How to work from home during the coronavirus: Pro tips from PCWorld's editors

Maximize productivity with the right hardware and work habits, and don't freak out. We're in this together.

Credit: Sean MacEntee / Flickr

Coworking via webcam...or not

Social introverts like me enjoy chatting and interviewing, then retreating to the silence of their offices to digest and analyze. Extroverts get anxious when they’re not interacting with others. Slack, Teams, and other apps help both personality types.

You should always have at least one open line of communication, whether it be something as basic as email or chat. Keep a private chat window open with a coworker, or have a group Skype video call open to avoid feeling lonely. And when you’re not speaking, mute your line!

skype screen blur me Michael Simon / IDG

Using screen blurring or even an AI-generated background can put the focus on you... for better or worse.

Know your boundaries, and your technology. A good webcam, mounted at eye level, offers a feeling of intimacy and collaboration. Some laptops offer physical shutters to ensure no one’s looking—or you can tape over the camera for privacy. Your laptop may offer a button to turn off your mic, or use the Settings > Privacy > Microphone control to toggle it off. Remember, apps like Microsoft Teams use AI to blur or obscure what’s behind you in the background—take advantage of it!

Do you need a professional-quality mic or additional lighting to look sharp? If you’re dealing with clients, possibly. You’re still representing your company, and yourself.

Bringing the tech lifestyle home

Working at home requires discipline, even in the best of times. Here are some tips we use ourselves:

Establish work hours. You’ve ditched the commute. But “transitioning” from home to work may be worth a few minutes’ walk outside to clear your head. Likewise, don’t feel compelled to work 24/7 just because your office is in your home.

Working from home can give you flexibility, too: Some PCWorld staffers start early or leave late, and others juggle childcare that may gobble up chunks of time in the middle of the day. 

comcast xfinity data plan wfh coronavirus Mark Hachman / IDG

If you’re working from home on a prolonged basis, pay attention to how your work affects your monthly data cap, if you have one. You don’t want to exceed it and risk additional charges. 

Get comfortable, but not too comfortable. Some coworkers prefer “dressing up” in work clothes. Others prefer casual jeans and a T-shirt. Remember, you might need to jump on a conference call at any time. Oh, and wear pants.

Know where your coworkers are. PCWorld staffers use Slack to stay in touch from wherever we are. Just make sure your coworkers know where you are and whether you’re available. Chime in from time to time, so they know you’re engaged and participating.

Pay attention to your data cap. PCWorld has staffers living in rural areas, using basic broadband. But some of us have data caps. If you’re working from home, all the bandwidth for video calls, streaming, and downloads will now be coming from your home allowance. AT&T has said it will waive data caps for the time being, but other carriers have yet to follow suit. 

Other handy tips

Here are some other things to think about as you work from home:

Expense it. COVID-19 has dramatically altered the way companies look at work-from-home policies. If you need a piece of equipment to do your job, consider asking your employer to pay for it. It’s the price of doing business. And if you do end up buying something, save your receipts! Maybe you can get a tax break.

Keep up with the news, but not all day. The overwhelming flood of cancelled events, stock market crashes, and other coronavirus calamities could distract you from the task at hand. Check for updates once or twice, then get back to your job. 

Find comfort. If you’re stuck at home, use your extra time to read, study, cook, clean, play games, or whatever makes you happy. Discord servers offer a way to chat with friends about your own personal interests outside of work. You can still be as social as you’d like! Just not in person, for right now. 

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Mark Hachman, PCWorld Staff

PC World (US online)
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