Take the opportunity to reinvent your workspace and invest time and attention in setting up a proper work area where you'll feel comfortable. The demands of school and work can change depending on different factors, so a workspace that is optimized for your work habits will mitigate some of the new-found distractions of the remote work environment. Working from the couch, or conversely, opting for that full-standing desk you've always wanted may seem appealing initially, but after repeated use, they may not end up being the ideal ergonomic choice for the long-term.
Computer & Peripherals
Your remote environment may not be readily equipped with the amenities you're used to finding on campus. We've put together a list of some of the most common electronics/peripherals that are known to provide enhancements in productivity. This list is designed to be informative, and guide the decision making process, though peripheral items mentioned are not explicitly a requirement of any workspace setup.
- When selecting a computer, also be mindful of the number and types of peripherals you intend to use. Laptops, the common choice for individuals prioritizing mobility, are going to have a limited number of ports that come in a variety of types (USB, HDMI, Ethernet). Anticipate what devices and peripherals you might have connected at any one time to ensure you have not just the right ports, but also the right number of ports.
- For students, OIT strongly recommends consulting with your academic program office regarding the ideal Operating System and computer configuration that is most compatible with the needs of your academic program.
- We encourage you to look at the options available from our AU affiliated vendors for potential discounts on Mac and Dell (PC) products.
- Consider wired or wireless options (including Bluetooth to free up a USB port). Mousepads are also worthy considerations for unusual work surfaces.
- Keyboards come in various sizes and tout different features. The common standard keyboard only requires you decide between wired and wireless options and a size/layout. Size and layout characteristics are not always uniquely called out, so look closely at the keyboard’s physical appearance for some things that you may not be used to – note ergonomic and tactile details including subtle differences in the placement of keys, spacing between keys, placement of arrow keys, or the presence of a full number pad.
- Extra Monitor
- While people tend to go with the mantra that more is better, most laptops are limited out-of-the-box to connecting just one external monitor. Making use of additional monitors typically requires a hub or a docking station.
- For general use, Full HD monitors (minimum 1920 x 1080 resolution) are widely considered the standard. These monitors may have multiple connection options, but you can generally rely on them making use of an HDMI port.
- Check to see if the connection type is compatible with one of the available ports on your computer (and don't forget to check if the connection cable is included with the monitor or needs to be purchased separately).
- Hubs/Docking Stations
- On laptops, you may quickly find that you’ve made use of all the available ports, or need more variety than the options it came with. On desktops, you might find that the certain ports are hard to reach, and you’d rather not fumble with the back of a computer. Docking stations and hubs offer a single point of connectivity to your computer, and can ease the hassle of connecting and disconnecting one or more devices at once.
Remote work may demand more internet bandwidth than you’ve previously had a need for. It’s important to get ahead of the potential internet challenges that come with a full-remote setup, so that you can be as productive as possible after getting your workspace arranged.
Internet Service Providers (ISP) sell internet service packages to consumers, typically in the form of a download speed paired with an upload speed (although some packages are marketed by their download speed only). For example, 25 Mbps Download and 5 Mbps Upload. Check with your ISP to see what download and upload speeds are being delivered to you.
How fast does my internet need to be?
The answer is relative. Finding the ideal speed for your household has several dependencies, but as a consumer, it helps to understand some baseline information.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) termed “fast” internet as being at least 25 Mbps Download and 3 Mbps Upload (often colloquially expressed as "25 over 3" or 25/3). It is important to note that this baseline presupposes a few things that are no longer consistently true in many households:
- This is the maximum approximate speed required for one of the few high-speed activities available to the average consumer (like streaming 4K Netflix content to one device).
- The consumer (read: household), behaviorally, likely doesn’t engage in more than one high-speed activity at a time.
- Consumers need to receive data at a disproportionately faster rate than they send data.
With the increase of Zoom and video conferencing platforms in the work and academic spaces, more and more households are increasing the number of concurrent high-speed activities on their home internet that are already saturated with internet-enabled devices, causing unforeseen slowness and intermittent loss of connectivity.
In less articulate terms, the FCC’s Household Broadband Guide indicates with near-certainty that the 25/3 baseline is inadequate for a household of 3-4 individuals if they stream high definition video (like Zoom, for example) at the same time. Because Zoom users in particular are sending (in addition to receiving) high definition video, the 3 Mbps upload speed will most certainly be the bottleneck in this case.
Households should scale up their subscribed internet speeds where concurrent utilization (bandwidth) is a concern. Download and Upload speeds should be part of this consideration, especially if interactive activities like video conferencing are part of the equation.
Many ISPs make this choice relatively uncomplicated by offering “symmetrical” speeds where the upload speed is already set to match the advertised download speed. A household of 3-5 individuals, for example, might want to consider something in the 50/50 to 100/100 range, as a starting point.
Aside from your internet speed, your connection will also be influenced by the router used to broadcast WiFi through the household. Keep in mind, where necessary, adjustments to your router settings will require that you understand how to access the administrative controls of the router.
Most modern routers broadcast on a 2.4GHz band and a 5GHz band. Understanding the difference will be helpful for making sure you're getting the best performance out of your WiFi. In general, 5GHz can transfer higher quantities of data, like HD video or large downloads, but has a shorter range of connectivity. 2.4GHz has a wider range, but may not be ideal for transmitting large quantities of data.
Being closer to your router will always help with your internet speed. We recommend auditing which band your internet-enabled household devices are connected to, and setting up the most data intensive ones (like the computer you use for Zoom!) to use the 5GHz band. 5GHz is the relatively new broadcasting band, so you may find a lot more devices connected to 2.4GHz, and are not technically capable of connecting to 5GHz.
WiFi Channels (Advanced)
Similar to a walkie-talkie or radio, your WiFi broadcasts using different "channels". Within the 2.4GHz band, there are so few channels that there is a decent probability that your router will experience interference, to some extent, from other broadcasting devices (consider what it would sound like for two radio stations to broadcast on the same frequency). The 5GHz band has many more channels, so interference is far less likely an issue.
If you reside in a relatively dense residential area, like an apartment complex, or townhomes in some cases, consider auditing WiFi channel utilization and configure your router to use the best channel. Even in less densely populated areas, this may prove beneficial.
Alternatives to Traditional Providers
There are situations where traditional broadband ISPs may not be able to deliver/install in-home internet. Unfortunately this is an infrastructural challenge for which there aren't exceptional alternatives. Any of these options will require detailed research regarding availability, data caps, and other content often found in the fine print.
- Mobile Hotspots
- Cellular internet is definitely competitive in speed, but coverage/availability is dependent on the cellular provider. You may already be able to use your cell phone as a hotspot. Data caps are often the most prohibitive concern. Limitations on data use make this option a decision between "light and sustained" or "heavy but infrequent" internet use. Even with unlimited agreements, be aware that your provider may "de-prioritize" or "throttle" your usage after you hit a certain limit within your pay cycle.
- Fixed Wireless Internet
- A recently emerging option where a cellular provider acts similarly to a traditional ISP. A router is installed in the home, but the network is cellular-based. This option is typically found in rural areas. It's similar to the mobile hotspot option, but despite being cellular based, the router cannot be relocated to any significant degree.
- A relatively slow, but high availability option.