Working from Home Essentials

Essentials to Working from home: a Comprehensive and Comparative Guide

With a sudden national and global shift to working from home for so many people due to COVID-19, the demand for video conferencing and collaboration tools to enable flexible working has never been greater.

We’re seeing a lift in millions of subscriptions across all unified communications platforms as it becomes a necessity for many people. Across the globe, gatherings are shutting down or heavily restricted. Most countries are shutting their borders and huge travel restrictions are in place. However, it’s not just events and conferences that are impacted. Small meetings are being forced to move away from physical spaces and into the safer, more flexible environment online. With “Social distancing” of at least 1.5m recommended by the Australian Government, many local businesses are now encouraging their staff to work from home, cancelling all face to face meetings.

The question is, are they enabled properly to work from home and stay connected?

Here’s a quick and simple guide on the options available and what some of the key differences are to make a working from home experience great rather than just bearable.

Please note that stock levels for a lot of technology is limited country-wide. Please reach out to us using the form at the bottom if you have any questions as we have our finger on the pulse with key suppliers and can help out with up-to-date information.

Unified Communications and Remote Collaboration:

Tools to help keep in touch with your workforce

For O365 houses: Microsoft Teams

To support the growing demand for video conferencing and remote working, the Microsoft brand is offering a free six-month trial for the premium tier of Teams too.

The globally available trial represents Microsoft’s concern for the “wellbeing of [its] employees,” as well as its desire to support customers dealing with the impact that infection can have on their workforces.

With over 44 million users now registered daily, Microsoft is leading the way during this global pandemic. Although a few glitches have occurred in some reasons due to this increase in volume Microsoft have been very reactive and are boosting their bandwidth.

For Cisco houses: Cisco WebEx Teams

To respond to the growing demand, Cisco has expanded the capabilities on its free offer in all countries where the technology is available. The updated free version now includes support for up to 100 participants, as well as unlimited usage with no time restrictions. There’s also toll dial-in available, in addition to existing VoIP capabilities. Additionally, Cisco is working closely with partners to offer free 90-day licenses to businesses that aren’t already Webex customers in the current environment.

Similar to Microsoft, Cisco WebEx have seen a huge surge in accounts and again had some outages. These can be tracked easily which is really helpful and they seem to resolve quite quickly.

For G-suite houses: Google Hangouts Meet

Google has announced that it is rolling out free access to advanced features for Hangouts Meet for all G-Suite and Education customers until the 1 July 2020. For G-Suite customers this means that you can now host meetings with up to 10,000 viewers, or 250 visitors in a single domain all for free. There is also the option to record and save meetings to Google Drive too. The Google team said that this new rollout was its attempt to “do our part” to keep teams connected.

For companies looking for a simple and free solution for video conferencing: Zoom

Zoom has seen a massive increase in usage since the spread of the virus started, bringing in more active users than ever before. Users outside of China can still sign up to the free version of Zoom to host up to 100 participants, access free 1-to-1 meetings, and create group meetings lasting up to 40 minutes.

Although Zoom has had a free version of its software available for some time now, the solution came with a 40-minute time limit on all video conversations. At the end of February, Zoom lifted these time limits for users in China and just last week announced that the videoconferencing app will be available for free to K-12 schools in the Italy, Japan and the US. Little help to us Aussies but time will tell if this offer is pushed globally.

For Interoperability: Pexip

Pexip is one of the leading providers of interoperability between video meeting solutions by joining standards-based video conferencing from Cisco, Poly, Lifesize and many others with Microsoft collaboration tools, Google Hangouts Meet and audio-conferencing platforms.

With Pexip, you can walk into a Cisco-equipped meeting room and join the Microsoft Teams all-hands meeting or the Google Hangouts Meet team call. Engage with your fellow meeting participants, and easily work in real-time on the same content.

As enterprises shift across different platforms based on useability, reliability and location the likes of Pexip will be crucial to keeping unified communications and collaboration tools connected. If you’ve still got some people working from the office and others working from home Pexip may be the perfect tool for your company in these times.

The all-rounder for collaboration: Slack

Slack has launched earlier than expected a redesign of its product, intended to help people at work communicate and collaborate even more easily given the sudden spike in WFH. New features in the app include being able to group channels, messages and apps by topics; a new search function; a new way to compose messages to a channel or individuals; and new shortcuts to be able to launch workflows or apps in Slack.

