Welcome Into My Home Office
Two days ago, I recalled how my company has been able to shift all operations from our physical offices everywhere on the globe to our homes in a matter of a few days. Many of us are part of this full-scale global experiment. In this post, I would like to describe the toolbox that transforms a typical white-collar, commuting every day from home to work, into a real road warrior, ready to tackle any business emergency from the comfort of his couch, or anywhere else.
The toolbox is composed of items falling in one of these three categories: hardware, infrastructure and software. Most of the hardware I will describe can be spotted on this photo of my couch office.
Mobile phone: the fundamental asset of any digital nomad. I use it to send and receive emails, but also to chat with my colleagues or browse my company intranet in search of documentation. I also use it for phone calls, but today none of my calls rely on traditional GSM connection.
I am very lucky as my employer provides me a mobile phone with a great data plan: it includes a big quantity of monthly data as well as roaming agreements with other countries data providers, so I can use the data connection from anywhere.
Laptop: despite the fact that the rise of the mobile phone has taken the spotlight away from it, the laptop is still an essential piece of hardware, as working on word editors, slide decks and data sheets requires a proper size keyboard and screen. For everyday corporate use that does not require massive computation power, a mid-range laptop is enough. All laptops today are sold with built-in Wifi and Bluetooth capabilities. Personally, I like to have a light laptop.
When I use my phone or laptop, all data exchanges required by personal messengers, mail exchanges and internet browsing, will go through an ADSL+Wifi connection when I am at home or in a free Wifi area, and use my mobile phone data plan otherwise. Sometimes, the Wifi connection at home is not so great: in this case, I will activate the hot-spot on my mobile phone and use my corporate mobile data plan to connect my laptop to the internet. As a general rule, I use ADSL+Wifi whenever possible and use the mobile data plan provided by my employer only as a backup when really needed.
This combination of a physical mobile phone, a great data plan that includes international roaming and a light laptop, transforms me into a road warrior. I can work cooperatively, access all the information I need or talk to whoever I want from almost anywhere in the world.
Business Headset: these days, I use a business headset when I work from my couch in my living room. It consists of a headset and microphone and helps me to isolate from the environment and focus on the conversation or the information shared verbally from the person(s) on the other side.
Mobile phone headset: I use it for my phone calls when I am outside my apartment.
USB port hub: an inexpensive and useful device. My laptop has two USB ports but I often need more, for example if want to use a mouse, recharge my phone and use my headset at the same time. A USB port hub is a small box that allows you to have more USB ports than the physical ones provided by your laptop.
Mobile phone charger cable: phones need constant charging, especially if you use them as hot-spot for data connection. When I work from home, I plug my phone to the USB port of my computer and the computer is always charging.
Bluetooth noise cancellation headset: this is a perk for all nomadic workers. These days I use it a lot when I want to connect to some online training to learn new skills for example. Noise cancellation just provides an extra layer of background silence and helps to focus. Also, when I travel for leisure or business, my noise cancellation headset allows me to catch some extra sleep on the plane and this is precious in long-distance flights, that are usually very tiring.
ADSL internet connection: brings the internet in your home through a mix of different mediums such as cable, optical fiber, etc. ADSL providers usually package their offers based on the connection speed. I do have a high-speed connection, that arrives in my apartment through an optical fiber last-mile connection. Once it reaches my apartment, the signal is carried to each room using Ethernet cables that pass inside the walls.
NAS (Network Attached Storage): the physical device that I use to create my personal cloud, on the top of the enterprise cloud provided by my company. All my personal data such as pictures, movies, music are stored on my personal cloud and accessible thanks to a data server installed on the NAS from anywhere using my phone or my laptop. I do not store any personal data on my devices, but access everything through my personal cloud. None of my personal data is hosted by Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. My NAS has two twin hard disks: all the data is always replicated on both disks, if one fails, the other disk will be used.
Wifi router: It takes the ADSL signal and makes it available to your wifi devices in your apartment. I use the wifi link to connect to the internet from all the rooms in my apartment without using a cable.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) client: it is a piece of the infrastructure installed on my laptop and mobile phone. Thanks to VPN, all my work-related emails and documents are encrypted and cannot be easily hacked.
Collaborative office suite : my company recently implemented a new cloud based office suite for document editing, data sheets, slide decks. The new solution makes it extremely easy to share documents with colleagues or store them in a remote data center. This boosts collaboration and also, makes data storage more secure. I store all my work documents on the enterprise cloud and this makes me a lot more resilient in case of problems. I will explain this with an example: last year, I prepared a very important business presentation for a client in Tokyo. When I arrived to the airport, I realized that I forgot my laptop at home and I had no time to go back. All the documents I needed where stored on the cloud so I left in total piece of mind. Once in Tokyo, we worked on my presentations with the team over there and the only real hassle that I had to endure was my team-workers making fun of me, which I fully deserved.
Chat and video-conferencing enterprise solution: many solutions exist on the market. They can reduce the need for face to face interaction substantially, especially with co-workers.
When working from home, it is important to be aware of the surrounding environment and this also applies to people around us. Yesterday, my girlfriend popped up in bikini in my video call with a colleague based in Dubai and I found it very funny, it is a sign of the times.
Although face to face interactions with co-workers can be reduced using collaborative tools and video-conferencing, when it comes to customer meetings, nothing can replace face to face, especially in critical phases such as when you are building a relationship or trying to progress in a complex negotiation.
Modern technologies surely provide us everything we need to work from home and keep the same level of efficiency we have in a physical office environment. We are not just working machines and personally, I need constant social interactions: nothing replaces the coffee breaks with my colleagues at the office. Nevertheless, once COVID-19 will be gone, we should review the lessons this crisis is teaching us in terms of workspaces and urban mobility: in these days and age, does it still make sense to have costly and oversized physical offices in the middle of huge metropolitan areas and push millions of people to commute every day? I do not have a clear answer, but I think that this is a question worth asking.