CPA INSIDER

3 tech-related tips for working better remotely

Optimizing your internet connections and decluttering your digital desktop can make for a more comfortable and productive home office.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but the massive exodus from offices caused by various quarantines has shown CPAs and their employers the power and potential of working from home. There's no going back to the status quo.

It's entirely possible that commercial real estate as we once knew it will never return. Offices could become places of convenience, used as needed, rather than a necessity. With such massive change currently happening, now is the time to get adept at working from home. To do that, you need to reckon with tech.

Technology is enabling our work-from-home transition as much as any single factor. The average American is familiar now with services such as Teams, Slack, and especially Zoom.

In addition, people are transitioning their office operations into their homes, often without the professional setup and IT consultation they are used to. As you've probably experienced already, that means results vary. There are lots of different types of work-from-homers, but one you don't want to be is the kind who has to battle technology in order to do their job.

You don't need to become a tech wizard or be able to build your own PC to thrive in our remote present and future. All you have to do is take the time to familiarize yourself with your hardware and software, and then build a system that works for you. Here are a few helpful tips designed to help you do just that.

Be intentional with your hardware and wiring

When you went to the office every day, you probably never had to worry about hardware. At most, you had to plug your laptop into a monitor to give yourself a second screen. Charging cables were abundant. You may have even had a tech support team in your office.

Obviously, that's not the case at home. You may not think these little considerations matter, but they make a huge difference. Waking up to an uncharged machine, having to struggle to find the cable at the right moment, and other similar frustrations take time away from work and actively make your job harder.

If you haven't yet, take an hour or two to build your ideal setup. Buy surge protectors (not power strips) to facilitate easy wiring. Cords that may need to be unplugged should be ready at hand, while those that can stay plugged in can be out of sight. It's also not a bad idea to double up on important items, such as backup batteries, computer cords, and routers, especially since going to the store isn't all that easy right now.

Don't forget your webcam while you are at it. Many computers come with one, but even so, you may want to assess the quality and possibly upgrade to an external webcam. Even if your computer does not have a webcam, you can plug in an external one through a USB port so you can turn it on during meetings. Face-to-face interactions are key to maintaining strong relationships with your staff and clients.

Whip up some improved Wi-Fi

Another important factor in your tech setup is your home internet connection. Odds are, your upload and download speeds dropped dramatically the second you started working from home. That's not necessarily a problem, provided you're able to do everything you need to do. If not, you may need to invest in a higher tier of service.

"But my internet should be faster," you say. Well, if you already have a high-speed connection, you should look at how you're using it.

A powerhouse connection shouldn't be run through some inexpensive modem supplied by your internet provider. A quality router will improve your wireless performance tremendously, especially if you work in a larger space.

You should also consider how and when your internet is being shared. With kids home and many of your neighbors working from home as well, you may see lag time.

If you can avoid it, don't have more than one videoconference going simultaneously in your home. It's key for everyone you live with to communicate when they have essential video meetings so you can try to adjust schedules as much as possible to avoid using too much bandwidth.  

You can create a shared calendar with your family or go old school and write up a schedule you post on your refrigerator. If you expect to tie up a lot of bandwidth, consider wiring directly using an ethernet cable. This is an excellent idea for machines like video game consoles, which can eat up a huge share of Wi-Fi in a hurry.

Declutter your digital workspace

When you turn on your computer, are there 1 million icons displayed across the screen? Is your dock full of icons for applications you never even dream of using? Do you keep open dozens of browser tabs for no particular reason?

All of these pieces of detritus are objects you have to wade through to get to what you need. They've probably been accumulating for years, with no rhyme or reason to their placement or order. Even if ignoring them is second nature, you're better off starting afresh. Keep the stuff you use every day, devise a system to get there in as few clicks as possible, and leave the excess in places out of sight.

None of these strategies requires you to earn a Ph.D. in computer science overnight. Instead, they're built on strong workplace habits that will allow you to succeed no matter your role or tech savviness. With a great system in place, working from home can just feel less stressful, and you can begin to free up time for more human interaction and time for yourself.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, host of the Breaking Beliefs podcast, and member of the AICPA COVID-19 Technology Taskforce and the Practitioners Symposium/Tech+ planning committee for the AICPA ENGAGE conference. Learn more at amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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