How to Work Remotely & Sustainably – Technical Tips

We’re around the tail end of 2020, and to work remotely (necessary in the COVID era) has now been standard practice for over half a year. 

That isn’t inherently an extended period, but it’s easily long enough for most companies to have given up on their offices and accepted that they won’t return to working nearby for months or even years (if ever).

Surely that means that we have it all figured, right? 

All the wrinkles in the remote working process have been smoothed out, and businesses are firing on all cylinders. 

Well… Not quite. 

Just as the structure of the conventional office changed quite significantly over the years, the form of the home office will develop in the near future. We’ve certainly yet to perfect it.

So if you’re working remotely and eager to make the most of it, there’s undoubtedly more you can do to improve your situation. 

In this post, we’re going to look at some technical steps to work remotely — those being steps on technology — that are extremely important for making your home office setup sustainable. Let’s get started.

Invest in a high-durability laptop

Best Gaming Laptop For Design

It’s been quite a while since there was much sense in recommending a desktop computer for any professionals outside of specific roles (3D modelling, high-level data processing, etc.), and even for those, it’s become a tough case to make. 

Desktop machines are inherently clunky, after all. 

They’re more awkward to acquire (whether you collect them or have them delivered), harder to move, more power-hungry, and noisier in general.

A modern laptop can deliver all the speed and power you need for tasks including 3D modelling, and it’s massively more useful on the basis that you can move it around at your leisure when you work remotely. 

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If you want to work from an office on occasion, or switch up your working environment (by working outside when the weather is decent, for instance), you’ll find things so much easier.

Now, you might consider it worthwhile to invest in the fastest laptop you can find, but you’re unlikely to get much return on that investment. 

If you’re doing things like editing documents and participating in video conferences, then any mid-tier laptop will offer adequate performance. 

Pick a reputable brand with reliable support, get enough features to keep you going for a few years, and use the money you save to invest in other things that matter more.

You should also factor in the rise of cloud computing because you often don’t even need a mid-tier laptop to get things done. 

With the vital role that the SaaS industry now plays in the business world, more and more processing is being done via the internet instead of locally — and that processing power can be accessed via any internet-capable device, regardless of how old and sluggish it may be.

Acer Chromebook Spin 311 Convertible Laptop, Intel Celeron N4020, 11.6" HD Touch, 4GB LPDDR4, 32GB eMMC, Gigabit Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.0, Google Chrome, CP311-2H-C679
  • Chromebook runs on Chrome OS - An operating system by Google that is built for the way we live today. It comes with built-in virus protection, updates automatically, boots up in seconds and continues to stay fast over time. (Internet connection is required).
  • All the Google apps you know and love come standard on every Chromebook, which means you can edit, download, and convert Microsoft Office files in Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
  • Get access to more than 2 million Android apps from Google Play to learn and do more.
  • Chromebooks come with built-in storage for offline access to your most important files and an additional 100GB of Google Drive space to ensure that all of your files are backed up automatically.
  • Acer CP311-2H-C679 convertible Chromebook comes with 11.6” HD Touch IPS Display, Intel Celeron N4020, 4GB LPDDR4 Memory, 32GB eMMC, Google Chrome and up to 10-hours battery life.

If you’re mainly going to be using online software, then even something like a Chromebook could work for you (and at a much lower price point). 

Plenty of professionals these days handle their entire workloads through Google Workspace and a few other SaaS tools, so they don’t need powerful machines, eye-catching refresh rates, or high-capacity batteries. 

They just need reliable Wi-Fi access, steady performance, and decent construction to work remotely.

Regardless of the level of power you need, of course, your main priority should be durability

A fast laptop with lousy build quality might fail at an inconvenient time, plus the construction will likely be worse when it comes to recyclability. 

Your money needs to go towards a machine that was developed for the long-haul. 

Brands like Apple and Dell may charge premium prices, but they also deliver supreme build quality that will keep you working for years to come.

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New Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 16GB RAM, 512GB Storage) - Space Gray
  • Ninth-generation 6-Core Intel Core i7 Processor
  • Stunning 16-inch Retina Display with True Tone technology
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5300M Graphics with GDDR6 memory
  • Ultrafast SSD

You can also take advantage of that build quality when you reach the point of needing to get a faster machine because that point will arrive eventually even if you only have limited processing needs. 

