In 2020, a virus changed the world and imposed a new reality upon so many aspects of our lives. One major change the pandemic has driven is the transition to remote work. Working from home is the new normal.
Once this became clear, many companies, if not most, scrambled to set up their workforces for remote work as quickly as possible. But that may not have been the best approach. Now that some of the dust has settled, let’s look at a few common-sense measures that can make the transition from on-premises work to remote work easier.
Different organizations have different setups. In some organizations, the entire workforce is out of the office. In others only part of the workforce is working offsite. Some work out of the office full-time, others part-time. But regardless which scenario your organization follows, all of your remote staff will need to access company resources from their homes.
You’ll need to consider how to grant that access in away that is secure and consistent with your organization’s policies. You’ll also need to take into account the networking equipment available to your teams. It may seem like a big undertaking, but it pays off. Having a proper home system set up makes your organization more flexible and adaptable, and is beneficial for practicality and peace of mind.
VPNs enable secure (encrypted) remote access to company resources. Having a remote workforce implies generalized VPN use. You may already have a subset of employees using VPN on occasion, but now everyone in your organization will require that access.
In order to limit the amount of third-party software you need to deploy, you should use a VPN protocol that is natively supported on Windows and macOS. That would be L2TP/IPSec or the more secure IKEv2/IPSec. Another benefit of using IPSec is that many commercial routers are preconfigured with a NAT passthrough rule for IPSec traffic.
If your workforce is provided with company-issued laptops, the VPN setup can be preconfigured. If not, you’ll need to supply detailed instructions on how to do this. On the server-side (the company), you can then configure access control rules to limit each user’s access to what they require.
Even though some of your employees will have access to Gigabit speeds at home, it’s probably best to assume their connections are below 100Mbps. And this will be fine for most. That amount of bandwidth should be adequate for email and chat, voice or video calls and to access company file servers.
However, certain types of work may require more bandwidth than what your average broadband connection and consumer router can handle. One example would be visual artists, which may need to transfer 4 or 8K video streams. In these edge cases, you would need to outfit some of your staff with a high bandwidth connection and a modem/router that can handle the load.
Another option could be to have them connect to a production machine in the office via VNC or RDP, after the VPN connection. But VNC and RDP can get laggy at times, especially over VPN. So while this can be a temporary solution, it won't be viable for long. In the long run, you’ll save time and money by supplying the proper equipment.
How do remote workers communicate with one another?
With a decentralized workforce, you’ll want centralized communication tools. Communication is more critical than ever with a remote workforce and you want to make sure everyone in your organization is using the same tools with the same security safeguards in place. And centralized communication tools foster a sense of community within the remote organization, reducing the isolation some may feel when working from home.
Provide your teams access to company-approved communication tools for things like chat, voice, and video calls. You don’t want sensitive company information being shared over Facebook Messenger…
Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, and Webex are popular choices your workforce will likely be familiar with. They also provide end-to-end encryption for your more sensitive information sharing, data loss prevention, and security.
How does your workforce share documents and files?
It might be worth setting up a company cloud, hosted by a third-party, in order to simplify access to certain company assets. This can be a good alternative to opening up internal resources that may be spread out across the organization, to remote access users (VPN). Using a collaborative cloud as a centralized repository can save both you and your workforce time and hassle.
Popular choices for document and file sharing are Sharepoint and Microsoft Teams that also provide easy to manage third-party project management tools in order to give everyone visibility on the projects that they are working on.
Another important consideration is end-user devices. Does your organization supply company-configured laptops, smartphones, and headsets or are your remote workers using their personal devices?
If they are using company-issued devices, then you can configure them, either manually (if the numbers are low) or via an MDM solution, for maximum security. If not, you’ll want to instruct your workforce to activate or disable certain settings (automatic backups, for example), based on the device, the operating system, and the specific needs of your organization.
You also need to work out whether certain employees have specific hardware needs. People working in Accounting or Business Intelligence come to mind, as they may require multiple monitors to accomplish their work, for example.
It might also be a good idea to provide a standard, high-quality set of headphones (with an embedded microphone) to your entire workforce so that everyone benefits from the same call quality. It also simplifies troubleshooting when everyone is using the same equipment.
A good set of headphones will ensure clear communication for everyone, enhance confidentiality, and significantly limit the time that’s wasted when people have to repeat themselves in meetings.
Obviously, these are simply common sense tips to help you cover the basics. Each organization is different and may well have specific needs that are beyond the scope of this article.
But at the end of the day, if you’re in the midst of converting your teams to out-of-office workers, these are all things you’ll need to consider during the transition.
Unprecedented times require unprecedented measures. And with its many benefits, you may want to consider embracing remote work - perhaps part-time to begin with - as a new social norm.
Quadbridge can, of course, provide you with all the tools to implement and support your remote workforce.
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