Working Remotely

A few months ago, I packed up my family and left the lush, green, and often damp area of Seattle for the warmth and sun of southern Utah. I still work for Puget Systems, but have moved into a different role where I spend my days gathering insight from customers on how we can continue to improve our products and service.

Not only have I experienced a change of scenery, but I’ve also gone from working at the Puget Systems office in Auburn to a home office in St. George, Utah.

With a couple of months under my belt, I’ve experimented with a number of products to make working remotely less hassle. One benefit from working in a typical office are the resources at your disposal when the internet goes down or your computer fails to boot. Although putting on my IT manager hat to troubleshoot an issue can be rewarding, it can also be frustrating and time consuming.

I decided to share a few of the products and services I’ve found to be invaluable in my quest to create a home office that’s comfortable while trying to avoid gadget overload. In fact, one of the first things I did when moving into my new office was remove any peripheral from my computer that I didn’t need to do my job. That meant finding another computer to hook up my Canon photo printer, USB gamepad,  and an even old printer I used to send faxes. Don’t ask.

What I ended up with is a much cleaner desk with far less cable clutter coming from my computer. Here are a few products I’ve come to rely on in each day:

Puget Systems Serenity Pro – Call it a shameless plug. Call it whatever you’d like, but without my computer I would not be able to work remotely. It’s that simple. My PC has to be quiet and reliable and powerful enough to run up to a dozen applications at once. The Intel quad-core i5 processor, Samsung SSD, NVIDIA 640, and 16GB of RAM make for a PC that’s able to handle anything I ask it to do. I’m even running Windows 8 Pro on it without any major issues. (starts at just under $2000)

Corsair Vengeance 1500 USB Headset – Before I bought these, I used a $20 set that lasted barely a week. When I’m not making calls or taking part in conference calls, I enjoy listening to music that’s not too distracting like Chris Botti or Phish.  The sound quality is excellent as is the microphone that can be flipped out of the way when not in use.  The large padded ear cups also do a good job of keeping noise out as well on the rare occasion my kids decide to race through the house. ($100)

Logitech G710+ Mechanical Keyboard – It’s heavy, requires two USB ports, sports an orange stripe around the programmable keys, and is certainly not for the faint of heart. But what’s a gadget list without at least one over-the-top product? If you haven’t used a mechanical keyboard before you’re in for a treat. The keys are incredibly responsive and provide the right amount of tactile feedback. Logitech says the keys are “whisper-quiet” which can only be true if you possess the whisper of a sports radio host. It’s expensive and probably overkill for most people. But it’s built like a tank and may be the last keyboard I ever purchase. Plus, it includes five illuminated key settings! I mean, come on. ($150)

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 – Conference calls are more enjoyable when I can see my coworkers (and they can see me) gathered around a conference room 1200 miles away. Having the video on both sides makes it easier to join in discussions. The C920 clamps onto my monitor and is easily repositioned when needed. And if you have the bandwidth to handle it, the 1080p video looks brilliant. ($100)

Google Apps – I grew up using Microsoft Office, and I still occasionally create graphs in Excel, but I’ve migrated everything else to Google Apps because it’s just so dang simple to share and collaborate on documents. I like simple apps. I don’t need or want a ribbon full of features I’ll never use. In short,  Google Docs excels in providing features I actually use. (Free & paid versions)

Dropbox – Microsoft is trying to kill it with SkyDrive. Google is trying to kill it with Google Drive. But the little sync app that could keeps chugging along. I use Dropbox for two specific purposes: to sync files among my PC, tablet and phone and to share files (usually pictures) with coworkers. The charm of Dropbox starts with its simplicity. It doesn’t try to do everything, but what it does, it does very well. (Free for 2GB)

TeamViewer – In a crowded market full of decent online meeting software solutions, TeamViewer stands out for its clean design, cross-platform support, and myriad of options that are easy to access. I’m able to follow along in meetings where slides or web pages are part of the presentation with basically zero screen lag. The ability to share a whiteboard and instant message all within the application are features I use regularly. ($750 for 15 users)

Ditto Clipboard Manager – I’m constantly using  copy/paste among three monitors and Ditto saves everything I do. If I copy over a URL or link I need, I can easily retrieve it in Ditto which hangs out in the system tray yet requires very few systems resources. I can’t count the times this little utility has saved me from losing valuable data. (Free)

Stickies – If you loved the simplicity of the original, analog Sticky Notes then you might like this digital version. I use Stickies to create short reminders for myself when I’m speaking to a customer or coworker on the phone. I can assign a color to each note, and it doesn’t disappear or forget its position on my desktop after a reboot. Dead simple product I use multiple times a day. (Free)

Spotify – Not exactly a business tool, but essential nonetheless to getting work done. I spend good portions of my day writing or researching or trying to solve a problem that requires tuning out the world, and Spotify assists in that regard by putting a massive collection of tunes at my fingertips. (Free w/ads, $4.99 for PC only, or $9.99 for PC + mobile/month)

There are many other programs I use on occasion, but those are the ones I rely on and use most often. What products and services do you rely on when working from a home or on the road?