COVID-19 Telecommuting Puts Home Networks to the Test

Remote work technology has changed the face of pandemic social distancing.

Compared to past epidemics caused by high-impact respiratory pathogens, the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is underway during an era when technological capabilities enable large numbers of people to work at home. A large segment of the population is now able to continue earning a living while maintaining the social distancing requirements currently mandated in a number of countries to help slow the spread of the virus.

While these advanced capabilities are a boon for this situation, the abrupt rise in the number of people working remotely has strained global networks and caused companies to scramble to keep business running. Some companies rely on private VPNs to enable a certain percentage of their workforce to work remotely. However, many have encountered snags because those networks were designed to handle only a certain number of users, not whole companies. The shift has also raised cybersecurity concerns as people are working in lower security home environments, and hackers may attempt to take advantage of the pandemic. Microsoft has issued advice for IT departments on how to secure and optimize use of Microsoft 356 for a larger remote staff.

Globally, both mobile and broadband internet networks have been put to the test not only by those telecommuting but also by children streaming games and movies amidst school closures. Ookla has been monitoring the pandemic’s impact on these networks, and performance tests from mid-March showed decreases in broadband performance and download speeds in China, Spain and Italy. Mobile download speeds fell significantly in Austria, and Switzerland experienced a slight decrease in broadband speed.

The shift to remote work due to the pandemic is highlighting equity issues beyond those that exist between so-called blue-collar and white-collar workers. Data from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission shows that over 26 percent of Americans living in rural areas and 32 percent of Americans living on tribal lands lack broadband access at speeds of at least 25Mbps/3Mbps. While there’s a push by some U.S. officials to increase rural broadband access, companies like AT&T and Comcast have suspended their data caps for consumers.

COVID-19 has put pressure on companies to not only allow or require employees to work remotely, but also to offer free online work tools. Effective until July 6, Igloo Software is providing a Business Continuity Bundle free worldwide for organizations to help them digitize their workplaces.

“While most businesses have some form of business continuity plan in place to handle isolated incidents, organizations around the world have found themselves in uncharted territory in trying to cope and maintain business operations as best as possible in the current environment,” explained Jason Hahn, CEO of Igloo.

“We recognize that many organizations didn’t budget for this situation and we’re in a unique position to help employees remain productive through the use of our digital workplace solutions,” added Hahn. “Our new flexible license options will enable customers to focus on empowering employees, maintaining effective communication, and supporting the pace of work without the budget strain that typically accompanies these types of expansion initiatives.”

Other companies like Zoom are offering free trials on their platforms. Intermedia Cloud Communications is giving free access to video conferencing and webinar tools until 2021. Okta is offering six months of free access to its Single Sign-On and Multi-Factor Authentication services. 8×8 Inc., which has reported a tripling of its video meetings users since February, has expanded the free usage of its meetings tools globally.