Telework and infrastructure

When you go to work, there is a lot of infrastructure there which you might take for granted. For example, battery backup or generators, and redundant connections to the internet.

If you are a teleworker, these are things you should at least analyze and where you should probably make some decisions. If you have interruptions in your home infrastructure which could impede your ability to do your job – what is your plan?

The Problem:
I’ve been a teleworker (do my job, based out of my house) for a little over 4 years now. Back in 2011, I was living in the Northeast and was significantly impacted by that freak October storm. A tree branch fell, ripping the power/phone/cable away from the side of my house – at 2am, right outside my window! I was also without power for NINE days afterwards – which in itself, is sobering. It becomes painfully obvious how much of our lives run on power!

What do you do in a case like this? Take NINE sick or vacation days? Try to continue to work from home with no power and no internet? Go into the office? Go to a hotel? Stay at a friends house? What if they don’t have power nor internet? Do you have friends good enough where you could impose on them for 9 days?! haha

No matter where you live in the country, you are subject to extreme weather, so you should probably have SOME plan in place. In fact, FEMA, the Red Cross, and the federal government also agree!

Working from Work:
Think about this for a moment. If you don’t have power, you may have limited access to showering, shaving, and probably don’t have clean clothes. So, would you want to go into the office like that? I just mean, you shouldn’t assume that you would have access to hot showers, electricity, and ability to wash clothes. I also say this because you might think “Oh, that’s easy, I’ll just go into the office for 9 days” and not think about hygiene, gas stations may be without power, etc. Going into the office involves more than just you showing up!

At the time of that big storm I referenced above, my employer opened up the gym facilities to anyone affected so you could go into the office, take a shower, shave, and dress there. So, that was a great thing to have – but your company may not have something like this.

Also, your “office park” local office may also not have power or internet. So, although this can be part of your plan, you might also want to have other plans in place too.

Working from Home:
If you were to try to continue working from home, there are obstacles there too because you may not have electricity nor internet. However, you have somewhat more control over the alternatives.

Should you have a battery backup? Should you have a generator? Should you invest in a whole-house generator? Should you have an alternate internet connection (like satellite or cellular)?

When an entire area loses power, that often means that cell towers lose their power too. Some have battery backups and some have generators, but you shouldn’t count on that.

Working from a hotel:
This is what I have done a few times, now. In fact, I’ve learned to book a room when a major storm is coming. For the hotels I used, they didn’t charge if you ended up not-needing the room.

Why do this? Well, this bought me: a shower, electricity, heat, and internet. It can obviously get expensive, but it also completely solves the problem – assuming you are experiencing a localized outage. If you can get a room outside of the affected area – this is the most expensive, but also the most effective solution.

If you have a regional outage, presumably this would be the best option – except you’d just get a hotel further away.

My Solution:
I’ve since moved out of the northeast but still have the same job. There is a local office for my employer about an hour away from where I am now. However, it’s not a “headquarters” type setup, it’s just a building in an office park. In the event of a local disaster, I am assuming that they won’t have power nor internet.

So, here is what I have in place:

  • 4G LTE cell phone which supports “tethering” and a 1GB data plan (I now use a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8)
  • Power inverter for the car – takes cigarette-lighter type connection in the car and converts it to a 3-prong outlet (or a few outlets)

These two things give me the ability DRIVE to where I would have a good cell signal. I have power for my laptop, and my laptop “tethers” to my phone for internet access. For short-term power outages, I do have all of my office equipment hooked up to a small UPS too – which gives me about 4 hours of power for my computers, phone, internet, cable modem, router, etc. So, so long as the cable signal is still there – I still have connectivity at home for half of a work day.

So, summarized – here are some of my approaches to this. I’ll refer to “disaster” as like a major storm with widespread power outages and/or if the area has been declared a “disaster area” by the state or federal government.

  • Local power outage: I have a UPS for my computer monitors and phone – and my work computer runs on battery. That will last me a few hours. I tether my work computer to my phone for internet – and I can use the phone for calls too. So, this gives me computer, internet, and phone for half a day. I can take a drive and charge my laptop and phone, and keep doing 4 hours at a time. (0-4 hours outage)
  • Local disaster: Get in my truck and drive an hour north. I can stop anywhere – I have phone, power, and tethered internet from anywhere, inside my truck. Ideally though, I would get a hotel and work out of there until I could go back home (1-4 day outage).
  • Regional disaster: Same thing – except I’d probably drive 4-6 hours north, outside of the range of the disaster, and I’d try to find a hotel. I have a couple of specific destinations in mind which are part of he FEMA evacuation routes for my area. (5-21 day outage).
  • National disaster: Hopefully work understands that I just can’t connect to work. 🙂

I also have the option of driving into an office, if they have power and connectivity as well – but it’s a gamble, and it’s driving an hour INTO a major metropolis. I don’t really want to end up getting stuck there. So, depending on the emergency, I’d weigh that option then.

Testing:
We had some big storms roll through the other night. I didn’t lose power, but I lost cable – which means I lost phone, internet, and cable. I lost my personal and work internet connection too. My first thought was: “time to test tethering again!”

Likewise, a few days ago, I lost power during the day for about 2 hours. Both of these times allowed me to test my short-term setup.

On Windows Phone, it’s pretty easy to set – it’s called “internet sharing”. Your phone looks like a WiFi connection to other devices. When they attempt to access they internet, they are connecting via WiFi to your phone,and then using your phones data connection to get out on the internet. This is called “tethering”, by the cell providers.

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It’s important to note that for a long-time, if you JUST had a data plan for your phone, as most of us do – that did not support tethering. Now, some providers are including it – like I know AT&T does:
image
The point is – just check the fine-print and makes sure that your plan includes tethering – and actually test it. Since I get 4G LTE coverage around where I live, I typically get 10mbps speeds!

So, the point of this post is that if you work from home – I encourage you to have (or get) a plan together about how you will deal with emergencies. Because again, if you are without power for 9 days, what do you think you should reasonably do to not impact your job?

Posted in Computers and Internet, Infrastructure, Professional Development, Uncategorized
One comment on “Telework and infrastructure
  1. […] I live in an area that is prone to hurricanes and tropical storms. So, I have some preps in place for small, medium, and large emergencies. I wrote about that here. […]

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