With the work-from-home paradigm continuing as the pandemic twists and turns, the notion of supporting Wi-Fi for remote workers remains a challenge. When workers connect to the corporate network from home, network administrators lose a lot of the visibility they depend on to keep the business wireless LAN healthy.
Tools like syslog and information-rich network management systems don't typically extend into workers' homes. Yet, those same workers need reliable connectivity to meet operational goals. So, as wireless network professionals, how do we tackle the challenges of supporting Wi-Fi-connected clients on countless networks that we didn't install and can't see into? Let's first look at some of the critical basics of providing home Wi-Fi help for remote workers:
- Establish sufficient ISP bandwidth. It doesn't matter if the home user has the best Wi-Fi setup in the world if that wireless environment sits behind an internet connection that's too small. Different job duties may require different ISP minimums. For example, if I'm editing video at home and need to interact with company servers frequently, the cheapest ISP connection in a given geographical location might be a bottleneck to my productivity.
- Eliminate legacy devices. Older devices can drag down the performance of a network, even at home. Most home users are oblivious to the notion of lifecycle replacement of network components, so no assumptions can be made. You might have to help your end users understand what vintage of technologies they are using, and it's important you have that information when needed. Old 802.11g routers, 10 Mbps hubs and even ancient laptops can make life tough for the home worker. Expect end users to send you pictures of model numbers that you have to research online. Also, check for driver updates on Windows PCs for things like wireless LAN (WLAN) adapters, BIOS and chipsets.
- Evaluate signal strength. You might not be able to use your preferred tools to measure signal strength and quality for the home user. But you want some strategy in place that works with your clients. Ultimately, the home Wi-Fi router or mesh system may be located in a spot that delivers a poor signal to where your users do their work. Know how to walk them through figuring out signal strength somehow, even if they have to download an app that can give more information than just signal bars.
Now, let's go beyond the basics and look at some more advanced tips to support home-based workers and their wireless connections:
- Extend the company network to the home. For users who do critical work at home, you might want to extend the company network into the home. Most modern enterprise WLAN systems have access point (AP) models that can be sent to remote workers. The APs tunnel back to the company network, and the net effect is your home-based users are now on the company Wi-Fi. The advantages here are many. From the Wi-Fi support perspective, IT gains deep diagnostic views into the at-home wireless environment. It sounds awesome, and for security and support, it is. But it's also expensive with a cost that can be hard to justify for the average work-from-home situation.
- Employ remote performance monitoring. Another strategy to consider is to get eyes into the home network via a monitoring service that scales to support distributed users. Some examples of this include Mobile Eye from 7Signal, NetBeez and various agent-based applications that provide information on the devices used for work and the environment in which they're operating.
One aspect of remote support that can be the hardest to master has nothing to do with the network, i.e. your interpersonal communication skills. When trouble hits, you need these skills to make sure you get the information needed to determine the problems and solutions.
You may have to be patient and ask several questions. And, often, you need to find creative ways to express what you need from nontechnical users so you can ultimately help them. These soft skills are priceless once developed and are among your best tools for remote support of home Wi-Fi users.