Define a Start and End time when working from home

When working from home it is very important to define a start and end time. When working in the office there are queues that it’s time to stop working even if

Taken by Dineshraj Goomany

you aren’t looking at a clock. Primarily the queue is that everyone else is leaving. When you are working from home you don’t have those queues so you need to make sure that you stop working at the time you are supposed to stop working.

Having a set time to “leave” work is important because otherwise, you might end up working much later then you planned. Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean that the company gets all of your time. They still only get the same number of hours that they got before. In fact, they get a little bit less, as you no longer have to drive into work. Your commute is now the time it takes you to walk from where ever you have breakfast to wherever you work; which is probably 30 seconds unless you have a massive house.

So when it’s time to be done for the day, be done. If there’s more work to be done, it’ll still be there tomorrow.


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5 Tips for New Remote Learning Teachers

Teaching in front of a classroom of kids is a skill that many (including myself) don’t have. As many schools have transitioned from in-classroom learning (what we all did in school) to remote learning there are going to be a few differences that at teachers you are going to notice as you do these remote teaching sessions.

I’ve been teaching classes remotely to IT Professionals for years now, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over time to explain some things, and hopefully make you realize that others are totally normal.

1. Talking to your monitor

Unless you’ve got a professional setup for recording in your house you will probably find yourself doing what most of us to, talking to your computer screen with some sort of microphone and webcam pointed at yourself. What you normally get from your audience is feedback, even if you don’t realize it. People sigh and fidget if they aren’t getting what you are trying to explain. You won’t get those little queues when you are presenting online. That means that you’ll need to explain things in more detail and ask questions, more than normal, to make sure the students get the topic. What this boils down to is that teaching remote classes just sucks because you don’t get that level of interaction from the students. But right now, it’s what we need to do.

2. People don’t ask questions

One thing that I’ve noticed after doing hundreds of hours of professional training for people, is that remote audiences don’t ask questions. I really hope that this is different for kids than the IT Professionals that I give classes to, but I get far fewer questions when I present a session remotely than I do when I present the same session in person to people. Part of it is because it’s remote people don’t think that they can ask questions, so if you’ve got an interactive way of talking to the students, ask if there questions. Ask that a lot. If they send if their questions via text (they have to type in the question) take a few minutes to let them type in their question before you move on. It’ll break your flow a little bit, but it will give those that aren’t great typers a chance to finish their question before you start talking about the subject again.

3. Order a decent Microphone and Camera

With the assumption that this remote learning approach is going to be happening for a while now (some schools like the ones here in San Diego, CA are going to be closed the rest of the school year) you’ll want to invest in a decent microphone and camera. The ones that are built into your laptop probably aren’t going to cut it long term. Personally I use this microphone from Rode which you can get on Amazon (only get the one that is fulfilled by Amazon, otherwise you risk getting a fake). The Rode that I linked to has a breath shield so that it’ll pick up your breathing while you talk less. A good microphone will pick up your breathing really well, and it’ll be really distracting to the people watching.

When it comes to the microphone play a little with the gain knob on the microphone. You want it to be fairly high, without picking up to much background noise. Keep in mind that if you turn up the gain on the microphone really high, it’ll pick up cars driving by, even if they a couple of streets away. When I first got my Rode microphone it could pick up cars driving by that I couldn’t hear.

For a camera, I use the Microsoft LifeCam Studio which is also available on Amazon. The camera I have is a few years old so I’ve got an older model, but even the older model has pretty good video quality. The microphone in it isn’t great, which is why I have the Rode.

4. Don’t put your microphone on your desk

Putting your microphone on your desk is a horrible plan. The microphone will pick up every tap of the desk that you make. Every time you tap the keyboard keys or click the mouse the microphone will pick up the vibration and it will be incredibly loud for the people that are watching. I use a swing arm that is similar to this one by Innogear (I can’t find the exact one that I have, but I bought it years ago). Mine is mounted clamped to a monitor arm, which is bolted to the wall. So unless I kick the wall by accident (and I’d have to kick right under the monitor) the microphone doesn’t pick up any tapping on the desk or the keyboard. If you think you can tap quietly enough on the mouse that a microphone on the desk won’t pick it up, you can’t. The microphone is picking up the touch to the desk and converting that into sound. If you don’t want to mount a microphone in the wall (which I totally get) look into a microphone stand like this one from Pyle. That way it can sit on the floor and it will come to you instead of you having to do to the microphone.

5. Speak Slowly

You’re a teacher so you probably know this one, but it’s worth saying. When doing remote teaching speak slowly. Slower than normal, painfully slow. What the watchers hear, will sound a lot faster then you think it does. Personally, this screws me up all the time, as I’m a fast talker naturally, so speaking slowly just feels so weird to me. But that’s how I know that I’m speaking slowly enough. Do a quick recording of you talking at your normal speed and see how it sounds. Odds are that you’ll want to slow down your sleep.

This whole working and teaching from home thing is going to be very weird, but this is going to be the new normal for a while. Hopefully, the pain that I went through when I started holding remote classes will help others so they don’t have to go through the same pain.


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5 Ways to Survive Working from Home for Adults and Children

As a lot of people have started working from home, a lot of kids are now doing school from home as schools are being closed due to the Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19).

Taken by Dineshraj Goomany

We’ve talked about working from home before, but with kids being home we need to plan for that, as the schools may be closed for months depending on where you live. A perfect example is California, where it was just announced that the schools would be closed for the rest of the year.

