Essential Guide to Remote Working

Remote working is on the increase and here at Infinite BIM we’ve been delivering training and supporting clients in this arena for many years.

There can be many dead-end routes when considering remote working so we thought we’d share some advice along with a few tips and tricks we’ve learnt along the way so that businesses and individuals can get set up as efficiently as possible.

Use the links below to read more about various subjects

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Options for Using Company Hardware & Software Remotely

Hardware and software requirements need establishing correctly from the outset. If your hardware and software is typically a desktop located in the office, you have a few choices.

  1. Installing and relicensing software on your home PC/laptop
  2. Taking home office equipment
  3. Use remote desktop technologies to login to your computer in the office from your home PC

Each one of these scenarios has its pros and cons which we will guide you through in the article below.

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Installing and relicensing software on your home PC/laptop

First, check that you have permission with your employer to re-license your software at home. Autodesk does offer a home licence for Autodesk Revit meaning you do have the potential to include a second installation on a home PC at no extra cost (if licencing using a serial number).

The more modern licencing solution from Autodesk is to use your Autodesk ID. This means a user can install Autodesk products at home and simply sign-in with their Autodesk ID to continue using the software as normal.

If you use network licencing for Autodesk and other such products in the office, you will be unable to use this approach without first setting up and configuring a VPN connection. Alternatively, network licencing also allows you to ‘borrow’ a licence for use off-network (typically for laptop users who will be working off-network for a period of days or weeks). You must specify the date you would like to borrow the licence until (and you must do this whilst in the office connected to the network).

Another thing to consider is any add-on software which may be licenced to the PC. Some of these add-ons from smaller companies can require re-licensing by requesting new codes by email (so not instant). You will also need the install files for all these addons which could be quite time-consuming.

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Taking home office equipment

Taking equipment home is a very simple solution requiring no software reinstalls however it may break connections to licences on your office servers meaning some of your software may not work.

Check how your software is licenced by disconnecting the network cable and running it to see what happens (or check with your IT Team). A VPN connection can often be a simple way to overcome this issue by using a secure tunnel from your home network to your office network making the PC ‘think’ it’s in the office.

A major consideration is where your files are stored. If your files are in the cloud you should be able to retrieve them no problem. If they are on-premise on a file server you will need a VPN connection to access the file server and open these files.

Are you working specifically on Revit using work sharing central files?

Work sharing requires a central file to be accessible via a live connection to a server in order for multiple users to interact with it collaboratively. Revit does not lend its self to remote working although it is possible using various technologies. A VPN can be set up but is not very reliable and depends on a number of factors noted below.

Autodesk BIM 360 Design – Our recommended approach for remote collaboration in Revit would be to invest in licences of Autodesk BIM 360 Design which allow the central file to be managed in the cloud rather than using a VPN. If you haven’t used BIM 360 Design before, we can help you get set up with this in no time at all with our remote setup services… and in most cases, the cost of the licences/setup will be significantly lower than the stress and downtime incurred attempting to manage central files through a VPN connection. You can find out more about BIM 360 Design here.

To get in touch about setup services please contact us here!

VPN option – If you are looking at using a VPN please remember you cannot download a copy to your desktop and still expect it to communicate/collaborate with others working from home if you are not using a ‘live’ VPN connection. Revit sends messages to and from the central file to manage the ownership of elements from multiple users. A word of warning, Revit is not specifically geared up to work with VPN connections. Whilst internet speeds have increased, and VPN’s have become more stable generally we would recommend avoiding this option. You also need to consider the speed of your internet connection when working remotely. If you do have to work over a VPN consider checking out an entire workset. This way, Revit sends fewer messages to the central file because you have borrowed all the elements you need to work on.

Check-out entire worksets – Whilst the above check-out option is still over a live connection, you can also attempt to take your local file completely offline by making yourself the owner of the entire workset(s) you wish to work on. This is a very limited option and will restrict what you can and can’t move in the model depending on what workset it belongs to. Likewise, your colleagues will experience the same issues. This solution is sometimes useful if you want to take the local copy home on a laptop on an evening and do some work, then resync back on the network the next day.

