Working from home seems like a dream. What is everyone complaining about? I can’t think of anything better than working from my couch in my hoodie and boxers. I don’t have to make small talk. I don’t have to go outside. I can just sit by myself, crank out the code, and catch up on the last season of Mr. Robot. Working from home is going to rule! I don’t need a FAQ.
Now that the Great COVID-19 Pandemic is underway and everyone is hunkering down to flatten the curve, a lot of workers are being told not to come into the office and to work from home. This social distancing may seem great to us introvert Script Kiddies who just want to put on our headphones and get our work done. We no longer have to commute to work. We do not need to say “hi” to the doorman or even get dressed. So, what is there to worry about? Your business may have some new cyber security headaches and they can find guidance elsewhere, but there are some things that will impact you as an employee, even if you think you are the master of the universe and an army of one. So here are a few dos and don’ts of working from home.
Prepare With Tech
Remember to get all the software and hardware you need to complete your job from home. You may have a laptop issued from work armed with the necessary software, but if not, make sure to get a copy of the applications you need. This may include some new things like video conferencing software. Also, do not forget about connectivity. Your office probably requires a VPN connection to access the network, which probably relies on VPN software, configuration settings, username/password, and maybe even a multi-factor authentication token. Make sure you have all of these and know how to use them.
Finally, while working from home, you may need to reassess your Internet connection. Do you have enough bandwidth for everything that you need to do (in addition to a spouse also working from home and kids trying to take online courses while secretly watching YouTube)?
While working from home, you may not have the same computer security environment, so do not let your guard down. As a Script Kiddie, you have probably thought of a million ways your black hat self could take advantage of this situation for nefarious purposes. Well, if you have thought of it, I am sure someone else has, so be careful. Do not fall for any COVID-19-related phishing attempts, fake news links, etc.
As a Script Kiddie, you may be one of those coders who just likes to pound out code with your headphones on so you can ignore the distractions of other people, but staying socially connected is important. Working from home is even more isolating than your top-of-the-line, noise-cancelling headphones. Hanging out by the water cooler or having lunch with someone in the breakroom might not have been your jam, but those casual interactions really do matter (this coming from an introvert who did not think he needed that pesky small talk). Your social life might have been mostly digital to begin with, but it is most likely going to be more so for the immediate future. So, stay in contact with friends and even coworkers. If there is a work virtual happy hour, think about attending. You do not want to be on your own when the zombies start rising.
I know Script Kiddies love dark caves, so working from home in your dark basement or your home office with the blackout curtains might sound amazing, but try to get some fresh air. I am not saying you have to start running or go play pick-up basketball (and given the need for social distancing, please do not play tackle football), but going for a short walk to get some fresh air and sunlight will do you good. Sunlight really can boost your mood and, at a minimum, help boost your Vitamin D (and who knows maybe the UV light will help disinfect you…not a doctor). A walk in the morning and afternoon when you would normally be commuting might be just the way to break up your day, set your schedule, and help clear your mind. Nature has been shown to boost mood, which is something we are all going to need over the next few months.
Stay on Schedule
If this is your first time working from home, then you might not be aware of the temptations that surround you. You might think that you will be able to get a lot done without the distractions of the office, but your home can offer even more distractions—after all, thatis where all your stuff is. You have TV, video games, chores, kids—your work-life and home-life are going to collide. In times like these, it is important to have a schedule. This might mean waking up at the same time and having that morning cup of coffee before checking into work. Then, do not forget about breaks, lunch, etc. What breaks would you normally take? Take them. Working from home may mean you do not have bosses or colleagues dropping by to see how things are going. You might need to be more independent, set your own goals, and hold yourself accountable, which starts with staying on schedule.
The best thing about working from home is doing so in your sweatpants and old HackerCon t-shirt, right? Well, you really should consider dressing in your normal work attire…at least most days…and at least from the waist up for video conferences. While I am not saying you need to wear a suit and tie while working from your home office, getting dressed up at least somewhat helps put you in the right headspace. It helps separate the lounging at home hours from the working at home hours. And, you definitely do not want to show off your sweat-stained undershirt to all your colleagues when you forget that your webcam is enabled.
