the other party is using a speaker and they either haven’t been able to hear me, or their audio has dropped when I speak. When talking to people using a headset this doesn’t occur.

We’ve come a long way with audio technology since the Internet became capable of supporting voice and video conversations but it still isn’t perfect, so grab a headset (a cheap one is better than nothing) and use it.

Short Meetings

When we have back-to-back meetings in an office we get a short break as we move between meeting rooms. This is time that can be used for a quick toilet trip, grab a drink, or just stretch our muscles. In a remote work environment we miss out on this opportunity, moving between meetings rooms is just a couple of clicks of the mouse; often we don’t even stand up from our seat.

# How to Implement It

# Google Calendar

Google Calendar has an option to turn on “short meetings”. This will reduce the length of meetings under 1 hour by 5 minutes, and meetings of an hour or more by 10 minutes.

# Desktop

Open your calendar (https://calendar.google.com), click on the gear icon (⚙) in the top right corner and select “Settings” from the dropdown menu. On the settings page select “Event settings” under the “General” heading on the menu. Check the “Speedy meetings” box in the main content area.

# Mobile

You will need to use a web browser on a computer to enable this setting.

# Microsoft Outlook

In Microsoft Outlook this option is called “End appointments and meetings early” and it is a little more configurable that the Google option.

# Microsoft Outlook (application)

Select “File”, “Options”, “Calendar”, “Calendar options” from the menu bar. Select the “End appointments and meetings early” and remember to set the meeting reduction times.

# Apple Calendar

Apple Calendar doesn’t have an option, but you can change the default meeting length, personally I’ve set mine to 50 minutes.

# MacOS

Open a Terminal window. Paste the following code, changing the number at the end to “25” if you prefer your default to be half hour meetings.

defaults write com.apple.iCal 'Default duration in minutes for new event' 50

# My Experience So Far

I proposed this idea at my new job a couple of days ago. So far a number of people have started using it and have adjusted existing meetings. We’ve had a few issues with people not knowing when to start the meeting (should it start on the hour or 10 minutes later), but we seem to be adjusting to starting them on the hour. I’ve found the time between meetings has given me time to stretch and prepare for my next meeting. I’m still working on making sure I grab a drink, but so far it’s working well and I’ve already noticed I’m not as tired at the end of the day.

Video On

Some of the guides I’ve read about remote working mention always having your video camera on when in a meeting. I’ve never paid much attention to it until most of my role is spent on video calls.

If you talk to any agile coach who’s worked with a remote team, they will be able to confirm that having your camera turned on massively improves the comprehension in a conversation. It gives people the illusion of eye contact, you can tell when people are actively listening and when they may be zoning out, and the other person can also see your gestures and expressions.

By enabling the video camera you are also signalling to the other person that you have nothing to hide, and in cases where there are audio issues it’s possible to communicate with cue cards to help resolve any issues.

# My Experience So Far

I’ve found my ability to pay attention to a group conversation without video is significantly lower than one with video. I’ve also found I can better gauge the impact of what I say when others in the conversation have their video on, even if they are muted.

I’m about to add this item to the remote working Slack group we have for work, and I’m hoping it will improve everyone’s video conferencing experience.