Posts categorized "Teleworking"

Remote Working: the Benefits, Disadvantages, and some Lessons Learned in 15+ years

Djurdjica-boskovic-G8_A4ZWxE3E-unsplash-776pxWith so many people now having to learn to work remotely due to restrictions related to COVID-19, what information can people share who have been working from home? Back in October 2019, I realized it was 20 years ago when I started working remotely, and so I sent out some tweets asking for opinions about the benefits of working remotely, the challenges / disadvantages, and then the lessons people have learned. I subsequently recorded podcast episodes on each of those three topics.

The links to the Twitter threads and podcasts are below.At some point I may turn them into longer articles themselves, but in the meantime, I hope they will help some of you with ideas for how to get adjusted to this new way of working.

And… I would suspect many of you might just want to jump directly to the lessons learned… 


Many of the benefits were about no commute, the ability to be present with family, freedom to work and live wherever, flexibility, caring for family, and more.  (Note that a good number of the benefits mentioned (such as working from "anywhere") are currently NOT possible because of the self-isolation / quarantine imposed by the COVID-19 situation.)


Loneliness, isolation, and the lack of social connections with colleagues topped the list of disadvantages, along with the lack of physical activity, home distractions and more.

Lessons Learned

Some of the key lessons that I have learned in over 15 years of working remotely, and that were common in other comments include:

  • Create a separate space (ideally, a separate room) - this is critical if you can do it.
  • Invest in a good chair and other office equipment - since you are going to be sitting in it so many hours of your day! (Or some people now have desks that let you stand, too.)
  • Make time for physical activity - get OUTSIDE if you can! Go for a walk. Go for a run. Or work out in a home gym. Multiple people suggested dogs being a great way to force you to do this.
  • Make a schedule - and STICK to that schedule - it is super easy to work many hours at all different times. Figure out a schedule that works for you,  your employer, your team, and your family - and then try to stick to that schedule.
  • Use collaboration tools - things like Slack are critical for your own sanity so that you are “connected” to other people in your organization. (Granted, you may need to figure out how to not be too connected to everyone and spend your day drowning in notifications!)
  • Take actual lunch breaks - step away from your computer and your home office. Get up and move around.
  • Sit with your face toward natural light, if possible - it looks better than artificial light… and you’ll get some Vitamin D, too. 🙂
  • Lighting IS important, particularly for video calls - you do want to have light shining on you in a way that works well for video. You may want to experiment with different lamps around you or on your desk.
  • Have video calls with other remote workers - make time to connect with colleagues, ideally over video calls. Even if it is just to chat for 5 or 10 minutes. It can help ease the sense of isolation - and they may like it, too! Sometimes if I have a question that I’m going to write in email or Slack, I’ll ask myself, “would it be faster if I just ask them in person?” And if so, I’ll ping them via a message to see if they are available for a video call.
  • Work in different locations - Try sometimes to get out of your home office and work in other parts of the house. Take a laptop and work in another room, or on a deck or yard if you have one. (Granted, this might be hard if you have many people in your household all working in the same building.)

On this last point, you’ll see in the Twitter thread and hear on the podcast all the comments about working from other locations. For example, working at cafes with WiFi, etc. That IS a critical lesson many of us have learned. Successful remote working can involve getting outside the walls of your home office - and outside of your home. Obviously this is currently NOT possible with the COVID-19 situation, but something to definitely think about if you continue working remotely once we are past all of this.

Other remote workers… what other lessons learned would you add?

Best wishes to you all as we all try to navigate this new world of social distancing and working remotely over the next weeks and months!

UPDATE #1 - over on Twitter, someone I know pointed out that this is NOT regular "working from home" (WFH). His text: "I've WFH 11 years. current situation is not normal WFH. you can't go to a coffee shop to interact w people, work out or take advantage of all sorts of WFH perks like normal.
self-quarantine != WFH

I definitely agree, Paul, this is NOT regular "working from home".

Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash. - No, that’s not MY desk… far too clean! 😏

Sprint or Verizon? Recommendations for broadband access card for my Mac?

Who would you recommend for a wireless broadband access service for my laptop? Sprint or Verizon? (Those seem to be my main choices here in Keene, NH.) And would you recommend the USB dongle or the ExpressCard version?

In heading out the Communications Developer Conference/ITEXPO next week in L.A., the show organizers have already told me there is no free WiFi access at the LA Convention Center... but I can, of course, pay for the access through the local provider. (And probably deal with the same usual headaches of getting adequate signal strength.)

I am so incredibly sick of show WiFi, both in terms of paying for it and also just in quality, that yes, indeed, even though I am a cheap Yankee... er... "frugal", I think I need to suck it up and pay the $720/year to have wireless Internet access over the cell networks. This will also be hugely beneficial for all the wonderful times I spend hanging out in airports.

My choice seems to be either Sprint or Verizon. (AT&T and T-Mobile don't have great coverage in my area.) Both will cover whatever limited roaming I do in my local area... and both have coverage in the major cities I tend to travel to. I've seen both used on the Amtrak train down to New York. They both charge ~$60/month... they both charge $50-100 for your actual broadband access card. They both require a 2-year contract (or reference a 1-yr but then your hardware costs go up.) And they both seem to have 5GB monthly limits (on-network).

On the actual hardware, it seems that I can get either a USB dongle or an ExpressCard. The USB is interesting in the sense that I can plug it into virtually any computer and use it. But the ExpressCard version looks interesting because: 1) I don't use that slot currently for anything else (whereas I do plug things into the USB slots); and 2) it looks like a smaller external form factor, i.e. there's less sticking out of my laptop.

