Out of Office: Remote Work 101

Home office
image: Domenico Loia on Unsplash

For many, remote work is the new reality for the foreseeable future. For some landscape architects, this is a whole new world; for others, the past few weeks have been a time of rapidly ramping up existing offerings to allow staff to work from home full-time. While staying as safe and healthy as possible takes priority over most more workaday concerns, a host of questions related to the sudden shift to remote work are also top of mind for many:

  • How to ensure your clients that you can seamlessly communicate with them.
  • How to maintain lines of communication amongst staff and project teams to continue design and planning work.
  • How to adjust to the “new normal.”

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and Landscape Architecture Magazine is pulling together tips and resources as we all work together to find our footing in this new terrain. We’ll continue to reach out to our committees, members, and leaders from across the profession to gather additional ideas to share. Stay tuned for updates going forward.

To hear directly from your peers in the profession, join us on March 31 for Out of Office: Tools, Team, and Togetherness for WFH, a webinar with three practitioners in conversation around the new urgency for setting up your team for success while working remotely. [The webinar recording, along with the presentation slides and a summary, are now available on ASLA’s COVID-19 Resources page.]

IT tools to maintain productivity when working remotely

While the IT tools you select and use will vary depending on your needs and setting, ASLA is offering general guidance below. It is ultimately up to our members and landscape architecture and design firms to implement what they are able to do in each case for themselves and their offices to help keep business going in this very challenging situation.

Getting the right IT infrastructure in place is the first step to create a virtual office and ensure that all staff can work remotely in a safe, secure, and accessible environment.

When working remotely, it is paramount that small businesses and organizations maintain proper security as they do when working in their offices.

It starts with ensuring that all computers (business laptop or home computer) that employees are using are clean—free of malware, trojans, and viruses. The remote computer should have an updated anti-virus/anti-malware software package (more on this below).

Next, the network connection used to access office files must be a trusted connection. If the connection is a WiFi connection, it must be a “secure” WiFi connection. If the only option is a public WiFi connection, provide staff a virtual private network (VPN) connection to safely transmit data and minimize data eavesdropping that could put passwords and corporate intellectual property at risk.

Getting remote access to email, files, or business desktops can be achieved via various remote access methods; a few examples are noted below.

Software for Remote Access to Files:
Remote desktop is a type of software that allows users to remotely control a specific computer, and is advantageous to those who need to access resources on their desktop.

Examples:

  • Microsoft Remote Desktop (the link includes information on remote PC or Mac to office PC or Mac with some guidance tips on how to set up): applies to Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2.mUse a Microsoft Remote Desktop client to connect to a remote PC and work resources from almost anywhere using just about any device. You can connect to your work PC and have access to all of your apps, files, and network resources as if you were sitting at your desk.
  • LogMeIn (remote PC or Mac to office PC or Mac): allows users to securely access their office computer desktop.
  • Chrome Remote Desktop (remote PC or Mac to office PC or Mac): use a computer or mobile device to access files and applications on another computer over the Internet with Chrome Remote Desktop. Chrome Remote Desktop is available on the web on your computer, and you may download the Chrome Remote Desktop app to use a mobile device for remote access.
  • TeamViewer remote desktop connection (remote PC or Mac to office PC or Mac: best used for tech support, but may be used for accessing office applications. Remotely access, manage, and support computers, mobile devices, network machines and more.

Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware Solutions (examples):
All computers (business laptop or home computer) that employees are using must be kept clean—free of malware, trojans, and viruses—via an updated anti-virus/anti-malware software package, such as:

VPN Solutions:
A virtual private network (VPN) is a smaller private network that runs on top of a larger public network, and only allows access to resources that are shared on that network (project or accounting files saved onto your company server). This includes shared folders, printers, and even other servers on the network. VPNs (prices vary) ensure that your networks are secure and data are protected. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently released recommendations for VPN tools.

Corporate VPN Solutions (examples):

  • Cisco AnyConnect
  • SonicWall NetExtender or Global VPN Client: offers an easy-to-use solution for secure, encrypted access through the Internet for remote users. The Global VPN Client (GVC) creates an IPSec (IP Security) Layer-3 connection between remote computers and the corporate network to maintain the confidentiality of private data.

Public VPN Solutions (examples):

Be prepared:
Before your team leaves the office to begin working remotely, make sure all staff know how to access their VPN or remote desktop connections. Some software applications, like AutoCAD, require network licenses to support multi-user subscriptions. Ensure your team knows how to access a license while working from home (read more here). The more you can replicate your office experience through the cloud, the more consistent your productivity will be.

If your office is not currently set up for VPN or remote desktop, you will need to be methodical in what you take with you before leaving the office. A (less than ideal) option is to copy files to a laptop. Take what you need to do to get business done today. Leave files secure that are not necessary for business continuity. Have access to a thumb drive or external drive with more capacity than the file size you’re taking with you. Once a day, copy files to the external drive. Keep files organized so that you will be able to copy them back to the office server one day.

Ensure high performance of systems:

  • Test your connection speed at home by running an internet speed test via sites like Speedtest. Check out the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Service for the Home: A Consumer’s Guide to learn more about upload and download speeds.
  • Log out of programs when they’re not in use, and remember to disconnect from VPN or remote desktop each night.

