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Staying Protected & Productive During COVID-19

Paul Hager
04/09/2020
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Companies in every industry are facing a tough question: how do I enable my business to keep functioning in a world where the majority of the workforce needs to work from home? COVID-19 has everyone feeling stressed and uncertain.

Let me show you how to channel all that concern into actions that can protect yourself and those around you.

Opportunity for Improvement

Treat this situation like a disaster recovery exercise. It’s a chance to develop written policies and plans for remote work such as:

  • Computer hardware
  • Phone calls
  • Remote access
  • Security/privacy
  • Work from home agreements
  • Collaboration
  • Sales

What’s Your PC Plan?

How will you equip your employees to work at home? You have a few different options to consider. Let’s look at their pros and cons.

Laptop Pool

Plan for 25-40% of your staff needing to work remotely when deciding how many laptops to purchase. Create a pool of devices. Prep them and build a process for loaning them out.

Pros: Cheaper than purchasing all new devices for the entire workforce.

Cons: If your entire office needs to close, you may not have enough laptops.

New Devices

Take this opportunity to move from desktops to laptops.

Pros: Modernizes your workforce and makes them more mobile.

Cons: Laptops have shorter lifespans. They may need docking stations and other peripherals that add to cost. Some workloads are expensive on laptops (CAD, etc.). Also, you might buy more devices than you truly need.

Take Your PC Home

Let your employees take their work computers home. While this doesn’t cost more in hardware, it adds some complexity to the picture.

Pros: No new direct hardware costs.

Cons: Will your staff know how to setup their work PCs at home? Will their PCs work without contact with the domain? Will the devices be protected? How do you handle the policy side of all those expensive devices moving from work to home and back?

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device

Simply let your staff use their home computers for work.

Pros: No new direct hardware costs.

Cons: Should IT control these devices? What about anti-virus and security? How does IT help support these devices? You may also run into data or compliance concerns.

Voice Considerations

Think about how you’ll make individual and conference calls with everyone working remotely.

Does your phone system travel? If not, will you let employees use their personal cell phones? Are those phones already covered by a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution?

You can also consider a temporary cloud voice solution like Office 365 Teams Voice – a tool that can be spun up and down in a day.

Remote Access Tools

Your employees have computers and can make phone calls now, but how do they connect to the corporate network?

Virtual Desktops

  • Isolated resources for each user
  • Usually very compatible as they run Windows 10
  • Typically VMware/Citrix/Microsoft technologies
  • Requires licenses for the operating system and either high-performance hardware onsite or use of a cloud service
  • A 1-to-1 solution, meaning you need one virtual desktop for each individual user

Remote Desktop Services

  • Shared environment with no resource isolation
  • Can be highly available and scales well for small and large organizations (15-50 users per RDS server)
  • Delivers very consistent end user experiences at scale
  • Can have issues with remote video viewing and audio passthrough
  • Is an add-on license to an existing Windows server priced per user

VPN

  • Connects the end user device to the corporate network directly
  • Because it uses an internet connection instead of a local connection, some applications will not perform well in this setup and some large file browsing can be slow
  • Your firewall likely already supports it
  • May only need to increase your VPN user licenses on the firewall
  • Supports BYOD and mobile device policies

A Note on Security

Don’t let security go out the door. If you let your network become the Wild West where anything goes, you’ll end up with a lot of Shadow IT and be vulnerable to all sorts of cyberattacks.

It’s important to empower your employees to be cyber safe. You also need to maintain the security of your customer information and ensure you’re meeting any relevant regulatory requirements.

Now might be a good time to look at deploying a managed, cloud-based security platform.

Remote Work Policies

There’s an HR component to IT. Make sure you have signed remote work agreements from any remote employees. If you don’t have a remote work agreement, we can provide sample agreements that you can review with your HR office and your business attorney.

Collaboration

If you already have Office 365, you can easily leverage Microsoft Teams for video calls, chat, and file sharing. Teams is also great for staying in touch with clients and vendors because both sides don't have to have licensing for Teams calls to work. As long as your business has Teams licensing, you can invite guests from outside the organization to participate (providing they have a webcam and speakers).

Don't lose the nuances of face-to-face conversations because you think you'll look funny on a video call. Take advantage of the great video conferencing tools out there today to keep in touch with your key contacts.

Help Your Sales Team Shift to Virtual Calls

Stay in front of your customers by encouraging your sales team to offer more video calls. Have them ask their customers and prospects if they’d be ok with a video call versus just a phone call. Going the extra mile to make face-to-face contact shows your customers you care about them.

Ensure your sales team is equipped with the camera and speakers they need for good quality video calls. You can also offer user training on your company’s preferred video conferencing tool so your sales folks feel more confident and comfortable using it.

One Last Thing

COVID-19 has challenged all of us to move our IT use forward more than ever. We’re using more virtual technology and becoming more efficient. During this time of remote work, remember to use good managerial tactics and increase the communication with your employees. At the end of the day, focus on doing reasonable and prudent things that enable your employees to keep working and you’ll be fine.

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