And suddenly the world changed completely. Overnight, many organisations, with little or no previous experience of home working, had to move their employees and established work processes into the home office. The crisis is making it possible. And whilst these organisations are in a privileged position, there are many manufacturing companies in Austria. The production of parquet floors is not so easy to move into your own living room.
Don't be put off by initial technical difficulties
The technical infrastructure at home is crucial for working from home. There may still be some households that don't have the Internet. There are many households that use their mobile phone as their Internet source, or a wireless hub provided by their trusted mobile operator. No matter how you connect to the Internet, the connection needs to be stable, so that you can work without interruption.
The Internet alone is not enough, you also need appropriate equipment. Many employers are already equipping workstations with laptops, which makes it much easier to switch to the home office. But you can also access your e-mail inbox and various web applications from your own desktop PC at home.
Access is also an issue. A lot of an organisation's information is sensitive, so it's not something anyone and everyone should be able to read. Authentication is set up for this purpose. This requires you to tell the system you wish to access that you are who you say you are, and that you can be granted access. At TU Wien, this is usually done by means of your TU account (user name and password). This is convenient because you don't have to re-enter that information whenever and wherever you are, as long as you continue to work. The system remembers you; this is known as single sign-on (SSO). Information is often on network drives or you are already working with your colleagues in the TUwiki. To do this, you need to 'mirror' the TU network as if you were in the office. This works via a virtual private network (VPN), which creates a 'tunnel' via the Internet from your home office to TU Wien and is highly protected against external access. This enables you to work on the TU network as if you were at your usual place of work.
Even if you and your colleagues don't work together in the same office building, you can still work together and keep in touch. Take advantage of the opportunities offered by the TUwiki and the TU coLAB enabling you to work together. TU Wien also has an instant messaging program, known as TUchat, which you can use to send messages. This works as easily as WhatsApp (and also on your mobile phone). The advantage is that your messages do not leave TU Wien's servers.
If face-to-face meetings are necessary or preferred, TU Wien offers several options for telephone or video conferences. For example, GoToMeeting lets you talk to your colleagues via video and, at the same time, you can view the content that you want to discuss on your screen.
Tips like these, as well as a range of guides and links to help you work from home can be found on the TU coLAB, opens an external URL in a new window.
Organisational challenges in a new dimension
One thing that technical equipment cannot solve is the organisational challenges that we are facing in these unprecedented times. A limited number of key persons have been named at TU Wien, who must be on site for operational reasons. We thank you all for maintaining our key services for us all. As for the rest of us, we now need to reorganise ourselves in our own home offices, within our own four walls. We need to adapt our own processes, maybe structure our working days differently or determine who works when and where at home, so that anyone who is working does not disturb anyone else living in the same house, who is not working.
For those of us who have children at home, who need to be looked after and home-schooled, the new situation poses an additional level of complexity. My daughter is in her first year at primary school and can't understand why everything is suddenly so different and why I'm spending much more time at home but I'm not there just for her. I also had to learn to be more flexible in dealing with the situation. And what do you do if your curious child comes into your home office in the middle of a video conference, because they don't yet know any better? There could easily be a similarly curious child at the other end who is grinning into the camera. To be relaxed to some extent in dealing with the situation is good for everyone...even if I have to accept (as I previously suspected) that I'm not destined to become a primary school teacher. That's something else I learnt this week.
What's your experience of moving to working from home? What strategy have you adopted? What do you find easy, and what do you struggle with? I look forward to hearing about your experiences; please also feel free to comment in the box below.