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The New Normal: From On-Site Problems to Remote Solutions

By: Evan Rogers

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There are many challenges of working remotely. Flexibility and agility are more relevant to today’s business environment than ever, as organizations large and small are forced to adapt to the new realities brought on by an unprecedented global health crisis. Those which can quickly and efficiently evolve to meet these circumstances and develop favorable traits for survival – such as an effective remote workforce and the ability to generate revenue without foot traffic – will succeed, while those that either cannot or do not, risk irreparable loss. Fortunately, organizations will not face these circumstances alone. Dataprise, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) and Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP), is working around the clock to ensure that our customers’ technology remains a competitive advantage which helps them evolve effectively to meet this new challenge. Discover how Dataprise is overcoming the challenges of working remotely below:

Making the Transition, Quickly

At Dataprise, it’s no secret that our greatest strength has always been our people. So, our priority was to ensure the health, safety, and productivity of the employees who keep our business running and support our customers. We transitioned our entire staff to remote-only work in under a week, restricted access to our office locations to minimize contact, and took employee requests for additional tools and technologies that our staff needed to work efficiently from home (e.g., virtual private networks (VPN), headsets, monitors, etc.). Regular department and company-wide video conferences were also set up to ensure that everyone remained up-to-date on progress and goals. By transitioning rapidly to a remote workforce armed with the tools and information they need to remain successful working from home, we ensured that our team was well-equipped to remain focused and productive in support of our customers despite the shift in the work environment. As a result of this transition, we’ve effectively solved many of the challenges of working remotely.

Agility and Opportunity 

Adapting our organization for effective remote work was the first step, but we simultaneously began changing the way we support our customers as they underwent similar transformations. The new remote-first business environment has made effective, well-functioning technology an even more crucial factor in organizations’ success, and the first test of this technology was the initial transition as customer employees began working from home. Anticipating an increase in service requests as this transition took place, Dataprise immediately moved extra resources to our Technical Engineering Center (TEC) to help resolve customer support requests. Field engineers, PC Depot technicians, Service Delivery Managers, and other groups all pitched in on our service desk when not booked for customer engagements. We also began prioritizing service desk tickets to help customers work from home and maintain systems that provide remote access. As new tickets poured in, TEC leadership analyzed trends and shifted resource scheduling accordingly to meet the new demand. These changes allowed our team to maintain a high standard of customer service and efficiency despite a 40% increase in support requests.

From On-Site Problems to Remote Solutions

At this point, the biggest question on many of your minds might be, “what about my onsite Dataprise team member?” This was one of our first concerns too, and we are confident in the solution we have found. Understanding that many customers depend upon Dataprise field engineers for direct onsite support and technology guidance, our Managed Services team immediately set up conference lines for customers to contact their Dataprise team members directly for remote technical assistance during hours in which these team members would have spent onsite.

Each field engineer has been instructed to check in with each customer at the beginning of each engagement, leave an open direct line of communication with customer employees, and follow up at the end of each engagement to summarize progress and discuss outstanding items. All employees have also been instructed to include more detailed job reports to maximize transparency with the organizations we serve.

By maintaining open and proactive communication, our goal is to ensure that our staff continues to address the IT issues that are most impactful to each organization. As of this week, we have also begun piloting the first video Network Consultant conferences, which will allow our IT experts to interface with customer employees face-to-face. Expect to hear more about this virtual support option within the next few weeks as we roll it out across all of our accounts.

Other Dataprise teams have retained their capacity to deliver on customer needs without making significant changes to existing processes. The Dataprise Onboarding team, for example, has always been fully equipped to onboard new customers remotely if needed and continues to work diligently to transition these customers to full Dataprise service. Similarly, our Cyber team continues to monitor and protect customer endpoints, applications, and network infrastructure remotely, identifying and preventing malicious attackers who seek to take advantage of the work-from-home chaos.

