The One Problem People Always Forget about Remote Work
There’s been a lot of talk about remote or distributed work lately, from the events at Yahoo to the new book coming from 37Signals.
Here at OSTraining all our staff work remotely, but we keep running into a problem that I rarely see discussed.
A lot of our staff live in small cities or rural areas in the U.S. All of them have abysmal internet connections that often impact their work.
To take one example, Rod is our lead video trainer and lives in a small city just outside of Cincinnati There’s no cable or fiber connection, so he uses DSL. His home internet connection is often a slow as 5 mbps down and 0.3 up:
A lot of our classes have over 50 videos which translates to over 2 GBs of files.
Uploading those to Wistia, our video provider, would take 10 to 15 hours with an upload speed of 0.3 mbps.
If it takes 15 hours to upload something, other problems creep in. Slow uploads have more errors and so several videos will often need to be uploaded. It’s also hard to do any other work while the videos are uploading.
So, Rod does almost all his uploads from the local coffee shop where he can get 24 mpbs down and 10 up. Yes, the local coffee shop has a connection that’s 33 times faster. At that speed, it takes less than an hour to upload 2 GBs of files.
Rod’s situation is far from unusual. According to Akami’s 2012 report, less than 20% of the US averages more than 10 mpbs:
Akami also produced this graph showing that North American connections aren’t good, but are improving slowly and remain better than most of the world:
I asked around for data from colleagues in living in similar semi-rural areas around the world, and came back with results that seems to fit that pattern:
- Germany: 47 mbps down and 19 up
- United Kingdom: 18 mbps down and 0.9 up
- France: 15 mbps down and 0.8 up
- Germany: 11 mpbs down and 0.9 up
- Mexico: 6 mbps down and 1.7 up
So does this impact all remote workers? No, but I suspect that it has a noticeable impact on many who work from home, particularly those who often work with large media files. Those workers would probably be a lot more productive in an office.
What’s your connection speed ( check at http://speedtest.net) and does it hamper you from getting work done?
I live in the suburbs of a medium sized Canadian city. Paying $45/month i get 4.3 mbps down and 0.4 mbps up. Several levels of faster internet packages are available to me, but who can afford $100/month for internet access.
Fast internet service may be available but it also has to be affordable.
Thanks wiser3. You’re in the same boat as us in terms of speed.
As a business we could probably justify paying for faster speeds. Just wish that was an option …
I often work from far northern India when travelling, and the speed and connectivity can be even worse. I’ve found two solutions that work pretty well. First, Dropbox is the most reliable transfer I’ve come across. I’ve tried 5 different cloud storage solutions. I once transferred a 5GB+ Dvd image to my laptop (in India). It took 3 days, but it’s the only service that worked.
Second solution is to use a remote computer for some items. For myself, I use Logmein for this. I have another desktop machine available to me in the US that I can use. You could set up one or two of these machines in your main office. Combined with a shared Dropbox account, it would work to get the files transferred to your desktop and then uploaded to your video server. Or, you could have a secretary do the final uploading, of course.
Such an interesting comment, thanks Stephan. Using remote computing power to avoid the local internet connection is a really good idea.
It always amazes me to see the US so low on such lists…where is that ‘American Exceptionalism’?…… but I digress….
Where I am now I get decent speeds connected to cable (27d/5u), however, that’s about to change in August when I adopt a 100% mobile lifestyle.
Researching my options has not been encouraging. There simply is no good solution to provide a solid connection with decent speeds at an affordable price while being mobile.
It’s an interesting problem, in much need of a solution.
You need a Google Balloon, TJ: [url=http://www.google.com/loon/]http://www.google.com/loon/[/url]
Interesting, perhaps I need to consider living mobile in New Zealand 😉
Absolutely right. I live in a Canadian university town that benefitted from urban fibre optic cabling back in the 1980s (!!) and still, my choice of cable company internet has meant a decade of incredible download speed, but a hard upstream cap of 0.5Mbps. Which reminds me of my US Robotics modem days. :p
The difference today is, I can call them up and say “now the phone company is offering me 30Mbps upload, and I’m a content producer, so… whatcha got for me?”
I live in the netherlands and I have 120mbps/12mbps. For $45 a month incl television and phone.
That’s an extraordinary deal, Arnold. I feel almost like you’re trolling me 🙂
Here in Cape Town, South Africa, we are lucky if we get 2.5 mbps upstream and 0.4 mbps upstream (screenshot below), on the fastest capped ADSL solution available from the leading ISP at the cost of R6,97/GB (about $69,70/GB).
3G coverage is patchy at best, and I cannot use it reliably where I live, so when the ADSL drops, we are effectively offline. When it does work it costs about R280/GB (about $2800/GB).
Somehow we manage to watch your videos without buffering, unless there is a whole room of trainees, in which case we have to limit viewing to one or two trainees at a time.
It would be great if you could provide a CDN for your website and videos, or is that already in place?
Hi Sean. Yes, we use [url=http://Wistia.com]Wistia.com[/url] which uses a CDN and also converts the videos into multiple version so that they can match your bandwidth.
This blog post gives a bit of insight into the ups-and-downs we’ve had with videos: [url=http://www.ostraining.com/blog/general/videos-lessons/]http://www.ostraining.com/b…[/url]
Where I live up until a year and a half ago, my only option was satellite internet service. The speeds were at most 3 down and .2 up. The more important issue was the bandwidth caps. 30 day rolling cap was 17GB down and 5GB up. While the speed issue was frustrating – hitting the caps in the middle of a deadline was devastating. There were times I had to borrow a friend’s cellular card to be able to finish work. DSL moved in a year and a half ago – I get 6 down and .7 up. Next week moving to the new fiber optics internet that has been installed in my area.. hoping to get 18 down and 3 up. Speeds like that would be enough to make me cry with joy I think.
Ouch. That sounds very similar to the problems we’ve been having.
And when you live in a rural area, you’ve often got no good alternative to turn to.
I live in Tokyo and fortunately the speed we get here is pretty damn good. You guys have to deal with pretty slow connections yet you still manage to get work done. Kudos to you all!
– Download speed: 268.19 Mbps
– Upload speed: 51.13 Mbps
– Download speed: 35.42 Mbps
– Upload speed: 9.90 Mbps
Wow. I guess that reflects Japan coming #2 on that speed chart in the blog post.
This may be worth looking into:
from May [url=http://Archive.org]Archive.org[/url] blog.
Url – [url=http://blog.archive.org]blog.archive.org[/url]
Free and Fast ‘Roof2Roof’
Those wanting to use this community wireless service would need to buy and install a directional antenna on their roof to connect, but from then on their Internet access is free.
If you are an owner of a tall building or structure and are interested in participating, please let us know by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would be interested in paying for the equipment and do the installation for a couple of well placed locations.
The local library will often have the best publicly available upload speeds. It’s free and usually easy to connect to.