Equipping Your People to Work Remotely
Here, we list the top technical considerations for a remote working plan, which is top of mind for many businesses right now.
This blog was first published on the 10th of March. The impact on all of us continues, in what is a rapidly evolving situation. To help your organisation and workforce in the weeks and months ahead, we've created a COVID-19 Support Hub. You'll find resources, such as webinars, on a wealth of topics. You are also able to ask questions; we're here to help.
The coronavirus, and the more sinister-sounding covid-19, are assaulting our airwaves daily. If your eardrums are still vibrating from Brexit, coronavirus is its new, soul-sapping replacement. In uncertain times, I like to draw from my (admittedly shaky) schooldays Latin; spe enim optima parare pessimus - hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
And the UK Chief Medical Officer’s unsettling prediction that UK schools and offices could close for up to two months is a claxon call to ‘prepare for the worst’. So, what are your organisation’s plans? Unless you’re in the hospitality industry or the likes of Greggs the bakers, it’s imperative to have a strategy for enabling your people to work from home, with minimal disruption. Here, we list the top five technical considerations and point you to resources and solutions you may find useful, depending on your size and circumstances.
Your Five-Point Battle Plan for Remote Working
As banks test disaster recovery plans on coronavirus fears, now’s the time to blow the dust off your DR and business continuity plan. “For businesses that don’t have adequate flexibility in their working arrangements, they’re going to struggle to send people home,” says Dan Coleby, our Modern Workplace Product Director. “It [the coronavirus] is a business continuity scenario, but it’s a particular one around preparedness for home-working, as opposed to a loss of infrastructure.
“The coronavirus is going to change people’s approach to flexible, modern working. Those companies that are currently resisting it might well be opened to the possibilities of remote working because they can see scenarios where it’s essential. I don’t remember an event like this where a large proportion of the workforce needs to work from home.”
So, let's proceed with the five core elements to enable home working:
No. 1. Hardware
Laptops are, plainly, the device of choice for home workers. If you have a large desktop estate, start by listing the principal people needed to keep your organisation ticking. Not just senior personnel; prioritising those in customer-facing and comms roles, and those delivering vital internal services (HR, IT, payroll), is arguably more important.
Asking people to use their own devices could be a short-term way of easing the strain. But do weigh up the security implications and think about what controls you’ll need to put in place. Which dovetails neatly to our next point…
No. 2. Accessibility and Security
If your core systems are in the cloud, great job - life should be easier for you. But if they’re only accessible on-premise, or you’re among the third of UK businesses relying on unsupported products, then you have a bigger problem. If you're running Windows Server 2008 or SQL Server 2008, you might find this blog helpful - Microsoft End of Support: Your Get Out of Jail Card.
And this is a timely podcast from the archives from Steve Goodman, our Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) – listen to the user experience for remote workers accessing Office 365.
So, this point establishes that enabling access to your business-critical systems from anywhere is paramount, but access has a vital bedfellow: identity management. You must have the keys to your door, give them to the right people, and have the control to take them back in an instant. Our Identity and Access management blog contains useful tips from some of our experts.
April update: IT Lab company Perspective Risk has since published this advice, which you may find helpful: A technical blog - How to Ensure Your Remote Working Solutions are Secure and New Remote Testing Available, in Response to the Coronavirus.
No. 3 Connectivity
Don’t assume that your potential home workers have an Internet connection. In my new build house, installing Wi-Fi took months. Ask them if they have one and how fast it is. Your workforce might find these articles useful: Top 10 Ways to Boost Your WiFi by NetSpot, and this one by MoneySaving Expert: Tips to improve broadband including free speed test. [please note the aforementioned links are not endorsed by IT Lab.]
No. 4 Telephony
Another fundamental point; who is going to answer the phones? An obvious solution for smaller businesses is to divert them to mobiles. But if you’re a larger organisation, you need a sustainable, long-term plan. Teams Voice is one option you could consider.
This blog by IT Lab company Content and Code: FAQs: How to Collaborate with External Users in Microsoft Teams shows how easy it is to use Teams for phone calls.
No. 5 Collaboration
At IT Lab, we use Microsoft Teams for voice and video conferencing and file sharing. As a home worker, Teams gives me parity with my office-based colleagues; I work no differently to them. Last night, I had a Teams call with my colleague Dan Coleby, to discuss this blog. He was waiting in his car outside his daughter’s dance class as I worked from my dining room. Teams allowed me to screen share my draft, and we pinged information back and forth as we chatted. I also recorded the call and can refer to our online notes if I need to.
One of the great things about Microsoft Teams is that it's accessible to all sizes of businesses; Microsoft brings enterprise-class solutions to the masses. And did you know that if you have an Office 365 licence, you already have Teams? Microsoft has published guidance to get you started here: Our commitment to customers during COVID-19.
We also recommend SharePoint for document management and control. If in the coming weeks and months, your workforce is scattered across front rooms and spare bedrooms, these tools have the potential to become your lifeblood.
But a word of caution – setting them up properly, gaining staff buy-in, and sound management is the difference between success and failure. These are highly customisable platforms: spending money then muffing up implementation is a massive lost opportunity.
We hope you found this blog useful; you’re welcome to get in touch if you have any specific questions. The IT Lab Group includes Content and Code (for enterprise customers), Mirus IT (for smaller businesses), and Perspective Risk – our cybersecurity arm. We're expert in all the solutions mentioned here and can connect you with the appropriate subject matter specialist.
In our follow-on blog, we address the other side of the remote working coin – how to keep your workforce engaged and happy when you’re apart.