Here we go again! It may be a new year, but the start of 2021 feels very 2020-ish – we’re encouraged to work from home wherever possible, and if you have kids then they are probably homeschooling.
We’ve all been here before so we know the challenges and opportunities it can bring. Hopefully any initial glitches and technology problems experienced in the first lockdown have been ironed out by now.
However, some things are different this time – and a big one is that while schools tended to set work through email and online portals last year, this time they are increasingly running live lessons over platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
This has huge advantages in replicating the school experience much more closely – and helps make sure the youngsters pay attention! But video is hungry for bandwidth, and the result could be an extra strain on our home broadband networks, which were not designed for daily business use, let alone a combination of homeworking and homeschooling.
Your experience will vary depending on your broadband provider, what kind of connection you have and where you are in the country. However, there have been signs of the networks struggling, with some users reporting outages during the first days back after the Christmas break.
It’s not just connectivity that could be an issue – as the technological demands of online learning increase, there have also been concerns about whether children have access to the hardware to enable them to keep up with lessons.
If you’re part of a family where the struggle for bandwidth or equipment is real, here are some tips that could help.
Be a good sharer
If you are one of a couple and both of you are working from home while the kids are attending video lessons, that’s going to eat up bandwidth pretty quickly. It’s not always possible, but try as much as you can to share – so if you both have a long video meeting to attend, see if it’s practical for one of you to have it in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This will give you more to play with and help avoid the dreaded freeze!
If you are on a video meeting and it’s just not working out for you, try turning the video feed off and working just with the audio – this can help get you through it.
Get your priorities right
There’s a reason why, even in “normal” times, internet connections can struggle at around 4pm – the youngsters have finished school and the first thing they do when they get home is log into the wi-fi! They may be doing their homework, but chances are that Netflix, Xbox Live and Playstation Network are also getting a fair amount of use at this time.
If your kids are playing their 20th round of Among Us while you’re struggling to screenshare a presentation with the boss, that might be why. Agree some boundaries as a family – perhaps the children should be enjoying some of their daily exercise until you’ve hit that pressing deadline! There are also smart gadgets that you can use to help – read on.
Use technology to spread the load
While in an ideal world you would all be sharing the connection in perfect harmony, we know family life isn’t always like that. There are products you can use that can effectively split your connection – allocating some (perhaps 80%) to devices that are being used for work, while leaving the rest available for leisure use. They are flexible, so you can reallocate the bandwidth depending on your needs at the time.
Talk to your Onecom specialist about this and other options for effectively managing your broadband capacity.
Have a backup
Even the best connections struggle or fail sometimes – it’s just a fact of life. Mobile 4G – and, increasingly, 5G – equipment can be the answer. These magic little boxes can sit in your home and provide seamless access to the internet over the mobile data network as and when needed. They can be a full-time solution for workers in remote areas that are less well-served by domestic broadband – and for others, they can provide an automatic “failover” – so that if the connection drops, your device switches automatically to mobile data and your Zoom call carries on uninterrupted.
Use a landline if you have one
Let’s not forget the trusty old landline! It served us well for decades and can still be a lifesaver. If your connection is struggling, the more strain you can take off the network, the better. So – ditch the Teams or Zoom call, especially if it’s more pleasure than business, and have a good old natter the old-fashioned way to free up space where it’s needed most.
Take advice from the experts
The landline tip above is one of those provided by the telecoms regulator Ofcom in its top tips for staying connected. Others include:
- Download films in advance rather than live-streaming them – using your broadband in quieter times rather than when it is in most demand.
- Avoid using things like microwaves, baby monitors and halogen lamps if you’re doing something important, as these can all affect signals.
- Connect your computer to the router with an ethernet cable to minimise interference.
- Make audio and video conferencing calls at off-peak times – for example, at quarter past the hour.
- Disconnect devices you’re not using. Otherwise these can run in the background, using valuable bandwidth.
Up your game on homeschooling
If there aren’t enough laptops or tablets to go round, or something goes wrong with one, there are alternatives you may be able to consider. If you have a connected gaming console, such as an Xbox or PlayStation, then these have a web browser that can be used to access video lessons on platforms such as Teams, and platforms such as Office 365.
The exact methods will vary according to your console and the platforms used by your school, but there is good advice to get you started here.
There is help if you need it
If you or someone you know is struggling to get their hands on hardware or connectivity for homeschooling, help is at hand.
Vodafone, Three and BT are among the networks offering free or discounted data packages to help parents whose children are learning at home
The Department for Education already runs a scheme for disadvantaged children who do not have access to a home broadband connection to temporarily increase their mobile data allowance.
For hardware, there are various schemes to match surplus laptops to children who need them. Vodafone’s Tech Appeal is one, and there are many others operating regionally – this report is a great place to start.
Wherever you’re working, if you or your teams need help and support with hardware or connectivity, Onecom can help. Contact us.