This team has seen a significant increase in phishing and vishing attacks, which we help prevent by providing anti-spam and email filtering services, phishing campaigns, and end-user awareness training. At this time, the most crucial steps organizations can take to secure their data are to ensure employees use VPNs to access corporate networks and implement mobile device management (MDM) policies for employees using personal devices.

Three Important Questions to Answer

  1. 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 business resiliency and 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.

  1. 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 workforce initiative securely, you’ll need to first determine where your data is.

Secure information and critical applications on an on-prem server? No problem. VPNs (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 through 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. There are many ways to keep your employees secure through hybrid and remote workforce cybersecurity.

  1. The Communication Question

In a remote workforce 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 and build business resiliency. 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.

Maintaining the Competitive Advantage While Working Remotely

Today’s businesses must act much faster, but the change we are being asked to make is the same: a fundamental shift in the way we operate which will allow us to sustain ourselves in new ways and survive in unprecedented circumstances. As your IT partner, that is what Dataprise is here to do – ensure that your technology adapts with your needs and provides a competitive advantage to keep your business successful. The future is uncertain, but we are strongest together.

How CIOs Should Manage Remote Employees

Remote work has been largely hailed as a breakthrough success of the pandemic, offering concrete proof that people don’t have to suffer through protracted commutes or rigid hours to be effective in their jobs. Yet managing the hiccups during a global crisis as a CIO is ultimately very different than doing it day in and day out. Here’s our take on how CIOs can effectively manage remote employees.

1. Consider Your Communication Style

No matter what your company is trying to accomplish, communication can be a minefield. Erring on the side of ‘too much’ may seem smart, until you realize that all of it is falling on deaf ears. Then again, too little, and you’ll end up ruffling feathers on both sides of the aisle.

When it comes to how to manage remote employees, set expectations early and often — and then do what you can not to shift them unless absolutely necessary. When people should start their jobs, who they should be talking with, and where they should go for real-time updates about their projects; these standards are non-negotiable for all employees, but especially for those who don’t have the benefit of leaning over to the person in the next cubicle.

2. Set an Example

You’re the one that people are looking to, whether they realize it or not. Think about how you want your employees to behave while they’re working remotely. For instance, do you expect them to take regular lunch breaks at the same time, or would you rather give people the flexibility they need should inspiration strike? Do you want your employees to act more like friends or more like formal colleagues?

Your employees are going to interpret remote work in their own way and listening to their critiques and suggestions is important. However, what you do cues them into what you value, which they no doubt will consider on the job.

3. Technical Aspects

Your VPN, cybersecurity, and communication platforms are all directly tied to how well your employees engage with each other during the day. For as much as technology has improved over the past few years, the truth is that there are plenty of technical difficulties still left to be found in the world especially when you have to manage remote employees.

Whether you’re working with people who have poor wi-fi connections, or you haven’t been as proactive about all those software updates you should be making, managing employees means finding creative solutions to any technical gaps you may have noticed.

Ask these questions to ensure best practices in a remote work strategy:

  • How scalable is the network? Can it support new usage patterns and applications?
  • How secure are mobile connections? How protected is sensitive info outside of the office?
  • Is network performance being consistently monitored to ensure control and usability?
  • Are end-users being supported, particularly if there’s a huge spike in demand?

4. Legal and Compliance Measures

Do you know if you’re liable for an employee injuring themselves while working remotely? Working from home is not necessarily that different from working in an office when it comes to legality. Consider that if an employee hears the phone ring while they’re upstairs and then trips on the way downstairs to answer it, this may very well be deemed a workplace accident. Managing remote employees means taking an active interest in how they’re reacting to the daily demands they’re facing.

In IT Together

We know times are tough.  If your organization needs guidance to adjust to remote teleworking, we are here to help you address the challenges of working remotely! Our Remote Workforce Resource Hub provides information and resources to help you strengthen and support your remote workforce. Alternatively, you can schedule a free IT advisory session with our team of technology experts via our new “In IT Together” program.

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