Every organization should know that its’ top priority is its employees. When an organization is faced with a financial or operational interruption, few come out unscathed, even those who have spent significant time and resources into developing robust continuity plans. Either employees are placed in risky situations, or organizations reduce operations, and in turn reduce employee compensation. For the employee, it can be a difficult situation, and they may even be willing to place themselves or others at risk to reduce the financial impact of not working. This leads to a significant ethical question: If one does not have to be placed in a risky situation, should they be? While this isn’t the place to tackle such a philosophical question it is generally accepted that, as long as it does not place others at risk, we as a society tend to respect the individual’s choice. Within your organization, you’re likely already familiar with this concept; many organizations permit employees to access their email using their personal smartphones to allow them to stay connected when they’re outside of the office.
The Capability Question
So, what happens when others are at risk, and without core staff, an organization would falter? In the past, this question could not easily be answered by all but the largest organizations. However, with rapid developments in the IT and technology fields, it’s easier and more economical than ever for your employees to perform their work as if they were in the office from anywhere with an internet connection. While the specific processes and capability will be dependent on the type of service you provide the “back office” of almost all organizations (developers, sales and marketing, customer service, and other administrative staff) are capable of not only working remotely, but doing so safely, and securely with minimal impact to production. This assurance that the organization continues behind the scenes can sometimes be enough to enable the rest of the organization to continue operations with minimal disruption.
The Security Question
If a workforce is capable of continuing operations outside of headquarters on paper, the organization must determine not only how that is put into practice, but also how it is done securely; one of the primary advantages to working from a central location is ensuring sensitive information stays secure. To determine how to enact a remote work initiative securely, you’ll need to first determine where your data is.
Secure information and critical applications on an on-prem server? No problem. VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) are more common and accessible than ever, there’s a good chance that your existing firewall already has this feature ready to be licensed and enabled. VPNs are a mature and well-established way of securing a connection between a device on the internet and a network. Much like a conference call a VPN allows someone to “dial-in” and still engage with others.
Cloud applications and services are also more common than ever, One of the major reasons organizations opt for Microsoft Office 365 is that it enables easy (and easy to secure) remote access to Email and files over the internet. Industry-leading Line of Business applications almost all have some form of cloud offering, Salesforce, Dynamics, Intuit, and Sage all offer secure options to access applications without the need for a VPN, often with the additional added cost and productivity benefits.
For individuals with laptops, application access may not even be an issue. Either the software they utilize is cloud-based (common with marketing and sales) or they utilize few internal systems, and rely solely on local tools and applications. The latter scenario often relies heavily on the ability to communicate, and not via the bird’s nest of email chains that develop, but face to face communication. All employees rely on this type of communication to a different extent that can’t always be achieved using a voice-only phone call.
The Communication Question
In a remote work environment, meeting and communication can be difficult. From face-to-face interactions to large scale group meetings, organizations have always taken a centralized or semi-centralized approach to discussion and interaction with the conference call ending up as the accepted solution, much to the chagrin of employees and managers everywhere.
Today, multiple platforms have emerged that provide an answer to remote communication and mesh with your existing systems without the reliance on many dedicated and complex communication systems. Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype for Business) is just one example of a robust platform that provides organizations with the ability to communicate on an unprecedented scale and is included in most Office 365 plans. Solutions like Teams provide more than simple Instant Messaging and also provide a platform for Voice and Video calls for large groups, screen sharing, file editing collaboration, and integrations into common applications and phone systems. While these benefits often increase collaboration within the office Teams and similar products shine in their ability to enable remote workforces the ability to collaborate with peers across vast distances efficiently and securely.
Answering the Questions
It’s very likely that your organization already has some or all of the tools needed to enable the most essential personnel to continue working remotely. While enabling/upgrading the VPN feature of your firewall and configuring your Office 365 environment for collaboration address many of the Technical, Logistical, and Security challenges caused by a remote workforce an organization’s digital transformation isn’t complete without appropriate governance and control. Organizations often have concerns about the productivity of remote employees, and there is a need for trust between Managers and Employees for success. This, however, is largely no different than the same amount of trust you already place in your employees to follow your acceptable use policy and be accountable for their actions and decisions in their role.
Telecommuting/Remote Working is a team effort but is not an insurmountable challenge. While Dataprise is a Technology organization it is also a Service organization and has relied heavily on many of the solutions and concepts described above for some time now because some of the most important work we do is done without ever setting foot at a client’s site. The same technologies that allow us to support organizations all over the nation have enabled our workforce to continue those operations almost anywhere they are connected.