Working from home

In light of the current global pandemic, there's lots of interest out there on "working remotely" or "working from home". We've been doing a for years, and it has a lot of advantages... here's how we do it....

The OER Foundation (we're the charitable foundation that coordinates the OERu) is a "remote organisation". There is no central office - after all only two of us work for the Foundation full time. We both work from our homes, in Mosgiel and Christchurch, two centres about 5 hours drive apart in the South Island of New Zealand. We also have colleagues, who dedicate part of their time to our projects, based at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin. Despite our small (but plucky) team, we collaborate with educators at 40+ tertiary institution partners (universities and polytechnics) in 5 continents around the world who amplify our efforts...  Luckily for us, we both have the benefit of high speed internet access and a knowledge of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and how to make it work for our requirements - and scale for a global audience of educators and learners!

How we work

At the OER Foundation, we're task oriented (not time oriented - no timesheets). Every week, I have a set of standard tasks I undertake, as do my colleagues, and we have to get them done. For example, I "go around the (virtual) traps" at the start of each week to ensure all our remote systems are up-to-date and secure as possible. When those are done, we have a bunch of longer term (important-but-not-urgent) projects that are under way, scheduled in a kanban board (we use either our NextCloud's "Desk" plug-in or the very fine Kanboard FOSS app) or by agreement.

During the day we have frequent communication and collaboration among our small team, as well as with the broader group of OERu partner representatives - our Rocket.Chat system is our virtual meeting room and water cooler for both meeting and informal discussion.

A few of us meet online for a video chat each day to catch up on the days work, talk strategy, and socialise a bit. We usually have our chats using Jitsi Meet, which is triggered by Rocket.Chat. Lately, we've been using Big Blue Button a lot more for our catchups, just to mix it up a little - they're both great for small groups (Big Blue Button also supports much larger groups).

Here's a table laying out our "work from home" stack:

Technology category Specific FOSS technology Replaces
Desktop/Laptop Computers Lenovo Thinkpads  
Operating System Ubuntu Linux or Linux Mint Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS
Email service Mailcow (self-hosted - how to do it)(commercial service) Google Mail, Microsoft Outlook, Fastmail
Email client (reading/composing) Thunderbird (desktop), SOGo (webmail - built into Mailcow) Microsoft Outlook, Apple MailApp, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.
Web browser Chromium or Firefox or Brave Google Chrome, Microsoft IE or Edge, Apple Safari
Chat service, video conf Rocket.Chat (self-hosted - how to do it)(commercial service) - (access via browser, or desktop and mobile interfaces) Slack, Discord, Gitter, Microsoft Teams
Document management and sharing NextCloud Hub (self-hosted - how to do it)(commercial service - gov't and education discounts available) Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive
Collaborative documents NextCloud's OnlyOffice integration (self-hosted - how to do it)(commercial service - gov't and education discounts available) Google Docs, MS Office 365
Kanban project management NextCloud's Deck app or Wekan


Trello, MS Project

Shared calendaring and contacts NextCloud's Calendaring and Contact apps MS Outlook, iCal, Google Calendars
Scheduling (timezone aware) NextCloud's Poll app (part of NextCloud) Doodle Polls
Password manager (share and personal) BitWarden (self-hosted - how to do it) LastPass, 1Password, Keepassx, etc.
Video Conferencing (< 8 participants) Jitsi Meet (externally hosted) browser-based or mobile apps (all FOSS) Google Hangouts, Apple Facetime, Microsoft Skype
Video Conferencing (webinars, hundreds of participants, breakout rooms, etc.) Big Blue Button (self-hosted)(commercial service one, two) browser-based, mobile apps available - if you want to try it yourself (gratis) go to the NZOSS' "Work from home" page. Zoom
Social Media Mastodon (self-hosted) Twitter

Outside of that stack of software applications, we use lots of other FOSS apps on the desktop, like Inkscape (for vector drawings, replacing Adobe Illustrator), Krita and Gimp (to modify images, replacing Adobe Photoshop), Kdenlive (to edit video), LibreOffice (to edit PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, replacing MS Office), Audacity (editing audio like voice-overs and podcasts), and many others, and many dozens of development tools to produce digital artefacts. If you're looking for a FOSS tool to do a job, let us know - perhaps we can help you find one that's suitable!

If you want to learn more about our cloud infrastructure - which involves a whole additional constellation of FOSS technologies - here's a review of our 2018 technology stack (here's an updated version in early 2023), with which we are providing a full online university...

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