Coronavirus is driving companies that have thus far not supported remote work, to change policies as an urgent response to the new circumstances and begin allowing workers to work from home beginning immediately.
These include some of the biggest technology firms like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Box and Amazon, as well as many others like Ford, CNN, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Walmart etc. Even the federal government is now ramping up remote work options for certain departments after years of discouraging telecommuting and remote work options.
For IT administrators, technology leaders and others who are responsible for creating and managing the infrastructure to support remote work at scale, this task is not an easy one, particularly if some of the key technologies are not already in place.
If you are one of those now tasked with creating a new remote technology footprint overnight, we look at some of the key components to consider while implementing your new mandate:
Virtual Private Network
If you do not already have a VPN, it may be one of the first things to implement. VPNs protect information sent between remote employees and businesses by encrypting data and, hence protecting communications.
VPN accounts are generally licensed by number of users. Making sure that you have enough licenses for your workforce is key.
Mobile Device Management (MDM)
Making sure that all devices that have access to company resources are also maintained and have all their patches in place for a secure connection, is a vital element in safeguarding company digital assets. MDM also allows you to remote wipe a device that may be lost.
COLLABORATION & COMMUNICATION
Since remote work invariably puts a lot of pressure on internet bandwidth, making sure that there is a large enough internet connection for remote employees to connect, is very important. Most ISPs allow such expansion to be implemented quickly.
In lieu of face-to-face meetings, teleconferencing is likely to be a key component for collaboration within a remote workforce. Many providers, e.g. Cisco with WebEx, are currently making the service available for free for small companies.
Other companies like Microsoft, Google, and Zoom, are also providing access to key technologies in this time of need for remote work. LogMeIn is providing an emergency remote work kit for three months without charge to provide collaboration support for organizations.
Companies that have not already invested in new technologies for remote access, may be forced to upgrade certain equipment in order to meet the new demand. For example, if employees do not have devices at home for remote work, such laptops, headsets, webcams etc., these would need to be procured at short notice.
Microsoft is currently making its crisis communications app available for free for small businesses. The app includes Microsoft’s GitHub page as well as a dashboard for monitoring employee absences. Microsoft completed the app in 2 days to help companies deal with the current crisis.
Microsoft is also touting its free Teams application for online meetings. In fact, Microsoft announced that since January 31, 2020, Teams has grown by 500% in China. If you are not currently a Microsoft customer, you can avail of a free 6-month E1 license that includes Teams.
Making sure that you have an intranet site where communications and important messages can be posted, is a necessity. If you are using Microsoft, a SharePoint site to do this job is relatively easy to set up.
App maker Zoho built and released a new suite of remote working tools in a week. The package dubbed Remotely includes a virtual meeting platform, an office productivity suite and project management tools. Best of all the suite is free for all.
REMOTE ACCESS FOR DIGITAL ASSETS
If enterprise assets are already in the cloud e.g. Microsoft 365, or other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products – remote employees already have the ability to access such assets from their personal or home devices.
On premise assets would need access to be specifically configured and the roll out is likely to be different depending on the asset under consideration. For SMB enterprises, partnering with an MSP, like Wellforce, may be one of the quickest ways to configure remote access, if the on-site personnel are unable to complete the implementation on their own.
If moving an application off-site is not an option, it can be made accessible using a remote desktop protocol (RDP) application. This functionality comes resident on Microsoft machines, but there are open source and commercial versions as well.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
If you are a larger company and are unprepared, one option might be to stand up a virtual infrastructure. The challenge is to make sure that you do so securely with options like multi-factor authentication (MFA).
One advantage of this option is that instead of being reliant on your enterprise VPN, you are letting each user supply their own bandwidth to your remote desktop. Advanced users may still want to use a VPN. Several companies like Microsoft and Amazon offer options for virtual desktops and Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS).
With employees trying to deal with the pressure of remote work, while at the same time trying to understand how to use new technology for such work, there is likely to be increased pressure on support and helpdesk to assist such employees.
Many managed service providers (MSPs) have the capability to scale such services if you already have a contract with one. If not, it might be an option for support as well as for training employees who need such assistance quickly.
Virtually all software is now available as a SaaS option. Cloud migrations have many advantages including:
- Cost-effective: You don’t need to spend money on equipment or infrastructure needs and relieves the burden on your IT staff.
- Scalable: You can add or remove services as needed.
- Convenient: Remote employees have easy access and the cloud makes for easy collaborative and file sharing experiences.
Many MSPs, like Wellforce, have transitioned companies to the cloud and have a lot of experience. In the current situation, where a cloud migration needs to be completed in short order, using an experienced MSP can be a big advantage.
As part of the precautions, many organizations are suddenly faced with cancelling key events. In the case of nonprofits, these events are major revenue streams for the year.
Some organizations may still have time to setup virtual events in lieu of physical ones. The good news here is that these events have been growing in popularity in recent times. Make sure that you give the attendees and speakers enough time to familiarize themselves with the technology. Commit to rehearsing with the key presenters so that they feel comfortable in advance.
Here is a list of some tools to consider:
- Icebreaker – Offers a main chat room where a host can present.
- AirMeet – Host up to 1M live attendees and let them seamlessly interact with each other just like at a real venue.
- Vfairs – Host virtual job fairs, online tradeshows, online conferences, and more.
- Remo – A virtual tradeshow that can have virtual tables, and floors.
- Toasty + Zoom -Similar to Icebreaker with activities participants can engage in and connect with using their smartphones.
- Crowdcast – Host live talk shows, webinars, Q&As, summits etc.
- 6connex – Host a virtual trade show, job fair, summit, and even establish an e-learning program for your organization.
- RingCentral – Traditional webinar style. Renders recordings very fast.
- YouTube Livestream – Easy way to livestream on
desktop, mobile, and the YouTube app and reach your audience in real time.
Zoom – Traditional webinar style with either 1 host or a group chat. It also offers breakout rooms.
- Shindig – Enables a host to give a video conference, lecture, seminar, interview or media event in front of an online audience of thousands.
- Adobe Connect – used in smaller groups, particularly by educational institutions.
Change is the only constant we know. We can look at disruptions as catastrophic events, and many times, that is the case. However, they are also opportunities to change the paradigm of how we have done things in the past and look to new and innovative ways to use technology to help alleviate a bad situation.
Many in the IT world will be asked to do just that in the next few months and weeks.