An IT manager’s guide to working from home this summer

I realise my role for this site is to be the grumpy IT manager, but even I am willing to celebrate the fact that it’s summer. As I write this in early July, those without school-aged children are already abandoning the office. Come August, everyone with school-age children will do the same. Even if people aren’t taking holiday leave, more staff always want to work from home come the summer.

Thankfully the tools that were put in place over the pandemic are still there, so this isn’t a major IT issue. Instead, it’s a social and HR issue.

I was fortunate that even before the pandemic I was regularly working from home, right down to a purpose-built garden office. But I’m keenly aware that I’m lucky in this regard. Not everyone has such a place to work, a fact highlighted by the lockdowns when people were forced to work from home. Even if that meant the kitchen table, surrounded by kids and dirty dishes.

WfH = Working from Hammock

Just as I see an uptick in working from home over the summer months, I see an uptick in the problems associated with it. These mainly affect those who are more junior; senior employees such as me have a dedicated office to work in, and that means we have almost the same setup as we have in the office.

In my case, I have a dock attached to a set of monitors, separate keyboard and mouse, plus speakers and a headset. The dock then connects back into the house network to break out to the internet. This setup also gives me Wi-Fi all over the garden so I can WfH — Work from Hammock — if I want to. And I do want to, during some meetings.

Thanks to that dock, after such a meeting I merely need to walk back into my office and plug in a laptop, be that my personal Apple Mac or my work machine. I can then start doing whatever needs doing, and I’m sure that I won’t hurt myself sitting there for long periods.

For those less fortunate, we need to talk duty of care.

Duty of care to those working from home

If you’re working from home then it’s important to remember that the duty of care that your employer holds in the office extends to when you’re working remotely. And there is a BIG difference between working on your laptop for an hour or two and and doing so all day.

Take sitting on a sofa. That’s fine for a quick email session, but if that’s where you’re regularly working from then you’re putting your health at risk. If you are regularly working anywhere — and that includes the office — then you should have completed a DSE assessment to ensure you aren’t going to hurt yourself.

DSE stands for Display Screen Equipment. Employers must do a DSE assessment if an employee uses a screen as part of their daily work for more than an hour continuously. So, that’s pretty much everyone in an office job.

The assessment covers the entire working area (desk) and the computer setup. Further, if the assessment highlights a risk then the employer should take reasonable measures to reduce these risks. 

I do realise that I, a humble IT manager, am heading into dangerous HR territory, but putting mitigations in place usually falls to IT so I can bumble my way around this topic. For more information about DSE, please follow this link. You can find a model DSE assessment form here.

Beyond the WfH basics

So why am I bringing this up in July 2023? Well, if you’re working from home, then you should have been asked to complete one of these forms. Doing so may well entitle you to what is effectively a work-from-home IT package.

My present WfH package defaults to a wireless keyboard and mouse, a single monitor and the associated cables. But this will consume space in your home and that has ramifications if you don’t have the ability to leave everything out.

Perhaps you need to work at the kitchen table, perhaps you share a flat. If so, it can be a pain to set up the monitor, only to be put away later. This leads to people not bothering to using the supplied kit, instead sticking to their cramped laptop keyboard and screen. But the mouse, keyboard and monitor are provided for your well-being, not as a luxury. So with my grumpy old IT manager mode re-enabled: Please use them before you hurt yourself!

I am sure the short-term hassle of setting things up, and removing them when finished, is worth it for avoiding the longer term pain.

Outside of IT

There are other issues related to working from home that aren’t IT related. Things like stress. Yes, working from home can be great; you get slightly longer in bed and no commute. I certainly don’t enjoy endless tailbacks on the motorway or paying for expensive train tickets.

But there are downsides. The trip into and out of work lets you wind down and mentally segregate work and not-work. This buffer is a brilliant way to force you to stop working. If you are working where you live then there is no mental gap, and this has been found to increase people’s stress levels.

Not just that: when remote working, it’s tempting to carry on. Or, heaven forfend, work when on holiday. Just because it’s possible to send that email or write that quick report doesn’t mean that you should do it.

Another thing I’ve seen is that because people are at home, they may do things that they wouldn’t do at work. I’m not just talking about wearing pyjama bottoms on a Zoom call… 

Remember, your IT department is probably monitoring your computer just as it is when you are in the office. The same acceptable use policies from work apply to the device regardless to where you’re working. As do all the other work policies.

Finally, I would like to finish with this piece of advice that I recently heard: 20 years from now, the only people who will remember if you work late are your family and kids, not the boss or colleagues.

Have a great summer.

michael dear
Michael Dear

Michael has worked for more than 20 years running IT departments, mainly for small to medium insurance firms. His primary interest is focused on security and compliance.