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Jun 27

Working from home during the 2012 Olympics

That's call a floor... soon to become a rare sighting.

30 days until the Olympics. Are you prepared?

I am a big fan of home working, and technology is continually making this a simpler proposition. Get it right and you can find it can be more productive than being in the office every day. It’s something we are going to investigate a fair bit here at CharityLabs.

With only 30 days until the Olympics, anyone based inside the M25 needs to have a plan to cope with the distinct possibility that getting into work (and back home!) just doesn’t seem feasible.

I got caught in a trial run at London Bridge about a month or so ago, and it took me 30 minutes just to get through the gates.  And that’s before the expected doubling of London’s population for three months! Add to that the closure of 170 miles of road, public transport expected to be 60% over capacity, and a predicted doubling (if not trebling) of commute times – if you don’t have the capacity to let people work from home, you could quite possibly regret it. You can find out more about the travel problems here.

For those of you who have planned for this, you might be lucky and be able to take your work laptop with you, already loaded with the goodies you need for remote working. If you are a small charity, you might not have that luxury, or be able to afford the software to make it happen.

For those of you using cloud based software, such as Google apps, SalesForce and the like, you already have an advantage, and we will be bringing you a guide to safe browser usage shortly.

However, there are a number of tools out there that can help, and the ones I am going to list for you are all free.

  • LastPass
  • TrueCrypt
  • Skype
  • Dropbox
  • Cloudfogger
  • VPN
  • Outlook Webmail
  • SkyDrive
  • Google
  • TeamViewer

LastPass

A lot of these programs use your browser, which means you’ll have a number of passwords to use and remember. Get over to LastPass and follow the straight forward instructions to bring a new level of security to your online life.

Download here

CL difficulty rating: 2/5

TrueCrypt

If you are going to be storing confidential data on any laptop, you want to be using TrueCrypt. It’s super-spy level encryption,  and for all intents and purposes unhackable. At advanced levels, you can even create hidden folders. So, in the unlikely event someone holds a gun to your head and demands the password, you can put the really sensitive information into a file that they won’t even be able to see is there!

It takes a little bit of doing, so go through it carefully, following the online instructions.

And one warning – if you forget the password, you have very little chance of getting your data back!

Download here

CL difficulty rating: 3.5/5

Skype

Skype is a free instant messaging (IM) program, that’s usually pretty stable and it’s very easy to use.

What’s an office without a bit of banter? And instead of cluttering up each others’ inboxes with endless small requests and queries, Skype makes quick, informal queries quick and easy. It’s easy to message multiple contacts at the same time, a sort of IM conference call.

And if you have a fast enough connection, you can actually use it to make free voice calls to other Skype users.

If you already have a Skype user name, you might consider getting a dedicated work account as well. It can prevent you getting distracted by your online friends, and reduces the likelihood of accidentally letting something slip to people outside of the office.

Handy hint: if you are going to set up a work account, try using firstname.surnameinitial.charityname/abbreviation to make it easier for you colleagues to find you!

Download here

CL difficulty rating: 1/5

Dropbox

While you can actually use Skype to send documents, in my experience it’s not that great. It can often be slow, and sometimes just drops them halfway through downloading.

Dropbox, on the other hand, is dedicated to transferring and sharing documents. Think of it as a cloud-based USB stick. It also means that anything stored in Dropbox is accessible on any of your computers, saving you the hassle of having to email yourself documents you’re working on to access them later.

With Dropbox, you can get 2GB of storage for free. You can get up to 100GB, but it has a monthly cost, or get Dropbox for teams, which carries an annual charge.

However, for the odd day working at home, on PowerPoint or Word docs, you should find that 2GB will be enough.

Hint: If you plan it right, you can get one person to sign up, and invite another person. This means they get an extra 500MB free (up to a maximum of 8GB). To do this, log in to your account online and find the “Get started” tab, and you’ll see the option to invite friends. You can continue this circle until all but the last person has an extra half gigabyte. Though with a tiny bit of imagination, I am sure you can rectify this…

Ok, so you are at work, and tomorrow you are working from home, along with a couple of others and some who are in the office. How do you share files with these people? You will see an option called Public Folders. Never, ever put any confidential information there. While it allows you to share a URL or web link to your work, which may be fine if its information you want to share openly online, it is not appropriate for work.

