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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.‬