Experts issue warning about problems with working from home due to coronavirus panic

The coronavirus crisis just got more complicated. As it stands, government agencies, private companies, and schools alike are being urged to allow their employees to telecommute and study/work remotely from home so as to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.

According to the experts, however, this could lead to another potential problem in the making. Why? Because of potential network overload.

“The weak link in the chain, where the system could get overloaded, is going to be the home broadband network,” Lisa Pierce, a network expert with Gartner, said to Bloomberg this week. “People will hit congestion, just like a highway, where the speed goes from 60 miles an hour to 20.”

Those at the highest risk of being affected are communities “served by lower bandwidth cable and copper-wire connections,” according to Bloomberg, as well as large families that share a single Wi-Fi connection.

This isn’t to say that Internet connectivity would likely disappear altogether. Speaking with Bloomberg, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh dispelled that rumor.

“As an engineer, I will tell you that we will have the capacity in our system that employees and customers need access to, at times like this,” he said. “We can provide the ability to work where customers need to work and help them continue to be productive. It’s something I’m proud of.”

Rather, the issue appears to revolve around potential intermittent bouts of lag, dropped connections and non-loading video feeds, i.e., the same issues that left-wingers falsely predicted would emerge after Net Neutrality was repealed.

“Problems are likely to range from dropped connections to slow downloads or loss of video feeds. These are familiar conditions in climates where snow days keep folks at home and can test the limits of home broadband capacity,” Bloomberg noted.

“They’ll vary by region and time of day, depending on traffic patterns, unlike single events that we all experience, for example the disruptions caused by the recent launch of Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ or glitches on Amazon Prime Day.”

But it won’t just be private residences facing these obstacles. So will the corporate networks that America’s telecommuting employees will be logging into via virtual private networks, which are highly secure, dedicated network channels.

“Typically businesses allocate enough network capacity to accommodate the everyday needs of a small number of employees working remotely, but a large-scale shift could cause temporary trouble,” Bloomberg noted. “Adding VPN capacity could take hours or days or maybe even weeks for some companies, according to networking experts.”

The good news is that a multitude of companies have begun taking the proper steps necessary to boost their VPN capacity:

There’s also the social aspect to consider. Studies have shown that telecommuting workers sometimes suffer from trust issues.

“We polled 1,153 employees, and 52% said they work, at least some of the time, from their home office. And when they do, many feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally,” Harvard Business Review reported in 2017.

“Remote employees are more likely to report feeling that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out. Specifically, they worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.”

Of course, these issues are probably apt to be of less of a concern given the more pressing issue currently at play — the coronavirus.


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Vivek Saxena


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