As the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak disrupts our daily routines, many organizations are scrambling to provide methods for their employees to work from home. If you are examining methods to allow worker productivity while also encouraging social distancing during this pandemic, here are a few suggestions.
(Note: we are not medical professionals and are leaving any of those updates to the proper channels.)
Mirazon’s team of IT professionals has years of experience helping our customers support workers who telecommute and we work remotely on a regular basis ourselves. We hope the following tips help you and your staff maintain a high level of productivity and security when working from home.
Enabling Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
The VPN has been a popular way for everyone from executives on down a company’s organizational chart to securely access corporate applications and files from anywhere with an internet connection.
Most corporate firewalls allow both IPsec VPN or SSL VPNs.
With either option, there are security risks, since employees may be using their personal device to reach the company’s digital environment and protected data. Personal devices present a risk as they may not have proper anti-virus and security patches. To address this, you can implement Network Access Control (NAC) to help protect your environment from any personal machine that may not match your compliance requirements and block them from joining.
VPN access is typically controlled with Active Directory authentication with RADIUS or LDAP integration, so you can control who can use a VPN into the corporate network.
Remote Desktop Server (RDS) or Windows Terminal Server
If your environment is set up with an RDS Server, using Windows Server 2008 or newer, you can utilize RDS to allow your employees to access a shared Remote Desktop Server with your corporate applications installed. RDS can also be configured to all remote users to access their own desktop PC. A Remote Desktop Server can be set up quickly, especially if you have a virtual environment that allows you to spin up a server without purchasing additional hardware.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
If your environment is not set up for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure already, chances are this is not the right solution for your company to help in the short term. VDI can take quite a bit of effort and expense to implement. However, VDI allows you to centralize everyone’s desktop on your main virtual infrastructure and each user logs in and connects remotely to access their virtual desktop PC (similarly to RDS). VDI requires robust hardware to pull off, but when done correctly can truly revolutionize collaboration and flexibility in end points. There are some licensing requirements to take under consideration when setting up virtual machines.
Supporting Remote Workers/Help Desk
There are several software programs that allow your IT staff to remote in and control the workstations that your workers are using within the office or at home. Test to make sure that IT can successfully connect and control each workstation and schedule time to make sure that the connection also works when your employees are at home. This will go a long way if someone has an issue and needs help while working from home.
If your company does not have a software in place that allows your IT staff to connect to a workstation remotely, we can help you find one that fits your needs and budget.
This is a great opportunity for you and your staff to utilize centralized collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams. (If you use Office 365 you already may be licensed for basic use of Teams.) Your organization might have another piece of software that it prefers such as WebEx, Slack or Zoom. Many collaboration tools today can provide video conferencing, document repository and collaboration, instant messaging, and more.
Whichever tools you use, this is a great way for workers to stay connected when they work remotely. This will have lasting benefits in the future as well should a weather emergency occur or other reasons why employees can’t make it into the office.
Do you have a phone system that offers you the flexibility to take calls remotely via softphones, smartphone apps or call forwarding? Evaluate what featuresets will help you empower your staff to use their company phone while being remote. Many cloud-hosted phone systems allow users to connect wherever they are.
COVID-19 has caused many companies to restrict business-related travel and are beginning to encourage remote work or revise their sick policies. (Microsoft explains their experience very clearly in this blog.) We have seen companies encouraging employees to find alternative methods for holding client meetings, like through video conferencing. Schools are more heavily utilizing eLearning software to allow students to continue their education during any school closures.
But what if you are a company that doesn’t have a policy in place already or a staff that does not work remotely? We suggest you begin to implement a remote work policy to accommodate for times like this and to consult an HR professional about how to design these and cascade out the messaging to your staff.
We also urge you to consider your acceptable use policies for your employees’ devices and your reimbursement policies for home internet or personal cell phone use.
- With any of these options, it is advisable to distribute handouts detailing the “How To” on connecting in from home and simple troubleshooting tips to ease the burden on our helpdesk.
- Make sure that your IT staff email addresses and phone numbers are included as well as an organizational chart of who reports to whom whenever a problem arises.
- Test connections from their homes to overcome any obstacles.
- Go over any remote work policy you may have.