Permanent Remote Workforce? 10 Questions to Consider ASAP
This new normal is just one of several challenges that organizations are facing right now. A quick shift to remote work allowed many companies to continue operating through the coronavirus crisis. But until a vaccine is widely accessible, businesses will need to create a stronger long-term plan to accommodate a remote workforce indefinitely.
Here are 10 questions that companies need to consider ASAP to ensure this shift remains sustainable, efficient and secure.
1) Who gets to work remotely … and who doesn’t?
This is an HR question at its core, but it has tentacles that affect every other part of your business.
Your work-from-home policies need to be crystal clear. Otherwise, it will create confusion and frustration – not just for employees but for the IT teams tasked with making remote work possible.
Which employees or departments will be required to come to work – and why? Will remote workers be required to occasionally come to the office for certain meetings or tasks? When and how often?
It’s critical that these policies are communicated from the beginning, especially if the changes are permanent. Otherwise, your HR staff and managers will be spending their days fielding questions from employees, instead of focusing on the big picture.
2) How will job responsibilities need to change?
What will each worker actually do?
For many jobs, not every task can be completed outside the business’s central location. So before you can begin the conversation about what equipment or tech your workforce needs to be productive at home, you need to figure out what they can actually do.
This may mean changing the job responsibilities for some positions. Some staff may need to learn how to use new tools or take on projects that were previously handled by others. That’s especially true if some positions needed to be eliminated to maintain efficiency.
Whereas a reactionary response to COVID-19 was allowing all office workers to work from home, the long-term strategy is now adapting positions to make remote work possible for years to come.
3) What equipment will remote workers need?
As lockdowns were announced, many businesses didn’t have the time or resources to immediately give laptops and other devices to remote workers. In many cases, employees were allowed to use whatever personal devices they already had at home. Yes, that was a security nightmare for IT to figure out, but it was a quick solution nonetheless.
But now, with the possibility that some remote work could be permanent, businesses need to be sure that workers are adequately equipped with secure, reliable devices.
Employees should be given devices that have been acquired and configured by IT. This ensures that all remote devices have company-approved operating systems, software, anti-malware solutions, business applications and network connectivity.
4) How will they connect to the network?
If you want to maintain control over data storage, backups, patch management, software installations, firewalls, application whitelisting and other administrative controls across the organization, then users absolutely need to connect to the company network.
Smaller businesses may not have had time to connect users’ personal devices to the network when lockdown orders were initiated. And maybe that worked fine for a while, as employees were able to be productive without network access. But if your organization is making remote work permanent, then you need to address this ASAP.
Supplying users with company devices was Step 1. Step 2 is configuring those devices to make a secure connection to the company network over the user’s own Internet.
A large remote workforce that is not connected to a single secure network is a disaster waiting to happen.
5) What about remote desktop and virtualization?
With employees working from everywhere, you need more ways for users to connect to various company systems.
If creating a direct network connection on users’ devices is not yet feasible, then users should at least be able to use remote desktop connections and other virtualization tools to gain remote access.
Remote desktop is useful if users need to access computers that are located at HQ (or elsewhere). For example, by signing into the remote desktop, they can continue to access their computer at work, including programs, email and other data.
Using virtualization can also be useful when connecting disparate operating systems – for example, when you need remote access to a Windows machine from a Mac.
6) How will teams communicate?
When communication is faster, teams are more productive.
Sure, apps like Slack and Zoom worked fine, even before the pandemic. But what about in the long term?
Are there other communication solutions that can be better integrated with existing processes or technologies? Can communication be strengthened even further, so it’s easier and more efficient?
What about the simple act of calling colleagues when emails and IMs won’t do? Will workers be instructed to use their own mobile phones and numbers, or will they be provided with company devices?
All of this needs to be mapped out in order to ensure maximum efficiency and security.
7) How will they collaborate?
Staying in touch is one thing, but actually collaborating as a team is another challenge altogether.
If employees can’t be in the same place, how will they “work together?” How can decentralized processes be streamlined and conjoined?
There’s no shortage of tools for remote collaboration. We often point to the efficiency of Datto Workplace for cloud file-sharing flexibility and management. But that is only one aspect of a collaborative remote workforce.
Now more than ever, businesses will need to rely on robust SaaS tools to keep projects moving at breakneck speed. That could include tools for project management, digital whiteboard sharing, CRM, marketing, business processes and more.
Teams should be given some flexibility to identify the tools they need. But it’s important to make sure that the selected tools are properly assessed by IT for security issues and proper integration with existing processes.
8) What tech will support these workers?
We mentioned the need for SaaS applications, which largely leverage the cloud for speed and reliability. But obviously that’s only one part of a much larger computing picture.
If users will be connecting to the company network, using remote desktop, spinning up virtual machines and running applications off company servers, then it’s going to put a whole lot of stress on IT systems.
It’s critical that your underlying infrastructure can support this remote workforce. If your organization wasn’t already set up to handle a decentralized workforce, then chances are you need to reassess your technology deployments ASAP. Investing in new hardware and systems now will better position your company in the long term and will significantly reduce the risk of an IT meltdown.
9) How will data be protected?
Businesses need to start thinking about data protection in a post-COVID-19 world.
As companies shifted to remote work, data backups became an afterthought. With little time to react, business’s top priority was ensuring workers could keep the business running from afar. But this meant that many devices were no longer being protected by the company’s data backup systems.
In the long term, this approach is not sustainable. Organizations need to be sure their data is backed up no matter where it lives. That means backing up not just the company servers, but also endpoint devices, virtual environments and clouds.
A unified business continuity and disaster recovery solution is essential for protecting the entire infrastructure and preventing data loss across the organization, whether users are working remotely or on site.
10) How will it be secured?
Remote workers’ devices need the same cybersecurity and antimalware protection as on-premise systems – if not even more.
As businesses adapted to the coronavirus pandemic, hackers exploited vulnerable systems to deliver malware. And, they took advantage of the chaos and confusion to fool users with deceptive phishing emails.
This problem isn’t going away anytime soon, even after the pandemic comes to an end. To adapt to this new normal, businesses need to deploy stronger cybersecurity systems and protocols across the organization. That includes everything from antimalware software to tighter firewall settings, as well as more frequent employee training to ensure that remote workers are constantly reminded of safe practices for web and email.
Looking forward: a remote workforce
We can’t stress this point enough: the initial response to COVID-19 was only the beginning. The aftermath of this pandemic will likely be felt for years to come, transforming business in fundamental ways.
Organizations now need to think long-term. Those that will continue relying on a decentralized workforce need to rethink their approach to remote access and collaboration, to ensure that all systems stay secure and employees stay productive.
Let’s discuss your remote-access needs
If you’re currently reevaluating your IT deployments, we can help. Contact our business continuity experts to learn more about solutions for remote access, data protection, networking and more. Request a free demo or contact Invenio IT by calling (646) 395-1170 or by emailing success@invenioIT.com.