Tips for Working At Home

With the outbreak of the coronavirus many of us are being asked to work remotely. Over my 30+ year career I’ve telecommuted about a third of the time. Below are a few simple tips that I’ve learned over the years.

Setup a Dedicated Well Equipt Work Area

Try to find a spot in your home that’s quiet and away from distractions. That comfy couch in front of the TV is not the best choice. My first home office was in my bedroom. Having a door to close and lock was one of the key features of this office.

Don’t compromise on your home office equipment. Trying to do CAD on a laptop screen will not work. My equipment at home has always been better than any office I’ve worked in. I’ve had to invest my own money, but I’m pretty sure my career has benefited.

Seriously think about workspace ergonomics. Your work at home maybe temporary, but office related injuries can haunt you for the rest of your life. Mayo Clinic has office ergonomic guidelines here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169

Schedule your Work and Breaks

It’s best to set a work schedule and keep to it. When I first started working from home I would set a timer to remind me of when to take breaks. The timer not only kept me from working too long but also kept me working too little. Homes have lots of distractions many of which are much more fun then working. Having a timer to remind you of when you can get up and waste time is helpful.

Set Rules for Family and Friends

Make sure family and friends understand your work schedule. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you’re available for playtime, partying, and doing extra chores around the house. My solution for this problem has been to adopt a flexible work schedule instead of the typical 8am-5pm. When my kids were young I would work when they were sleeping. My dogs know I’m home so I always take a break in the middle of the day to take them for their walk. For chores around the house I just make excuses for not getting to them, and magically they get done. My wife is the best.

Over Communicate with Teammates

Working remotely requires a team to communicate constantly with each other. Face to face conversations at the water cooler and in cubicles are replaced with Instant Messaging. Conference room meetings get replaced with Zoom and Skype. Physically pointing to plans and discussing issues with teammates is done by sharing your screen and “pointing” with a cursor.

My personal opinion is when a team is physically separated communication will organically improve. Since my office was closed, and the Team has been relocated to their homes I’m pretty sure that the number of team “contacts” has gone up drastically. I’m IM’ing all day. I’m communicating with our young staff more often. Task leaders are setting up more short meetings to share information.

Don’t Overwork Yourself

For me overworking is the biggest problem I have with remote work. You can’t get away from the office by going home. You can’t even get away from work on vacation. It follows you everywhere. Laptops, cell phones, internet hot spots, all have contributed to my workaholic-ism. This dilemma reminds of a quote by Harold Kushner – “No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ” Food for thought!

Part 1: Excel VBA For Engineers

INTRODUCTION

What is VBA?

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the standard programming language for Microsoft Office products including Excel. VBA allows the user to automate Excel tasks by writing macros, subroutines, and functions

Why use VBA?

  • Automate repetitive tasks
  • Simplify complex Excel equations with Basic language code
  • Reduce spreadsheet errors
  • Make spreadsheets more maintainable
  • Automate tasks in software programs such as SAP2000 or AutoCAD

Note: This post uses Excel 2013 but the concepts will apply to any recent version of Excel.

Do you use the built-in Excel LOOKUP functions? Do you use these functions to extract reinforcement data (area, diameter, weight, and etc.) from a range of cells? Yuck! I can never remember the syntax for the LOOKUP functions. Over the years I have made many errors with these convoluted functions. Not only are they error prone, but creating a range of reinforcement data is another possible source of errors.

Here are the functions that bridgeautomation uses to enter reinforcement data into Excel replacing the error prone LOOKUP functions.

Description

RebarArea, RebarDiameter, and RebarWeight returns the area, diameter, and weight in Imperial units respectively. The base units are inch and lb.

Syntax

=RebarArea(value)

=RebarDiameter(value)

=RebarWeight(value)

The RebarArea, RebarDiameter, and RebarWeight syntax has the following argument:

value – Rebar id. This is a string (i.e. #4, #5…….#18). This parameter must be enclosed in quotation marks (i.e. RebarArea(“#4”).

Start typing “Rebar” in a cell and a drop down box opens making it easy to remember the function name.

No LOOKUP tables or typing in reinforcement data into cells!

VBA Setup

Verify that the DEVELOPER menu item is visible.

If the DEVELOPER menu item is not visible navigate to the FILE / OPTIONS dialog box.

At the Options dialog box select Customize Ribbon and check the Developer checkbox and then press the OK button.

Hello World Example

Create a new Excel worksheet and save as an Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm). From the main menu select the Developer menu item and then click on Visual Basic.

Select Insert and Module.

In the Project Tree in the left pane of the dialog box below click on Module 1. Enter the following code as shown below. You can either type the code in or copy and paste from code textbox below.

Source code for the HelloWorld function is below.

Public Function HelloWorld(flag As String)
     If flag = 0 Then
         MsgBox ("Hello World From Bridgeautomation")
         HelloWorld = "0 passed-Hello From Bridgeautomation"
     Else
         HelloWorld = flag + " passed-Hello World From Bridgeautomation"
     End If
 End Function

Description

HelloWorld is a simple example function that shows how to pass parameters, return values, and use message boxes.

  • A 0 value parameter opens a message box and returns a string message to the cell
  • Any other numeric value parameter just returns a string message to the cell
  • Non-numeric value parameter returns a #Value! error

Syntax

=HelloWorld(value)

The HelloWorld function syntax has the following argument:

value – Any numeric value.

The graphic below shows how to use the HelloWorld function. In the example below cell C3 is referenced for input. Entering the integer 100 as a parameter would have worked as well (=helloworld(100)).

The graphic below shows the final results in cell C5 for an input value of 3 in cell C3.

The Excel file can be found here: Example HelloWorld

References