5 Essential Tools for Every Remote Employee

About 6 months ago I moved away. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to live in Denver, nestled in at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. So I finally did it in June of this year, and I was lucky enough to have an employer (Accelera) that supported me, allowing me to become a remote employee.  I knew it would take some getting used to, I knew that the workstyle would be different and I’d have to establish new routines. So almost immediately, I set out to make sure that I had everything I needed to be the most effective I could be, and avoid the common challenges that plague remote workers everywhere.  And so over the last 5 months or so, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 things that were essential to that transition from office worker to remote worker. I hope my experience can help someone in a similar situation.

File Sync and Share – Remote employees all have similar collaboration challenges – especially when it comes to file sharing. Sharing large files over email just doesn’t work, and getting access to file shares when I’m not on the corporate network is a hassle.  Plus, I have two computers... one at my desk at home, and the other, a laptop that I travel with.  And on the laptop, I need offline access to a bunch of different file locations so that I can work in the airport or on a plane. It would be ridiculous to try to copy files back and forth all the time to make sure that my desk workstation and my laptop had all the same files.  Thank goodness this is such an easy problem to solve today.  All I needed was my Citrix ShareFile account with local file sync enabled on both my computers.  So both machines constantly sync to the cloud and each other, regardless of which workstation I use to create or edit files.  Not only that, but others on my team who I give permissions to can also sync to their workstations, so we all have local copies of the files we’re all working on, all the time, available offline, and updating in real-time when one of us makes a change.  And honestly, it doesn’t HAVE to be ShareFile, it could just as easily be Microsoft OneDrive, or a number of other file share and sync apps. I chose ShareFile because my IT department provides it to me, but also because of the email integration... I’m operating on local storage that I paid for (BYOD), and ShareFile redirects large email attachments to the cloud, so I don’t have to keep them around in my local Outlook mail files, chewing up my local storage.  I’ve also found the local sync tool to be extremely reliable.

A New, Bigger Monitor – This might sound insignificant, but the effect that a new, larger monitor has on a person is real. I’m sure it’s completely psychological, but even so, it makes me feel like I have a brand-new computer, even months after I bought it. As a result, I find myself more energized, and more excited about everything on the screen. Every Word doc that I can see larger and clearer than ever before and every Excel file that I can finally fit on the screen, is more exciting to interact with.  It may sound strange but I know I’m not the only one.  At Accelera, we’ve seen this effect when our customers have installed thin clients to replace workstations and laptops.  The effect of receiving a smaller, in some cases less powerful thin client is that employees feel like something has been taken away from them, and that this tiny box is going to make their job more difficult or frustrating.  But the minute that a bigger monitor shows up on their desk, the perception changes.  Even in cases where the thin client might not be as powerful as a workstation, that larger screen makes it feel like an upgrade. Much like the phrase, “the eyes are the window to the soul”, the monitor is the window into your workstation.  And mine is a big, clear, beautiful window. It truly does add some new-ness, and some excitement to even mundane tasks.

A Webcam – I miss the personal interaction with the people at Accelera. I took for granted the ability to quickly walk to someone’s office to brainstorm an idea or confirm a detail.  Now it’s all phone calls.  But with a webcam, it sure does feel better.  When I miss my family back home, I Skype with them.  And when I miss that professional interaction with my colleagues, I “Skype for Business” with them.  Living 2 hours behind, I’m not always “webcam-ready” at 9am Eastern (7am where I live), but as soon as I am, the webcam really helps bring some of that personal interaction back to the workday.  It also helps me to be “seen” by my peers at HQ; it helps me continue to feel like part of the team, and it helps to reinforce to the rest of the team that I’m still around. An essential tool, no doubt.

Virtual Desktops and Apps – Call me biased because I work for a company that was built on virtual applications and desktops, but this truly is an amazing technology that saves me so much time, and brings so much efficiency to my work day as a remote employee. There are so many limitations that every remote employee or anyone who has ever worked from home for a day has likely had to deal with.  For example, I’m here on my home network, not joined to our corporate Accelera domain, not authenticated with AD, so I don’t have my drive mappings, I can’t get to shared drives, I can’t get to anything that requires any sort of AD authentication, because my computer is a personal device, and my corporate network back in Fairfax knows nothing about it. Enter my virtual desktop. This thing is a Windows 10 Virtual Machine running on the corporate network delivered to me over the web.  I interact with it just as I would a locally installed Windows OS, and it has everything I need installed on it, and it’s joined to the corporate domain!  I get drive mappings, my home drive, all the corporate shared drives, SharePoint, I can interact with any service that we have running on the network because I’m on the network.  Also, it’s available from ANYWHERE!  I can get to my virtual desktop from the workstation in my office, from my laptop, from my iPad, even if I’m visiting friends back east, I can hop on their computer and get to my virtual desktop.  I could write pages on how this technology has changed my ability to work from home and now, be an effective remote employee, but I’ll leave it at this: if you have one tool in your toolbelt as a remote employee, or even someone who works from home occasionally, be the squeaky wheel that asks your IT department for a virtual desktop.  It’s truly changed the way that I work.

A Toaster Oven – Without co-workers around me to remind me to go to lunch, I sometimes forget. And then I find myself at 2 or 3 in the afternoon getting really hungry, but coming up against a big conference call.  I can’t be trusted to watch an oven to re-heat leftovers or warm a homemade tuna melt while I’m concentrating on a meeting... I’ll burn whatever I put in there.  And it feels like a waste of energy to use a giant oven to reheat a single slice of pizza.  But my toaster oven is small, and it has a timer.  So I set it, and forget it.  Ok, maybe this isn’t as important as those other things I mentioned, but you’ve got to eat.  A well-fed employee is a happy employee.

I hope that my experiences at least invoke some thoughts in anyone who is currently frustrated with their work from home situation, or has been putting it off because of the technical challenges.  Today, remote and telework solutions are light-years ahead of where they were just a few years ago. Chances are, if you are frustrated with something, someone has come up with a way to solve it.

Happy teleworking.