Team communication: how to stay connected to staff and clients

Business is surely booming for companies offering virtual communications platforms and apps for videoconferencing and team communications. Most of the those below operate on a freemium model, so you are able to try it for free and then upgrade to a higher level if it works well and additional capabilities are needed.

For staff communications and project management (examples):
Slack, a replacement for in-company emails, offers a free plan and paid upgrade versions. In addition to individual firms or companies, some organizations, including the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), have also set up Slack communities to keep people connected.

Yammer is another platform for private communication within organizations, with a focus on building employee engagement, while Airtable, Asana, Trello, and Confluence offer task-tracking and collaborative project management for teams. Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect are communication and collaboration platforms offering chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration.

Now that your entire team may be working from home, how frequently are you in touch? Each team or studio will have different needs to ensure projects are running smoothly. Maintain your regular team meeting cadence, but if your team is new to working remotely, you might want to consider more frequent, shorter progress meetings to stay connected. And don’t forget to clearly communicate your working hours with your teammates and collaborators so that they know when to reach you.

For meetings (examples):
Like GoToMeeting and Webex before it, Zoom can be used for virtual meetings, chat, videoconferences, webinars, and cloud phone systems. Basic accounts are free, and there are monthly paid plans for higher levels with more features. As a more widely-used platform, there are many articles dedicated to Zoom tips and tricks available. Skype and Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, and Apple’s FaceTime also offer video calls, chat, and other ways to stay connected.

Phone service:
With no staff in the office to answer phones, you may need to consider the kind of functionality your phone system offers for forwarding to cell phones. Most cloud-based phone systems offer virtual softphone applications. A softphone is the software-based equivalent to your business desk phone or your personal smartphone. It can send and receive calls on any hardware device that can run the software (computer desktop, iPhone, Android).

One example: many offices have Cisco IP or comparable phones installed using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system. Your phone system support service can advise you on how you may set up features including enabling a mobile connect service. You will need to provide a remote phone number for each staff member to be connected directly from the corresponding office extension.

Remote Work Support

  • Help desk—Determine the best method of contact for when your team is experiencing problems. Keep a running list of all issues for all employees to help mitigate solutions for other employees. Applications like LogMeIn or join.me can allow team members to quickly remote into a colleague’s computer to help solve IT issues.
  • Training—Consider holding a virtual lunch and learn or IT open house for all staff to allow team members to crowdsource solutions to common WFH hangups or solve commonly-occurring IT issues.
  • Policy and procedures—If your company does not already have a remote work policy, now may be the time to establish one. Some organizations, like Global Workplace Analytics, offer a sample telework policy and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers a remote work resources and tools page (while some information is accessible to SHRM members only, many articles are available to all).

Remote work culture: a shift in thinking and practice

Gallup surveys have shown that perceived workplace isolation can lead to as much as a 21% drop in remote workers’ performance. Frequent, regular team check-ins is an important way to stay steady and connected. Instant messaging, via Gchat, Slack, or similar programs, can help to replace impromptu workplace conversations. Team lunches and happy hours can take place virtually. Mia Scharphie, founder of Build Yourself and an ASLA Online Learning presenter, has shared ideas for staying connected, including scheduling virtual coffee dates and checking out Tech Ladies’ crowdsourced list of ways to adapt to remote work.

Ubiquitous recommendations to stick to a workday routine and to exercise regularly (along with the myriad studies and articles on exercise’s connection to mental health and overall wellbeing) are often-repeated for a reason—they apply now as much as ever, if not more so.

Stay connected with your professional community

The widespread closure of offices, schools, and many other institutions present unprecedented challenges, but sharing your thoughts and experiences with colleagues and friends in the profession may lessen the sense of isolation and will keep you in touch with a supportive community.

Stay connected and engaged with your professional network through ASLA social media (links below), the ASLA Member Directory, and the ASLA Professional Practice Network member rosters. Also, check that your member profile is up-to-date so you can offer help in return:

  • Log into your asla.org account.
  • Confirm that your personal and professional information under the About Me tab is up-to-date.
  • Then click “Find a Member” under “Join” in the top navigation bar or “PPN Member Directory” for the Professional Practice Network member lists and begin your search!

National ASLA social media:

ASLA Professional Practice Networks social media:

ASLA’s chapters also maintain their own social media accounts—stay in touch with your local chapter, too!

Keep learning, wherever you are

Landscape architects and other design professionals can access information on continuing education courses from more than 200 approved providers with the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System™ (LA CES™). Check the “Search for Distance Education courses only” box under For Professionals: Find a Course for webinars and other online offerings you can do from home. You can also sign up to receive email alerts about new courses.

As a LA CES education provider, ASLA provides a number of ways to earn professional development hours (PDH) online: by participating in a live webinar (all of our upcoming April webinars are FREE for ASLA members!), watching a recorded presentation, or reading a peer-reviewed technical paper, you can earn PDH online, wherever you are and whenever you can.

From office to home office. / images: Alexandra Hay

Other resources

For educators:

For parents:

Remote.co provides tools and resources for individuals and companies looking to expand their remote work options, with extensive content from 140+ companies using remote workers to some extent.

1 Million For Work Flexibility is a movement to support flexibility in the workplace with resources from individuals and companies who are reinventing what work looks like.

Please contact ASLA’s Professional Practice team at propractice@asla.org if you have any questions, or additional tips or resources to share.

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