The UK government recently announced that from August it will be for employers to decide whether to continue remote working or bring everyone back to the office. But many companies have already stated that they will continue with the current setup at least in the short term, with others deciding to operate a permanent ‘work from anywhere’ philosophy.
There are many benefits to working remotely. No commute, more family time, businesses can cut office costs and employees can work more flexibly. But there can also be pitfalls – particularly on the IT side. So how can you properly equip your business for remote working in the long term? It’s all about getting the right technology in place, doubling down on security and constant communication.
Optimising your IT for remote working
People tend to spec their IT infrastructure for their existing business setup rather than what might happen in the future. It makes sense. You don’t want to pay for capacity or technology you don’t need – and in ordinary circumstances you have plenty of notice when changes become necessary. Not so in 2020.
When lockdown was announced many businesses had to make snap decisions about connectivity, devices and operating protocols. Now is the time to reflect on those decisions and see if improvements can be made to optimise remote working conditions.
Insufficient bandwidth is a real drain on an organisation. It frustrates workers, stalls productivity and can cost you business. If this continues to be a problem months after your employees began working from home, it needs addressing now.
At the peak of the pandemic, upgrading bandwidth by adding a leased line was very difficult due to workforce disruption. Now that the situation has stabilised you might have more luck. However, since you’re likely having Big Conversations about the place of the office in a post-COVID world, this could also be a good time to consider whether it makes sense to keep your IT infrastructure in a virtually empty office that has insufficient bandwidth. Colocation offers better connectivity, greater security and 24/7 support, all of which continued undisrupted during lockdown.
Many businesses are relying on a VPN to enable remote workers to access office-based servers. If the connection is horribly slow, it could be a bandwidth issue or it might be simply that the VPN is congested and you need to upgrade user capacity. Incidentally, if you were already using a VPN before lockdown, the licence most likely didn’t cover everyone in the company – if you haven’t already looked at your COVID-adjusted capacity requirements, now is the time.
Your choice of protocol (TCP or UDP) affects both speed and stability, so this is another thing to look at if the connection is slow or keeps dropping out.
Again, this is a major source of frustration for workers and should be given the highest priority. Private cloud might be able to give you the same benefits as VPN in terms of security, with much better connectivity and more flexibility.
Ageing hardware can be another reason for sluggish connections and should be factored in when troubleshooting connectivity issues. Is it time for an upgrade? It’s also worth checking which devices are in use. You may find some people are using both their personal computers and business-owned devices, raising questions about security.
If you are considering a hybrid office/remote system whereby people are in the office some days and working from home on other days, think about how this will work from a technology standpoint. If your employees use a desktop computer, for example, will they be expected to bring it in and out with them? Will you give them a second device for the home? Or switch to a laptop that is easier to transport?
Email has long been the main form of communication with customers, but now it is also the main form of internal communication, along with messaging apps like Slack and Teams. Check in on your mail servers. How are they holding up with all this extra traffic? Carry out the necessary maintenance and any upgrades to ensure they are reliable, resilient and set up appropriately to reduce the impact of spam on people’s inboxes.
Maintaining cyber security away from home
From vulnerable home broadband routers to questionable webcam behaviour, there are a lot of security concerns that come along with remote working. The sudden entrance to lockdown didn’t give much time to create a remote working security protocol, but if you haven’t prepared one since, do it now. There are bad actors out there waiting to take advantage of these vulnerabilities – and of course many security breaches are simply people making mistakes, with no malicious intent involved.
It’s important to be really clear about your cyber security policy – not just to have one, but also to share it, run training on it and instil it into the fibres of your organisation. Your policy should stipulate best practice for things such things as:
- Setting passwords and permissions
- Antivirus protection
- Running software updates
- Recognising social engineering attacks (e.g. phishing, spear phishing, etc.)
- The use of personal devices
- Physical security of the home office
Not sure where to start? Check our cyber security services.
A little more conversation
One of the main benefits of working together in an office is that it allows us to develop relationships with our colleagues, engage easily and collaborate effectively. Finding ways to replace that face-to-face contact has been a key part of the lockdown experience. There are a couple of things that we have been reflecting on within 4D:
- Apps - There really is an app for everything – but do we need a different app for every task? We’ve simplified and condensed our software suite where possible, so that we don’t spend all day flicking between apps without actually achieving much.
- Socialising - The kitchen is such an important part of our office and we’ve tried to bring that same dynamic to the virtual environment with our Cuppa Club, where we get the chance for the ‘water cooler’ chat we would otherwise miss.
- Meetings - Keeping everyone updated has been an important part of providing reassurance during a turbulent time. It’s also helped keep everyone invested in common goals, even while we’re unable to be together. Of course, virtual meetings can meander in the same way that physical meetings sometimes do so we’re working on recognising when that’s happening and shutting it down. It’s about finding a balance and respecting everyone’s time.
Going forward: Same same, but different
The last four months have taught us all a lot about the tech and mental requirements of remote working, about our colleagues (and their families!), and about what we really need to get by both in business and in life.
The next phase of remote working is likely to be some of the same and some different. For example: the end of home schooling should make life easier for working parents, at least between around 9am and 3pm.
Getting your IT needs in place ahead of that time, with colocation services or similar, will ensure you are well positioned to get the most out of this ‘new normal’ as we move towards the end of the year and into 2021.