by North Rittner
If 2020 taught us anything, it was that we no longer have the luxury of being blissfully unaware of how computers and our home network work together in our homes. By now, we are all aware of the acronym WFH (work from home), and many of us are also aware that going back to the office is not going to happen anytime soon. So, let’s have a conversation about how to make the best of it. What can you do to make your WFH experience be the best it can? Here are the top five most prominent issues that you will need to be aware of to be effective and productive as you work from home.
#1 – Your productivity is tied to your network speed.
Your internet speed is the backbone that will run your life as long as you work from home. Pre-WFH days, your 25 megabits per second (Mbps) internet service was plenty to allow most families to check their email, stream Netflix and allow their kids to battle online with their console of choice. 25 Mbps provides enough internet speed (bandwidth) to support these services simultaneously because these services are mostly delivered in bursts of bandwidth consumption, not sustained bandwidth consumption like many of the applications we use at work. We quickly learned in the early days of WFH that network bandwidth is quickly consumed and over-taxed if your internet speed does not match your consumption requirements. Check with your internet service provider (ISP) about the cost of upgrading to a package that will provide higher bandwidth, allowing for more users and more devices to do more things simultaneously. You want to think about the number of users in your home and the number of devices you have connected at any point in time. My advice? In most cases, a 50 Mbps service plan is enough to power you and your family through most workdays.
#2 – Understand the limitations of your hardware.
Most people do not consider that networking hardware (the mystical black boxes you have in your house that fill it with internet magic) needs to be replaced every three to five years. If you rent your hardware from your ISP, then they should be upgrading your equipment regularly as devices become obsolete (read: slow). Don’t be afraid to contact your ISP to have them run a test on your line speed to make sure your hardware is providing the service you need. Another handy tip… regularly test your network speed yourself. Make sure you are getting delivered what you are paying for. I use www.speedtest.net. It’s a simple website that allows you to check your network speed.
#3 – Restart your computers once a week.
If you’ve ever called a help desk for tech support, you have most likely heard the question, “Have you turned it off and turned it back on again?” It is not just a meme-of-the-week joke. It is a legitimate fix for the majority of computing performance issues. I’m going to use a bucket analogy here. Think of your computer as a five-gallon bucket. When you turn it on, you start filling that bucket with water. Every time you open an application, you add more water to that bucket. When that bucket fills up, you begin encountering functionality and performance problems. Think of restarting your computer as “emptying your bucket,” freeing up space to hold more water. Most of my clients are amazed at how much a simple restart once a week can do to increase speed and performance.
#4 – Invest in a password vault.
This really needs to be higher on this list, with the number of cyber-attacks popping up on news feeds seemingly every day. We all need to manage our passwords better. According to the 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR) released annually by Verizon, 70% of cyber-attacks in 2020 targeted login credentials through phishing emails or other forms of social engineering (tactics hackers use to trick you into providing your login credentials.) What does this mean for you? You need to be more protective of your login credentials. As end-users, we are the biggest threat to our personal information and our company’s information. Using weak passwords, or worse, using the same password for multiple accounts for both personal and business logins is a recipe for disaster. Take the time to see how a password vault can simplify your life when it comes to managing the hundreds of passwords you keep and use daily. Personally, I use Bitwarden. There are dozens of options out there… many are free. Names to look for are KeePass, 1Pass, or Dashlane. 2021 should be the year you invest the time to transition to a reputable password manager.
#5 – Get familiar with Video Conferencing tools.
2020 was the year of the Zoom meeting. Many of us had no idea what a “video meeting” was before last year. Now, the Zoom meeting is a part of everyday working life. Whether you use Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex, or Teams, you’ll want to become familiar with the basic functionality of the video conferencing application your organization uses. Also, understand video meeting etiquette, such as keeping yourself muted when not speaking, to keep from disrupting everyone else in the meeting if you are in a noisy environment. Finally, everyone’s favorite, be aware of what you are sharing when your camera is on. If you are at all confused by this, feel free to Google “Zoom meeting fails,” and you will quickly get the idea of why you need to be aware of where your camera is pointed.
Well, that’s my quick top 5 things to keep in mind when working from home. Soon enough, we will return to the office and a normal work/life separation. Until then, enjoy the work from home commute and the savings on your monthly gasoline bill. Feel free to reach out with any questions you have to FindingNorth73@gmail.com. Until next time, be well, my friends.
North Rittner lives in Firestone with his wife and is the Information Security Engineer at Boulder Community Hospital. With over 10 years of professional I.T. experience , he welcomes your technology questions.