The coronavirus has impacted businesses large and small. While stay-at-home policies are being lifted in some U.S. states, many companies have decided to continue to operate remotely. When safer-at-home policies were first introduced due to COVID-19, many people quickly set up work-at-home office spaces. But now that it seems many of us will be working at home longer than we thought, we’re finding our workspaces less than ideal.
If small businesses are going to stay virtual—at least for a while—you need to figure out what you and your employees need to function efficiently at home.
To get some answers, I talked to Doug Cheung, product manager of wireless networking and NAS, from NETGEAR Business.
Rieva Lesonsky: What equipment do small business owners and employees need to be able to work at home and still be productive?
Doug Cheung: An unprecedented number of employees are experiencing new challenges presented from the ubiquitous work-at-home environment. With this in mind, perhaps more important than any other technological element is a strong, reliable and, if needed, robust Wi-Fi connection.
For larger or multi-level homes that experience Wi-Fi dead zones, a recommended solution is using a mesh Wi-Fi system to blanket a home with better Wi-Fi coverage. Mesh Wi-Fi systems help evenly distribute Wi-Fi throughout the home to all connected devices via a router and satellite(s).
Mesh Wi-Fi also helps you unchain from your desk, giving you the ability to roam around the house and pick and choose the location of your workstation. For small business owners who need a personal Wi-Fi connection strictly for a work laptop, a mobile router is a great option. Offering broadband and elevated speeds, mobile routers and hot spots offer access to the fastest speeds available on the mobile network in your area. Because of their flexibility, small business owners and employees can easily take [a mobile router] on the go and work remotely at a location outside the home, like at a park or café (once they reopen).
Lesonsky: Are there minimum standards for the equipment?
Cheung: If you want to truly modernize your work-from-home setup, make sure any purchased router can support Wi-Fi 6 for a minimum standard connection. The latest Wi-Fi standard provides faster Wi-Fi with more capacity for the smart home or business and all connected devices. With this increased capacity, anyone working from home can get faster speeds and have the availability to stream to their devices without interruptions—this is especially important for those seeing an increase in video conferencing.
Even though modern Wi-Fi 6 and mesh Wi-Fi are extremely fast and reliable, remember that a hard-wired connection is still a great way to get a good connection and can be very useful in our current environment. You can also help improve your Wi-Fi situation by removing certain devices from Wi-Fi to clear the airwaves for the devices that absolutely need it for business purposes, such as tablets and laptops.
Lesonsky: In many households you might have parents and students all working off the same router at one time. Do you need a stronger router for times like these?
Cheung: Yes, without a doubt. Wi-Fi environments are becoming more complex with a growing number of devices connected to home networks. At the very least, make you’re your network is running a Wi-Fi 5 (AC) or Wi-Fi 6 (AX) router. With a Wi-Fi 6 router, overloading your Wi-Fi with multiple devices is, more often than not, uninterrupted.
Lesonsky: Does placement of the router matter?
Cheung: More than you might think, actually. If you find you don’t have a stable signal in certain areas of your home as the use of your router grows, it’s time to adjust and move the device, as it might not be in the best place to reach every corner of your home.
Ultimately, you should ensure the router is placed in or near the center of the most important area of the home. Wherever you want and need the fastest speeds, aim for the center of that location.
It’s also important to remember the devices that live in a specific room. While Wi-Fi in the garage might not be necessary for some business owners, if a family or office setup has a smart bridge for the garage door, a stable connection is imperative.
Furthermore, a clear line of sight between the access point and the wireless device (laptop, phone, tablet) is ideal. Factors such as number of walls, and wall thickness will affect signal strength.
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Lesonsky: Can you boost your signal?
Cheung: Yes, and this is especially important given the current work-from-home situation. The best way to boost your signal is to invest in Wi-Fi range extenders. These extenders, also aptly called Wi-Fi boosters, are a simple and economical way to ensure your connectivity range mirrors its needs—and can even bring dead zones to life. For those unfamiliar with this technology, it’s best to place the extender halfway between a router and the dead zone. Your signal strength and bandwidth will be immediately boosted and directed to the Wi-Fi trouble spot.
In terms of how it actually works, Wi-Fi range extenders are meant to boost the existing Wi-Fi in your home by receiving the wireless signals from your router and repeating them with powerful amplifiers and antennas, which can extend coverage by up to twice the range. Look for devices that are universally compatible, so they can boost the Wi-Fi of any standard router from any brand. With these helpful additions to your Wi-Fi setup, you’ll be able to keep your smartphones, game consoles, TVs, tablets and computers online and connected.
Lesonsky: What about security? How do you make sure your work in your home stays secure?
Cheung: Using a VPN as a first step will help keep data safer in your work from home setting. A VPN is a special encrypted link between computers, specifically yours and your employees’, that is a frontline defense when in a work from home situation.
For additional security when working from home, look for routers that have built-in cybersecurity, which ensures all the devices connected to Wi-Fi—laptops, tablets, smart speakers, thermostats, lights, locks, appliances, etc.—are all protected.
As the number of connected devices continues to grow in our homes, the potential number of vulnerabilities grow as well, especially for business owners.
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