Even something like browsing the web gets more demanding with each passing year, after all — plus you’ll encounter security and compatibility issues if you continue to rely on a dated machine as your primary device.

Apple hardware holds its value exceptionally well, meaning you can wipe your current laptop, sell it for a decent return, and use that money to ease the purchase of a newer machine. 

Alternatively, you can keep your old machine as a backup device in case of hardware failure, knowing that you’ll be able to get something done while you wait for a replacement to arrive.

Set up a convenient docking station to work remotely

Best Laptop Docking Station For Designers

Though having a laptop will allow you to move around when you work remotely, you’ll mostly want to work at a particular desk, so it’s vital that you make that setup as convenient and easy to use as possible. 

The less time you spend squinting at a laptop screen or messing around with ad-hoc cable management, the more time you’ll have to focus on your work.

That’s why you should assemble a docking station: in other words, everything you’d expect from a fully-fledged desktop computer, but with your laptop as the unifier. 

Plugable USB 3.0 Universal Laptop Docking Station Dual Monitor for Windows and Mac (Dual Video: HDMI and DVI/VGA/HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, Audio, 6 USB Ports)
  • FLEXIBLE EXPANDABILITY - A single USB 3.0 connection from a host PC to this dock provides dual video outputs, wired Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm Headphone and Microphone jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, and four USB 2.0 ports
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  • COMPATIBILITY - Docking station compatible with Windows 10, 8.x, 7, and XP systems, and Macs with 10.14+. Additional adapter needed for USB-C systems (USBC-AF3). Plug and play driver installation via Windows Update. Wired Ethernet supports Gigabit speed. Dock does not charge host PC
  • RECOMMENDED USE - For use with web and productivity software; not recommended for gaming. Cannot be mixed with non-DisplayLink USB adapters. DisplayPort connections not supported. Does not support HDCP, will not playback encrypted or copy-protected content
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Modularity is a beautiful thing: there are so many device types that can be connected using generic ports and cables. 

You can even draw upon these devices to make your laptop more powerful if necessary.

It would be best if you aimed to get at least one external display (perhaps two, or even three, oriented however suits your needs), associated peripherals (more on those next), a USB hub to connect different devices when needed (a powered hub will be best), and possibly speakers if you like to listen to music while you work (and prefer speakers to headphones).

If you’re not sure what your docking station should look like, get inspired by looking at some examples of home offices

There are plenty to be found these days, after all, mainly via social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. 

You can throw in keywords about sustainability to pick out the results that best fit that approach.

Remember that you don’t need to copy an existing setup, in any case. 

Your setup should fit your unique needs — so if you habitually sit in a strange position while you work (and that’s most comfortable for you), then come up with an arrangement that allows you to do just that. 

In other words, don’t set out three giant monitors in portrait orientation just because you’ve seen someone do that. 

Only do that if you genuinely think it’ll help you work remotely, more efficiently.

On the topic of making your laptop more powerful, keep in mind that you can get an external GPU (or eGPU) that can massively boost your graphics processing options. 

It isn’t usually advisable for various reasons — eGPUs are expensive, cumbersome, loud, and slower than equivalent internal cards — but it might still be worth it if you need to do something like 3D rendering but want to retain the flexibility of having a laptop.

When you decide the things you want, you should go for high-quality equipment: you’re going to use it enough to justify spending a fair amount on it, especially since you can use the same things after changing your laptop. 

This is true even if you go from MacOS to Windows or vice versa; both Thunderbolt and Mini DisplayPort use an identical connector, after all, and the overwhelming majority of USB devices will work correctly no matter what your machine runs.

Accordingly, pay close attention to guarantees, warranties, and general construction quality — and consider how one cheap link in the chain can affect everything else. 

A low-quality USB port, for instance, can end up damaging the attached USB devices, losing you a significant amount of money. 

Invest substantially now to protect your vital hardware.

Pick out some ergonomic peripherals

Best Design Mouse

We covered spending extra on your docking station, and that certainly applies to your keyboard and mouse — but it’s about more than just device quality here. 

It’s also about comfort and long-term ergonomics when you work remotely. 

You might like a keyboard (the way it looks, the functions it offers, etc.), but if it starts to hurt your fingers after you’ve been typing for a while, then it isn’t viable.

