The coronavirus pandemic has meant that millions more people are home these days, using the internet for work, school, and entertainment. The increase has been exponential, ramping up competition for available broadband. If you’ve noticed it’s taking longer to download work documents, school assignments, movies– basically, everything–you’re not alone.
The internet’s infrastructure is being strained like never before. It’s always rush hour because of the sheer amount of traffic. Ookla, a global organization that tests internet performance and broadband speed, is tracking COVID-19’s impact on internet connectivity worldwide, with sobering results. Ookla’s data shows a continuing “degradation in monthly speeds for fixed broadband at a global level.” The decline began in March as the pandemic took root, and data shows the trend is continuing.
Slow internet access is an issue for remote workers who rely on steady internet access to work from home successfully. It’s also a potential worry for if you’re working from home with young kids, who are attending school online and need access to virtual classrooms and assignments. And it’s a concern for anyone looking to stay entertained during self-isolation with movies, video games, and other online entertainment.
If you’re having issues with slow internet access, making it harder to work from home, here are a few strategies that may help. Some of the tips below are technical, but others much less so.
Boost Your Signal
Tweaking your wifi set-up could make a big difference. You’ll have to get into techie mode a bit, but the effort is worthwhile. To optimize your home wifi network, start by moving your router to a central part of your home and try to place it on a desk or a shelf.
If that doesn’t help, try rebooting your router and optimizing the router settings. For persistent internet access problems, consider options like adding a wifi repeater or a wifi extender to amplify your existing wifi signal. Closing out any extraneous or unused open tabs in your computer’s browser can be helpful too.
Test Your Internet Speed
An internet speed test can help you figure out the lay of the land with all of the devices in your home. Your internet service provider (ISP) might offer speed test options, and you can also use services offered by Ookla, Google, and other diagnostic platforms. If your results show your internet speed is slow, start by examining whether you’re “saturating” your internet connection.
Saturation can happen on your home network and outside your home network. When too many people try to connect to the internet at the same time (say, everyone wants to stream a different movie on a different device), you can overload your bandwidth, causing everyone’s connection to slow down. If that’s the case, you’ll want to limit how many devices are on the network at the same time and limit what people can do (only two people can stream movies at a time, for example).
However, saturation can also be a problem with your ISP. If you are on a lower-tier plan and too many customers are trying to access the internet at the same time, there’s a good chance your connection will be throttled, slowing everything down. Consider upgrading your plan if your budget allows.
Other potential fixes within your control to help with slow internet can get more technical, such as checking cable splitters or changing to a different Domain Name System (DNS). Routine checking for malware, viruses, and system updates is always a good idea.
Establish a Household Routine
The more internet users you have at home all day, the more helpful it can be to establish a routine for internet use that everyone can stick to. Set up a master plan that can be accessed by everyone in the household that lays out the day ahead for everyone.
A set routine can keep everyone on the same page and offer a predictable rhythm to the day. Even when there’s not a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a good idea to develop a routine for at-home work. To ease usage bottlenecks that can slow down your internet, broaden the idea of setting up a remote work routine for yourself to include your entire household. Make sure to include built-in break times for yourself and especially for children.
Switch up Work Hours and Stagger Usage
Before the pandemic, the so-called “internet rush hour” was between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. when people typically streamed movies and videos, played games, browsed social media, and surfed the web. But like many habits, COVID-19 has skewed that data, and internet traffic is likely to be busy throughout the day.
Using your household’s established quarantine routine as your basis, you may choose to start your day a bit earlier than you may have done before the pandemic, or scheduling some work in the evenings if that works. It may be counterproductive to work extremely odd hours–overnight, for example–unless that suits your lifestyle and job demands.
Set School Boundaries
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued guidelines for finding ways to keep children occupied during COVID-19. It’s helpful to have a set beginning and end to the school day, including lunchtime and any play or recess. This can be particularly helpful for parents who are also remote workers trying to juggle their jobs with home-schooling duties.
The AAP’s pediatric experts note that, between e-learning and online entertainment, children will likely be on their computers and other devices more than ever. That’s why it may be even more important for working parents to build offline time into the household schedule. Family walks and outdoor playtime (with appropriate physical distancing) can get children away from their computers and help remote workers manage overall internet usage for the entire household.
Set Limits on Entertainment
Online activities to stave off boredom can drive up household internet use and drive down speeds for everyone. In particular, streaming videos and movies gobbles up a huge amount of usage. If multiple users are streaming simultaneously, the result can be an extreme slowdown or even a system crash.
Screen-sharing helps. Encourage children to play games together instead of individually and set up family or household events like movie nights to discourage streaming videos during the day. Also, plan a “normal” day that calls for “playtime” to happen after the day’s work, including schoolwork, is done.
Working from home with slow internet can drag down your productivity.
Check out resources like the Federal Communications Commission’s home network tips geared specifically to people who are home-bound due to COVID-19.
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Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
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Adrianne Bibby is a staff writer at FlexJobs, the premier website for telecommuting, flexible schedule, and freelance job postings. Her writing focuses on work-balance issues, finding joy in your job, and using life experience to transition to a more meaningful,…Read More >
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