With the coronavirus outbreak sending millions of workers to their home offices, commentators have been sharing tips on how best to maintain productivity while working remotely. As someone who works remotely most of the time, one element I’m acutely aware of is the importance of robust internet access.

This was extenuated when my home internet went down just as the outbreak here in the UK was gathering steam, but with so many more people working from home, the question of internet reliability has become a more pressing issue. Indeed, only recently Netflix announced that they would slow transmission speeds across Europe to ensure the broadband network could cope.

This follows calls in Spain for residents to reduce their internet usage to ensure the network could cope during the extended lockdown experienced there. In the UK, the health of the broadband infrastructure was such that the opposition Labour party made the nationalization of the network a key policy in their failed bid for office in 2019.

The broadband providers themselves see no issues, and Openreach, the company that overseas the infrastructure in the UK said earlier this month that they were confident the network was robust enough to cope with the increase in demand. What is less clear, however, is whether coping will mean that users have to receive slower speeds in order to remain connected.Today In: Careers

Stretched networks

There have also been challenges placed on the mobile networks, with outages reported by EE, O2 and Virgin Media in recent days. The pressures the enforced isolation is likely to place on the network are considerable.

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This is compounded by the uneven spread of 4G connectivity around the UK and 5G connectivity limited to around 40 towns and cities across the country.

While the majority of home work is not especially bandwidth intensive, with office documents and video conferencing the most common tasks, the closure of schools will ensure that millions of children are also logging on to play games, watch movies and engage in more intensive activities at the same time.

There are also clear mental health benefits of remaining connected, as I can personally attest, with our lack of connectivity preventing us from maintaining contact with family both in the UK and overseas. With large swathes of the population enduring extended periods of either self-isolation or working from home, the importance of connectivity cannot be underestimated.

Fiber connectivity provides hardier and faster connectivity, but in the UK, just 10% of all homes currently have fiber connections, which is some way behind other countries in the world. This could result in considerable disruption occurring, especially for broadband intensive sectors, especially for those living in areas still predominantly served by copper-based networks. Not only are such networks slower, but they’re also less robust and subject to greater dropout.

Psychology of home working

There are also clear psychological challenges involved in home working, with these likely to be exacerbated during periods of extended isolation. Research from the University of Calgary highlights how certain personality types are better suited to home working.

The study found that people who score highly on traits such as conscientiousness and honesty were more likely to work effectively from home. It’s a finding that the business psychology organization, The Myers-Briggs Company believe warrants greater attention to the personalities within teams during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Working from home might sound great, but many people find it quite difficult at the best of times. In the current crisis, and with the relatively sudden imposition of remote working, it will be even more stressful,” they say. “It is therefore important for managers to think about how employees with different attitudes and personality preferences may cope with this stress and uncertainty, and with any blurring between work and home life.”

A cyber risk

This kind of personality also poses a risk of another kind, as research from the University of Michigan found that people scoring low on conscientiousness are also at greater risk of cyber attack.

A general lack of self-control was strongly linked to vulnerability to hacking, with hackers only too well aware of this when targeting their attacks. The authors believe that a better understanding of our personality types and how that effects risk is crucial if that risk is to be mitigated.

“There are human aspects of cybercrime that we don’t touch because we focus on the technical side to fix it,” they explain. “But if we can understand the human side, we might find solutions that are more effective for policy and intervention.”

This willpower is likely to be stretched to its limits during the stresses of isolation, so make sure you’re kind to yourself, try and exercise, and develop a bit of emotional breathing space with which you can resist the siren song hackers will be sending your way.  

It’s well documented that remote working can be both an enjoyable and productive experience, but it’s not for everyone, and both managers and individuals need to understand some of the technical and psychological challenges that prevent people from being effective. Through this understanding, steps can be implemented to mitigate the risks involved.

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