The new work-from-home era

In the new era of COVID-19 many of you are being asked to work from home full time for the first time. In addition, other family members may be at home as well, overloading your Wi-Fi router and competing for the available internet bandwidth supplied by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The combination of these new demands and unfamiliar applications has likely led to frustrating videoconferences and online meetings such as this.

 Many well-meaning individuals and organizations have written blog posts and white papers to help you through this time suggesting what applications you should use to reduce this frustration and connect more successfully. I’m going to respectfully suggest that – for now – you should ignore their advice.

Be flexible when it comes to applications

Let me take a step back and explain. I don’t have a job. I have a bunch of jobs (or contracts). I’m an entrepreneur in residence at the RIC Centre, a startup incubator in the Greater Toronto Area. I’m an investor in technology startups such as ehsAI. I’m a consultant to enterprises who are leveraging technologies to disrupt industries or to defend against disruption. I’m a professional speaker with the Talent Bureau who explains to business leaders how technology is changing the world. I’m a partner in research projects with fabulous leading-edge research company GoodRobot. And finally I’m an adjunct professor of Technology Strategy at the York University Schulich School of Business. For all of these roles I work remotely much of the time AND I usually don’t get to choose the applications we use to create and share content digitally and visually. You often won’t get to choose either. 

 Nevertheless, I’m online almost all the time. In the last week I’ve videoconferenced with groups and individuals using, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom and Facetime. I’ve created, shared and edited content using Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, Salesforce and Slack. I’ve done all of this at home on a Wi-Fi network that also supports Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, TSN and Sportsnet for video streaming and Spotify and Amazon Music for audio streaming. I connect to my network with a Macbook Pro, iPhone, Samsung smart TV, Samsung smart music system, 3 Amazon Echos and a smart home security system.

 I prefer some of the above business applications over others, but they all pretty much meet the basic needs in their categories and when the client or employer prefers one over the other I go with it. What they ALL need however is a REALLY fast connection – both wirelessly within the home, and to the internet itself. Wondering how to be successful working at home? Start with your connectivity solutions.

A high quality connection makes all the difference

The first step is to set yourself up with a really fast internet connection from your ISP. Slow won’t cut it for working from home. Fast is good, blazingly fast is even better. Think about it like a pipe. If your internet comes in via a copper line (DSL) or cable, you can go fast, but eventually the pipe fills up and backs up. Cable is the better option of the two, with a theoretical bandwidth that’s around 10 times DSL. But top speed isn’t the only thing that matters, some connections (like DSL and Cable) are more like one-way streets, they’re really fast in one direction (downloads) but slow in the other (uploads). That’s fine for browsing the web or streaming movies, but for a two-way video call a high-speed two way connection is mandatory. That’s why I can’t really recommend either cable or DSL. For  optimized work from home performance today AND future-proof performance you should go for Fiber – it’s got theoretical bandwidth that’s 3,000 times bigger than a cable connection. And it’s fast in both directions. If you can get fiber to your home get it. It will cost more, but it’s worth it. 

Get Wi-Fi 6

The next step is to get a modern Wi-Fi router. Specifically get one that supports the latest standard called Wi-Fi 6. It doesn’t do any good to have a fast connection to your home if you don’t have a fast connection IN your home. As the Steve Carell character in ‘The 40 Year old Virgin’ said when asked about buying a VHS player ‘To be totally honest with you, you don’t want to buy any VCR. Dead technology. It’s like getting an 8-track player‘. Similarly you shouldn’t buy or use an older Wi-Fi router now. Get a Wi-Fi 6 router.  People often blame stuttering video, or a break in streaming on the Internet connection, when often it’s their router that’s not up to the task. The new standard is Wifi 6 (or 802.11 ax) and the improvements over previous generations of Wi-Fi are amazing. For starters, it’s far better at handling interference (think about those in your household and neighborhood who are now all at home too). I could talk about this all day but it might be too much detail for most of you so go here or here if you want detail. But if you don’t, just remember Wi-Fi 6. Don’t get talked into anything else. Probably easiest to just ask your ISP for the one they support. Again. It will be a bit more expensive. Again it will be worth it – full stop

Stay at home, stay happy!  

High speed internet is critically important to being productive and staying happily at home. In fact one A.T. Kearney study done before the current work-from-home boom found that, around the globe, most people considered Home Broadband more important than Sex (unless you’re from Poland or Switzerland, they have a different set of priorities at home). Imagine how they feel now! 

Once you’ve updated your internet connection and Wi-Fi system then there will be plenty of time to go back and review advice about more effective work from home applications and practices. Good luck!