Working From Home Because of Coronavirus? These Are Your Tech Fixes. – The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal

Working From Home Because of Coronavirus? These Are Your Tech Fixes. – The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal

And on the umpteenth day of the coronavirus panic, the overlords commanded: Thou shalt work from home.

As new cases of the viral infection pop up within the US, many companies have begun preparing employees to work from home — or what the cool kids call “WFH.” Some organizations including Twitter are encouraging employees around the globe to work from their private abodes until further notice.

For some, it’s a dream. Sweatpants and slippers all day long? Sign me up! For others, it’s a nightmare. Slow internet and chatty family members? I’d rather work from the germ-laden              McDonald’s       ball pit – heck, the Wi-Fi might be better .


In search of the biggest work-from-home tech annoyances and solutions, I contacted WSJ tech columnist Christopher Mims , who just spent six months writing a book — from home, naturally.


“I’d say the greatest challenges have nothing at all to do with tech,” Mr. Mims told me. “To work from home, you must change your mind-set and find a place in your home that feels completely separate. The change in your tools will follow. ”


As always, he’s right. As you prepare to telecommute, the first thing you need to do is define your space. But he’s also a little wrong: That physical space should be dictated by your various tech needs, including Wi-Fi strength and room for peripherals.


I gathered nine of the biggest WFH tech annoyances and dug up some solutions. Can’t find your own personal peeve on my list? Email me at [email protected] .


Just bear this in mind as you read: While Many companies might lack the right remote-work tech and security tools , they might also have rules about what you can and can’t use. Make sure to check with your organization’s IT contact before using any third-party software, etc. I don’t want any angry emails from your hard-working admins.



            This is Christopher Mims, not Joanna Stern. Among the WFH-friendly gear in his personal armory are Rainbean’s $ 53 adjustable laptop stand; LapGear’s $ lap desk with built-in mousepad; the $ Grifiti Fat Wrist Pad; the $ (MOFT X tablet stand and Arteck’s $ stainless-steel Bluetooth keyboard. Dog sold separately.
                                  Photo:                      Amanda Shepherd              

Little Jim is playing Xbox like there’s no tomorrow. Not-so-little Susie is FaceTiming with all her friends. And it’s taking forever to download a – page deck.


According to my colleagues ’reporting , most U.S. families don’t use most of their bandwidth. However, you may encounter slowdowns during periods of heavy use due to a variety of factors — not just your provider and your screen-addicted kids, but also your router and your location in the house.


You can test your Internet speed via Ookla’s Speedtest , though you’ll need to be able to decipher things like “megabits per second.”


“Unless you have a low-bandwidth internet service provider connection, you’re probably not running out of internet bandwidth. More likely you are exhausting Wi-Fi bandwidth, ”said Tim Higgins, managing editor of router-review site SmallNetBuilder and my on-call networking guru.


The best solution for top-notch connectivity? Switch to Ethernet. Given that most laptops don’t have Ethernet ports anymore, you’ll need a dongle for that. Unlike hand sanitizer, those aren’t sold out on              Amazon .       ( Anker is my preferred dongle brand .) You ‘ll also need an Ethernet cable to connect to your router.


If Ethernet isn’t an option, move as close as you can to your Wi-Fi router. “Devices that are getting weak signals eat up more bandwidth,” Mr. Higgins said. “So if Susie is constantly FaceTiming from the back bedroom that is far away from the router, she’s probably sucking up airtime.” Family bonding the way: Everyone ’round the router, singing campfire songs.



          No Wi-Fi in the attic? Or basement? A mesh router can help. WSJ’s Joanna Stern and her miniature friends explain how the new Wi-Fi router systems work — and which is the best one to buy.                

Wait, the Wi-Fi is just fine. I think … maybe … Gmail is just down?


Bookmark Is It Down Right Now ?, a website that keeps tabs on the top websites and services and checks whether they’re up and running. You can type in names of websites that aren’t listed on the main dashboard.


I cannot possibly be productive without my second, third or (rd monitor.)       

Obvious solution: Buy a monitor for home. Check out

The Wirecutter’s suggestions

. I bought a $ Asus monitor nearly five years ago and we’re still very happy together. Dongle alert # 2: You’ll likely need one to hook up to a newer USB-C laptop.       