One of the reasons why remote working can be so draining is that home office setups can be somewhat impractical for long working sessions. 

When people suddenly had to start working from home in early 2020, many of them thought the situation wouldn’t last very long, so they didn’t put any care into how they worked. 

They sat on their sofas with their laptops and endured the backache and muscle strain that inevitably resulted.

And though it soon became apparent that office life wouldn’t be returning shortly, they’d become set in their ways — and once you’ve formed a habit, it’s tough to get out of it, even if it’s proving destructive. 

This is why it’s so important to disrupt your current groove, rethink every facet of your remote working situation, and figure out how you can make it better. 

And given that just about every remote worker needs to do a lot of typing and clicking, peripherals are vital.

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Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard for Business (5KV-00001 )
  • Split keyset design helps to position wrists and forearms in a natural, relaxed position
  • Cushioned palm rest provides support and promotes a neutral wrist position
  • Domed keyboard design positions wrists at a natural, relaxed angle
  • Separate number pad provides greater flexibility for workspace setup
  • Natural arc key layout mimics the curved shape of the finger tips

Keep in mind that there are many different types of keyboards and mice, and some of them use very different designs than what most people are used to. 

You can get ergonomic keyboards that curve quite dramatically, for instance, and are split into two sections so you can type with your arms farther apart. 

They’re not for everyone, and they present unique learning curves (it takes time to get the typing speed back up), but they’re often worth investing in.

Similarly, you can get mice designed for relaxed long-term use, often using shapes that allow your hand to rest in a more natural and healthy position. 

The classic position of positioning the hand horizontally is terrible for the wrist — the natural inclination orients the wrist towards you (and back somewhat), not down, so using a conventional mouse can cause massive problems. 

Finding a mouse that allows you to rest your hand in a suitable position is a great move.

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Logitech MX Master 2S Wireless Mouse – Use on Any Surface, Hyper-fast Scrolling, Ergonomic Shape, Rechargeable, Control up to 3 Apple Mac and Windows Computers (Bluetooth or USB), Graphite
  • Cross computer control: Game changing capacity to navigate seamlessly on 3 computers, and copy paste text, images, and files from 1 to the other using Logitech flow
  • Dual connectivity: Use with upto 3 Windows or Mac computers via included Unifying receiver or Bluetooth Smart wireless technology
  • Advanced ergonomic design: Perfectly sculpted, hand crafted shape supports your hand and wrist in a comfortable, natural position
  • Auto shift scrolling: Speed adaptive scroll wheel auto shifts on the fly from click to click to hyper fast scrolling; Wireless operating distance: 10 m
  • Battery: rechargeable Li-Po (500 mAh) battery. Rechargable battery: Upto 70 days of power on a single charge; Number of buttons: 7

In the end, you have to go with what suits your preferences, because something that’s technically more ergonomic might not be more comfortable for you. 

If you’re entirely used to typing on a conventional keyboard, for instance, you might experience significantly more discomfort if you switched to an ergonomic keyboard. 

Would you adapt to it eventually? Probably, yes — but it could take quite a while, and you might ultimately dislike it anyway.

The same is true of an ergonomic mouse, of course, though at least you can be confident that you will adapt to it soon enough. 

It’s just a matter of using it for long enough and being willing to deal with the lack of accuracy that stems from the learning process. 

It’s ultimately about investing in your health so you can have an easier time in the future.

At least peripherals don’t take that long to figure out. 

The ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard layout is far from perfect, and alternative systems such as the DVORAK layout are ostensibly superior. 

Yet, very few people switch because it takes a long time to overhaul that finely-honed skill and almost all the keyboards you find will use that QWERTY standard. 

Furthermore, the change might not even make that much of a difference

That move truly is too impractical in the end — but since you can switch your hardware, you should consider it.

Wrapping up, then, we’ve looked at the main things you need to do to make your technical setup better for sustainability. 

We haven’t looked at things like specific SaaS tools or automation workflows because you can change those at any time, but you should, of course, be using automation to keep your workload to a minimum. 

Focus on making your workday comfortable, and it’ll give you much greater professional longevity when you work remotely.

Last update on 2021-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How To Work Remotely In 2021
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