'I have to drive around to find broadband coverage'

Working from home has its benefits but you need quality broadband. Nicole Glennon speaks to those whose speed impacts their business
'I have to drive around to find broadband coverage'

Change by Degrees director Madeleine Murray, who lives in an area with poor broadband connectivity and who sometimes has to work near Duggan Bridge, Kinsale, Co Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

When the country entered lockdown in March, few could have foreseen how this emergency pivot was to lead to drastic shifts in how business is being conducted and surprisingly, how quickly, efficiently, and successfully most have adapted to this change.

The success of remote working is such that a recent survey conducted by Cork-based Workvivo revealed 52% of employees would like to work from home permanently, with a further 36% favouring a hybrid model with the option to work from both the office and their home.

There are many benefits to remote working, one of which could be its potential to help revive and rejuvenate parts of rural Ireland should it become the case that working from home becomes the norm. 

However, this potential is contingent on employees and businesses in rural areas having access to the same standards of connectivity that their peers in urban areas have.

As it stands, sub-standard access to broadband and mobile service is putting some businesses and employees in the Munster region on the backfoot. In a recent survey conducted by Taxback.com, more than half of the 2,500 respondents surveyed said they had experienced technical issues due to poor quality broadband since lockdown was first implemented.

For Bríd Barry and her husband in Curraglass near Fermoy, Co Cork, their inability to access high-speed broadband has caused immense stress since they made the transition to remote working.

“When either of us needs to join a Microsoft Teams meeting, everyone else in the house has to turn off their wifi," Mrs Barry said. 

“We have to schedule our meetings at opposite times because we can't both get on Microsoft Teams at the same time.” 

Ms Barry said she’s tried everything when it comes to obtaining an adequate wi-fI connection in her home.

"We've done it all. We've had IT guys in, we got extra routers in, we got signal boosters.” 

“In the last few years, we've easily spent the bones of €2,000 on trying to sort this with getting people in and getting extra equipment."

Sadhbh Sullivan working from home on Bere Island in West Cork.
Sadhbh Sullivan working from home on Bere Island in West Cork.

Some have suggested digital hubs could offer the solution to those with poor internet access, but Ms Barry said she feels "that's undoing the purpose of working from home".

Particularly, she points out, at a time when many of us are working from home as a way to lessen our contact with other people and environments. 

As it stands, Ms Barry is relying on mobile data to get her through the working day.

“I have the best phone package I could get, the one with the biggest data bundle."

Connectivity inequality is also having a tangible impact on the success of businesses operating in regions that are not equipped with high-speed broadband. 

Madeleine Murray recently received the Network Cork Businesswoman of the Year Award, but she feels on-going connectivity issues are interfering with her ability to run her businesses effectively. 

Kinsale, Co Cork-based Change by Degrees, which Ms Murray co-founded, partners with organisations to help them design sustainability ideas. Their work includes workshops, talks, mentoring, leadership masterclasses and online video campaigns. As a result of Covid-19, face-to-face workshops and training have been replaced by Zoom sessions. 

Ms Murray said her sub-standard broadband has made this transition incredibly frustrating and resulted in an additional burden on her business partner. 

"In the event that my Zoom cuts out, or my line becomes unstable, the responsibility falls on her to carry the load."

"It is a really problematic issue for me because I feel that I come across as unprofessional. People are very forgiving, but it's not ideal."

Ms Murray said she believes there was more understanding in the early days of lockdown, but now, "people expect you to have the technology down if you're delivering a webinar".

"We also have a suite of how-to videos. They're all about one- minute long and we push them across our social media channels, but I physically can't upload them in my house, they could run all night long and still not be uploaded to our YouTube channel by morning. It's extremely frustrating."

"I would often have driven to the bridge in Kinsale just to get decent wi-fi."

Island life comes with a lot of challenges according to young professional Sadhbh Sullivan, but connectivity is a particularly crucial one these days.

Ms Sullivan from Bere Island is new to the world of work, having just graduated from UCC and begun her career with a Cork PR firm. The issues caused by her work from home environment are not her fault, but she says she worries about appearing “unprofessional”.

"We're lucky that our internet is quite fast, most of the time. But the issue for me is when the internet goes down. I don't have easy access to anything at all online because I have no mobile service in my house. When my wifi goes down I have to drive somewhere to find a 3G spot and work from my car."

"In the few weeks since I've started, the wIfi has been down on three separate days,” she said.

And while her new colleagues are very understanding, each time her internet goes down, she is unavailable for a period while she tried to find somewhere else on the island to work.

"I don't want to come off as unprofessional if I can't respond to emails at certain times because of the wi-fi being down. As a young professional, you always want to put yourself forward in the best way possible. And you just don't want anything like these small issues, making people question your abilities."

"It's obvious that there's a move towards work from home and that would be so great for rural communities ... if the option was there to actually live in rural communities long term while working from home... but because of the broadband, and the mobile service. It's just not really possible to make it happen that easily."

Ms Sullivan said it seems sometimes, especially when the sun is shining, that working in some of Ireland’s most beautiful locations is a gift, “but working from home in a rural area is a lot more challenging than a lot of people think”.

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