One of the biggest barriers that people with disabilities face when looking for a job is the lack of remote work options. While it is true that many can perform their duties with reasonable accommodations, depending on the nature of the disability, working from home is the only option available.
As I am writing this blog, humanity is experiencing a global pandemic (COVID-19), which is forcing many companies to shift to remote alternatives for the time being. I have been working from home for approximately five years and wanted to impart some tips and tricks to all the newcomers who are working from home for the first time. These suggestions cover remote work as a whole, not only when social distancing is involved. As with all of my other posts of this type, find the solutions that work for you. It is important to support inclusive hiring.
There are a few things that every remote employee needs in order to work from home effectively. The good news is that most of these items are already modern staples in the home.
Desktop or Laptop
Newer is better, but find one that does everything required (internet, email, web conferencing, word processing, etc.). The operating system you use does not matter either, just make sure whatever apps you use are compatible.
Microphone and Webcam
Conference calls are the norm when it comes to working remotely, so a good microphone and camera combo are essential. While this won’t necessarily be an issue for any laptop users who purchased a computer in the last decade, I ‘d say that most high-end manufacturers tend to cut corners in this area with low resolution cameras (480 pixels to 720 pixels) and poor internal mics, which makes a great case for an external combo. My personal webcam and microphone were purchased eight years ago, for approximately $60 and streams at 1080 pixels. I still get comments about it to this day. If the workstation is stationary, standalone podcast microphones and other audio equipment also work.
If you live with more than one person or are in a public place, I recommend buying a headset with a microphone for sound quality and privacy reasons. When making a decision, it is best to stay away from call center headsets and cheap wired earbuds and opt for gaming headsets or the best quality headphones you own. While the latter option is expected, the former could be new for some people. The gaming headset is a pair of over-the-ear headphones with a physical microphone attachment. These peripherals are designed for comfort during long play sessions and optimal sound quality to better communicate with friends, making it a great choice for your meetings. There are even more professional options if you don’t like the gaming aesthetic. Alternatively, stand-alone attachable mics exist in order to make almost any pair of earphones conference call ready.
Remember this rhyme: technology breaks and the cloud goes offline, save your data in at least three different places and you’ll be fine.
Public Wi-Fi is slow because users are doing a variety of different things at the same time that require different amounts of bandwidth, whether its surfing the web, conferencing or streaming video or music. The network tries to portion out the right amount of bandwidth for every person. Apply this concept to your home connection. The 100mpbs connection you have might be enough to support your laptop, phone, and tablet, but can it support the other members of your household who have a similar number of devices, all the time? Faster internet may be required for long-term situations. Some jobs even require a minimum amount of speed when considering candidates for employment. If you’re working in public, think about buying a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Arguably more important than hardware, good software is the means by which organizations can keep pace with its employees, even from far away.
Video calls are a great way to feel like you’re in the room, even when you’re not. Connect your microphone and camera and you’re ready to go. Some popular conferencing apps are Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Whereby. All of these programs have free variants, so learning how to use them ahead of time will minimize the risk of future awkward situations.
Whether it’s instant messenger or email, communication via text is still a foundation of business. Examples include: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Outlook, Blink, Campfire, Glip, Blogin, Chanty, Troop. A common feature in most of these programs, is invite only or password-protected groups, which is useful if your employer has multiple departments.
A large part of adjusting to a working from home lifestyle is finding a routine. Thankfully, there are a number of productivity apps to keep you on task and are great for personal productivity as well. Noteworthy apps include Asana, Trello, BaseCamp, ToDoList, Google GSuite, Calendar, Slack, Teamweek and Evernote. This wide range of tools covers everything from project management, task efficiency and more.
About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ, and works as a communications manager for AbleThrive, a nonprofit organization. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.