12 March 2020

How to Prepare Your Organisation for Working Remotely

How to Prepare Your Organisation for Working Remotely

UPDATE: while the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may be over, the impacts are still felt by businesses across Australia. The lessons we’ve learned are still adding value to our IT environments. The fact is that the best time to implement remote working plans is before you need it – and that the second best time is now.

With that said, many organisations are still seeking to align internal practices put in place to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. Travel bans, 14-day quarantine periods and stricter guidelines for staff exhibiting signs of being unwell combined to force us to consider how our businesses could continue to operate when some – if not all – team members suddenly had to work remotely.

Now that the pandemic has largely passed, managers and team members alike have seen that remote work is not only possible, but in many desirable. This interest makes remote work a valuable point of difference – assuming that your organisation can align its IT infrastucture to gain value from this arrangement.

In many cases, this alignment starts in two key areas – data and applications.

Organise your data and applications

With cloud-based web apps, working remotely can be a lot easier. But how many of your applications and data files still need a VPN, Citrix Server, Remote Desktop or local access to servers? These are some of the things you need to consider:

  • If you currently have a remote access solution in place for working from home, will it work if EVERYONE needs to work from home? Check your licensing and the amount of server resources available.
  • If VPN software or other apps need to be installed on your employee’s devices to connect, are these pre-installed and ready to go?
  • Does everyone know how to connect remotely? Make sure URLs for webmail, cloud-based apps and your own remote systems are well documented and easily accessible for all staff.
  • If you use cloud-based file storage like Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive, is it well-structured with the right permissions, e.g. to staff who may not normally use cloud storage?
Take stock of your end-user devices

A lot of staff may have laptops, but do they take them home every day? Many employees will have their own PCs or laptops at home they might be able to use, but there are other things to be aware of:

  • Do company laptops have their own 4G connections or will staff need to make sure they have decent internet at home? And know how to connect to it!
  • If staff are using their own devices, do they have the necessary software installed?
  • During the pandemic, factories and ports around the world had to close. This impacted on cargo coming into Australia – with new PCs, laptops and peripherals getting harder to source. Before you make the switch, make sure to pre-order any required equipment you need.

A lot of technology advances over the last decade have been all about convenience – making it easier for staff to work anywhere from any device at any time. However with greater convenience comes less security.

Implement cybersecurity for remote workers

To create the right balance between remote work and security, it’s really important to take these things into account:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) should be required to access ALL externally accessible data and applications. According to the SANS Software Security Institute, MFA can block over 99.9% of account compromise attacks. The main reason why some organisations still don’t have MFA? The perception that MFA is inconvenient.
  • If team members are connecting to your networks via their own devices, do you control what security software or patching needs to be in place? An infected or compromised home computer that connects to your network via VPN can encrypt all data across the company with ransomware.

If a VPN is required, speak to your IT service provider about conditional access, which interrogates personal devices to see whether they’re up to spec.

If using a VPN is not essential to access your key systems (i.e. they’re all web-based) then you may consider disabling VPN access to reduce the risk of malware infection.

Update your unified communications

We all use our mobile phones for many of our phone calls these days, but there are many other ways that staff communicate with each other – and with customers!

Traditional phone systems including call centres and receptionists, video conferencing, email, collaboration platforms and messaging apps all form part of the unified communications platform today.

  • Does your phone system have softphone capabilities, such as an app to use the key features of your telephony system? If so, do all staff have the apps configured on their devices and know how to use them?
  • Can you set up diversions remotely if necessary?

Also consider how you could replace the normal conversations and meetings that occur around the office if staff need to work from home for extended periods:

  • Do you have audio conference bridges that staff can dial into?
  • How will you enable video conferencing? Do all staff have a device with a webcam? Can staff use headsets to reduce background noise on the call?
  • Do all staff know how to connect an audio device with the video conferencing app
  • Can staff easily enable screen sharing functions?

Modern collaboration apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams combine many communication functions into a single platform. If you don’t have a central collaboration tool, or have one but it’s barely being used, now is the time to set it up and get staff trained.

Engage with your IT support helpdesk

With team members working from different locations with different equipment, they’re bound to need help.

  • Can employees get fast, efficient IT support when they need it?
  • Remote monitoring and support tools are a key part of a Managed Service Provider’s toolset – what do you have in place to assist staff remotely?
  • Do staff know who to call when they’re not in the office?
  • If you currently use an MSP, does your contract cover staff working from their own devices at home?
  • Can team members access IT support outside of core business hours?

To reduce support delays and confusion, create and distribute a tip sheet to staff about who to contact and how to do so should they need remote assistance e.g. if unable to connect.

What to do next?

Once your remote work setup is in place it’s time to put it through its paces. Test your current setup, test it again, and re-test it with more people.

Don’t underestimate the amount of training required for staff that aren’t used to working from home, or who now need to use new software or devices to get all the functionality they need. Sudden changes to daily workflows can be jarring, so you want to help streamline the transition as much as possible.

Take some of the in-office practices that you have and make them remote-working friendly. For example – turn all of your meetings into audio or video conferences, start using collaboration tools, and ensure staff have laptops with 4G built-in.

Last but not least – always approach remote working with a security-first, not convenience-first mindset!

Be aware of fake emails claiming to have COVID-19 updates. Scammers are quick to use topical issues to get people clicking on links in phishing emails.