Open Access Government spoke to seven technology experts to get their advice on how organisations can effectively transition and manage a remote workforce
Companies around the world are facing major challenges due to the unprecedented measures being taken to contain the Coronavirus pandemic. With the UK now in lockdown, many employers are being forced to operate and manage a completely remote workforce for the first time. Aside from the current situation, there are many reasons why a company may require its employees to be able to work from home with little notice – a snowstorm, terrorist threat, or transportation strike, for example.
While remote working has many benefits, companies also need to be prepared for this.
Efficient remote working starts now
The adjustment to working from home can be timely, with much to figure out. It is vital that organisations are able to ensure their workforce are all equipped to do their job – also considering ergonomics for remote workers. Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron, suggests some practical measures that can help employee’s wellbeing and efficiency:
“For many of us, working from home is now the ‘new normal’. As the world prepares to face a new reality for an extended period of time that includes working from home, it’s vital that we work comfortably to stay healthy and efficient. While it may not be possible to create exactly the same space that you have at work, implementing a few practical measures will go a long way towards looking after your health and wellbeing so that you can keep working productively.
“These include adjusting your computer monitor so that it’s not too bright, and positioning it to be at, or just below eye level, about 20 inches away from your eyes – using a monitor stand or arm can help with this. Additionally, use a comfortable, adjustable chair and keyboard if you can, and for the sake of your eyes make sure there’s sufficient light around your workspace. Most important is to keep moving, every 30 minutes if possible, even if it’s just to stand and stretch your back and arms. Another way to add movement is by changing any existing work surface into a workstation using a sit-stand converter. This will help you to move from sit to stand, then back to sit again, ensuring that you can always spend time standing, stretching and moving, irrespective of what the workday brings.”
Business leaders will also need to be flexible in the wake of COVID-19, with the move to working from home in full swing in businesses across the world. “This has left companies scrambling to purchase new laptops, desktops and other devices that are now in short supply,” explains Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing.
“While it’s always possible to connect each employee directly to an existing work desktop using remote desktop protocols, this can be tedious, challenging, time-consuming, and have significant security implications, especially working across a variety of devices and enabling VPN on these devices as well as software packages required.
“One option is to use VDI plumbing to set up gateway and connection broker services to take the hassle out of connecting “bring your own device” (BYOD) devices. The gateway gives your employee a secure point to connect into the office network and the connection broker handles connecting the authenticated employees to the correct desktop systems from anything with a browser.
“In the longer term, which may even still be under the scope of isolated workers, it is a good idea to think more seriously about virtual desktop solutions or terminal services. These solutions allow employees to work from home with as few disruptions as possible, and from a variety of devices, while keeping sensitive and business-critical data safely residing in a centralised data center. These VDI solutions, at a minimum, should become part of your DR and long term planning.
“However businesses choose to do it, it’s imperative they get their remote employees connected as quickly as possible. The sooner they do that, the sooner they can focus on next steps that will allow them to stay productive during this challenging time.”
Securing your business against threats
Managing a remote workforce securely against data breaches, hacks, cyber-attacks, ransomware threats and phishing scams is something all organisations should be mindful of.
“During the pandemic, organisations across the world will be looking at ways to continue their practices to the best of their ability. Whilst retailers with shop fronts face the difficulty of closing stores temporarily, organisations in a range of other industries including technology have turned their entire workforce into remote workers overnight to help protect themselves, their families and the company itself, describes Jay Ryerse, CISSP, VP of Cybersecurity Initiatives at ConnectWise.
“While protecting employees from catching a virus is currently top priority, ensuring they carry out their tasks securely should also be a focus to ensure it won’t be their laptops catching the virus instead. With employees continuing their work from home, organisations must ensure they have access to the latest security tools and solutions as well as the right training on how to use it. It’s common knowledge that many company data breaches or leaks are due to human error or believing a phishing email, so making sure employees can access critical documents on a secure network is a necessity.”
