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cubicles2.jpgIf you’re visiting this site, you’re probably a workshifter. Or, at the very least, someone who’s interested in the subject and the lifestyle. But some people don’t choose to be workshifters — they have workshifting thrust upon them. Many of those folks aren’t prepared when they need to move outside of the familiar confines of the cubicle.

Take, for example, a recent situation I found myself in. Although I’m a freelancer, I’ve been working out of the offices of a firm I’m doing some consulting with. Those offices are in the financial district of Toronto, Canada and are near the site of the recent G20 Summit.

To ensure the business ran smoothly, management assigned employees and consultants to either work in the suburban office or from home. I was one of the lucky ones working from home.

While I’m used to workshifting, I do it on my own terms. I have what I need on my laptop or my netbook. This time around, I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. Neither were a lot of the people I work with.

Here’s what I learned from that experience:

Duplicate your work environment at home
Don’t go setting up a cubicle in that empty corner! But think about the software and files that you’ll need. You won’t need everything that’s installed on your PC at work, but you do need the essentials.

For many, that might just be a copy of Microsoft Office. Others might need something more. In my case, that was a set of specialized apps for creating technical documentation. If you don’t have the software, you need to get it.

The company you work for should have additional licenses which you can use. If not, check if they have software licenses that allow you to install the applications on two PCs as long as both copies aren’t being used at the same time.

Take an inventory of the software you need and the software you have installed on your home computer. Then, talk to your IT department about filling in the gaps.

But I don’t do Windows at home!
For better or for worse, most businesses run on Microsoft Windows. A number of people, though, use MacOS or Linux at home. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to use Windows software on those operating systems.

You can get around that by using something called virtualization software. You can learn more about that here. All you need to worry about is having enough memory and hard disk space on your computer.

Even if you aren’t using virtualization software, you should check that your computer has the grunt to handle your work tasks. If, say, you’re using Windows 98 on an old Pentium 300 then chances are you won’t be getting much done …

Getting (and staying) connected
That means a fast, reliable Internet connection. But it doesn’t stop there. First off, find out if your company has a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Most companies do, and if that’s the case with yours then and you’ll need to install software that makes the connection with the VPN on your computer at home.

What does a VPN offer? Secure access to your employer’s servers and even your computer at the office. That lets you get to your files and to your email, no matter where you are. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a VPN isn’t always fast or reliable, especially if a large number of people are using it.

If your company doesn’t have a VPN, or the software doesn’t work with your computer, then you’ll have to take your files with you: copy them to a USB flash drive. The flash drive should have a capacity of at least 2 GB. Remember to copy the files that you’ve modified back to the flash drive before returning to work!

As for email, if a VPN connection doesn’t work then forward your work emails to a personal account. You can find instructions on how to do this in the online help for the email software you use at work. Before you do that, get the go-ahead from management. They might not take too kindly to confidential emails being sent over a public channel.

Anything else?
Treat workshifting days like another day at the office. Have set work hours — during the G20 summit, I worked between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 or 3:30 p.m.

Limit the distractions. Keep the TV and radio off (difficult when the World Cup is on!). Keep the Web browser shut down or, at least, minimized. And try not to look out the window too much,  especially if it’s a nice day!

Make sure that your family knows that you’re at home to work. Lay down some ground rules for interruptions. If you can, close the door of the room in which you’re working.

Finally, schedule breaks. Take 10 or 15 minutes every two hours, in addition to lunch. Those breaks give you a good opportunity to get up, have something to eat or drink, or just get away from the computer.

For the new workshifter, especially the ones who have it sprung on them, workshifting can be a big change. Knowing what to expect makes adapting a lot easier. Who knows, you might even get to like it!

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  • https://twitter.com/DavidBaeza David Baeza

    If you need to run the apps from your office computer and you don’t have a VPN, use remote access software such as GoToMyPC (I work for Citrix Online). Then you can work with your software applications and whatever other resources you need on your office computer. Mac and PC friendly.

    • Jeff Petersen

      Good point. But some companies are very (overly?) conscious about security and don’t let their workers use apps like GoToMyPC or even VNC.

      I used GoToMyPC a few times and would recommend it.