Essential Technology Tips for Remote Workers

It’s not news that many working parents are home-schooling, supervising remote learning or coping without day care in addition to their normal workload. We’ve talked at length about how HR policies and practices can support these employees and shared the specific features and impact of COVID-19 legislation. What we haven’t discussed is work-from-home technology concerns. To that end, we decided to phone-a-friend to get answers to our pressing tech questions.

We recently talked work-from-home challenges with Ryan Conn, a systems technician at Technology Lab, XMI’s outsourced tech partner. Last year Technology Lab was instrumental in preparing our team for the unforeseen and almost overnight move to remote work. Key facets of that effort included moving all employees away from desktop computers to laptops, transitioning to secure cloud storage, and improving remote access to our network with stronger security and enhanced availability.

Our recent discussion focused on the most common tech challenges facing remote workers today: network availability and security, device security, and protecting the work product. Let’s take a closer look.

Boosting network availability

According to Conn, the average network user can probably subsist on a download speed of 50 Mbps. Given the prevalence of video conferencing, VPN (accessing a remote network over the internet rather than working solely on the desktop) and file complexity, it’s wise to plan for 100 Mbps per user. If you have x number of adults working from home and x number of kids attending remote school, multiply and solve for the download speed you need to feel good about your ability to work concurrently. (And don’t forget to factor in the houseguest gaming from your basement.)

While download speeds vary by location and carrier, carriers are sizing up to meet COVID-19 demands. In fact, many internet service providers (ISPs) are providing greater speed at no cost and relaxing data usage limits. Users should run a network speed test and compare the results to their current plan. He recommends running speed tests at different times of day, both peak and non-peak, to get a sense of the average network speed coming into the home in a 24-hour period.

Most broadband users maintain home Wi-Fi networks rather than hardwiring devices. These networks simultaneously support personal computers, gaming systems, Alexa, Google Home, Sonos and other smart devices. That’s a lot to ask of the Wi-Fi hardware, namely modems, routers and Wi-fi repeaters and extenders, but this tech has come a long way in recent years.

Conn suggests sticking with the native configuration of these devices. Most home users don’t have the experience required to run multiple Wi-Fi networks or to customize router and extender settings—and that’s OK. The better way to improve availability is simple and focused on the modem and router.

  • Make sure to locate the router in an open area, central to the home, and don’t block the router with furniture, other hardware or decorative items.
  • Second, check the age on the router. If you are renting hardware from your ISP, ask if a newer model is available and swap it out. If you use your own hardware, consider how long ago you purchased this device. Anything older than two years could create slowdowns.
  • Keep the firmware on the modem and router current. ISPs typically push updates with no user intervention required. If you aren’t renting your router and modem, you need to proactively apply firmware updates.

If the signal coming into the home is strong, but it weakens in certain rooms, Wi-Fi repeaters and extenders may be the key to improving speed across the home. Conn’s advice for this hardware aligns with his tips above for the modem and router. Don’t physically block the device, newer is better, and keep the device firmware updated.

Prioritize network security

The best way for the average user to support home network security is with a strong Wi-Fi password. Often ISP modems and routers default to offering both a password-protected Wi-Fi network and a guest network. Conn suggests disabling the guest network and providing legitimate guest users your Wi-Fi password to prevent uninvited and unauthorized network traffic.

More savvy users may opt to disable broadcasting on the home network. Disabling broadcasting means that the network isn’t discoverable and won’t be listed when users search for available networks. Rather, users will need to manually add the network by name prior to entering the password.

The practices listed above for improving network availability also enhance network security. Older hardware will have more vulnerabilities than newer models. And up-to-date firmware provides better protection against the latest and greatest threats.

Protecting devices and work product

While the employee’s ability to work from home effectively and securely is essential, employers must also protect the device and work product. It’s up to the employer’s technology team to enforce best practices for passwords, both device and network, across all company assets. It’s also a good idea to require updated virus scan and spam blockers. Regularly train employees on current standards and maintain an updated home computing policy that addresses, at a minimum:

  • Prohibiting the sharing of company-owned devices with unauthorized users
  • How to properly store all passwords to company assets, networks and systems
  • Guidelines for taking good care of the device, i.e. how to clean, how to store and how to prevent theft.
  • Proper file storage—a secure and regularly backed up network won’t prevent work loss if a remote employee only saves to the desktop.
  • A strong warning about opening emails and attachments from unknown senders and a way for employees to identify and report spam attacks. None of the practices listed above will matter if employees actively open the door for bad agents.

Thanks to Ryan Conn and Technology Lab for supporting XMI’s remote workforce. We hope his tips will also help your team. If you have more tech questions, please reach out to Technology Lab.

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