The digital industry in general was somewhat ahead of the curve when it came to working remotely. Freelance web developers and professionals from related fields have been carting their laptops to coffee shops and co-working spaces for years, all while other workers toiled in stuffy offices and contended with lengthy commutes — but that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 lockdown didn’t present some major operational problems, because it absolutely did.
Note that I mentioned freelance professionals, because the fact that almost all workers in digital fields could work remotely never stopped stubborn employers from demanding that they stick with the classic office system. One positive to take from the mess of COVID-19 is that it swept past some of the key excuses for enforcing the status quo: the need to maintain productivity, for instance, lost its rhetorical power when remote working proved just as productive.
Now, then, the digital industry is in an interesting position. Lockdown measures are being lifted and offices are starting to reopen, but any company worth working for has accepted that there’s no compelling reason to keep its employees in the office — and that means that 2020 signals a major change. Homeworking is now a global standard.
With more and more people set to make working from home their permanent choice, though, we need to stop viewing it as a stopgap solution and start thinking about how we can make it work in the long run. Here’s what web developers and digital professionals should be investing in to make their home-working setups maximally effective:
Rock-solid internet access
Web developers and digital professionals (outside of those who work in video editing or 3D modeling) don’t typically need high-speed internet access, which gives them a lot of flexibility when it comes to location. They do, however, need stability: a connection that frequently drops out for hours can ruin entire days of work and cause massive productivity problems as a result.
That said, it is possible to effectively supplement a convention connection with a mobile Wi-Fi system, particularly since data rates have gone down markedly in recent years. Most people can manage through using their phones as mobile hotspots (or tethering to them directly): this also allows them to do things like work outside more easily when the weather is nice.
Reliable home office equipment
With a good internet connection in place, the next thing to do is cover the bases when it comes to equipment. Just as most digital professionals don’t need gigabit internet connections, they also don’t need monstrously-powerful computers, so they should be fine with modern laptops that have decent battery life, robust designs, and great connectivity. If the OS doesn’t really matter, then a good option is to pick up some refurbished MacBooks ( they’re widely available): they hold up really well, so you can save a fair bit of money without compromising on quality.
Connectivity is important because there’s a lot of value in configuring a multi-monitor setup: developers, in particular, can benefit significantly from having additional screens in a vertical orientation. The current standard for connecting several displays (along with peripherals) is Thunderbolt 3, so a decent laptop dock seems like an obvious inclusion.
Equipment doesn’t stop at technology, though. There’s also the matter of comfort. Digital workers will spend a lot of time working at their computers, and that can cause a great deal of stress and strain over the months. Accordingly, it makes sense to invest in ergonomics by getting comfortable seats, mice, and keyboards. Avoiding RSI is a key priority.
Having a great home office is about more than getting the right technology in place: it’s also about ensuring that circumstances make it possible to get work done. Imagine someone with a finely-honed office setup trying to get things done while car alarms go off outside: even the smallest distraction can make things incredibly difficult.
Noise-canceling headphones can help significantly, of course, but they can’t outright eliminate distractions. The best thing to do is to choose the office area very carefully. For instance, instead of setting up in their kitchen, someone could board up their loft (assuming they had one) and turn that into an office space. This would allow them to concentrate properly.
Clear lines of communication
Supposing that everything we’ve looked at here has been handled, digital professionals lastly need clear lines of communication in their daily workloads. When you’re not working in an office, you can easily lose track of which person is responsible for what task, and scrambling to determine who should get your latest performance report is a huge waste of time.
Accordingly, this is something that employers need to get right when they allow their employees to work remotely. They need to ensure that their internal systems are strong and comprehensive so everyone always knows what they need to do and what the deadlines and expectations are. To some extent, this will obviously concern the software systems being used.
There are so many rich options in the SaaS field at this point, and choosing the right combination of tools (covering communication, project management, social media, etc.) can make all the difference. Putting in the time to figure out the best options for its budget should be an urgent priority for every company working in the digital industry.
Web developers and digital professionals working from home in 2020 should be reasonably comfortable with it by now but making it their new standard will require them to focus on optimizing their home offices in all possible ways and ensuring that their operational processes are clear at all times.
Originally published at https://seattleseonow.com on July 14, 2020.