Create a Work Space

As kids are going to be doing school from home they need a decided space that they can use to do their schoolwork, much like parents need a dedicated workspace. This could be a desk in their room or a desk in the home office. But there should be a dedicated space, if possible avoid having them work at the kitchen/dining room table. Much like parents shouldn’t be working from the kitchen table, kids shouldn’t be either. If you do work from the kitchen table, it feels like you are going to work when eating, and it’ll feel like this even after this is over. In extreme cases, it can lead to eating disorders, especially in young people who are already dealing with those sorts of issues.

Take Breaks

Kids need to take breaks from work. School has breaks, learning from home should as well. An elementary school has a few breaks throughout the day as well as recess, when doing learning at home the same basic schedule should stay. If you’ve got a back yard, send the kids out there on breaks so they can get some sunshine and fresh air. If you are in an apartment that doesn’t have a back yard, the kids may require some supervision in the front yard. But this isn’t a bad thing, this will give you a break from working which is good for you as well.

School stops before work ends

It’s normal for a school to end their day before the workday ends. If the learning from home is done before you are done working, then support the kids being done. This may involve kids watching TV, or playing a game. Be supportive of their being done, and help them come up with an activity that doesn’t disrupt your finishing working.

This is not an extended vacation

This is all happening around Spring Break time. Kids may want to take advantage of this by treating this as an extended spring break by going to the mall, or the movies with friends. This is not an extended spring break. This is a different beast. Kids should not be going out anywhere doing this. This is going to mean a lot of “bring mean” and “not understanding” by parents in order to keep the kids at home. Kids are going to have to settle for talking to their friends on Skype, FaceTime, Text Message, Snap Chat, whatever else that they use to talk to their friends that I don’t know about. Along with this, kids shouldn’t be congregating in groups, even in someone’s back yard or in their house. I remember being a teenager, and this is going to be hard for a lot of teenagers to do, especially long term. But the risk of someone in their social group having Coronavirus and passing it to someone else in their social group, who then passes it to parents/grandparents/etc. is very high.

Keep in touch with Grandparents … by phone

People like grandparents are going to feel really isolated during this as they are in the highest risk group. Be sure to call them regularly so they can keep up to date on how the rest of the family is going. Sadly we don’t want to see them so that we can keep them up to date in person, the risk of passing the Coronavirus to them is just too high. This means making regular phone calls, or even facetime calls so that grandparents can see the grandkids. It might even be a good idea to put making these phone calls into a calendar so that you get a reminder about making these calls. The other advantage to talking with Grandparents regularly (or daily) is that you can check in on them and see if there are any differences in how they look or any symptoms that need to be reported to their doctor or emergency medical staff.

Obviously this isn’t an extensive list but check back for other tips as this emergency continues.

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Working From Home For The First Time

Many people are working from home now thanks to the COVID-19 (aka the Coronavirus) bug that’s running through the world like mad.

Photo by Seth Werkheiser

Some people (like me) work from home all the time, so we’re pretty used to this. For other people, this is a pretty new thing, this working from home thing. I wanted to share a few tips that you should keep in mind when working from home.

(Sorry it’s a video of a TV, it’s what we have right now.)

  • When working from home during this time, work from home. Don’t work from StarBucks, or The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or your favorite coffee shop, pizza joint, donut store, or co-working space. In fact, these are all places that you should be avoided as much as possible, and you sure don’t want to be hanging out in them for hours as that’s the same effect as going to work and putting yourself at risk.
  • When working from home, have your family pretend that you are at work and you aren’t there. They shouldn’t be distracting you with little tasks all day that only will take 5 minutes. A few of those and your workday is shot (and they never take just 5 minutes). Emergencies are obviously the exception, but those are the things that you’d be called at work for anyway.
  • Don’t work at the kitchen or dining room table if you can avoid it. If you have someone you can set up as a home office, even if it’s just a temporary one, do so. This way you have a “work area” and a “home area”. This leads directly to my next point.
  • When your work is done for the next, leave”work” and go to the rest of the house, and try not to go back into your work area again for the night. This is why you want a clear work area so that you can leave work and go into the family area of the house.
  • Have some sort of chat or collaboration software that you can use with your co-workers. Your company will probably have something set up for you to use already. If not talk to your boss about getting something for your company to use. At DCAC we use Microsoft Teams, which is available for free for 6 months as Microsoft wants to support companies during this sudden shift to working from home. But uses something. You’ll want communication with the team, and after a few hours (or a few days) you’ll want some personal communication. I know that as a team the folks at DCAC talk on Teams all day long bouncing ideas off each other, asking questions, and just having the same office banter that you’d normally have in person; we are just live in different states.
  • Stock up on food. You’re going to want to avoid places with high foot traffic, so stock up on shelf-stable foods like pasta, frozen chicken, canned or frozen veggies, etc. This way you can minimize your trips to the store and the possible exposure that comes from those trips.
  • Be mindful of others in the house. If you’ve got conference calls and other people are home, don’t use a speakerphone of the speakers on your computer unless you are in a closed room. This is especially true if you’ve got children that are home from school doing distance learning because their schools are closed.
  • If you have a back yard, take advantage of it. That’ll give you somewhere to go outside, get some fresh air and not be cooped up in the house. Take your breaks out there, or if you don’t have a yard just step outside your front door for a few minutes when you take your breaks so that you can get some fresh air and not be cooped up in the house all day.
  • Take your breaks, just like normal. You don’t want to be sitting for 8 hours straight, as that isn’t good for you. Take breaks, get up walk around a little. Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you have to be tied to your computer for 8 hours straight.

You’ll recognize a couple of these points from the video above when I was on the WSOC news last week. Hopefully, these tips will help out the first time work from home person.


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