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Using Remote Desktop Applications

Using remote desktop technologies to effectively ‘view’ and ‘control’ your work PC from home through a browser or application has greatly improved over the years. That said there are still some things to consider.

Internet Speed (Bandwidth)

Remote desktop is ULTIMATELY dependant on a good internet connection. You will experience a slight lag when rotating and orbiting 3D views but generally, we have worked successfully like this for many years. Test both your office and home connections by googling ‘speed test’ to see what your upload and download speeds are achieving. You are looking for a high upload speed from your office to send the signal to your home PC (5mb upwards should be ok for general tasks but really you want to be much higher – especially if you have multiple people remote desktoping at the same time).

You are also looking for a high download speed at home to receive and refresh the screen quickly 10mb and higher should be ok but again… the higher the better. Remember your PC and other household devices are also sharing this connection – so no streaming movies in the living room while you are doing this if your connection is weak or intermittent.

What remote desktop technology should I use?

We can only share our experience, so here are the tools we have used successfully. They vary in price, billing frequency and functionality.

TeamViewer

An excellent system which has been on the market for many years. They offer a Free non-commercial licence to individuals meaning you can be up and running in no time at all. For businesses, they only offer 12-month subscription which can be a bit pricey if you only need it on a rolling monthly contract but if you are in it for the long haul the pricing is quite competitive and they have a great feature set. Installing the software on your Work PC you can configure unmanaged access meaning you can connect to it remotely using your same windows login credentials without having to request someone at the office authorises the login session. As a business, you can also control and view all PC’s in your network along with performance data and login activity.

LogMeIn

This is another product very similar in performance and feature set to TeamViewer. Likewise, their pricing is annual but sadly they do not offer a free tier for non-commercial use – only a 14-day trial. A minimum of 2 licences is required.

GoToAssist (now called Rescue Assist)

This product is designed to provide fast support to customers requiring assistance on-screen with technical issues and does not (at the time of writing) have its own VoIP line meaning a telephone call must be carried out simultaneously if you need to speak with the person at their PC. This is not an issue if you are using it to connect to your own PC remotely. The service also offers unmanaged logins meaning you can install the client application on your work PCs and then connect to them using your normal windows login credentials. Note that this is designed for ‘Agents’ to support teams so your end-users will see a list of all PCs they can access and connect accordingly – meaning it could be chaos if you try and use this for a team of users working remotely. That said, if you simply want to login to PC’s affordably AND using a monthly billing service on a rolling monthly contract – this is your tool of choice.

Google Chrome Remote Desktop

Completely free (but not one we have tested or used hence being at the bottom of the list). This is something which has recently crept onto our radar and whilst we can’t vouch for its functionality we can say it’s built by a reputable company so hey why not give it a shot – after all its free!

https://remotedesktop.google.com/home

Online Web Meeting Applications

GoToMeeting is a product we have used for many years now and is designed for attendees to log in to a meeting which you are hosting. Therefore, you would need someone in the office to connect you to the meeting session before you can take control of the screen with your mouse and keyboard. Most web meeting solutions like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype etc work in this manner so these solutions should only be used for collaboration between 2 or more remote users – not for unmanaged logins. Find out more tips and tricks for hosting web meetings in our article here

   

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Recommended Hardware for Remote Working

Your laptop or PC will need a webcam and microphone if you are intending on holding meetings. You will also require a landline or mobile phone and a good broadband connection. There’s nothing worse than attempting to communicate with your colleagues only to find the network keeps dropping out, the mobile signal is weak or you can’t hear what is being said over the microphone. It can lead to very unproductive meetings and leave everyone frustrated and tired. This section provides some recommendations tips and tricks for setting up for good communication systems.

Microphones & Speakers

  

USB headset – This is the perfect solution for individuals. We recommend headsets with a single speaker so you can also be mindful of the noises around you. If you are fully enclosed with speakers over two ears you can be oblivious to surrounding noises (but your colleagues will be hearing it all through the mic causing frustration and poor-quality discussions).

