I recently took my car in for an oil change. They said it would take an hour and asked if I wanted to wait. No problem, I said. I had my laptop and the lobby at the Honda shop has free WiFi. I just plugged in, fired up the VPN, and worked for the next hour and a half. My only other options would have been to sit around waiting or get shuttled back and forth to pick up the car later in the day. These options just seems like a waste of time to me. You see, I am a frequent telecommuter. On the days I am not working in the office I am usually plugged in from home or the neighborhood coffee shop. If your employer and job situation allow it, I highly recommend it. Telecommuting is ideal for web designers, developers and creatives who want to change up their work environment or go completely nomadic. Let me tell you why…
Benefits of telecommuting
- Environmentally friendly
The average American commutes on average an hour a day (PDF). Telecommuting reduces that to zero minutes and zero miles, and spares the earth, your car, and your mental health the extra wear-and-tear from a daily commute.
- More productive
Some of us are simply more productive from home. Maybe we are introverts, or dislike cube farms, or perhaps we just prefer the work-environment we’ve crafted at our home office. For those of us prefer working from home, a recent study shows telecommuting makes us more productive.
- Save yourself and your employer some money
If you aren’t taking up space at an office, that equals less overhead for your employer. As a trade-off, your employer might be willing to kick down a few incentives like paying for your cell phone or Internet connection. It’s also possible to write-off your home office on your taxes, but that gets a little murky so be sure to do your research first.
- Focus on work and get the laundry done
One of the benefits of telecommuting from home is that you are actually at home. You can take care of those pesky chores that normally don’t get done during the week when you are not there. Domestic tasks like doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and taking the dog out for a walk, are ways to break up the day and be productive on more than just the work front. And as most web designers, developers, and creatives have likely experienced, taking a break when creatively blocked often gives us a fresh new perspective that gets us through the problem.
- Define your own space
Telecommuting offers web designers, developers and creatives the autonomy to define their own creative space. Our work environment is perhaps one of the most influential factors in our ability to churn out great creative work. At home we can dial in the work space we want without the confines of an office space. Telecommuting also allows us to switch up our work environment and collaborate alongside others simply by toting our laptop to any coffee shop or similar space with WiFi.
Tools for telecommuting
- Online meetings
The two apps we use most for online meetings are Skype and GoToMeeting. They each have advantages over the other, which is by we use both. The key features that make our online meetings successful are group video chat and screen sharing. When telecommuting, it is important to get face time with your team to make sure everyone is looking at the same thing. Web designers and creatives tend to communicate more visually than others. An online screen sharing app helps to easily communicate visual ideas. Web developers tend to hunker down and push through what task sits before them. Getting everyone together for some online face-time helps keep from veering off course by checking in with their team throughout the development process.
- File access
When working from home there is a good chance the files you need to access are sitting on a server inside a firewalled office. A VPN can get you through the firewall, while a Remote Desktop client can get you logged into a computer on the other side. Talk to your IT department about utilizing a VPN because clients usually vary with the type of hardware being used on the network. Another way to get at files is to use a cloud based file service, such as DropBox, or use an online versioning application such as GitHub. DropBox is a great option for web designers and creatives, because the larger storage amounts make it more convenient for passing around large image files. GitHub is usually the top choice for web developers, who need to access and collaborate on the same code base, while also keeping a history of development activity.
- Time, task and project management
For web designers, developers and creatives who need online time, task and project management software, I’d like to make a quick plug for our own online project management software, Intervals. However, the advantage to using any online software for time tracking and task management is that you can keep track of your day-to-day workflow and communicate with your team members from a web browser. If you are telecommuting and collaborating with a team, some type of online project management software is essential. There are plenty of online apps to choose from, so take your time researching each one until you find one that fits your workflow best.
- Use a VPN and RDP Client
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) establishes a secure connection between your computer and the remote network at your office. A VPN is a must if you need to access servers or computers at your office that are behind a firewall. A VPN is also useful if your company owns servers that are only accessible from your office. In addition to a VPN, a Remote Desktop Client can be used to establish a Remote Desktop Connection to an idle computer at the office. Typically a RDP connection works best when used in conjunction with a VPN.
- Use SSL for web sites and email
Use SSL for surfing the web and checking email whenever possible. This means make sure the web site you are on has ‘https://’ in front of it. We are in the age of the cloud and most of the web-apps we use will be protected by SSL. By using SSL for web sites and email, you are ensuring that data being transferred to and from your laptop is encrypted.
- Protect sensitive data if you think your laptop might get stolen
Short from locking up your laptop with a cable, nothing is going to stop a thief from walking off with it. If you decide to load sensitive information on your laptop, encrypt the data and keep it close to you at all times.
- Use a hotspot
Most smartphones can be used as a mobile hot spot. If not, buy one. Then lock it down and take it with you. This way you can still work from places that don’t have WiFi and you can trust that your data is protected. And with 4g available in most major cities, the speed shouldn’t be a hindrance (unlike 3g).
Online security while telecommuting
Telecommuting brings with it a high risk of data loss as a result of theft. The importance of security can not be stressed enough when opting to telecommute, especially if you work in an industry that handles sensitive data. There have been too many stories in the news lately about stolen laptops containing personal data and sessions being hijacked when using public WiFi and unencrypted connections. If you are telecommuting from a public space, be sure to incorporate the following security tips:
Photo credit: mccun934