Remote Working

In this episode, I talk about remote working. Going from pandemic lockdown induced working from home, right through to being a digital nomad.
When working remotely, we recommend you always use a Virtual Private Network. A VPN secures your data, protects you when using public wifi and enables you to mask your location. Our VPN service of choice is Nord VPN.

This episode of the Digital Workplace Podcast is sponsored by Virtco Consulting.



Welcome to the Digital Workplace Podcast. Here to help you work smarter and get more done! He once ran the full length of Hadrian’s wall, over two days, carrying all his camping equipment. Here is your host, our resident digital workplace expert, Grant Crawley.

Grant Crawley:

Thanks Beatrix!

In this episode I’m going to talk about remote working. The pandemic brought remote working into sharp focus at the beginning of 2020, but it has been around much longer than that. We’ll go from the lockdown induced working from home, right through to being a digital nomad.


When working remotely, we recommend you always use a Virtual Private Network. A VPN secures your data, protects you when using public wifi and enables you to mask your location. Our VPN service of choice is Nord VPN. To try it today click on our affiliate link in the show notes.

This episode of the Digital Workplace Podcast is sponsored by Virtco Consulting.

Their proven digital accelerators help to contain costs and limit disruption, reducing risk and ensuring return on investment is optimised.

Visit, today!

Grant Crawley:

Before the first lockdown hit in the UK I had already started shielding. Fortunately working from home was nothing new to me, and I didn’t have to do anything special to carry on working as normal. The week before I started shielding was a very different story, the client I was working with at the time had a mixed user base. Some users had laptops and were already remote ready, but there was a large estate  of desktop devices with box screens. Many of the users of those desktop devices didn’t have the space available to take all that equipment home, so I had to think quickly.

I raided the comms rooms where I stored the decommissioned old equipment, and with a screwdriver and a pocket full of USB sticks I dismantled and re-hashed serviceable laptops from the pile of rubbish with smashed screens, failed SSDs, split cases and expanded battery packs. Then as each one was brought back to life, re-imaged it with an operating system and the software the users needed to keep working.

In a couple of days I had brought 34 laptops back into service and copied the users’ data onto them, enabling them to work from home. Once the last user was operational at 6pm on Friday evening, I closed the comms room door. I haven’t been back since, and not because I don’t like them or they don’t want me. Just because of the pandemic and the fact that life goes on.

I’ve worked remotely off and on all of my working life. From the extreme, where I was aboard a yacht in the Atlantic Ocean using a Thuraya satellite phone to connect a tiny laptop over a 9600baud satellite link. To using a 3G mobile hotspot device with a slightly larger laptop when cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. To using free WiFi in McDonalds or a Library and a mobile workstation. To just plain working from home with high-speed broadband and a multi-screen setup with three additional client laptops on my desk.

I wrote the outline to this episode on my tablet device while travelling down to London on the train. I know a thing or two about working remotely.

Working remotely is not for everyone, some people thrive on the buzz of being in an office, with the banter and camaraderie and working remotely for them means feeling lonely and depressed.

During the pandemic some of my client’s users sent me photos of their setup at home, some were certainly not going to meet the health and safety standards they were used to at work. Working from a coffee table while sat on a sofa is not going to win any awards for ergonomics, and I hope their back recovers soon. One user was working from the kitchen worktop, with their screen between the toaster and the kettle – certainly not far to go for a quick break.

Needless to say that’s not the way to work effectively when remote, but the times were extreme.

Because working remotely means different things for different people, you should consider using the persona approach to define what the needs are for each scenario. That way you can make appropriate decisions about what kinds of equipment, connectivity and security are most suitable for the specific situation.

We can break working remotely down into three main categories. Firstly fixed based remote workers, that’s someone who’s working from home or from a client site. They’re not a mobile worker, just remote from your normal working environment.

Then there’s the transportable remote worker, they’re moving from place to place, but working at each place for a period of time. Someone in a team of financial auditors fit this scenario, they go to a client for a few weeks each year to do their audit. So their kit needs to be portable but not fully mobile.

Finally we have the fully mobile worker, so that’s sales people, field engineers and similar roles where they visit several locations in a single day. A bit like Phil from the last episode on hardware choices.

So what devices, services and software do they all need?

Fixed base remote workers need the same devices as they would in the office, although a laptop is probably better than a desktop for when they do occasionally come into the corporate offices. No need to get mobile broadband because most places will now provide at least some connection to the Internet. However, if they need to keep their device secure and private some more advanced security is recommended, some form of disk encryption, smart card or 2FA login and a VPN connection to keep their connection encrypted.

