First things in a paperless world

There’s lots to think about, if you want to survive in this new remote, bundle-less Bar. These are just a few physical preliminaries.

Some readers of these musings may already have a way of working paperlessly, and remotely, that suits them. Although everyone can learn from everyone else’s experience (with the usual YMMV caveat, of course), this short post is really addressed at those who are staring at their laptop in horror and wondering: how on earth can I function like this?

There are lots of things to think about and do. But step one is to work out what you REALLY need, and what you don’t.

I’d suggest the following are the physical essentials. We’ll cover the software and services next time. For anything not covered here (scanners, inkjet printers, mice, and so on) – my first port of call for reviews and recommendations is usually The Wirecutter. But there are plenty of others.

  • A workspace that won’t drive you mad, and allows you to think and communicate. If you’re in a small shared space, that’s going to be difficult. But there’s lots of advice out there. Rather than a list of other sites, I’d simply recommend a short and free ebook, Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily. It’s published by people who’ve written literally dozens of tech guides for normal humans. They’re great. (In fact, I recommend the series as a whole.) And remember: you’re likely to need a space from which you can video-conference without looking too disorganised or unprofessional. So take the time to set things up with care.
  • A computer you’re used to. No point – in these times of urgency and short funds – in buying something that expensive anew unless you absolutely have to. You don’t want to be re-learning right now. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Mac, a PC, a Chromebook, an iPad, a Surface or what. If you’re comfortable with it, stick with it.
  • If you can, a cheap headset. You’re going to spend a lot more time than usual on the phone, and possibly for lengthy periods. You DON’T want to last through a two-hour hearing with the phone wedged under your chin. I prefer Bluetooth (then I can pair it with phone or computer without worrying about which variety of USB/Lightning/whatever plug it happens to have), but it’s your call. I have a fairly rubbish one, but a better one (I hope) is arriving tomorrow. I’ll add a link if it works. Wired or wireless mobile headsets can do it, but you may sound pretty echoey. In a long remote hearing, probably a no-no.
  • A decent chair. Seriously. They’re not expensive. Get it done, if you don’t want your back to hate you. This one’s mine.
  • Not compulsory, but useful if you do print stuff sometimes (or have papers sent to you) – a shredder. Normally I hate the things, but they’re a necessary evil given the duty of confidentiality we work under. Again, this is mine – reasonably cheap, takes more than a sheet or two, can cope with staples. Doesn’t go wrong too much.
  • Also not obligatory, but I’d argue a really phenomenal idea if you’re using a laptop: a separate screen and keyboard. 4k screens are great, but dear – a 1900×1200 one is relatively lo-res, but reliable, responsive and easily good enough for having your papers side by side with whatever document you’re working on. And only about £100. As for keyboards – I use a Microsoft Sculpt to avoid RSI, with a Logitech K380 on the road (switches between laptop and iPad at the push of a button – nice).
  • Which leads to what you do with the laptop itself. I have mine on a platform. A friend of mine uses one of these on circuit when he can’t rely on having a lectern box. But this one does two things in the WFH environment. First it makes for extra precious desk space – I have a stand for papers underneath mine. Second, it raises your laptop’s camera so that it’s the perfect height for video-conferencing. No more giving people an up close and personal view up your nostrils…

You’ll notice I haven’t included a webcam. Frankly, the one on most modern laptops etc is good enough. And particularly if you’ve got a platform like mine, then you don’t really need one.

I also haven’t said anything about printers. This is cheeky. I may be mostly paperless, but I’ve a decent (and cheap) laser printer – an HP M254dw. (I’m not including a link because Amazon now sells it for twice as much as the £150 I paid, but there are plenty of decent ones around for that kind of money.) Because sometimes someone else is going to need something on paper. It’s how it is.

So that’s the basics. Next stop: the intangibles…