Not-as-obvious solution: Use an iPad. Sure, it’s a smaller display, but I find it great for putting up a messaging window or an important website I frequently need — especially since it’s a wireless connection. If you have a Mac running the latest MacOS Catalina and an iPad with iOS 44 You have a feature called Sidecar. This allows you to wirelessly use your iPad as your Mac’s second monitor. Fire up the Sidecar app on your Mac and it’s real easy to set up. ( detailed instructions from Apple found here .)


If you have a Windows PC or an older Mac, try Duet , an app that lets you do the same thing. You’ll likely need a good iPad stand to make this work — or one of these cool arms that connects your iPad to your laptop screen .


The dog! The kids! The delivery guy! Alexa! It’s so [insert expletive] loud in here.


Noise-canceling headphones, people. The new Apple AirPod Pros or Sony’s WH – XM3 are my go-tos. Just don’t be surprised when family members scare the living hell out of you trying to get your attention.


Ugh, email. It’s so much easier to just walk over to someone’s desk.


Chances are your company is set up with some sort of chat or video-conferencing tools. Group chat apps like Slack and Google Hangouts are good for quick bites of information — and, yes, GIFs. If you’re working out of the office and need to communicate with various people, you should have one of these services set up.




          Apple’s latest $ AirPods Pro promise a better fit thanks to the new, different-sized silicone ear tips, but how well do they stay in? WSJ’s Joanna Stern jumped on a mechanical bull and recruited some street performers to find out. Photo illustration: Adele Morgan / The Wall Street Journal                

Sometimes, however, it’s easier to hash something out on the phone or via video chat. You’ve got lots of video-calling apps to choose from — Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or even FaceTime. Choose whatever your colleagues use and feel comfortable with.


I’m not going to provide tips on how to best video-chat. Just remember: The camera is on, and your colleagues don’t want to see your zebra-patterned pajamas. Oh, and light sources should be in front of you, not behind you — no backs to the window.


Fun fact from Mr. Higgins: Video-conferencing services are likely to be bigger bandwidth hogs than              Netflix

      Streaming apps download streams in chunks of data, while video chat has to be constantly streaming.


Crap, there’s an important document on my work desktop.       

Companies now offer cloud drive storage that’s secure and easy to use. You can tuck files you might need in there for safekeeping and remote access. If your company doesn’t have the option, you could use the storage available free from Google,              Apple ,              Microsoft       or              Dropbox

,       or pay for an upgraded plan. Even though cloud drives are private, it’s on you to make sure you’re not copying over anything that could be deemed especially sensitive by your company.       

There are also ways to access your desktop computer remotely, but this falls into the domain of your IT department, and I don’t recommend you do it without your employer’s permission and assistance.




What are your biggest tech challenges when working from home? Join the conversation below.




Martin in Sales: Your daughter is cute and all, but we don’t want to hear “Let It Go” for the (th time.)       

Mute your mic, aka MYM. Write it down on a Post-it, your hand, I don’t care. If you’re on a call, just mute whenever you aren’t talking. And please share this tip with Martin in Sales!


I use my desk phone to make overseas calls, and there’s no way I’m using my smartphone and paying overage bills.


Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Skype allow you to make phone calls over the Internet to anywhere in the world for very low rates. And if you’re both on the service, the call is free.


Speaking of calls, you’ll likely be on a lot of them. Keep a portable charger handy. Again, I like Anker – particularly this model .


I decided to quickly clip my toenails in the bathroom, and now my boss is freaking out that I’m not responding.       

Communication is the toughest part of telecommuting. Managers, the best thing you can do is set expectations ahead of time. One good, but by no means foolproof, solution? If you’re using Slack or Google Hangouts, set a status message that tells your colleagues you’ve stepped away and when you’ll be back. In Slack, click the down arrow by your name (upper left corner) and select “Edit Status.”


In the interest of transparency: I wrote this column not at home but at the Wall Street Journal headquarters — where my toenails might or might not have also been clipped. Don’t forget to send me your WFH gripes or helpful tips.


—— For more WSJ Technology analysis, reviews, advice and headlines, sign up for our weekly newsletter .


Write to Joanna Stern at [email protected]       

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