The current situation with the coronavirus has closed schools, canceled major events, and forced many organizations to move to work-from-home policies. While the trend towards flexible working options has increased in recent years, few companies are ready to have everyone working from home right away. IT departments have had to respond quickly to enable as much remote work as possible. Here are five things for IT leaders to consider in their crisis response.
A massive shift to remote work gives hackers new opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities. If employees use their personal devices at home, that increases the chances of malware and computer viruses spreading to company platforms. An informal home environment may also mean workers are more likely to mix work apps and email with personal email and social media. That makes them even more vulnerable to clicking on a bad link or phishing attempts.
● Reinforce employee security training
● Make sure antivirus and anti-malware updates at least daily
● Use identity management and two-factor authentication technology
● Have employees use work devices over personal devices whenever possible if you don't have an established Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy
2) Infrastructure Overload
While some organizations are fully remote, most only allow it some of the time or for smaller teams. Some 400 million users and businesses worldwide rely on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to encrypt data and scan devices for malware to block hacking attempts through remote users. But most VPNs have not been tested for the potential loads of having an entire company working from home, which can lead to slowdowns, or users experiencing complete connectivity failures and crashes.
Employees working from home for the first time will need education on how to use a VPN as well as when it's appropriate. For some, other tools like Office 365 may give them access to what they need without necessarily consuming VPN resources.
● Do as much testing as possible of VPN and other remote working tools to determine if they're up to the challenge before implementing a full organization-wide work from home strategy
● Prioritize mission-critical roles and make sure they have the access they need
● Upgrade network capabilities where possible
3) The Cloud
One way around potential VPN bottlenecks is to put data and apps in the cloud where they can be securely accessed from anywhere by remote workers. Many organizations are already using cloud-based collaboration tools like Microsoft Office365 or Google G Suite. In O365, Office applications like Word and Excel run in the cloud, and documents are stored in OneDrive. Such solutions are not going to work for everyone. Some organizations rely on apps and data that cannot be run in the cloud for various reasons, but any that can reduce the stress on VPN systems.
● Access which cloud-based solutions can be adopted quickly
● Evaluate which apps and data are not moveable
● Look at possible virtual desktop solutions which can provide better security when employees use personal devices while also leveraging the scalability of the cloud
● Strategize around plans for moving apps and data to the cloud if the crisis drags on
4) Landline Phone Calls
Many companies have implemented virtual/IP phone systems—or moved to rely solely on mobile phones—but landlines still remain.
Workers who are not sitting at their desks are not going to be answering phone calls, which will severely impact business operations. IT departments will likely be called on to devise forwarding solutions so employees can continue to do business on their mobile devices.
● Evaluate the forwarding tools available in VoIP systems
● Organize a comprehensive database of which landline numbers need to roll over to which mobile devices
● Look at soft phone apps that can be used on PCs and laptops
Fully remote organizations know the value of videoconferencing tools like WebEx and Skype, as they allow workers to see and interact with each other just like they're in a physical office. When combined with instant messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, remote work can even be more productive. The longer the coronavirus crisis lasts, the pressure on IT teams to provide videoconferencing solutions will increase.
● Make sure users are video enabled. It makes a difference
● If you don't use these tools today, now is the time, many solution providers are offering compelling introductions during the health crisis
View This as Potential Culture Change
As serious as recent events are, they provide an opportunity for organizations to test work-from-home strategies to see what works, what doesn't, and land on the best policies for the future. After all, flexible work policies can be a significant competitive advantage that allows organizations to hire the best and brightest wherever they are, increase productivity, and lower costs associated with physical office space.
As companies define what the future of work looks like for them, this is an opportunity to create compelling new digital workplaces for faster and more effective organizations that drive better business outcomes.