Maximize Your Remote Work Productivity
December 30, 2017
Product recommendations to remove bottlenecks in your remote setup
NOTE: This post is a work in progress and will see some edits over the coming days and weeks. I have primarily focused on hardware purchases for now.
My remote work experience
I've been an instructor at Hack Reactor Remote for the past two years, where all students and staff work 100% remotely. It's not unusual for students to spend 80% of their time pair programming via video chat and synchronized text editor sessions. I've done my best to take note of what common bottlenecks I've seen and will give some actionable recommendations that may help you with your own remote setup. Overall, the principle is: your tools should help you get your work done instead of getting in the way of your work.
When troubleshooting poor Internet connections, you may need to remove any bottlenecks at multiple points.
- Get the best WiFi router you can afford. (Thank you, Noah Kagan, for this advice!) If your work is done primarily online, you don't want to be battling your router day after day. I used to have reoccurring issues with my Internet connection until I replaced my $20 router with a Google OnHub ($80, Amazon). I originally balked at the cost, but I've since recognized it as one of my best purchases. Also, I haven't done detailed research to compare and contrast the differences, but I'd probably buy the newer Google WiFi ($99, Amazon) now. Bonus: I also bought one for my mom, so I can attempt to troubleshoot any of her Internet issues even if I'm far away!
- Consider replacing the modem that your ISP gave you with one of your own, especially if their equipment is a two-in-one device that acts as both a modem and router. Last I checked, the general consensus seemed to be that two-in-one devices, while convenient, do poorly as modems and routers.
- Make sure you're paying for an Internet connection that's fast enough to handle video chat. I've done fine with 40 Mbps and faster connections, but also expect I could work with even slower connections, especially if I'm using software like Zoom.us that handles low bandwidth connections like a pro. (Appear.in, on the other hand, might be a different story, for now.)
- Call your ISP so they can run some tests against your modem to help troubleshoot any other issues you might have as the physical connection between your ISP and your residence/business may be poor (eg, a rabbit chewed through the cable leading into your home). They may have to send a technician out to you to physically inspect your wiring.
If you're somebody who works better with multiple displays, consider getting one or two more! Don't forget check your computer to see how many displays it can support. My 2014 MacBook Pro can support 2 external displays and its builtin display (for a triple monitor setup), and I believe a MacBook Air built around that time can only support 1 external display. If you really want to spice things up, you can turn the display on its side and use it in portrait mode so you can view entire documents without having to scroll up and down.
For my own workspace, I bought two used Acer P236H monitors from Craigslist in 2013 which, while certainly not anything fancy, offered decent value for $50/each and are still chugging along fine today. If I were to recreate my setup today, I'd still look for the cheapest 23+ inch monitors I could get my hands on. (It looks like there are a few options around $100 on Amazon, but I'd also check Craigslist and local brick and mortar stores.) Remember, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. What I enjoy most about my 23-inch, 1920 x 1080 monitor is that it allows me to maximize the distance between my eyeballs and the monitor, given the desk space I have. (Maximizing this distance is important to me because I feel like it helps reduce the amount of eye strain I get.) A 30-inch monitor with the same number of pixels would actually be a hinderance as it'd be like trying to appreciate a giant mural with my nose brushing up against the paint; a 30-inch monitor with more pixels might be a different story.
Alternatively (or in addition), you can make use of any spare tablets you have lying around. If I had an iPad, I'd love to install Dash on it and use it as a dedicated documentation viewer.
When video chatting with others, here should be your most important considerations:
- Your microphone should not pick up anything from your audio output. The easiest way to avoid this is to use headphones, not your computer's speakers, when video chatting.
- You should minimize how much noise your microphone picks up when you are typing. You can use a headset with a microphone so as to avoid using the microphone built into your laptop and/or use a separate, quiet keyboard not connected to the microphone you are using. Mechanical keyboard users, beware! Please make sure that your typing during video chat sessions isn't a huge distraction for others.
Actual product recommendations for headsets.
New sections: Printer, Mouse and keyboard, Other peripherals