International Telecommuting Challenges


The Challenges of Telecommuting Internationally

telecommuting internationally iconModern information and communication technology introduced a new era in the way we work. It promised a new era where we could work from anywhere, no matter where in the world our office is located, or where in the world our customers came from.  For some of us at least the this new era has arrived.

For others, the promise of telecommuting is only partly realised.

Telecommuting in South Africa

I’m a web developer, so my working time is mostly online. I work on websites hosted in South Africa, as well as sites in other parts of the world, including my own websites now hosted on servers in the US of A. So I am definitely a “telecommuter”.

We don’t have fantastic internet access in this part of the world. If a 10Gbps download speed with a 35 ms ping is considered “C” grade in the USA, our Internet gets a “F” or lower rating. Although our service providers claim HSPA speeds from 10Gbps to 21 Gbps, most of the time the maximum download speed is under 4Gbps, and usually under 2. Ping rate under 150 ms is almost unknown. Mostly it’s over 200 ms. (Very challenging for online gamers). Reliabilty is another challenge to telecommuting; frequent disconnects, dead periods where an old dial-up type connection seems fast, and other such inconveniences occur. And this is working on local websites!

The next Challenge is Localisation

By localisation I mean Internet access from specific locations. Outside of major centres, the quality and reliability of the net degrades rapidly. I guess this applies nearly everywhere in the world. There’s not much incentive for service providers to build infrastructure for places with only a small handful of potential clients – they are businesses after all.

Of course, these days cellular services cover nearly the entire country, so wireless Internet should also be available, and mostly it is. Except once outside of a major population centre service levels like HSPA and 3G often degrade to 2G only. Which keeps me stuck in the largest city in SA, when I’d prefer to live and work somewhere smaller and quieter…

Bang! Out Goes the Power

Here’s another obstacle to telecommuting in SA. At any moment the power can go out without warning. This happens often, sometimes weekly or more often. The result is lost work, unless we have a UPS. I’m one of the minority who do have enough offline backup power to save any current work and safely shut down the PC. Most people don’t. Even a surprisingly large number of businesses don’t have standby power.

More Challenging for International Telecommuting

Considering my offshore clients and my own offshore sites raises more challenges. We are at the end of a very long data pipeline with little redundancy. When one of the few data links goes down, it impacts the entire international access for us “local yokels”.

This is frustrating for me – how do I explain to my offshore customers the net was only providing 24 kbps for 3 days when I had urgent work on their website. It’s hard for Internet users accustomed to fast downloads and high reliability to accept their webmaster gets effectively cut off from the rest of world by poorly maintained technology.

It’s not as if they are getting a “cheap” service. My rates are at international standards, even on the high side – they have to be, or I wouldn’t be able to offer offshore service. So my work needs to meet these levels.

Service Providers Need to Consider Clients

We have a local tradition, if you can call it that, of consumers accepting anything suppliers throw our way. As if they are doing us a favour, allowing us to buy their services. So no-one responds to poor service. Of course it’s rather difficult to cancel our service contracts – not because we are tied in by law (we can cancel contracts at anytime for poor service, with only minor penalties), but there are no other options – the next provider is as bad as, or worse than, the one we left!

me on google plus+Mike Otgaar

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About Mike

Web Developer and Techno-geek Saltwater fishing nut Blogger

Posted on October 17, 2012, in Business, Internet and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the enlightenment!

    I recently looked into CDN (Content Distribution Networks) for an Australian website project. I came upon the CDN service while was working with a digital agency to analyze online competitors and make website content recommendations. It appears that several of the better US web hosts subscribe to a CDN and offer it as part of their packaged web hosting services. From what I researched, my clients would only need to hire out a CDN if they were running their own glass house or server farm.

    Now that doesn’t solve my connectivity issues while I am making web content updates. I have, however, been able to successfully work on my Australian and US clients’ websites while on a family vacation in Bali – Indonesia or visiting friends in the US. Web connectivity in many dense cities around the world is better than I expected!

    • Shauna – You’re also at the end of a long data pipeline! I wonder how it compares to ours in performance – somewhat better I would expect!
      I suggest you look into the packaged CDN before taking subscribing – is it a major CDN provider being used, which one, and so on – and research the latest users comments. Performance varies, and good services can degrade.
      Packages can also be a bit misleading e.g. unlimited data traffic is commonly offerred by USA hosting services – I’ve read reports of users suddenly finding their sites connectivity speed throttled after a certain level. Can’t really confirm this – my own sites are on a fixed 30G/month data package on VPS, and none of my client sites have run into problems, yet (I’ll be happy when they do – means I’ve done a good job).
      Back to work.

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