Laptop microphones – These are ok but they pick up more ambient noises including the laptop’s noisy fan, table tapping, mouse clicks and keyboard taps which (sound like thunder to the other meeting recipients).

Smart Phone Headphones – If you are unable to invest in a USB headset – consider using your Smart Phone’s headphones which usually come with a good quality microphone to dial into meetings. With web meetings, you can often download the app on your phone or tablet and use the microphone from there for VoIP in tandem with using your laptop for screen share (so no costly 1hr long phone bills).

Desktop USB microphones – These can also be useful if you have them but remember they pick up ambient noises more so than a headset – just like a laptop microphone.

Conference microphones – These are useful ‘only’ if you have multiple people in the same room. They can be quite expensive so one solution is to put a Smart Phone in the middle of the room on loudspeaker and login to the meeting software. If the recipient can’t hear you well enough (in a large boardroom for instance), simply slide the phone closer to the person talking. You can also use the speaker on the phone to hear recipients speaking or alternatively turn the volume all the way down for it to serve purely as a conference microphone. Your computer speakers, meeting room TV or other device speakers can then be used to distribute the recipient’s audio to your team. Be sure to mute your microphone on the TV or laptop so you don’t have two mics running in the same room!

Did you know you can also Bluetooth to a home speaker which also contains a microphone for conference calls? Ideal only if you have multiple people in the room. For individuals, use the recommendations above.

Webcams

One of the fundamental adaptations with online meetings is the visible image of yourself on the screen as you are talking. For most people this can be uncomfortable at first and can take some time to adjust to without feeling self-conscious or compelled to do your hair, change your shirt or sit in a slightly more professional (or relaxed angle)!

Unfortunately, without webcams, online meetings can be a little stale and lose traction. It’s hard to read people’s reactions to your proposals and discussions if you can’t see their body language or facial expressions. Often, without realising it, the tone and content of face to face meetings will adjust according to the visual cues you experience. To find more tips and tricks for conducting online meetings see our recommendations here

Types of webcams are considered here:

Laptop Webcams

If you work from a laptop there’s a good chance you already have a webcam installed.

One thing to bear in mind is that often the angle is directed straight up your nose – not a good look! To avoid this, elevate your laptop on a box so your webcam is at eye level or even slightly higher giving you a better viewing position (and a much better look!).

PC Webcams

PC’s require USB webcams. Typically, we recommend webcams which can be clipped to the top of your monitor to give you the correct height (and your monitor angle can be adjusted to point directly at you). Desktop webcams are a little low or positioned to the side of the monitor you are looking at – giving a slightly strange side-on angle.

With both options discussed above, be mindful of desk wobble! When you lean on your desk, your monitor may wobble depending on how it is suspended and can cause excessive camera shake which is frustrating for other recipients in the meeting.

No webcam? No Online Screen Share Software? Use your Smart Phone for free

Most laptops come with inbuilt webcams but if you don’t have one and if you’re really only holding a face to face team meeting you could simply use WhatsApp Group Video Call absolutely free from your Smart Phone (which already has a high spec camera and microphone). Be sure to place your phone somewhere static so people don’t get sick from it wobbling around.

Laptop Stands

Probably one of the best investments we could recommend for laptop users would be the mobile laptop stand. Avoid neck ache and back pain by simply propping up your laptop. It also helps to keep your laptop cool when performing intensive tasks. We use these stands everywhere we go and I have to say it’s the best addon you will ever find for your laptop. We use the ones with extendable feet (as some laptops have curved fronts meaning they need higher clips to stop them sliding off).

You might think they make typing uncomfortable but we haven’t experienced any issues. You can, of course, use a USB or wireless keyboard if you find this becomes a problem.

The ultra mobile Klearlook Laptop Stand Holder is what we use and it’s not let us down yet.

4G Broadband Dongle

Wifi is free in most places these days but often the bandwidth can be throttled meaning you are not capable of conducting web meetings with the resource you have. You might also find your home broadband is poor, but your 4G cellular signal is strong.

