Despite some absolutely astounding head-in-the-sand approaches from our country’s leadership for “opening” America back up for business, Covid-19 is stubbornly refusing to just give up in the face of American bravado and continues to rampage like a bull in a china shop through our population. One of the hottest points of contention right now is the struggle that parents face as the Fall school year looms and they have to decide between sending their kids into hot zones or shouldering the decidedly heavy burden of part-time teacher/hall monitor on top of putting food on the table. I don’t have guidance for what seems to be a top contender for the Sophie’s Choice of 2020 – but I can provide some guidance on how you might be able upgrade your hastily improvised home classroom/office space into Work-Learn-At-Home 2.0.
Your Next Quarantine Project(s)
To do #1: Upgrade your internet speed. I’m still surprised how many people are still subsisting on DSL or relying on their cell hotspot. This may have been fine pre-Covid, but if have more than one person living in your home, you need to upgrade to broadband speeds. At minimum, you should be aiming for 50Mbs download and 10Mbs upload, though for larger, more technically-savvy households, upgrading to 300 x 25 or higher will likely result in an overall better experience. The fastest service Spectrum offers for most homes is 1Gbs X 35Mbs, and if you are fortunate enough to have access to ATT, Verizon or Frontier Fiber for an affordable price, always choose fiber if you can afford it. If you run your business from your home, consider ordering “business-class” service, which costs more for the same speed as the comparable “residential-class” tier, but provides better technical support and response to outages.
To do #2: Hardwire all critical devices. Though it may not be convenient, easy or aesthetically pleasing, if you are having issues while on Zoom calls, or experiencing frequent disconnects while using a VPN and remote access and you are using WiFi, switching to an Ethernet cable will most likely resolve many issues. Even though your WiFi signal appears strong, it is subject to too much variability to be 100% reliable. If your online audience is complaining that your voice is garbled or dropping out, or your kids are losing connection to their virtual classrooms, WiFi might be part of the problem. If getting a physical wire from the router to your computer is just not possible without tearing holes in your wall, you can try power-line network extenders like this. Depending on the model, you might be sacrificing some overall speed in trade for improved reliability. They are cheap enough and easy to install to at least try them as an alternative to weak or unreliable WiFi. Or you could try…
To do #3: Upgrade your WiFi. Most houses are making do with a single access point for their home WiFi, and in some cases, using the same router they got from their ISP oh-so-many years ago. What you might not realize is if your WiFi router is more than 3 years old, your signal strength is probably considerably weaker, slower and more unreliable than when it was first installed as the equipment degrades with age and use. Most consumer-class WiFi routers are built with antenna amplifiers that start to lose strength on year 3, even though the core electronics continue to work without an issue. If you are using an ISP-provided router, call them first to see if you can get them to replace/upgrade your device for free, and if not, you may need to replace your router WiFi with a mesh system from Google, Amazon (Eero) or Netgear (Orbi). Depending on the size of your home, each of these platforms offer bundles from 1 to 3 devices that you can use to improve your WiFi network.
To do #4: Get everyone their own PC. I know that sharing is caring, but when it comes to kids and your work PC, you are better off getting them something they can call their own without you having to worry about whether it will be functional after every virtual classroom session. Most of you are already at your limit in terms of sharing space – giving everyone their own PC will help you reclaim some mental/virtual space and sanity. New PC’s have come down considerably in price, and many of our clients have been buying refurbished PC’s from Amazon that are perfect for younger family members without breaking the bank.
To do #5: Give everyone their own space. I realize that not everyone has the space to set up a dedicated room for an office, or a desk and private corner for attending classes, but understand that even though you may be perfectly fine conducting work in the middle of a busy room, your children haven’t developed the focus you have honed from years in the office trenches. Though it may seem silly, even using some jimmy-rigged curtains/sheets to create dedicated spaces will help everyone stay focused. If you’ve ever considered setting up that patio workspace so you can be one of the fancy cats Zooming from their beautiful backyards, don’t let your dreams be dreams. Which leads to…
To do #6: Get some good headphones with a mic. Even if you’ve managed to give everyone their own space or are fortunate enough to even dedicate a room with a door for your activities, if you or your kids spend any time online speaking and listening to others, having a good headset with a dedicate mic will improve everyone’s experience. The built-in mics on webcams or laptops are designed to be omni-directional which means they will pick up sound from all directions, including your gardener’s leaf blower, your kids teach lecturing in the next room, even your air conditioning or your spouse’s phone conversation on the other side of the house. A good mic will allow you or your kids to speak at a reasonable volume and be understood better on the other end, and the headphones will keep the overall noise level in the house down to a dull, tolerable roar.
To do #7: Get battery backups for important computers. If your home power is unreliable, consider adding a $90 uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to critical equipment, including your router and each computer. While it may feel expensive or overkill, that $80 will be well spent if it allows you or your kids the precious few minutes to save hours of work when the rest of the neighborhood falls into darkness.
Image by thedarknut from Pixabay