How to Advise Remote Employees, and Make Critical Business Decisions
Prior to the outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, few of us needed to consider how efficiently our home networks could handle large, spontaneous loads of data transfer. Many Americans across the country were able to work from home this summer with little issue, but now that the kids are also needing to access daytime bandwidth for remote school, we’re really starting to see a problem.
If your employees have noticed clicky connections and spontaneous timeouts, it might be time to start a training course that can help your workers allocate bandwidth to the most important users. And, while you give them advice on how to manage their home network traffic, it also might be time to consider what your organization can and should do to manage traffic flow in the most advantageous way possible.
A refresher: Asymmetrical and Symmetrical connections
For those who are unfamiliar with what bandwidth is, this is simply a term for the amount of internet-connected traffic your network can withstand at any given moment. Computers send and receive what are called packets of information; these packets can vary in size, but at a single moment in time, a network can only transfer a set amount of data in these packets.
The Internet Service Provider (ISP) sets the limits on how much data can be transferred every second based on a) how much they are paid and b) the infrastructure available near the connection point. If your employees have tried almost everything to allocate available bandwidth to the proper sources and are still seeing slow-downs, it might be time for them to contact their ISP to evaluate line health, hardware efficiency, and consider a network upgrade.
“An asymmetric network has multiple routes for incoming and outgoing network traffic. As such, traffic takes a different route when entering or exiting the network.” - Trend Micro
There are two main types of internet connections that an ISP can provide, depending on the infrastructure in your area. The first type of connection is the asymmetrical connection. This type of network often has far more bandwidth for downloads than it does for uploads. A typical asymmetrical network can handle about 100 mbs/s for downloads and 10 mbs/s for uploads.
As you can see, this might be great for streaming video and browsing the web; however, this connection will leave much to be desired when an employee is trying to upload data to your business infrastructure while working from home.
An easy way for them to check their personal internet connection is by running a basic speed test on the main, Ethernet-connected workstation. Employees should run this test during the quietest time in their house and neighborhood - remember, the lines in the street can only handle so much traffic. If your employees are continually seeing far less bandwidth than they are paying for, they should certainly call the local ISP.
“A symmetric network has a single route for incoming and outgoing network traffic. As such, traffic takes the same route when entering or the network.” - Trend Micro
Unlike the asymmetrical connections, symmetrical ones have similar download and upload speeds. This is because the lines are fiber optic and can handle internet traffic in both directions. Fiber optic lines also often boast much higher speeds.
Unfortunately, however, fiber is often far more expensive just to cover the cost of converting lines.
If your employees are looking for large upload speeds and overall faster connections, they might want to look into a fiber optic symmetrical internet connection. Sometimes, ISPs can run a fiber connection to new homes if they help cover the cost - it’s always worth getting in touch to see what the ISP’s plans are for fiber lines in the future.
Which Connection is Best for Remote Work?
According to AT&T Business, “it depends on your business needs and requirements. If you’re in the cloud, have a lot of VPN users, or demand consistent reliability, a symmetrical connection may be a better option.”
For businesses, it’s extremely important to consider not only the number of remote workers you have but also the amount of data and concurrent transfers that will need to happen at any given moment. You can have the fastest download speed in the world, but your upload connection still has to be able to withstand the transfer of files that your employees need to make.
“If you’re a business with limited internet needs (that is, you don’t upload a lot of files, you require a lower-cost internet connection, or don’t mind the occasional latency based on time of day), an asymmetrical-type connection may be more suitable.” This is why home networks often rely on asymmetrical connections. The majority of online activity is streaming music, video, and video gaming. Unfortunately, if you work from home and your work network is using far more upload bandwidth than you have, you’ll be limited by your own connection.
Tips for addressing bandwidth issues
In general, they will know if there are bandwidth issues on the network. Family members might complain about overall slowness and responsivity issues for web pages, long buffering times, high latency for game connections, and seemingly unprovoked disconnects from servers. If they are unsure what is causing the issue, have them get in touch with your IT department and reach out to our team at Source 1 Solutions; we know the ins and outs of online networking and we can help your business optimize for remote work.
As with any internet or hardware change, always allow time for everything to be set up and configured properly. Your employees might have to take a day or two off to optimize their connection! Fill in your HR department on the lengths you are willing to go to - will you reimburse portions of employees’ network upgrades? Set aside plenty of time-off for employees to install software, configure settings, and wait on hold with their ISP.
Monitor and Control Traffic
One of the most highly recommended home network strategies is that employees monitor and control their internet traffic. Not only can they optimize connections this way, but weak spots in security can be detected before they become a problem. There are many ways to keep tabs on all of the incoming and outgoing connections within a network.
Hetman Recovery suggests “limiting connection speed for all devices, and doing it for a particular device or a group of gadgets.” This way employees can optimize the performance for each device and its particular function. Comparitech says that “everyday devices and applications use network traffic to operate and it is important to make sure that network resources are distributed evenly to support all these services.”
Your employees can use any number of resources to monitor their traffic, but the most highly recommended tool is probably already installed on their routers. Consider putting together a tutorial on enabling QoS in the router’s settings. Show employees how to create rules that can help the network run more smoothly. Another great product for cable users is Docsis 3.1. Configuring Docsis 3.1 is a great way to decrease congestion on the upload side of your employees’ connections.
Consider Split Tunneling
The biggest thing you can do as an employer is to provide your employees with a VPN tunnel. This will allow your workers to split-tunnel their work-related traffic. Tunneling (protected transfer of data to your company servers) happens automatically when the employee uses their work-connected VPN, so just make sure the rest of the family continues to send their traffic through their own home connection tunnels (it’s really quite difficult and technical to circumvent the VPN’s process, so it’s unlikely that this will be an issue).
According to Wikipedia, split tunneling “alleviates bottlenecks and conserves bandwidth as [personal] internet traffic does not have to pass through the VPN server. Another advantage is in the case where a user works at a supplier or partner site and needs access to network resources on both networks throughout the day. Split tunneling prevents the user from having to continually connect and disconnect.”
We are in unprecedented times in so many ways; however, few people have given consideration to how home networks and personal ISP connections are being affected by the major increase in bandwidth necessity. If you have any questions about how to optimize your own network infrastructure, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Source 1 Solutions. We’re here to help with whatever networking issues you come across as you try to create the perfect WFH environments for your employees - and yourself - this fall.