Working from home

There has been a lot posted about remote working with all the restricted travel around the world recently to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. I’ve been working remotely for most of the last 10 years, so here’s my take on it.

Use statuses

Remote working often goes hand in hand with flexible working, especially while many of us now have our familes at home. Status indicators are a great way of letting people know that you’re online that day, maybe out for lunch, on a call or in a meeting.

Don’t use them to convey other information, such as location.

Don’t worry about switching status to answer the door or grab a bite from the fridge; it’s not for the colleagues to track your time, they’ll wait if you’re not there.

Communication method

My favoured approach to remote communication is probably the inverse of my own instincts, which makes it potentially controversial, but also potentially useful. In fact I think it’s key. To borrow a turn of phrase -

Never send an asynchronous message when you can send a synchronous message.
Never send a synchronous message when you can make a voice call.
Never make a voice call when you can make a video call.

i.e. Use the most interactive method of communication possible.

This means people may get interrupted, but that pays off because we start by using the most effective communication, avoiding methods that lack nuance and most easily lead to misinterpretation and potentially conflict.


Always, always, use a software or hardware mute function when you’re not talking on a call. It’s the most powerful audio upgrade available to you and it’s free. We don’t need to hear you breathing, the dog barking in the background or you typing. Just use mute, even in a one on one call.

Actively listen

If you’re on a call you need to listen. Don’t browse reddit, if the call isn’t doing it for you either speak up and change the direction of it or drop off. It’s ok to leave a meeting without explanation if you’ve got more important work to do.

Don’t just pretend you went through a tunnel and missed the last 30 seconds when you hear your name.

Video conferencing tools

There’s a variety of tools available. Here’s my take on the main ones, I’ve linked to the few I think you should most consider.

Tool When to use it
Slack Your team is already on Slack, special mention for the pen tool when screen sharing
Hangouts You need to communicate outside the organisation and send out a URL for a room
Jitsi You’re just a good person
Teams You work somewhere that no one ever got fired for choosing Microsoft
Skype You haven’t noticed it’s been bought by Microsoft
Zoom You like reading about the software you have installed on security news sites
Amazon Chime You like billing amounts to have an element of surprise
Webex You’re working with an organisation that’s too big to fail

Physical tools

Get these, in this order of priority and make sure they’re good. Availability might be an issue in the short term with so many people setting themselves up for working from home.


Unfortunately the only good answer here, and you do need a good answer, is a Herman Miller Aeron. Aesthetically I’m no fan of the design but it’s endlessly practical and reliable with easily available parts. I tried buying cheap a few times, after giving up and spending a fortune on an Aeron it ended up being cheaper per day of use by a country mile.


Get one that’s bluetooth capable, but which you can plug in if it runs out of battery. Don’t try making calls without one, your laptop microphone sucks.


If you don’t already have a monitor at home, get one. Your laptop screen is too low and too low resolution. These days you should be able to pick up at least a 28" 4k screen at a reasonable amount for a work purchase. I use an LG 34" 5k ultrawide because I failed in life and couldn’t stretch to an Apple 6k screen.


We’re social animals, to a greater or lesser extent, and the better people can see you the better they can pick up on your cues and feel generally like they relate to you. A 1080p webcam needn’t break the bank, but make a note of the quality of your video conferencing tool - for example currently Hangouts doesn’t support higher than 720p, so there’s limited benefit in a camera with a higher resolution for now.

One extra tip with webcams - avoid the laptop-on-a-desk angle up the nose to the ceiling light. It doesn’t cost a penny to have a camera mounted at eye level.