Instead, go to the web interface, right click on the file and folder you want to share, and under Options, you’ll find “Share this Folder”. Here, you can enter the names of anyone you want to share the folder with as long as they also have a Dropbox account.

The one problem with Dropbox is security. Like every other web program, all you need is a user name and password to access all your files. Make sure your password is not easily guessable, and make sure you do not allow your browser to remember it! Alternatively, use a password manager, like LastPass.

Download here

CL difficulty rating: 2/5

Also see SugarSync

Cloudfogger

A last minute entry this. I have been playing with Cloudfogger for a couple of days now, and its a simple, straightforward encryption program and links to your Dropbox, giving you extra security.

Simply head to the website, download the program and create a password for it. It will detect if you have Dropbox, and then automatically create an encrypted folder that you can use as normal.

It also offers you the chance to create a recoverable password, linked to your email address.  So if you are a tad forgetful, it can help remind you should the need arise. Remember though – if you have been compromised, including your email, it means they can simply request your forgotten password.

Download here

CL difficulty rating 1/5

VPN

A VPN is a virtual private network. It creates a secure tunnel over the internet that allows you to access your servers at work from home. While there are a number of free VPN programs, such as Shrew VPN and OpenVPN, the truth is that they are often tricky to set up, and you will probably need your IT team to install this on both your server and your laptop.

VPN can also be very demanding on your internet connection, especially in my experience for programs like Outlook.

CL difficulty rating: 4/5

Outlook Webmail

For Window Server users only, check with your IT team that webmail has been enabled and ask for the address, you’ll then be able to log onto your work email as normal, through your browser. You do lose some functionality, but for basic email and calendar needs, you should be fine.

CL difficulty rating: 2/5

SkyDrive

SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud based system. You’ll need a Window’s Live id for this one (basically what used to be Hotmail). It comes with 7GB free storage, and can easily get started with their web based versions of the office suite, all working right in your browser.

Only really works in Internet Explorer.

CL difficulty rating 2/5

Google

Yup, even if you don’t have Google apps running at work, there are still benefits to having a gmail account that exceeds most other webmail accounts. You can collaborate on docs and spreadsheets at the same time, in Google Drive (the recently updated Google docs) that gives you 5GB storage (much, much more if you save work in Google doc formats). You can use their IM services and even use it to make voice and/or video calls (assuming you have a webcam).

But Google Hangouts really brings this service to the fore. Reliable, stable, incredibly easy, and it allows you to video chat with up to nine people at once. They have a handy guide you can find here complete with a video demonstration.

Works best with the Google Chrome browser.

CL difficulty rating: 1/5

However, if for some reason you don’t want to share your personal email with work colleagues, there are other options, and my favourite free option is…

TeamViewer

There are a host of things you can do with TeamViewer. You can use it to collaborate on documents, hold meetings, share images in real time, even help people troubleshoot problems on their computer, for the technically inclined. Its also has a very good ‘meeting’ function, which is particularly useful for showing presentations. Plus, it’s very simple to use. Again, you can only use it with other people who have downloaded the program, which is free for non-commercial use, which, by my reckoning, must include charities!

Download here

CL difficulty rating: 2.5/5

Ok, so that should cover most of your needs for working from home. Hopefully, it will be such a success that you might even get to work from home occasionally after the Olympics as well.

Extra hint: if you do, work out the most efficient use of your travel card. For example, if you buy monthly, and get one day a month to work from home, time it to coincide with the end of your travel card. This way, over the course of a year you’ll save almost two weeks worth of travel card expense!

Things to remember:

Downloading this software requires you to have administrative access to your computer, i.e. a level of clearance that allows you to modify it. If you have an organisational policy that prohibits this, you need to talk to whoever is in charge of your IT policies and explain why you need this software.

Working from home presents its own challenges, as well as benefits, and we’ll be covering some of these shortly.

 

Are there any other programs you use? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 image courtesy of Chris Cockram