Working from home in rural areas: a practical guide

This is not so much a novelty as it is a necessity – yet rural workers often suffer from the worst levels of internet connectivity.

Sunday May 10, 2020

For millions of people, April 2020 will be a month in which their careers have changed forever.

Some will have been put on leave, often in anticipation of dismissal. Others discovered that their entire sector of employment was gone. And many have been invited to work from home.

If you’re reading this in an urban apartment, with a train station nearby, and office buildings looming in the distance, working from home may have been a nasty shock to the system.

However, if the house is a secluded cottage on a windswept hill, the past six weeks may not have seemed so extraordinary.

Working from home in rural areas is not so much a novelty as it is a necessity. And yet, rural parts of the UK tend to have the worst levels of internet connectivity. the best broadband offers are unfortunately not available everywhere.

Many rural villages and isolated communities still depend on ADSL phone lines, often limited to speeds of only 11 Mbps.

This meets Ofcom’s new universal service obligation, requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure everyone has a minimum broadband connection of 10 Mbps or more.

However, it’s not good if you have to host a Zoom meeting while the kids are arguing over who will watch Netflix next.

As such, it’s important to consider the realities of working from home in rural areas, if you plan to relocate away from the crowds.

Even people who have traded rush hours for hills in the past may find that they are not following best practices for working from home in rural areas:

  1. Schedule bandwidth-intensive activities overnight. Software updates, large file downloads, and folder syncing like Microsoft OneDrive can all be done while you sleep.
  2. Disconnect non-essential web devices during working hours. Smart speakers and home heating systems are constantly using up bandwidth, even on standby, so unplug them.
  3. Test the video calling software before using it. Don’t schedule a Skype video chat and then find out your bandwidth can’t cope. Try it first and switch back to audio only if needed.
  4. Compress media files. Photographs can be downsized to a fraction of their original file size without damaging picture quality, and SD video streams work well in place of HD or 4K.
  5. Avoid working at night. The “Internet peak hour” of 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. is the worst time to work effectively from home, as more and more people are using the network during these hours.
  6. Wired key devices. Don’t run a PC over WiFi – it’s slower than a wired router connection through an Ethernet cable. Powerline plug adapters do the same around the home.
  7. Use a landline. Rural internet connections usually involve a landline, so use this stable connection for business calls. Mobile signals are likely to be dropped in remote areas.
  8. Maximize email usage. In addition to providing a permanent record of conversations, emails are small and quick to send. They are much more effective on slow lines than VoIP calls.
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