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How to get the best out of home working

Many of us spend hours per day commuting to and from work. If you were to add up all that time, effort and expense you would probably consider this to be a very inefficient way of working. Consider a daily commute in an average car of 1 hour to work and 1 hour back again. Over the course of a week that’s 10 hours a week just spent commuting. Over the year this adds up to a staggering 480 hours spent commuting (assuming 4 weeks holiday and nominal sick time), or put another way, 20 days per year on the road, just to travel to and from work. 20 days you don’t get back or around 5% of your year spent in a metal box next to other metal boxes.

Now lets look at the direct cost. I’m not going to suggest selling your car and start cycling the 40 miles to work, so lets assume you’re going to keep your car. Lets also assume that your car will do 40 miles to the gallon. Sure you may have one that does 70 mpg but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume that your 1 hour commute is around 40 miles as much of it might be taken up with traffic jams etc. So your 1 hour, 40 mile commute will use roughly a gallon of fuel. A gallon equates to 4.54 litres and currently a litre of unleaded is £1.07 per litre in my area. Your daily commute is costing you, in fuel, around £9.70 per day, £48 per week, or £2300 per year (assuming petrol prices don’t go up or down). I haven’t added in parking costs here but many of us will also have to pay for parking in towns and cities of at least £5 per day so factor this in if you wish.

So lets look at the annual numbers again. To travel to and from a place of work with a 1 hour commute there and a 1 hour commute back will cost you £2300 per annum PLUS 20 days, how much would you be expected to make in 20 days if you could get paid for your time?

At Bluebit Web Design we embraced the idea of home working over two years ago and there have been some significant benefits but also some less obvious downsides. We trialled it for 1 week first, then 1 month and then we embraced the idea after ironing out some of the kinks.

The first thing that you should consider is “Can I do my job from home?” If you’re an office worker then the chances are high that this is indeed a possibility. Even if you’re a  tree surgeon, working from home to a degree could be feasible. You also need to ask if you WANT to work from home. Some people may prefer to go to work and leave and “shut the door” behind them, leaving them to their evenings.

Most of us when we work need a few key things:

  • Space to work uninterrupted
  • A computer on which to work on
  • An internet connection to retrieve emails and optionally communicate with colleagues (more on this later)
  • A phone
  • Some way of making a good cup of coffee/tea (delete as applicable)

Believe it or not, with the right systems in place, working from home can actually be quite easy. For us at Bluebit, the biggest consideration was keeping communication flowing between us whilst also seamlessly transitioning our phone system to each persons respective place of work. we accomplished this using a few key pieces of technology:

  • VoIP phone system (we use a company called Gradwell Communications and they have been fantastic)
  • A decent (not necessarily fast) internet connection
  • A way of communication via text chat

I’ll cover each of the above below in turn

VoIP phones

These phone systems can be physical ie. look like a regular phone, or they can be software based meaning you can install the “phone” on your PC and with a cheap headset, you can make and receive calls using your VoIP provider. A VoIP phone uses your internet connection to establish a connection back to your chosen VoIP provider and then out to the phone you’re ringing, sort of like an exchange. Gradwells system is great as it enables us to have geographical numbers (02380, 01590 etc.) so that anyone can ring us from a regular phone. Many VoIP solutions provide free calls between extensions on the same network irrespective of where those extensions are in the world.

Gradwells own system has some other really nice features too such as voice menus, diverting to mobiles, voicemail, opening times etc. but I wont’ go into all of them here. There are other VoIP solution providers out there that will do similar jobs so do a bit of googling. You may wish to consider Microsofts Skype? We just like Gradwell after trying quite a few of them.

A decent internet connection

For your VoIP phone to work well, you need a stable internet connection not necessarily a fast one, each VoIP connection requires around 90 kilobits per second. Not to be mistaken for kilobytes, a kilobit is 1/8 of a kilobyte. Your internet speed for broadband is typically measured in mbit or megabits. A megabit is roughly 1000 kilobits.

Also look at your upload speed as well as your download speed. Most ISPs will quote something like “up to 12mbit/sec download speed” but your upload speed will be a fraction of this, possibly as low as 200kbit. Also consider that when you’re downloading data ie. emails, watching youtube videos, surfing the net you are also using bandwidth which can affect how much is left for your VoIP phone conversation. Phew all this is getting too heavy so to help, I’ve posted a few links below to some sites that can run tests on your internet connection. Just be sure to stop any other use of your internet connection until you’ve completed your tests.

Speedtest your internet connection: http://www.speedtest.net/

Check your connections VoIP capability: http://www.voipqualitytest.com/

A way to communicate by chat

There are quite a few text chatting applications out there and the most obvious one might be Skype, which incidentally can also act as your “VoIP” solution too (see above). Making a group or community within this app means that when all users log on in the morning, they all appear on the chat interface and you can ping ideas, links,general chit chat across the internet. Another solution (although not as easy to set up as Skype) might be IRC or Internet Relay Chat. Again this offers the opportunity to create a community and use text chat to communicate. Its important to point out that text chat is in addition to your ability to call each other. Another important consideration is security here as many chat networks may not be classed as secure enough for sending business related messages to and from each other.

There are some other collaboration tools out there that I will be exploring in the future, but for now, take a look at your own working environment and see if you can give yourself a tax free pay rise of £2300 AND get back 20 days of your year.