While each of us certainly hopes that the COVID-19 coronavirus won’t become a major health event in their part of the world, many businesses are considering contingency plans with a close eye towards avoiding serious disruption of their operations.
This is necessary – there is no doubt that any large-scale outbreak of this coronavirus will be a disruptive event overall – and potentially critically so for businesses that are not prepared.
Working remotely – should you be planning for it?
Remote working, or the practice of working for an extended period outside the formal office, is growing steadily in popularity, enabled by a host of digital tools of virtually every description, from Web conferencing and e-mail to mobile collaboration applications and virtual event platforms.
In my experience with digital productivity and collaboration trends, when it comes to remote work I find that many organizations are frequently stuck in the fairly early stages or have not committed enough yet to design, nevermind invest in full-blown strategies and enablement. Consequently, no matter where you are, there is usually considerable room to improve the digital employee experience when working outside the office.
So, to help organizations as they prepare for a surge in remote work requirements and workers as the coronavirus story unfolds around the world, I’ve put together a fairly comprehensive quick start guide below. This guide will, ideally, help those organizations just getting started as well as those who may already have existing remote work programs but would like to upgrade their effectiveness to minimize impact to their customers, workers, and suppliers.
The strategies and tools below will offer noticeable improvements to the remote working experience and deliver improved downstream results, including higher productivity, more complete engagement, better work/life balance, and an overall increase in quality of results from remote work.
In general, when I’ve had to choose between presenting either a basic strategy or tool, or the best overall solution , I’ve identified what the basic options are and recommended the best practical approach – solutions that will have enhanced longevity, or will produce improved overall results for a reasonable amount of effort and expense. Just keep in mind that the better approach may be slightly more complex and time-consuming to realize; at the same time, extra effort and expense can often be recouped with the productivity improvements in these solutions.
Create a safe and effective foundation for remote digital access.
First and foremost, this means providing secure access to IT resources within the business as well as to the internet itself, typically through an internet provider and virtual private network. This requires attention to every part of the connected tech stack, from internet access itself to providing secure means to reach and interact with corporate networks, data, communication channels, and applications. This is also the overhead of managing and supporting the whole process.
Internet access. Don’t assume workers have adequate online access at home or elsewhere. While many will, some won’t have reliable or fast enough service or only a mobile device.
Survey Remote Workers
Quickly survey or otherwise gather data from the workers included in your remote work strategy and determine where the gaps are. For some workers, be prepared to invest in mobile hot spots and associated data plans, as well as providing stipends to establish home internet access plans or upgrades to existing access, which can be especially important for workers that live in more rural areas.
One of the largest blind spots is in knowing how much bandwidth workers will need to be optimally productive, and quickly assessing this early will pay dividends. Remote workers, especially at first, often have to sync their files and data. For some industries, this could be a lot of rich media and data that has to go back and forth regularly. How fast it goes will determine remote work productivity. More significantly, the types of applications that are used regularly, especially web and video conferencing, can determine bandwidth needs as well.Finally, ensure you have a clearly articulated remote work policy along with a plan, communications program, budget, training, and support for ensuring sufficient internet access wherever the worker will be working remotely. Preparing quickstart guides, like those used with consumer technologies, are a big help to shave the initial learning curve off of any new tools or technologies. Organizing power users to support new remote workers, answer questions, and share techniques is also a big help. Normally all of this is part of an overall remote work program, but may be separate depending on who is responsible for providing different services inside your organization.
Remote work devices. There are two major forks in the road when it comes to devices. Either a) workers can use their own, which is a bigger security risk, but quite a bit cheaper and faster to deploy if their devices are up to the task, or b) a company can provide the devices that are needed.
Given that the prevalence of Shadow IT (workers using unsanctioned, unofficial apps to get their work done) is generally higher than most enterprise IT departments are willing to admit — meaning that company data is already on many personal devices anyway — I advise companies to seriously consider assessing workers existing computing hardware to see if they are capable, as they are least expensive and quickest option to enable for a crash remote work program. Organizations can rent, lease, or buy devices as appropriate for those that don’t have them or are not suitable.
What devices are needed? Presumably one smartphone and one computer or tablet, plus any internet access hardware. But your specific business requirements will dictate what is needed. In addition, when providing a superior remote work strategy, there are a number of accessories that can greatly improve the experience, with minimal cost. These include:
- A webcam for web conferencing, if the worker’s base computing device does not have one. 720P is the minimum acceptable resolution for quality results, but that is usually standard now in most webcams.
- A high-quality headset or headphones with mic. While workers almost always have headphones, you’d be surprised how many don’t have good enough microphones in their headphones for phone or web conferencing.
An “On the Air” sign. Workers located at home or shared locations are at risk of being disturbed during remote meetings by those around them. Inexpensive On the Air signs with remote controls can be purchased at online and make a real difference in the overall quality of the remote work experience during meetings and at any time. For the budget-conscious, On the Air door hangers are also available. The positive impact of using these signs to ensure smooth communications and collaboration is surprisingly high.
Secure remote access to business assets and online services.
While VPN solutions come in a wide variety of flavors, some well-known vendors aren’t always the best, and fly-by-night solutions should be avoided for security, reliability, and support reasons.
Usability and reliability are keys here because almost every other part of the remote work solution will use the VPN as the core foundation for secure internet access.
No VPN, No Access
In general, the worker should never do any work for the organization without the VPN on their device(s) being turned on. This includes online services on the internet. After all, the VPN ensures a higher level of security and safety between the remote worker and business’ information.
Your VPN usage policy must be crisp and clear on what workers are allowed to do with the VPN on, and with it off. It’s important to note that the VPN will be the single most important link in your remote work chain, so ensure your solution works on most devices reliably.
The effectiveness of your VPN can also differ depending on where workers are actually located. In some cases, IP addresses can end up getting blocked when global organizations use local internet services.
Be sure to test all the service providers, devices, and locations to be used, and ensure performance is sufficient. Some VPNs route traffic through central hubs located throughout the world, and are often overtaxed during business hours.
Let Lanworks take the guess work out of setting up a secure VPN, call or email us now!!