Every day, more and more businesses are feeling the impact of COVID-19, commonly called The Coronavirus. Many companies are looking for solutions that will enable them to continue operating while protecting the health of their staff and clients. Businesses have run for a very long time with the standard model: you get up, you get ready and you go to the office. You have immediate access to your team because they are just down the hall or at the desk next to you. Now we are looking at a dramatic and sudden change to the business landscape and we don’t know how long this will last… but still, we need to continue doing business and providing services.
Before starting your transition, ask yourself these questions:
1. How many people are you taking remote?
Before taking your office remote, you need to consider the scale of your transition. Will the entire office be working remotely? Is this an all at once transition? Depending on your business type, not all of your staff may be able to work offsite.
2. What’s your budget?
The shutdown of your brick and mortar office will certainly save you some money on utilities, the costs for moving a workforce offsite can add up very quickly.
If you plan on providing devices for employees, consider renting. If you are planning to transition from remote work back to inhouse after the pandemic calms down, buying hardware for your staff will leave you with a bunch of additional devices that you don’t need. Renting the devices will save you money.
3. How long will your office be remote?
Will your office stay remote until the pandemic completely subsides, or are you looking to transition your office back to remote work as soon as possible? Answering this question can help you map out a plan for the coming weeks and months.
If you decide that remote work is having a positive impact on company culture, would you consider permanently keeping the office remote? If not, you will need to figure out how to manage expectations within your company regarding the length of the remote transition.
4. Will you allow staff to work on personal devices?
Employees may prefer to use their own phones or laptops to work. Will you allow this? If they are using their own devices, what, if any, are the data security concerns or regulatory issues? Do they have acceptable anti-virus on their personal computer and, if not, will you provide it?
Keep in mind that if you cannot provide devices for employees or provide them with anti-virus software during this transition, you could be creating an opportunity for a data breach.
If you intend to allow employees use personal devices, you will need to set standards for if/how they can copy and send sensitive information using personal devices. Do you have regulatory concerns like HIPPA? If so, you may need to look at a solution for encrypting emails.
There are a few ways to do this:
- VPN Connections: Virtual Private Networks offer a low-cost solution for secure, remote access to your network. Creating a VPN requires software that makes a remote connection to an edge device (usually a router or firewall) that makes your network believe that the remote endpoint is within the safety of your office. Your edge device may have a limited number of concurrent connections allowed. It also requires some setup on both the edge device and the remote client. You may also need to install software that you use every day at the office onto the remote system which can mean additional licensing cost.
- Remote Desktop: This is a built-in Windows application. Its easy to use and allows the user to connect to and work on a workstation at the office location. This makes for a relatively easy transition to the remote environment because it’s the same desktop used at the office. It does require a great deal of planning and configuration by IT staff.
- Remote Access Software: Essentially the same as a Remote Desktop, it is a little easier to configure and use. There are lots of solutions out there and your IT partner should be able to assist you with choosing the right one for you.
Technical Steps to Go Remote
When transitioning your office to remote work, the technical planning beforehand is the most crucial factor that will determine a successful and seamless transition. From a technical perspective, certain considerations have to be taken. Foremost among them is security. You will need to have a method of accessing your data reliably, easily and securely. The solution will need to be encrypted from end to end and accessible from any location with an internet connection.
Accessing your data
|Set up a Virtual Private Network||Set Up Remote Desktop Protocol||Set Up Remote Access Software|
|A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a software solution used with an internet connection to move data through an encrypted “tunnel” to and from your office’s network. Most VPNs authenticate your identity on your office network’s firewall before allowing it through. Even if your staff aren’t handling sensitive data, it is a best practice to have everyone sign into a VPN before going to work unless you are using one of the other methods. The VPN credentials and client need to be configured. Some edge devices like WatchGuard will have their own client for VPN access, others will accept VPN connections from multiple client/software packages.||The steps here are pretty much the same as for the VPN connection, only the configuration changes. In the case of RDP, your staff will be using a piece of software but instead of connecting to the edge device, they will be routed to their in-house desktop machines. This means that there will generally result on a smoother learning curve as the only new thing is the step where they connect to the workstation. Once they are there, everything is the same as always: mapped drives, network resources, printers… everything.||This is similar to RDP but easier for the remote user. The remote user will still have access to all of the network resources from their remote desktop. The real difference comes in the administrative piece. There is no edge device configuration / management for this solution, just an agent installed on the in-house workstation. Most RAS solutions have clients for PC, Mac, Android and iPhone making access from anywhere a simple proposition.|
Set Up a Business Continuity Disaster Recovery Plan
Does your company have a Business Continuity Disaster Recovery IBCDR) plan? If not, consider setting up at least a basic of one before taking your office remote.
Between ransomware attacks and network outages, you can ensure that your business can avoid lengthy downtime by taking a few simple steps.
- Make sure that your business has its data automatically backed up as often as possible, at least once per day both onsite and offsite. Please note, that was “and” not or. Offsite backups are crucial but they are not the first line of defense in recovering data as the restore time for a full recovery is lengthy.
- Make sure that all executive and in-house IT staff know what steps to take if your network is breached or goes down.
- Consider a failover internet connection. This is, ideally, an internet connection provided by a second ISP. This failover should be tested on a regular schedule, we recommend once per month at a minimum.
Patch Operating System and Cyber Security Software
Before taking your workforce remote, audit all computers, both remote and in-house to ensure that all antivirus and anti-malware are up to date. You will also want to make certain that all Windows security updates are applied to all machines.
Preparation is key to success. Training is a critical part of that preparation. This step will make sure that your staff has the best opportunity for success in the transition. Its critical to walk the staff through how they will access the resources in this new environment. You should provide a document so that the staff can refer to it when they have questions and there needs to be a support channel for them to reach out to when they have issues.
Conduct a Remote Test Run
Even with a tested solution, we strongly recommend a test run before moving the entire workforce offsite. Have a few tech-savvy employees work remotely from home to make sure that the solution works as planned and that there were no glitches in the process. Confirm the following:
- Can they log into the VPN, RDP or RAS using the credentials you provided?
- Are they able to use all of the applications they need?
- Is your network handling the new traffic? You need to be certain that your systems will not be overtaxed when the entire staff moves offsite. You may need to manage some Quality of Service (QOS) settings).
Preparing to pull the trigger
All the technical steps have been taken to ensure a smooth transition to remote work. You have tested and confirmed that everything works and will meet the needs of your staff. It’s time to pull the trigger and go live.
You need to answer some important questions about how you will make and manage the transition to remote work. Answering these questions ahead of time will ensure that employees understand all necessary protocol, easing the transition later on.
Still need help?
Gnosys Networks can assist companies in making this transition whether for the COVID-19 pandemic or a changing business model. We will help you design a smooth transition to remote work by working with companies like yours to map out customized strategic and technical solutions and then implement to ensure success. Feel free to contact me by phone at 352.870.2034 or you can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.