Virtualized Office

Can You Suddenly Support 90 Percent of Your Employees Working Remotely?

While this scenario seems far-fetched, we are starting to see closings and cancelations for venues and schools to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus. With that in mind, most of your employees becoming remote suddenly becomes a lot more feasible. Some firms are equipped for this issue; all of their employees have laptops or the company has a remote desktop solution that is easily scalable and broadly accessible.

If you are currently unprepared for all of your workers to be remote, you have a couple of options. If you have fewer than 10 employees, this is probably easy: You go to the store and buy everyone a laptop. You will need to securely connect to the office network, without compromising security and compliancy.

For larger organizations, one option is to start up a large virtual desktop infrastructure in the public cloud. You can also create a cloud on your office network. This can be accomplished rather quickly; you shouldn't have hardware delays with a cloud vendor.

The challenge with quickly starting up a new cloud deployment is making sure that you build it out in a secure fashion and configuring things like multifactor authentication -- especially if you are implementing a remote desktop solution -- to ensure that you maintain the security of your environment since it will be accessed remotely.

One advantage of a remote desktop solution over a traditional VPN is that instead of being reliant on the bandwidth of your VPN device, you are letting each user supply their own bandwidth to your remote desktop. Obviously, power users will probably still use VPN to connect. If you are using a VPN, you should ensure that you have adequate bandwidth, both on your appliance and from your network provider, to support the onslaught of remote workers. This will also apply to moving the phone calls to a VOIP environment allowing for remote phones.

Other potential solutions include ensuring that your employees can access SaaS solutions such as Office 365 and Salesforce from outside of the office. In most cases, that is their default behavior, but if your organization has a high security configuration, you may want to evaluate those policies. You also need to ensure that employees who need access to special phone services -- for example, the financial services sector requires all calls to be recorded -- have VOIP phones allowing that function just as they would on-premises. This is a non-factor for many folks who can just use a cell phone, but some workers need access to a permanent phone number and other calling features.

Three Methods For Remote Work

Method 1: Create a safe and secure foundation for remote digital access. 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 resources, 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. The assumption that workers have adequate online access at home or elsewhere is important. Some workers may not have reliable or fast enough service or only a mobile device. Quickly survey or otherwise gather data from the workers included in your remote work strategy and determine if there are any gaps.

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 the use of VOIP phones are bandwidth intensive.

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 quick start guides, are a big help to limit the initial learning curve 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 choices when it comes to devices:
    • 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
    • A company can provide the devices that are needed such as a VOIP phone or a computer or thin client.

What devices do you need? 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, which is standard with most webcams.
  • A network pc or laptop or a thin client
  • VOIP phones where needed

Secure remote access to business assets and online services. Typically this is provided by a virtual private network (VPN) solution, which sits on the PC, laptop, or mobile device and creates an encrypted network connection that makes it safe for the worker to access IT resources within the organization and elsewhere on the Internet or other networks. This can be a hardware VPN or with a software VPN that will connect to the secure gateway.

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. This is because the VPN ensures a higher level of security and safety between the remote worker and the service.

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 target devices, works reliably. Be sure to test all the service providers, devices, and locations to be used at the very least, and ensure performance is sufficient.

The reality is that your IT department should have worked through a number of these issues and will likely have a working remote access solution using VPN, including a policy and support. But as you ramp up to a wider variety of workers and greatly increase the numbers working from afar, you'll have to make sure that your core remote work foundation is truly up to the task, including acquiring enough licenses for all the intended workers.

Method 2: Provide access to productivity, line of business applications, and communications/collaboration tools. Business today revolves around teamwork using shared knowledge assets including documents, files, reports, spreadsheets, rich media, and both structured and unstructured data. Such assets are created and used with applications that include the usual office productivity suites like Microsoft Office365 and Google G Suite, local content/document management systems, the corporate intranet, HR systems, CRM, ERP, and countless other systems.

In general, you can count on the usage of business applications remotely to be about the same as when the worker was in the office.

Remote work relies much more on digital communications and especially modern workforce collaboration tools such as team chat (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, etc), unified communications/instant messaging solutions, as well as business mainstays like e-mail, phone, and web conferencing/meeting tools like GoToMeeting.

Method 3: Develop remote working skills. The reality is that it is fundamentally different to work remotely. Everyone is much less visible, and it takes a toll on collaboration because it's just harder to connect with co-workers, even with all the digital tools in hand.