Do poor telecoms services prevent you from working from home?

Maybe you saw my tweet last week linking to an article in The Independent which I read with some interest. As you may have seen in my colleague Darren Rafferty’s recent blog, I am one of the 41% of workers who, when I am not with customers, work from home (albeit without the hot yoga!) at TSG. 

But I too suffer with what many would call poor telecoms services. My home broadband is just shy of 4Mbps download and 0.7Mbps upload. 

Yes, it’s frustrating that it takes a while to upload documents to OneDrive. However, as long as you know the limitations of your connection, you can easily work around it. Sometimes it can even make you more productive.

One of the most common issues that I think many people have is using Voice over IP (VoIP) when on a poor connection. If you add to your misery poor mobile signal (like I have), this is sometimes your only route to a voice call unless you resort to using the (devil) landline. However, this is easy to get around; you just need to be tactical about how you use your data. My connection is poor, but as long as I’m not sending any data (emails/video/files), I can hold voice calls no problem; I can even share my screen on Skype for Business. Video calls aren’t a great idea however, as the bandwidth just gets eaten.

As for voice on mobile, this is controlled by your network provider. For example, I am with EE on my personal phone and O2 on my work mobile. Both networks have shocking signal in my home office – unless I want to hang out the window. Fortunately, both of these have a workaround.

On my iPhone, I get WiFi calling, which uses my internet for voice and message traffic. On O2 I have Tu, which is an Android application that acts as my network when I have no signal. Both work great – until I decide to send a large file.

More often than not, I use either Skype for Business for talking to peers within TSG, or our hosted telephony’s Softphone when speaking to external customers. You can register on our upcoming hosted telephony webinar to find out more. 

The key is knowing what you need to be doing at each point of your day. If you’re expecting an important call, don’t start uploading 50MB worth of files to OneDrive. Sync at the end of the day, or even overnight when no one is using your bandwidth.

Alternatively, organisations could look at using applications like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop or Citrix’s Xen-App. All data transfer is then on the business’ LAN and the only data being transferred to your desktop is the screen – think of it like you’re remote controlling a PC in the office – and voice traffic. Where there is a will, there is a way.

You would be surprised how many people want to have the luxury of working from home, but are hampered by their bandwidth. The truth is (as Darren says), I find myself more productive working in my home office environment. I just need to think about how and when I use the tools I have at my disposal. It’s easy to forget there was a time when businesses ran on 512kbps internet connections.

To summarise, my top tips for working at home on poor broadband connections are:

• Know your limitations with your internet connection.
• Leave sending large files for quieter internet times in your household (unless, of course, it’s urgent).
• Think about how you use the tools available (for example, Word Online can be less bandwidth-hungry than downloading a file, editing it, then uploading it again once finished).
• Look to utilise VoIP services wherever possible (this also enables home workers to be integrated and visible to office-based workers).
• Look at the tools available in your business that facilitate flexible working.
• If you need access to bandwidth-hungry applications, look at remote desktop solutions.
• Ensure other users on your internet connection limit what they are doing during work hours (easy with two younger children).
• Apply Quality of Service (QoS) on your firewalls for incoming traffic – see my blog on QoS for more information.
• Limit the internet-based services you use when working from home (i.e. streaming videos or music).
• Potentially take a second line dedicated to working from home.