Working From Home

For some reason there seems to be a bit of an increase in interest in working from home and so it seems rather timely to produce some advice. Not so much the technical side of things, but general advice from someone who has done it from time to time.

The official instructions for working from home (or “work anywhere”) appears here.

Please feel free to groan!

For better or worse, in some places the facility is called “GlobalProtect” and others it is called “VPN”. The first (“GlobalProtect”) is a vendor-specific implementation of the generic “Virtual Private Network”.

It should be pointed out that the VPN works fine at the University – you can check that the VPN client works before going home.

VPN Technicalities

Having said that I will try to avoid the technical side, there are a few things to go through.

Firstly, there is plenty of VPN capacity available – the hardware itself is shared with the main firewall, so unlike common environments where the VPN is a separate box and sized for usual usage patterns, the VPN is not likely to collapse under the load.

There is a constraint on the number of VPN users which is related to the number of addresses allocated for its use. This is known, and increasing this has already been worked out.

The more serious problem (although not expected to be that serious) is that whilst the VPN has been in place for years and people have been using it for years, it is possible that someone will find something that does not work through the VPN. In such a situation we need to know: what, who, and when. And it should be logged via the IS ServiceDesk.

Such problems do not necessarily have a quick solution, so you may have to be patient – especially if there is a queue of problems to look at!

General Advice

  1. It can help to have a concrete start and end to the working day – both in terms of time, and more “physically”.
  2. I find it useful to “walk to work” – pop outside for a 30 minute walk around the block (or to the seafront).
  3. Do take breaks (especially lunch!). And take that break away from the work computer.
  4. Try to isolate yourself from whatever else is going in your home – you are “at work” and should be interrupted only when necessary – such as when something would normally escalate to calling you at work.
  5. Resist temptation; that refrigerator just steps away filled with goodies all whispering “Nibble me!” is just going to get you in trouble.
  6. When it comes to the end of the day, stop. The temptation is to keep going or do a few extra bits and pieces in the evening. That’s fine in an emergency, but down-time is necessary for sanity and working from home does tend to make you work longer hours than you would at work.
  7. Ergonomics is more important than you think – unless you’ve had three months off with constant nerve spasm! Laptops are not the best choice when it comes to usability over a long day – an external screen, keyboard, and mouse can be very helpful as they can be positioned sensibly. A proper desk at the right height and a comfortable office chair is also useful. If you cannot arrange such things (at least for now), then keep moving (in fact keep moving anyway). Spend half an hour sat down at the kitchen table and then half an hour standing at the kitchen work surface.

Lastly, working at home is not necessarily an all or nothing thing. It is possible for a team to set up a rota so that on any day, some people are working from home whilst others are in the office. Or more flexible arrangements.

It is certainly worth trying out working from home to see what works and what doesn’t (and not necessarily just where the VPN is broken, although I want to know that!).

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