How to Support Remote Workers

We Are All Remote Workers

Remote workers are on the rise. Over the past few weeks we have seen an escalation of events that led to a pandemic crisis. COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise. As a response, the world is moving from in person to remote. Any service or function that can be performed and delivered remotely, so be it. The rest has to wait until further notice. These changes are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and are already having a profound impact on our society, economy, and culture.

IT Productivity

Public and private organizations have asked their employees to work from home. Schools and universities have switched to online learning. Hospitals have adopted telemedicine services at a higher pace to visit patients. Call centers have seen an increase in inbound calls due to the disruption that COVID-19 has caused traveling, vacations, public events, …

With more users working from home, IT teams must be more productive than ever before. Network monitoring tools provide valuable information to verify remote workers’ end-user experiences, as well as efficiently troubleshoot network and application performance issues. Let’s review some strategies that can help network support and operations maximize their productivity and deliver the best end-user experience to remote workers.

VPN Clients

Almost overnight millions of workers began working from home. These users need to access on-premise resources from a different point of the network – the VPN. That means user connections will originate from an Internet location (remote workers’ homes). These connections are securely protected and authenticated through a VPN tunnel. This shift increases the load on the VPN concentrators. It also adds another layer of complexity when troubleshooting end-user performance issues, the VPN tunnel that encapsulates the user connections. As a response, support teams need to gain more remote network visibility from the user perspective across VPN tunnels.

A while back, I wrote an article explaining how to monitor VPN connections. In it, I recommend installing NetBeez cloud agents with a VPN client. These VPN agents can monitor the availability and performance of the underlay and overlay network by running tests to the Internet and intranet resources. The VPN agents periodically reconnect to the VPN to verify that the service is working and authenticating the clients. Cloud agents can also be complemented with software or docker agents running on a remote worker’s desktop.

Internet and Remote Workers

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are facing a different challenge caused by residential subscribers being forced to stay home. These users are working, attending online classes, and streaming movies. The majority of the subscribers will have multiple users doing these things at the same time. As result, residential subscribers will request more network bandwidth than usual, increasing oversubscription and resources contention. 

Several Internet carriers have already ramped up CapEx spending to cope with the increased demand of bandwidth. However, ISPs won’t be able to increase bandwidth overnight. Some of them will be slower to adapt. Some of them won’t adapt at all for physical/geographic constraints. This will trickle down to the remote workers. Some remote workers will have okay performance while others, especially in dense or underserviced areas, will experience chronic slowness. 

The best way to pinpoint the root cause of performance issues caused by bandwidth is to run regular network speed tests to build an Internet baseline. For this purpose, there are many tools available: online speed test services offered by Ookla and NDT as well as the open source iperf tool. You can read more about these tools in a previous blog post we wrote about running network speed tests. Network speed tests can be used to measure download and upload speed to the Internet. Iperf can be used to test throughput across the VPN tunnel to the internal network. These two values can be compared to pinpoint the root cause of network slowness, and identify whether it is the Internet or the VPN connection. NetBeez agents can report this information and run periodic tests.

Healthcare Providers at Front Line

Healthcare systems are on the front line of this pandemic. Many professionals of this industry will have to go to work to support the expected surge of cases. In these environments, the network has to be resilient and function at its maximum capacity and performance. Like elsewhere, physical contact must be avoided when possible, especially in “dirty” areas. For this reason, WiFi monitoring sensors offer an alternative to gather real-time data from the client perspective without having to dispatch a person to the site.

Once deployed, the sensors report performance data such as network connection timing, speed, as well as network and application performance.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has been taking the world by surprise, at an alarming rate. In response, the world is swiftly moving from in person to remote. With more users working from home, IT teams must be more efficient and productive than ever before. Network monitoring tools provide valuable information to verify remote workers’ end-user experience, and efficiently troubleshoot network and application performance issues.