Free yourself from these shackles with a nifty little 4G Dongle and work anywhere! Data SIMs available from mobile network providers can be purchased either with pay as you go contracts or a fixed monthly payment contract over a year or two depending on your requirements.

TIP: Google ‘Speed test’ on your mobile phone (make sure your wifi is switched off so you are using cellular data). If your results outperform your home wifi consider using a 4G Dongle. Also if your network is poor but your friends are on a network which is stronger. Run the test on their phone as well to see how their network performs. Choose your data provider based on the strongest signal (it doesn’t have to be linked to your phone contract).

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Conducting Online Meetings

Here at Infinite BIM we’ve been providing web coaching, remote support and web meetings for many years. We’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t so here’s some guidance on how to host or attend your very own online meeting.

Web meetings are different from face to face meetings and can include awkward silences, clash of voices, internet dropouts and other glitches. Making attendees aware of this at the start of the meeting can help to relieve some of the tension from people who may be new to this way of working.

Here are some of our considerations for preparing your work space, your online meeting etiquette as well as your meeting structure.

Workspace

You might be in a café, in your house or even in your car when you conduct a meeting. Your environment should, however, reflect the kind of meeting you are attending or hosting.

If you’re attending a meeting and will be listening to most of the discussion but not expected to contribute much, a noisy location such as a café could be acceptable if you politely mute your microphone so others can’t hear the noise until you are ready to speak on an infrequent basis. Also using a microphone close to your mouth such as a headset or mobile phone headphones will help to minimise background noise pick-up. Laptop microphones will pick up everything in the surrounding area and should be avoided in this scenario.

If you’re hosting a meeting or need to be actively involved in the discussion – be sure to choose a quiet location (for your sake but more so for the other attendees who will have the noise compounded through their headphones and speakers).

Consider if your location has soft furnishings or not. Hard surfaces echo and can cause distortion on calls. If at your home the space is proving to be full of hard surfaces, consider hanging sheets on walls or hanging clothes on surfaces close to your desk to soften the environment. Yes, it really does make a difference.

Audio Etiquette

Here are some things to consider.

Audio test – ‘Before’ your meeting, leave adequate time to test the Audio settings and ensure the software is configured to use the correct microphone. Testing the volume of your speech is also important. You can normally find these features in the settings area of the app you are using.

Greeting – When arriving into a meeting greet everyone with your name ‘Hi this is _____ joining the meeting’. People may not be able to see you and it’s kind of creepy when someone joins and doesn’t talk. It’s a bit like walking into a meeting room avoiding eye contact with everyone, not saying hello and sitting down.

Type your full name – Yes when joining meetings, you will be amazed how many people type in only their first name. This is not helpful when you have three people called James and two called Sarah. Use your full name and even your company if possible! John Smith (MyCo) would be super helpful if you have multiple companies on the call.

Audio check – Consider asking everyone to introduce themselves and the company they represent to check audio levels and to make everyone aware who else is on the call. As the meeting host, you will need to ask each person in turn (remember you are not sat around a table and nobody is looking who is on their left).

Self-mute – Most systems allow you to mute your microphone. If your environment is noisy or others are experiencing hearing their own voice due to feedback from your speakers its good to mute until you are ready to speak.

Host mute all – The host of the meeting can also advise that they will be muting everyone. This makes everyone aware they will need to unmute themselves to speak. If you’re talking and nobody acknowledges what you say, there’s a good chance you are still on mute!

Heavy breathing – Avoid having the mic too close to your mouth. You won’t hear it but the rest of the attendees will. As the host, you can also mention there is heavy breathing and kindly ask everyone to mute themselves if they are not speaking.

Fan noise – Desktop fans in the summer can make it sound like you are logged in from the top of Ben Nevis. Point fans away from the mic or place on the floor during the meeting if they need to keep running.

Video Etiquette

Source image from GoToMeeting.com

People can also feel extremely uncomfortable looking at themselves on screen alongside their colleagues. Nobody takes a mirror into the meeting room and stares at themselves for the duration of the meeting. This is a new concept most people have difficulty adjusting to. The default is to switch off the webcam (head in the sand), but this is not good.

