The One Problem People Always Forget about Remote Work

speedThere'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:

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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:

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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:

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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?


About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.