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How IT teams can help support remote workers: 5 tips

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To enable cloud collaboration and remote work, enterprise IT teams can help employees improve home network setups.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Many IT leaders need to significantly increase the type of support provided to employees who work from home. Too often, organizations hire people, hand them a laptop, accounts and password information and then call the on-boarding process complete. When people work in an organization-controlled office, that’s fine, since the IT team oversees the on-site network, but IT leaders shouldn’t assume that every employee’s home network is adequate. 

If you used Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom much during the COVID-19 pandemic, you likely can identify at least a few colleagues whose home network setup is, charitably put, less than optimal.

Organizations that are serious about supporting remote work and work-where-you-live scenarios should provide people with home networking advice and support, as detailed below. This relatively minor investment of time and expertise from the IT team can help minimize network-related problems when many people work from home.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

1. Help employees select an ISP and plan

With less than an hour of work, a knowledgeable IT person can often identify reasonable providers and plans for most locations. Expect to spend a few minutes gathering basic information (e.g., number of people in the home, general expected needs), a half-hour or so sorting through providers and plans, and then another few minutes conveying those alternatives to the employee.

Different providers and plans may be best in different places. In some urban areas in the U.S., a 300 Mbps symmetrical connection makes sense in an apartment building wired for AT&T Fiber, while in other places a 1000 Mbps down/35 Mbps upstream plan might be a good option for Comcast/Xfinity internet. Your team’s assistance can help steer people away from plans that lack sufficient upstream speeds (e.g., budget cable connections) or older connection methods (e.g., DSL). For estimating purposes, plan on around $100 per month for an internet connection.

2. Suggest equipment upgrades 

In addition to the actual service, key pieces of equipment typically include a modem and Wi-Fi gear. Again, this is where your IT team’s knowledge can be helpful: rather than take the standard gear provided by a cable company, for example, your team might guide people to upgrades to help reduce latency, improve throughput or increase Wi-Fi coverage. For example, an upgrade from a standard modem to a high-performance device (e.g., to an Arris SURFboard SB8200 or Motorola MB8600) or from a budget Wi-Fi router to a mesh setup (e.g., to the eero 6, eero Pro 6 or NetGear Orbi AX6000). 

Your team can make sure any gear you suggest works well with any other equipment you provide (e.g., laptop, tablet or phone) and supports modern networking standards (e.g., Wi-Fi 6 and mesh). For cost estimating purposes, a high performance cable modem costs roughly $200, while Wi-Fi routers and mesh networking equipment can cost in the $200 range (for a router and/or base mesh device) and extend to $700 or so for a higher end Wi-Fi 6 mesh three-device setup.

3. Provide remote support to optimize home network performance

While many people may prefer to manage their own home network setup, some may benefit from support and assistance. Again, your IT team likely has the necessary skills to remotely help people complete tasks such as upgrading firmware on networking equipment or adjusting DNS settings to improve reliability or responsiveness. This sort of remote assistance from your team may be especially beneficial, since it is not the sort of task typically handled by ISP support staff, but can make a significant difference in how well a home network performs. Again, for cost estimating purposes, plan on roughly one hour of time for this remote support task for an employee.

4. Consider covering costs

Consider a stipend to cover work-related home networking costs. Some companies provide people with a prepaid card to use for purchases, while others issue a direct payment to employees. Check with your finance and HR team to make sure you understand any potential tax implications for the organization and employees and communicate that information clearly.

5. Identify alternative connection options

Your IT team also might be prepared to point people to alternatives to a conventional home broadband connection. Other options could include a dedicated 5G or LTE modem, a phone with a hotspot option, some sort of fixed-wireless service or even a satellite connection. You might also consider a move toward laptops and/or tablets with built-in 5G/LTE support.

Additionally, in some cases you might want to create a list of places that may be an alternative to working-at-home, such as short-term rental workplaces or even a desk your employees can use at a partner company’s offices. If you’re concerned about security, provide these options to guide people away from conducting work in coffee shops or other public places.

How does your IT support work-from-home connections?

How does the organization you work for help employees ensure a reliable, fast internet connection for people who work from home? If you work in corporate IT, how have your policies and practices changed to meet people’s remote work needs? Let me know which (if any) of the above steps your organization has implemented, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber). 

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