Something we have all collectively realised during this lockdown is that you are going to be inevitably let down by your computer, your phone or your internet connection, at one time or another; usually at the most inconvenient time possible. Technology has seen incredible advances in the last few decades but one universal truth will ALWAYS remain no matter how advanced the technology:
if something CAN go wrong, eventually it WILL go wrong.
We can’t predict what is going to go wrong and when, and usually we’re caught with our pants around our ankles, having to reinstall software or buy a new laptop reactively. However, there are things we can do proactively to better equip ourselves to remain online, connected and productive when the gremlins inevitably creep into the system. Let’s take a look at a few basic things we can do:
- Proactively install all the popular video conferencing apps – There are a few options available for video conferencing – the popular ones are Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Line, Skype and Google Duo. Not everyone uses the same platform, so be sure to have at least a basic or trial version of each aforementioned platform installed, to save time later. Taking the time to do this now will save time later when you have to join an urgent meeting with for instance, a Zoom user, if you only have Skype. Test them out to make sure they work as some platforms require specific accounts beforehand.
- Always install a secondary/backup app for important software – Most popular applications and tools are usually quite reliable, but every now and then you won’t be able to connect to a video call with your client or your boss, or access a particular application, and for no apparent reason. You’re not going to have time to look up troubleshooting steps or update the app, so make sure you have at least two and preferably three applications installed, just in case. This way if one doesn’t work, you can switch to another application and get the job done first, and fix the issue later. An example of this would be TeamViewer – if you can’t connect via TeamViewer for whatever reason, it’s good to have a backup app such as AnyDesk in place.
- Restart your devices daily – Some people tend to leave their computers on indefinitely without shutting down or restarting.In theory there’s no problem with that, but eventually your computer’s memory will need to be refreshed or you might start noticing strange issues. Think of it as a person – we need to sleep in order to function properly, and restarting your computer is as good as it taking a nap. People don’t think of it this way, but your phone is a computer as well. Most people rarely restart their phones, but if you notice your apps are starting to lag and basic tasks become buggy, give it a restart! You’d be surprised.
- Sort out unstable connections – Most of us have experienced poor connectivity during the lockdown at one point or another. More people are connected to home networks at any given time, which puts strain on our ISPs and in some cases the network infrastructure itself. If you are experiencing Wi-Fi issues, try restarting your router. Try running a speed test on your device to make sure you are getting the speeds you are paying for, and get in touch with your ISP if your connection is lower than it should be. If your internet is down, you may also be able to use your phone as a temporary router, depending on the device. Just be warned that you will be using mobile data this way. Another tip – if you are on a mobile data connection with poor connectivity, try switching on Airplane Mode and switching it off again. This forces your device to look for the most suitable tower near you.
- Make sure your device is up to scratch – If you are still using a ten year old laptop, you’d be lucky not to experience at least some performance issues. If you’re using your computer for basic office tasks like the rest of us (Excel, Word, Outlook, a CRM platform or the occasional video call) you don’t need superior performance, but make sure you meet at least a few basic requirements to keep you going without applications hanging. Head over to Computer, right click and hit Properties. Make sure your processor is at least in the 2.3 to 2.6 GHz or above range, and that you have at least 4GB of RAM. Anything less than that and it might be time to invest in a new laptop. You can get a computer with these basic specifications for as little as R4000.
- Keep your hard drive relatively clean – If you notice your computer’s performance starting to drop for no reason, it might be worth checking out your hard drive space. Many of us keep unnecessary data, such as all six seasons of the television show Lost, knowing very well we’re never really going to rewatch it. Go to your hard drive and view its properties to make sure you have at least 20% of free hard drive space. If you see the bar is red, it’s time to start clearing up some space or the performance will be affected.
- Get your team on board with task tracking – A quick internet search will reveal many task tracking apps that are available for free (or at least the basic versions.) These are great for tracking the entire team’s tasks and productivity in real time, showing you who is slacking and which tasks need to be prioritised. Examples of these tools are Trello, Asana, ProofHub, JIRA and Wrike. It all depends on the nature of your business, but you might be able to make good use of one of these apps at little to no cost.
- Create training videos and presentations – There are also many tools out there to allow you to create instructional and training videos and even presentations, eliminating the need for training or presenting things in person. Check out apps such as Loom, Screencastify, FlashBack, Snagit, Recordit or CloudApp.
- Share files with your team on the cloud – Tools such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Slack can be very useful if you need to quickly share documents with your team, or if you need to work on documents at the same time. It’s easy to set up and most tools have a free trial version with limited cloud storage space. If you want to get really fancy you can even set up special permissions for team members and do a ton of other things.
- Use headphones with a microphone for video calls – This might seem obvious, but video calling someone in a noisy environment without the use of a headphone and microphone combo can be problematic to say the least. You don’t need to invest in a fancy new headset, the earphones that came with your cell phone will do just fine, and you can (usually) just plug it right into the audio jack of your computer.
- Use a second monitor if possible – If you have access to a standalone computer monitor along with your laptop computer, get a second display going! Set up in the correct manner, you would not believe how much easier you can make your job. As an example, many teams need to stay in constant communication, let’s say on Whatsapp for instance. Switching between your phone and laptop becomes annoying very quickly, so just open up Whatsapp Web on your second monitor, sign in, and you can read and respond to messages without leaving your keyboard – all while carrying on with the task at hand on your primary display.
There are many more basic tech tips that we will share in time, to make sure you get the most out of your day and avoid smashing your computer in frustration. For now, follow these tips, stay calm, be prepared and make technology work for you while you’re working from home.