The virtual workforce: What you need to know about home working

home working
© Mariusz Szczawinski

Christian Brady, Partner at IT services provider Netcompany, discusses the considerations for deploying long term remote working and collaboration solutions to the entire workforce

In response to COVID-19, we saw businesses around the world immediately move their teams from the office to home working. But as we begin to think about more long-term remote working, how can we ensure online collaborative tools are used safely and correctly?

While the coronavirus pandemic has unearthed many challenges for business all over the country, its emergence has in fact had a positive effect on working practices. We’ve seen an acceleration in remote working programmes and the speed of adoption has increased significantly. Programmes have been rolled out in a matter of weeks or months which would previously have taken years.

Research from the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI) revealed that 44% of employees have seen a rise in productivity while working from home. Although remote working technology, collaboration tools and staff now working remotely have all been positive, what are the cost, security, staff productivity, performance and best working practice considerations that must be addressed?

A hybrid approach to the new normal

As lockdown restrictions evolve, organisations will need to adopt a hybrid working model – ensuring the advantages of remote working (increased productivity and improved wellbeing) are balanced with the need for face-to-face interaction. The modern workplace requires a flexible approach to ensure employees are given the choice to work at home or in the office. Many companies are considering an employee rota so that different people can be in the office or working from home on alternate days. This ensures that all employees can adopt a flexible approach to working while preventing the office from becoming crowded.

Technology and unified communication software such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype and Microsoft Teams, have become commonplace for many organisations during the period of lockdown. While the obvious benefits include video conferencing, file sharing and channels to communicate with wider teams, organisations need to think more about connecting the office with those still working at home through the right technology.

Ensuring tech doesn’t become counterproductive

Throughout lockdown, we saw an acceleration in the adoption of remote working applications across the workplace environment. Before anything, organisations must have a secure location for document storage to ensure that all confidential and company documentation is stored safely, so it can be audited, identified and managed in line with the company data retention policies and GDPR requirements. While the uptake in virtual applications by organisations can be seen as a positive, we’ve actually seen a number of organisations using these tools in a nonstandard and high-risk manner. It’s important that there is a focus on implementing a single solution for carrying out communication both internally and externally, making it a cost-effective decision in the long term.

Organisations need to implement a standard video conferencing and collaboration tool, that is secure and importantly, is managed centrally so that all users and costs can be accounted for and it fits into the existing company starters and leavers process. A common pitfall is where an organisation uses multiple platforms to carry out communication such as Google Meet or Zoom, when in fact they already have Microsoft accounts that can seamlessly provide the correct security. Not only does this pose a security risk, but there may also be a threat to GDPR compliance and risk of losing important data, not to mention the expense of purchasing multiple licenses with more than one provider.

In terms of day to day communication on collaborative platforms, only specific employees should be given admin control to approve newly created groups. If multiple or duplicated groups and channels are created, this can pose a threat to the level of productivity for employees as important documents and data becomes much more difficult to locate. It’s vital that a structure is in place to ensure a smooth and productive digital working environment.

Creating secure remote access for all

When deploying remote working across an organisation, the first logical step is to ensure all employees are given the correct equipment and technology to carry out their jobs. Laptops must be provided along with high-quality webcams and headsets to guarantee that video and audio meetings are clear and consistent. Cloud computing plays an important role in allowing employees to access and share documents collaboratively when working remotely. Using a single solution will allow you to collaborate on documents rather than sharing in multiple locations, organisations must ensure the cloud platform has the correct security policy in place to keep company and client documentation safe and secure. Security is highly important during this process, it’s therefore vital for organisations to implement cloud-based services such as multi-factor authentication to ensure secure access from laptops and other devices. The authentication method requires the user to provide two pieces of evidence prior to the user gaining access, strengthening the security level.

The implementation of an End-User Computing (EUC) solution to allow access to client installed and cloud applications is also important as it gives organisations the freedom to add new users to the system and access live tasks when needed. This level of control ensures that laptops can be accessed remotely and installed with the appropriate security and protection, preventing data loss and access to important documents. Well managed EUC tooling allows organisations to remotely regulate and control applications and software licensing, this is important for ensuring that each user’s software and licensing is up to date, therefore avoiding unwanted costs. This allows a more fluid and seamless user experience for employees as necessary updates can be taken care of in the background while the user completes daily operations. In applications such as Microsoft Teams, all users and security can be managed via the Active Directory which gives you the control to actively manage accounts and subscriptions.

COVID-19 and the UK lockdown has changed the way we live, and the way we work. During this time every business has carried on working and looking after their customers, while allowing employees to work from home. Initially, we thought this would be a short-term phase, and short-term decisions were made. Remote working and virtual teams are here to stay, and the new normal is set to see more employees working from home, it’s therefore vital that organisations review their remote working models and strategies to ensure that security remains a top priority in the long term.

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