“As companies around the world face today’s unfortunate and uncertain reality a rapidly growing number of employees are joining the Work From Home (WFH) culture. This means that the security of organisations is now at an increased risk of being compromised due to the heavy traffic flowing in and out of the cloud, explains Raif Mehmet, AVP EMEA at Bitglass. ”Salesforce, O365, Confluence, and Slack are just a handful of apps out of the thousands that currently host their information in the cloud. As a result, organisations must become increasingly vigilant in regards to securing apps their employees may have access to. Company data can be remotely accessed from anywhere in the world due to the cloud, and ensuring that all sensitive content is protected is a forerunner in this battle of cloud security.”
Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds, agrees with the importance in preventing vulnerabilities:
“In line with the government’s strategy to minimise the spread of COVID-19, a significant portion of the U.K. workforce are now working from home. For some organisations this won’t be an issue, but for others, the prospect of mobilising a remote workforce in a short space of time can be a challenge. In the public sector for example, numerous organisations may still be using a combination of on-premises infrastructures as they transition to cloud technologies, which can potentially be an obstacle for maintaining productivity and customer service, and present increased cybersecurity risks.
“Prioritising and implementing features such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN), SaaS solutions, virtual desktops, and endpoint security can support public sector IT teams in streamlining processes, minimising risk, and ideally preventing vulnerabilities. Also important to consider are remote IT support solutions––in the current reality, it’s no longer a simple matter of fixing a system or computer issue at a desk or workstation, so it’s important employees have remote help available to them during this crucial time. The public sector is now more than ever in the spotlight, so it’s critical IT teams are enabled to do their job in order to support frontline staff doing theirs.”
A business landscape changed forever
As businesses around the world are sending their employees home to work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, more and more companies are relying on online business. “Customers are physically not allowed to go into shops that have likely been closed down temporarily, so online shopping – for essentials as well as non-essentials – is currently booming,” describes Bob Potter, CEO at SentryOne. “This puts a huge strain on the databases for company websites, some of which are now struggling to cope.
“Downtime now would have a huge financial impact, particularly at this time where every penny counts, and so IT leaders may benefit from implementing solutions that can help keep databases on track. Full visibility of where data is, where it’s going, and any bottlenecks that are starting to appear can help IT teams keep their databases running at full capacity, enabling the possibly unusual influx of online customers to complete their requests quickly and smoothly. Priorities are likely to be elsewhere at the moment, but for business to continue as close to normal as possible, ensuring that management of your databases is covered should be front of mind now, so that it doesn’t become a worry on your mind later.”
Richard Buxton, Director at N4Engage, also argues the wider effects of this nationwide shift to remote working:
“The ‘normal’ business landscape will likely be changed forever once all of this is over. The biggest change will be how working environments continue to move away from traditional office-based to more remote workforces. A lot of the companies that were hesitant to deploy remote working before, or didn’t think they could operate in this way, have found that actually, they can. While it’s unlikely that all companies will be working remotely from now on, I do believe more organisations across all industries will have the capabilities to offer it as an option to employees, safe in the knowledge they can be just as successful working in this way.
“Deploying and effectively managing a remote workforce is a big task, and having the correct and all-encompassing strategy as support is paramount to success. Security concerns are a big factor for most companies, especially when it comes to setting up secure remote workforces in a crisis scenario. It can often feel rushed and unprepared.
“Utilising a managed service provider (MSP) can be a big help, as it can alleviate all of the stress around this and ensure that every precaution is taken – even when things have to move very quickly. They are able to use due diligence to ensure that the solutions implemented are suitable and meet the compliance, security and reliability needs of the business.”
The shift to remote working is always going to bring new challenges for an organisation. Navigating an array of issues – personnel, HR, security – can feel overwhelming, especially when having to do so with no prior warning or plan. However, even for those companies unprepared to manage a remote workforce, there is hope. There are many steps, programs and services that can ease this transitional process. Furthermore, the benefit of being prepared to effectively manage remote working in the future is a huge advantage for any business.