Slack is a free platform for individuals but a paid platform for business collaboration. For companies working on coronavirus pandemic research, response and mitigation, Slack will offer free upgrades. Some new features like the ability to group up channels, messages and apps by topic are for paid accounts only.

For quick and easy instructions + training for the team: Loom

Loom allows you to make quick videos using a lightening fast video recorder capable of capturing your screen, microphone and webcam. Loom is perfect for providing instructions quickly and easily without everyone having to be available at the exact same time for meetings. For communication that does not have to happen in real-time, Loom is the perfect collaboration tool to reduce emails and keep your team up to date.

Loom has enabled free access to teachers and students of their Pro account for the time being so for learning facilities this could be a wonderful remote education tool. They also have a 30 day trial for companies to lean on right now.

For team task management + collaboration: Monday.com

This collaboration tool provides users with a robust platform where business leaders can assign tasks, manage workflow, and support ongoing collaborative experiences in the workplace. There are fantastic colour-coded work boards available to keep employees on track, as well as easy-to-use tools for staff members that help to keep staff members in touch.

The free trial allows users to test the service before they commit, providing access to useful workforce management technology during crucial times in a business’s progression into the remote work environment. While Monday.com hasn’t changed anything about its free-to-use service, employees and businesses can still access the video conferencing system for free, with a few restrictions.

Working from Home Kits

All-in-one bundle packs make it easy for you to get set up quickly with a professional camera, speaker and microphones for desktop computers and laptops. There’s a few different options available to market at the moment from high-end to low-end. Check out these options we have:

Audio Quality for Conference Calls

There are two really different options available for a home office audio and come down to personal choice. First is the desktop speaker/microphone combo and the second is a headset. Both have their pros and cons based on background noise, ease of use, comfortability and cost. We recommend making sure you don’t skimp out on the audio product as at the end of the day, this is what will keep you connected to the workforce and apart from your computer itself, be heavily used over the coming weeks and months of conferencing.

Desktop Cameras

Although video has not been a necessity the shift to video even in the last month has been significant. Given individuals are working remotely and don’t have contact, many people are turning on their videos during conference calls to see their colleagues as well as keep the conversation flowing rather than accidentally speaking over the top. There are three key things to consider when looking at desktop cameras – reliability, quality and flexibility.

Huddly IQ camera is the most versatile camera on the market with a built-in microphone as well as the ability to be adjusted to a monitor or a laptop quite easily.

Logitech desktop cameras are another great solution that are both reliable and cost effective.

Display Monitors

The last thing you want is to be staring at an intricate document on a small laptop screen all day, working differently to how you normally would at the office. But don’t fear – there are many display monitor options out there perfect for any home office and suitable to each and every role.

If you haven’t got much space at home but are used to two monitors at work, try looking at a wide screen UHD monitor. It’s almost the same size as two monitors so you can have two windows side by side on the, but physically takes up a lot less bench space.

For those staring all day at Excel sheets, detailed reports or intricate documentation you’d be best investing in a 4K monitor where the image is crystal clear. Not only will this reduce the squinting you’ll feel a lot more comfortable at the end of the day.

If you just need a basic display monitor, a 1080P should do the trick.

Internet Connection

Australia has pretty terrible internet quality at the best of times. Although shortly 5G will solve a lot of these issues, 4G and the NBN seem to be the most reliable when it comes to stable internet connections.

To help with the COVID-19 crisis, both Telstra and Optus have released additional data to mobile subscribers which can be activated through April. This will allow those with poor internet connection at their home to tether to their mobile device during this unique WFH uplift around the country.

Office Furniture

Now while we all have had little time to prepare for this sudden shift to WFH and get our home offices set up properly, it’s key to remember that it’s not just about the technology it’s also about the working environment overall including furniture. If you are looking for a new desk for home your best option will be a flexible functional sit-stand desk. There are many options available including manual and motorised.

For those that have little space or a re-purposing the furniture already at home, have a look into adjustable monitor stands that can help turn any table into a desk.

Make sure you choose a chair with back support (not the kitchen stool) and get up and stand every hour for 10 minutes to avoid sore neck, back and shoulders.

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