Subvert Corporate Policy
Just because you are a 1337 h4x0r and are working from your home command center does not mean that you can ignore your company’s security policies. They have these policies established for a reason, and ignoring their guidelines, or not using the company software or hardware, could open you and/or the company up to vulnerabilities. Now is not the time to see if you can access your work files without having to go through the process of establishing a VPN connection, and you should not be using your personal email for confidential work-related things when you would not do so in the office. And it is definitely not the time to forward that macro-enabled, COVID19_PUBLIC_NOTICE.DOCX you just received from [email protected] to all of your fellow colleagues. Just use your head and follow the same rules you would in the office. Do not let your guard down.
Feed your Anxiety
It is easy to self-isolate and obsessively refresh your news feed for the latest on the pandemic. Without the normalcy of work, your life may seem out-of-whack, and anxiety may start running high. Try to bring your concentration back to work and ignore the craziness. Do not follow the advice of your best friend who likes to spout conspiracy theories and is stocking up on Bitcoin. When you are at home alone, it can be easy to fall down a rabbit hole, but ignore the fake news, rumor mills, and general chaos. Self-care is important.
Shut Yourself Off
While working from home, it can be easy to shut yourself off even when not practicing social distancing. But while you may need to keep your physical distance and are not going to run into anyone working from home, you should not become a hermit in your cave. Make an active effort to reach out and stay connected with colleagues. This may mean checking in regularly, contributing a meme or two to the latest Slack conversation, or embracing Zoom and your webcam.
The biggest enemy of working from home is definitely the Demogorgon, but second to that is getting distracted. It may seem like a good idea to kill two birds with one stone and binge watch Stranger Things while you work, but you must resist that urge. There are numerous temptations while working from home including all the fun things you would rather be doing than working and all the mundane chores you should do instead of finishing that TPS report. And while you might tell yourself you can play Team Fortress while “attending” that conference call because who’s going to know…trust me, they are going to know. It is obvious when you are not responding or contributing even over the phone; and even if it is not obvious, you are not only hurting your work productivity, you probably are not fully focusing on that game and just got fragged. So put down the controller, remove the Netflix app, and ignore those dirty dishes until after your working hours.
Forget to Unplug
The other slippery slope to watch out for while working from home is the exact opposite of getting distracted, and that is forgetting to unplug. When your home becomes your work, it can be easy to let the two blend together—you feel like you are always at work and you cannot stop. This is where keeping a schedule can help. Stick to your routine. If you normally leave the office at 5PM, then leave the “office”. Let everyone know you are signing off for the day and do not respond to work emails (unless that is normally expected of you). If you need to set an alarm for a reminder to quit working, then do it. You do not want to burn yourself out.
Ignore your Health
While this is especially important in the age of a zombie outbreak (i.e., rule #1: cardio), do not ignore your health. Sitting on the couch all day working and then sitting on the couch all night relaxing can lead to poor mental and physical outcomes. It is easy when working at home to accidentally forget to pay attention to your health. And when the gym is closed, it provides a convenient excuse to not workout. Staying active is important, but so is staying mentally healthy. So, fire up those old workout videos, go for a walk, listen to some Headspace, call a friend, wash your hands, wash your hands, and wash your hands.
Finally, remember to mute your mic on teleconferences unless you are the one talking. No one wants to hear your mom come downstairs and ask what you want for lunch. Of course, this does not mean do not talk during meetings. You need to take part during conference calls and maybe even the ones that you are only listed as an optional attendee. It really is important to be present. Your boss and coworkers do not get to see your bright and shining face every day, so let them at least hear your voice.
During these tough and trying times of self-isolation, it is important that we are all in this together. Never give up. Never surrender. And by Grabthar’s Hammer, we will get through this.