So my questions for you all, dear readers, are these:

  • Have you seen any great reason to prefer Sprint or Verizon?
  • Do either one work better with the Mac? (my laptop these days)
  • Do either work better than the other inside of buildings like convention halls? (I'm imagining neither one works great.)
  • Any suggestions of the USB dongle over the ExpressCard card?

Any advice or recommendations is definitely welcome... I'll probably be picking one of these up in the next couple of days. (Thanks in advance!)

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Remote VoIP teleworker sets serve as an Internet connectivity warning device...

image Here's a great side benefit of having an IP phone in teleworker mode hanging off of a system somewhere out there on the Internet - you have a close-to-instant warning system about Internet connectivity issues. 

Take this morning... I walk into my home office and see that one of my phones has come out of its sleep status and the backlight is on and showing "CONNECTION PENDING..." with these black square boxes next to it.  I glance at another IP phone:  "PLEASE WAIT"

Oh, %#$#?!.  It's going to be that kind of Monday morning!

Yes, indeed, as I woke up the PCs, I did indeed have no connectivity.  Couldn't get to any websites and all the IM clients were cycling waiting to get connected.  After doing the usual power-cycling of the cable modem and verifying that I could get an address but couldn't ping beyond the next hop router, a relatively-quick call to Comcast brought the word that there was a "partial outage" in my area and that connectivity might be going up and down for the next two hours.

Great.  Wonderful way for a home office worker to start a Monday.

But it did remind me of one great benefit of having these IP teleworker phones[1] - they are a great way to know almost instantly whether my connection is up.  If I'm in the middle of doing something on my PC and it seems like connectivity is down, I just turn my head to look at the phones and can see very quickly if they are up.  Likewise, if I'm downstairs using my wife's PC and it seems like Internet access is down, I just go up the stairs and pop my head in the office... first glance is to see if the phones are up. 

It's a great side benefit of having the phones, although admittedly it wasn't anything on my mind when we were rolling out the Mitel Teleworker solution back in January 2003.  (Full disclosure: I was the product manager for the product when it was released.)

Now, this works in my case because the phones are using Mitel's own MiNET protocol and always have an encrypted MiNET connection established back to the Teleworker server sitting on the edge of the corporate network.  If the connection is broken, the phone flags that by displaying the aforementioned warning messages.  It's not *instant*, but typically within 30-60 seconds of the connection being down the messages appear.  If the phones were, say, in SIP mode connected to a SIP server out there, I wouldn't get the same fast notice because in SIP mode they are essentially stand-alone endpoints - think of them as mini-computers with a phone handset.  The first time I'd really notice was when I went to make a connection (or if the phone went to make some regularly scheduled connection and couldn't and put up an error message). 

This "side benefit" is, of course, not at all unique to Mitel implementations.  Basically any other IP phones that have "always-on" connections back to a central server will have the potential to do the same thing.

It works the other way, too, in letting you know when the connection is back online... while I was on the phone talking to the pleasant customer service rep at Comcast, how did I know that my Internet service was restored  (at least for the moment) without looking at my PC?  Simple...

... all my IP phones were back in operation.

[1] And yes, I have several teleworker phones- three to be exact, but hey, I'm working on emerging technology stuff so I have to be able to experiment and work with these phones.  They are also on different switches and trial systems.

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Telephony disrupted: It's darn hard to be a remote teleworker without Net access!

About 1:30pm today, I lost internet connectivity.  It was quite comical, really, how I noticed.  For some reason, I did something I almost never do and hit the "Music On Hold" button on my teleworker sets hanging off of Mitel's switch up in Ottawa.  So there, in a wonderful use of bandwidth, radio station CHEZ-106 out of Ottawa was streaming into my home office down here in Vermont.  (That's what the trial guys are using as the MOH music source for the trial switch to which I am connected.) 

All of a sudden, the phone started playing the same audio packet again and again and again... I felt like I  was transported back about 25 years to the era of skipping records!  I wondered what was up but then I noticed a browser window on my computer not being able to find a link I had just opened to a popular web site.  I quickly looked at my other teleworker phones and they, too, were going into a resiliency mode attempting to failover to their secondary IP-PBX.  A glimpse at my laptop showed that Skype, MSN, Jabber were all starting their contortions of trying to reconnect.


Being a network geek, I did the usual response of ssh'ing into my home network gateway, looking at the routing table and trying to ping the next hop router.  Nothing.  Then I did the usual "consumer-hooked-to-a-cable-network" response of power-cycling the cable modem and then re-trying the ping.  Nothing.

A quick call to a neighbor who is also a home office worker got me this: "Oh, yeah, they've cut the Internet access as part of the re-wiring they are doing to the neighborhood power lines. Didn't you get the letter?  There are all sorts of Burlington Electric, Comcast and Verizon trucks up there right now. "


We did get "the letter", but given that this is school vacation week and we'd been planning to go away, I'd actually forgotten all about the potential problems.  Since we decided to stay around, the issue hadn't re-entered my consciousness...  perhaps we'll rethink those plans!

I kind of feel like I'm back teaching the "Intro to Networking" classes I used to teach where I'd always say, "Probably 90% of networking issues are Physical Layer - always check your cables first."   If the power company cuts your Net access... there's not really much you can do!

(2:20-ish - Net back up... (or else I'd be hard-pressed to post this note))