While work from home became the new norm for the global workforce due to the risks associated with Covid19, several teams and companies struggled with productivity due to poor network connectivity issues. Stable connectivity is essential to ensure long term remote work success and to support the need of better collaboration among employees. Bill Strain, Director at iomart discusses a few tips in this chat with TecHRseries.
What provisions have businesses had to make in order to operate remotely?
When Covid-19 struck, everyone scrambled about putting emergency solutions in place. The priority was business survival. Companies had to ensure everyone they needed to work from home had a laptop or workstation and that they could access the systems, telephony and communications that would allow them to do their job.
The amazing thing is most businesses succeeded, usually by extending solutions they were already familiar with. Many businesses provided access to their documents and systems by extending secure Virtual Private Networks to home workers giving them easy access to centrally stored information. Other businesses extended the use of Virtual Desktops, which gives home users access to their standard desktop and applications from laptops and devices without the need for specific secure connections.
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Some companies also moved their business applications away from their central systems to Software as a Service solutions that could be accessed securely over the internet. Everyone got used to working with Teams and Zoom.
How has remote working evolved during the pandemic?
Now that we are over the initial phase of the crisis, most organizations are now taking stock. Some will be thinking about returning people to work and will be trying to work out how their office premises and business processes can be adapted to work effectively with the continuing restrictions. What is certainly the case is that for most organizations – whether they like it or not – home working will be a large component of their normal day-to-day business operations for the foreseeable future.
Homeworkers are now effectively micro branch offices and really need to be treated as such. In the scramble to deal with the initial phase of the crisis, many solutions have been put in place that, although they addressed the immediate pain point, are not necessarily appropriate for the new business structure. Many are just extensions of systems and practices that were already dated before the Covid-19 crisis and were in need of change. These older solutions have just been stretched out to the home, making each home an integral part of the organisation’s infrastructure.
What are the logistical challenges behind a shift to remote working?
This is a challenge in a number of ways – firstly security. We all know that every organisation is a potential target for organised criminals who are targeting systems and networks with the intention to either steal data or disable systems. This is to either sell or exploit the data, or to hold the victim organisation to ransom. This was a huge problem before Covid-19 but is a bigger problem now. Homeworking means that corporate networks are now connected to home networks, and often the only thing that is preventing a criminal from exploiting the situation is the anti-virus software on the user’s laptop. Once the home user’s network or device is compromised, the criminals are on the corporate network.
Another key challenge is ensuring that home users have systems that work as effectively in their house as they do in the office. Often the challenge here is that we are expecting software that was designed to run on a corporate network to perform in the same way over a home broadband connection. It’s hard to guarantee performance when you’re contending with the rest of the family gaming and streaming in the home, not to mention sharing connectivity with the neighbours.
How should businesses pivot to accommodate long-term remote working?
The first thing we need to do is accept that home workers are now a part of the normal business mix and re-engineer our IT infrastructure to deliver security and performance. From a security perspective, we need to reduce the number of opportunities we provide for criminals to attack. We also need to make sure that those vulnerable systems are monitored 24/7 by a security service. From a performance perspective, we need to ensure that business solutions will run effectively over the type of connectivity a homeworker typically has access to.
Examples of technologies that can help in these areas are:
These allow you to deliver a standard desktop experience to your users. These desktops can be centrally managed by your IT department, ensuring that your home workers are always using the latest most secure version of your company software. They can be given remote, secure access to company resources and can also be given controlled access to Cloud applications such as Office 365. As the user is only interacting remotely, the bandwidth requirements are greatly reduced. The fact that the service is being delivered from a central service means that security resources can be concentrated on making the service as secure as possible.
This allows users to access data safely regardless of their physical location. It also allows users to easily share files with colleagues or third parties. The data is held centrally and the users access it after they have been securely authenticated, as if they were local files. This type of solution can massively reduce the need for Virtual Private Networks and again gives a central service where security resources can be concentrated.
An SD-WAN or Software Defined Wide Area Network solution can both increase the security of the home worker and greatly improve the working experience. It allows the home connectivity environment to be managed as if it was part of the corporate network. This allows your business to decide what route communications should take and apply priorities to applications. For example, to access Cloud services the most effective route may be to go straight to the internet and for central systems to go over a Virtual Private Network. SD-WAN can also, if required, change the route if there is a communications issue. This can all be set up so it is transparent to the user and all they experience is more consistent performance.
A security service is essential, whether provided by your IT team or through a third party Managed Security Service. That’s because the security threat has been growing and Covid-19 has just made it easier for the cyber criminals. The service should firstly advise you on how to reduce the opportunities for attack. It should also provide the following features as a minimum; monitoring of resources to detect suspicious access from insiders or external parties, monitoring of external traffic to detect attempts to compromise systems, and scanning of your systems internally to ensure all vulnerabilities can be mitigated. It should also scan all external IP addresses to ensure no vulnerabilities are exposed to the internet. It is vital that any security service operates 24/7, as criminals don’t work 9-5.
Obviously, these technologies don’t address every issue, but moving to solutions and technologies that can deliver standard services to users regardless of their location or device is vital. Doing so significantly reduces the opportunity for security breaches and, when combined with guaranteed system performance, is what successful businesses in 2021 will be doing.
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