Tech Sense: Working from Home
Working from Home
Due to the fact that everyone I know is working from home because of the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus, I thought I would take a break from my privacy and security series and talk about the technologies that make working from home practical.
Home Computer Setup
Someone planning to work at home should have access to a computer that they can use during the workday. This computer does not have to be the latest and greatest, but it should be able to run a recent version of the Microsoft Office software. An Internet connection is a must-have with a recommended bandwidth of 25 megabits per second for faster for download (incoming data) and a minimum of 5 megabits per second for upload (outgoing data). A keyboard and mouse or other pointing device are needed as is a headset that is either wireless or plugs into the computer’s sound card. The primary software required will be a good browser, typically, ether Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
Cloud-based Work Tools
Most people working in an office will need access to the Microsoft Office suite of tools. These are available now as cloud-based tools that run in the browser or can be downloaded and installed on your PC and operated under your company's license. Other tools that are commonly encountered might include cloud-based application like Sales Force (customer relationship management), planning and tasking tools like Trello, or timekeeping tools used to clock-in and out of your work hours.
But wait, you might say; "my computer isn't powerful enough to run the software I need at work." No problem: today a virtual computer can be created in the cloud that has all of the power required and can be run through your browser. These computers can be configured to have all of the software you use pre-installed and ready to go when you log into the computer through the web. Unlike your home computer, these cloud computers can be made secure to operate on your company networks and run company-based applications.
Virtual Private Networks
Of course, your company may already be providing you with a laptop. In this case there may be no need for the virtual computer, but you still need to be able connect to the company network securely. In this case the company-provided laptop should have a virtual private network connector or VPN install. In this case, the VPN makes a secure remote connection to the company network from the network used by your computer to connect to the Internet.
Of course, it wouldn't feel like the workplace if you didn't have to attend meetings. A sad fact of life is some companies seem to exist for meetings.
That's OK. Virtual meeting or conference tools exists so everyone can join together and meet. Forget the simple conference call where everyone dials into a number, enters a code, and all talk at once. Conference applications like Zoom, Join.me, Webex, and GoToMeeting allow you to connect with your computer. This is why you needed that headset. If you also have a webcam (most laptops do), then you can allow others to see your face as well. Of course, the primary benefit here is that someone can present a PowerPoint slideshow or a document that everyone on the conference can see at the same time. On some applications it is even possible to share a common white board everyone can draw on. Finally, if you fall asleep during a virtual conference, make sure you are on mute so your snoring doesn't let anyone else know you are asleep.
One on One
If you don't need a big meeting but you want a one on one, face to face call, there are apps for this situation as well. Applications like Skype and Duo work on your phone and your PC (best if you have a webcam). If you are an Apple user, forget Facetime unless everyone you know also has an Apple phone.
Messaging and Chat Apps
You may want to send a quick message to a coworker without the hassle of a call. This is where messaging applications come in. The granddaddy of these is Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Most companies try to standardize on one of the many applications out there today. Common choices are Google Hangouts, Jabber, Telegram, or standard SMS text messages over the phone. Again, Apple users be aware that iMessage only works with Apple products.
So now I have a computer, I can securely connect to my company network, and I can communicate with my co-workers, but what if a co-worker and I need to work together on the same document. This is where collaboration tools come in. Google Docs, the online version of Office 265, and Confluence are some of the products that allow multiple people to work at the same time on the same documents. Combining this with one of the rich communication tools we have discussed is nearly like working at the same desk beside the other person. File sharing technologies, like Google Drive or One Drive, allow files being worked on to be saved where all parties can access them.
And in the End
I hope that everyone in Beltsville is staying safe during this trying time and these ideas for getting work done at home are useful. Next month, I expect to pick up on the next section on my privacy and security series.