Unfortunately, without webcams, online meetings can be a little stale and lose traction. It’s hard to read people’s reactions to your proposals and discussions if you can’t see their body language or facial expressions and vice versa. Often, without realising it, the tone and content of face to face meetings will adjust according to the visual cues you experience.

Here are some things to consider.

Video test
‘Before’ your meeting, leave adequate time to test the webcam position & lighting. Testing the resolution connectivity with the software is also crucial. You can normally find these features in the settings area of the app you are using.

Glare – Avoid extremely bright backgrounds such as having your back to a window – you will just appear as a shadow.

Camera Angle – Make sure your camera is at the same height as your eyes or higher. Low shots looking up at double chins or up people’s nostrils is not a good look.

Camera Position – Face the camera square on – side shots are not engaging.

Screen fill – A head and torso shot is the ideal size meaning you can be expressive with your hands whilst talking. Think of a news reader.

Background at home – blank walls are the simplest and least distracting if possible. Your sofa with a cat perched on the corner is not suitable.

Background in a public space – Avoid having your back to a busy street, busy café etc. This will significantly increase bandwidth if your entire screen is ‘busy’ with movement. It’s also very distracting for others attending the meeting.

Distractions – If you need to leave your seat during the meeting to deal with something, switch off your camera if possible, so as not to disrupt the meeting whilst you move around the room.

Screen Share – If you are providing a demonstration on-screen, webcams may be unnecessary. Consider asking the group if they are happy disabling the video conference whilst the presentation takes place. They can be switched back on for discussion afterwards.

Dress appropriately – Think about how you would dress if the meeting had been a face to face in a boardroom or a casual meeting in a café. It can be a shock when a professional meeting has several well-dressed attendees and one is wearing pyjamas!

Smile – You will be amazed how much this eases the tension and relaxes the attendees into the meeting.

Meeting Structure

Online meetings require a little more structure with regards to the format and how you interact with each other. If you open a web meeting with no agenda, you will find it harder to keep the attendees engaged. At the very least, agree on an agenda at the start of the meeting on what you intend to cover and give attendees an expectation on the content to be covered.

Here are a few things to consider.

Meeting structure – If you have an agenda, share it prior to the meeting to help people understand what will be covered. Flashing it up on screen will not be useful after it is taken down during the screen sharing or video discussion. Unlike a meeting room with handouts, you can’t convey this information easily on the screen along with other presentation material and webcams. Attendees will quickly lose track of the agenda and time keeping.

Attendee input – Define the purpose of the meeting and what level of input you require from the attendees. It’s very easy for attendees to sit quietly and not contribute if they haven’t been explicitly asked to interact. Set your expectations for their contribution i.e. Listen, Listen and contribute or expect full engagement in debate and discussion.

Ask permission to record – Ask permission or advise attendees if the meeting is to be recorded ensuring there are no objections. Recordings can be a great way of replaying the discussion to recap or to share with people who could not attend the meeting.

Avoid open questions – Asking if anyone has any comments can often be followed by silence as people either don’t want to talk or don’t want to talk over each other. Try to work around the group asking each person e.g. ‘I’ll work around the group now, Tom do you have any comments…, Sally do you have any comments…’

Note taking – If you need to share your screen but also need to make notes, consider using a second monitor or a good old-fashioned pen and notepad so as not to consume the meeting with your notes page on screen. Also, remember if you are using a microphone on your laptop or desktop it will pick up those punchy key strikes like the sound of thunder for the other attendees!

Closing the meeting – Again, try to work around the group asking each person if they have any further questions before you close the meeting. If you have recorded the meeting and you are going to distribute it, remind the group that it will be uploaded and shared. Last but not least, be 100% sure you have ended the meeting before you let out a sigh, a ‘few that was tough!’, a grunt or shout to your partner to tell them how well you think it went.

Most of all enjoy your online experience. The format is different, but the value of these meetings can be just as good if not better in some respects than face to face meetings.

For further advice on setup or for online BIM management, training or coaching services for you and your business get in touch with us here.