Andy Wolber | 27 Aug, 2020
When a new employee starts work, the organization's technology team often is involved in the on-boarding process. Typically, the IT team provides each employee with any hardware or software needed for work. In many organizations, that means employees receive a computer and an email account, at a minimum.
But in the work-from-home era, people will use these systems from home networks much of the time. This is especially true after COVID-19 concerns prompted many organizations to close offices. Internet traffic at offices and hotels decreased, while home internet usage increased — often due to a significant rise in the use of video-conferencing.
IT leaders will likely want to take steps to ensure the speed and performance of home networks used by employees. The following steps can help IT teams troubleshoot and improve network performance for people who work from home.
Based on your organization's apps and employee usage needs, your IT team might recommend minimum internet connection speeds for employees.
One way to estimate this is to identify vendor-recommended connection speeds. For example, three major vendors suggest the following speeds to support high-quality video conferencing:
However, keep in mind that home internet connections are often shared among family members — and some of those people might watch Netflix or other streaming services. Netflix, for example, recommends a 5 Mbps or faster connection for people who want to watch in HD quality.
So, you might suggest that employees multiply the number of people in the household by 5 Mbps for download speeds, and 3.2 Mbps for upload speeds. The recommended minimum connection speeds for a home with four people, for example, would be 20 Mbps down (4 * 5 Mbps) and 12.8 Mbps up (4 * 3.2 Mbps). Such a connection speed should let everyone meet, learn, or stream video at the same time.
If employees struggle with slow internet connection, suggest they test speeds with a browser-based test. They might open and run tests with both Speedtest.net and SpeedSmart.net. Both of these tests capture three key network performance points: download speed, upload speed, and ping response speeds.
This test, combined with the above recommendation, may identify that the employee needs to upgrade their selected internet package from their internet service provider.
Home modem and router hardware also can significantly affect performance — and internet providers don’t always consistently upgrade older equipment.
You might review the hardware options approved by internet providers in the areas where your employees live, then create a "preferred" or "suggested" equipment list of hardware that your team is willing to help support. A short list of one or two cable modems, for example, along with a suggested make and model of mesh WiFi routers your team prefers might help simplify remote support — and ensure solid performance.
Along with recommended hardware, you might also provide a few recommended network configurations. These might include specific security (e.g., disable UPnP, disable remote management), routing (e.g., an alternative DNS provider), or update (e.g., enable firmware auto-updates) settings. This guidance can help employees make choices that improve reliability and security of their home network.
While many people may be well-equipped to configure, maintain, update, and troubleshoot home networks, plenty of other people might struggle with these processes.
IT organizations may want to add a standardized remote network support service to help people who struggle with poor internet connections.
In an ideal world, an organization could deploy systems with built-in direct access to modern mobile networks, such as a laptop or tablet with a built-in 4G (or, better, 5G!) connection. Or, a company could provide each employee either with a dedicated mobile hotspot or cover the cost of enabling this feature on a smartphone. This type of mobile connection relies on cellular networks, and avoids the potential congestion on home Wi-Fi networks.
However, this may not meet the needs of all employees. Sufficiently fast network coverage may not be available at every place people live. And the added cost of the hardware and on-going data subscription packages may be more than some companies are willing to pay.
How does your IT team help employees ensure a sufficiently reliable internet connection for people who work from home? Have you added recommended equipment, configurations, and support for home networks to your help desk's set of services? Let me know how your company handles these things, either in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).
Andy Wolber (Twitter: @awolber) helps people understand and leverage technology. He's a contributing writer for TechRepublic, and has taught Nonprofit and Government Technology for Grand Valley State University. Prior staff roles include positions with Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Dallas Historical Society, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He's also served as a volunteer leader for the Technology Advisory Committee of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, as well as the Dallas Arts District Friends. He holds an MBA/MA in Arts Administration and a BA in Music Theory & Composition. Andy lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.
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