Transportable remote workers will probably want a large screen laptop, or an external screen. They don’t move around a lot, but won’t want to have lots of setup and tear-down to do every time the do move. Because they’re not on site for as long,  and they often work in teams on secondment, it’s often a good idea to have a mobile 4G or 5G mobile hotspot they can all share. It keeps them off client networks and helps ensure their systems are kept secure and private.

Then we have Phil, our customer account manager/travelling salesman. All he needs is a mobile phone, a Bluetooth keyboard and a portable monitor or projector.

Now we can see how personas are used to help define what devices and software are most appropriate to work from remotely. That’s the theory, how about in practice.

For my own personal set-up I’m going to define my home office as my permanent base, so when working remotely here’s what my requirements are and what I use.

Firstly I need to be able to manage a global estate of virtual servers in the cloud, and do do that I use secure shell or SSH.

There are Microsoft 365 tenants that need administering.

I need to be able to raise invoices, write blog posts, study and research, all of which requires just a web browser. Then I have this podcast to record, edit and upload. Answer emails, chat messages, host Teams and Zoom meetings and occasionally answer phone calls.

What do I need to do all of that? I use just a Samsung Galaxy Tab A which I tether to my Nokia 7.2 phone working as a mobile WiFi hotspot. If I’m doing a lot of typing I use a cheap Bluetooth keyboard I picked up from eBay. On it I run Microsoft 365 (Teams, OneNote, OneDrive, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Planner and Edge), Termius SSH, Canva, Zoom, Screencast-o-Matic, NordVPN and Audio Evolution Mobile Studio.

In my messenger bag are two Rode lavalier microphones, a Rode videoMicMe, a Philips VoiceTracer audio recorder, charging cables, mic cables and a pair of closed-back studio headphones. There’s also a data safe usb charge converter and not much else.

There are many factors that influenced the decisions about my remote working setup. Firstly it needed to be lightweight, I’ve been through the lugging 3 laptops around everywhere phase, and remote working is much more pleasant if your bag doesn’t feel like it’s going to dislocate your shoulder. It must be able to run Microsoft 365 apps reasonably well, the screen needed to be full HD and not too small. My phone is mostly irrelevant, I only really use it as a tether or hotspot but it’s handy to have if I’m not working and the camera on the Nokia 7.2 is excellent.

I use NordVPN, a decent VPN service, to ensure that my connections are kept private and my device secured. When outside of my normal geo it lets me use the services I need.

I’m a bit paranoid about data-jacking so if I can only get an unknown usb socket for charging I use a data safe USB charge converter – it’s an A-A USB dongle with the data lines physically severed and some wizardry, which I won’t pretend to know about, to fool the phone or tablet into believing they’re plugged into a regular charger.

I use Rode microphones because I’ve found them to be excellent quality. The Philips VoiceTracer gives me professional quality voice recording which I can access via WiFi, and that lets me use my tablet as a kind of autocue. Once recorded everything gets uploaded to OneDrive to ensure I have a backup and can easily access the recordings back at the office if I’m not editing while remote.

If you’re used to the Canva web app on a PC then the Android and iOS versions take a bit of getting used to, but there’s very little you can’t do while out and about. 

For audio editing and live monitoring the closed-back headphones are a must have. They’re my luxury item too, listening to music on a professional set of headphones is a wonderful experience. A word to the wise though, it’s almost impossible to edit audio with Bluetooth headphones, there is far too much latency and what you’re hearing is way behind the play head.

Soft side of remote working

The challenges of remote working are not just physical device and network challenges, but probably the most important bit to get right is the personal wellbeing aspect. Remote working takes it’s toll on both physical and mental well-being and it’s important to encourage a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance.

There are operational considerations too, how do you know what your employees are doing and keep abreast of where projects are up to.

My team has a daily 15-30 minute online meeting where we all discuss what went well the day before, what we plan do do today, what didn’t go so well and if there any blockers or problems we need help with. We use the meeting transcription of Microsoft Teams and then use those notes to update our todo lists and project trackers.

Once a week we have a virtual coffee break for 30 minutes, where we deliberately don’t talk about work. It’s a good opportunity for us to experiment with different meeting technologies and have a play with the latest tools. This break has been fantastic at promoting team bonding and helping with mental wellbeing.

One of the dangers of remote working is not getting enough exercise. Sit-stand desks are a brilliant idea to get you moving, but I also take time out each evening to get an hour of vigorous exercise out riding my bike.

If you’re a manager it’s also important to have regular 1-2-1 meetings with your staff, and also arrange team meet-ups whenever possible. It’s not always that easy, so at least have a hybrid meet-up, and move it around so team members can all get a chance to meet their colleagues. If you want to know more about hybrid meetings then make sure you subscribe and listen to episode 8.

So when you are building remote working into your digital workplace strategy, make sure you think beyond the hardware and software. Think about the people too.