As an early adopter of new technologies, GroForth’s Sarah Daly has some practical tech tips for business owners working from home.
Restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 has forced many people to work from home this year — a trend that is likely to continue, at least for some people, when the pandemic is over.
In his Budget speech on 13 October 2020, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe highlighted the shift that is taking place and said that an Inter-Departmental Group has been set up to develop a strategy for remote working and remote service delivery. It will be interesting to see what emerges from this Group’s work in the coming months. Certainly there is potential to enhance work/life balance while enhancing productivity, if my personal experience is anything to go by.
At GroForth, technology has always been the foundation of our bookkeeping and payroll services so it was no surprise to me that businesses who embraced technologies like cloud-based accounting or video conferencing apps this year experienced real benefits in terms of efficiency. However, there is a difference between working from home on an occasional basis and being based at home full time. So, with the Covid-19 pandemic likely to be with us well into 2021, now is the time to ensure that your home tech set-up is as reliable as possible. Set out below are a few tips based on my personal experience of working from home.
6 practical tech tips for working from home
- While creating a dedicated, comfortable and quiet workspace is the ideal if you can manage it, this isn’t always practical in a small home. If you have to work in a shared space such as at your kitchen table, headphones are a great way to block out background noise.
- Use a storage box to pack away your laptop, documents, chargers and cables at the end of each day. DIY and home stores have a great selection of boxes to choose from.
- Listening to the radio the other day, I was impressed when the presenter of the show who was working from home said he had switched to a backup battery as the power had just gone down in his area. I like to keep my laptop and phone fully charged throughout the day so that I can continue working if there is an outage. Bear in mind that cables can get damaged so it’s a good idea to have spares.
- Good wifi and broadband speed are really important when working from home. If your wifi coverage is weak, a wifi range extender will boost the signal. If you share your broadband connection with other family members who are also working or studying at home, you may need to consider upgrading your broadband, particularly if other people in your home are also using video conferencing or streaming services. It is also a good idea to know where you can connect to public wifi in an emergency — eg at a local cafe or library — but remember that there are Internet security considerations to take into account when using these services. If you are in any doubt about how to use them securely, seek advice.
- Staying with security, keep in mind that working from home can increase the risk of falling victim to cybercrime so it is important to ensure that your devices and network are secure. Password-protect your screens and set up a screensaver to come on automatically when you are way from your laptop. Other practical steps you can take to protect yourself include using strong passwords and two-factor authentication. Remember to watch out for dangers like dodgy emails and attachments, phishing, invoice redirection scams, fraudulent phone calls or text messages, etc. If you have not already done so, check out the Working From Home Security Advice published by the National Cyber Security Centre earlier this year.
- Most of us are now use applications like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp for video calls and virtual meetings. It’s a good idea to think about your appearance on these calls. What you wear and where you place your laptop or webcam can make a difference when it comes to looking professional on screen. Try experimenting with lighting as this can also be important and pay attention to what people on the call will be able to see in your background. Remember that some applications allow you to create a custom background so your colleagues, clients and customers don’t need to see into your home if you would rather that they didn’t.
Tax considerations when providing equipment for employees working from home
If you are an employer, there are some tax considerations to take into account when providing equipment for employees who are working from home. You are allowed to provide certain types of equipment tax-free provided that your employee’s private use of the equipment is minimal. If you pay your employee’s private home or mobile phone bill, usually 50% of the bill is taxed as a Benefit-in-Kind unless your employee can show that less than 50% of their phone use was private. For more information on these tax considerations, see ”What is Benefit-in-Kind? A guide for employers” by my colleague Nikki Johns.
Getting the most out of working from home
Elsewhere on this blog we discussed how to use your time wisely if your normal routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. We highlighted how focusing on certain financial themes can enhance your business’s ability to recover. We have also blogged about how working from home can improve productivity. However, notwithstanding the many benefits of working from home, there is no getting away from the fact that new working practices coming at a time when businesses are coping with a pandemic and preparing for Brexit means that many owners and managers are under intense pressure at present. At GroForth, we are experiencing increased demand for our bookkeeping and payroll services with clients valuing the additional capacity and peace of mind that outsourcing these functions can deliver. If you are interested in finding out more about our services, please contact me for details.