Working from home tech

Like a lot of other people in the world right now, I just finished my first week of working from home due to COVID-19. I’m a little luckier than most in that I’ve already had a lot of experience working from home, and my job as a systems administrator lends itself to working remotely easily. I also already had a home office area and relatively robust home network. Still, working from home every now and then is a lot different than doing it for (at least) three weeks straight during this time of “social distancing” and “sheltering in place.” I’m not supposed to return to the office until April 6, so what technology am I using to stay connected and keep doing my job?

I didn’t post about it here but back in December I changed jobs. My previous employer had decided to replace PeopleSoft (my specialty) with SAP so after 16 years I decided it was time to move on. I’m now the PeopleSoft system administrator for a public university in the area. Transitioning from a small, global private company to a large, state-run university has been a challenge, but the infrastructure and technology being used in higher education is pretty sweet. And since most colleges and universities have had to switch to online instruction for the rest of the academic year thanks to the pandemic, they’re relying heavily on their IT departments to keep students connected and classes in session.

Tools From Work

My current tech arsenal from the office consists of a Core i7 Surface Pro 6 (with built-in webcam) and Logitech H800 Bluetooth headset. The IT department heavily uses both Microsoft Teams and Slack, both of which I’ve used in the past, just not as core tools for my daily job like I do now. Even before the current situation, I had multiple Teams-based meetings a day (audio and video) and that continues as usual now. Before switching jobs, I had a single Slack channel (psadmin.io) but now I’m joined to over 20 channels at my current job. It sounds crazy but it’s a great way to keep in touch with everything that’s going on. At my old job, e-mail was the primary communication tool. Here, it’s chat via Teams or Slack. Finally, even though a lot of my daily tools are cloud-based (like Jira and Office 365), I still need access to on-premise resources via a VPN connection.

Tools at Home

While I love my Surface and it’s great for working while mobile, I didn’t want to spend the next few weeks working exclusively on its smaller screen and keyboard. Like I mentioned above, I have a nice at-home office setup for my personal PC with my standing desk, dual monitors, and wireless keyboard and mouse. I didn’t want to have a completely separate setup for the Surface, so I purchased a Surface Pro Dock which I connected to the VGA inputs on my monitors with two Mini DisplayPort to VGA cables. Since my home PC is connected to the DVI inputs, I just need to press a single button on each monitor to flip back and forth between my work and home PCs. I’m also running Synergy which lets me use a single keyboard and mouse with both PCs. I’ve got keyboard shortcuts set up to toggle the mouse/keyboard between each machine so when I want to switch, I press the Input button on each monitor to change video signals, and then the keyboard combo to switch control of the keyboard and mouse and I’m good to go. It’s a pretty simple, yet powerful setup that lets me work just as efficiently (I feel) as if I was docked in the office, without the commute.

work from home setup

work from home setup – too much screen time? 😉

My daughter has returned home from school in Ohio due to classes moving online for the rest of the semester. My wife is also a professor who now needs to teach her classes online. So this Monday will be the first time all three of us will be “working from home” at the same time. I’m pretty confident in the home network I’ve built with my Ubiquiti ER-X router, UniFi switch, and UniFi access points, but it will be interesting to see how the network holds up under the traffic load from my Nest cameras, the Fire TVs, and three PCs possibly doing simultaneous audio/video conferencing. I don’t envy the network engineers on campus who need to make sure the university network can handle the increased load!

Hopefully in a month this whole coronavirus thing will have settled down and we can all get back to our normal routines (like being able to find toilet paper at the grocery store! 😛 ). Stay safe, and stay healthy!

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