Is your business prepared for a pandemic? Find out how to keep your business productive and your team connected and learn about cybersecurity offerings for remote teams.
What can you do to help your employees work remotely until the COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease) pandemic is over? Traditionally, the option of having the flexibility to work from home helps employees create better work-life balance. When the coronovirus pandemic led to mandatory, wide-spread stay-at-home orders, employees working from home became critical for businesses to keep their doors open. Routine operations continue remotely when employees can work offsite. We’ve summarized some of the highlights for effectively working from home in this handout:
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Here are more details about how to get a sound system in place for your employees to work from home effectively.
1. Your Business Backend Requirements
Before an employee can work from home, they need to be able to securely connect to the files and software used by their organization.
Connection Method #1: VPN
The first way of securing connecting to files is to connect directly to the organization’s systems via a firewall-based remote access virtual private network (RA-VPN). A VPN allows remote users to transfer data via the internet into a private network as if their machine was directly connected within the office. Meanwhile, the firewall adds security and restricts access to the company network. Your IT provider will determine what size is needed to support the number of remote users.
Here are the two categories of VPNs:
- Software-based: A virtual, software-based VPN is sufficient for employees who have light remote usage and data transfer needs.
- Hardware-based: A physical VPN connection creates a fast, reliable connection. It is preferred for employees who are permanently off-site any/or transfer a lot of data. Also, a work phone can be plugged directly into a physical VPN connection.
In either case, your MSP can guide what kind of technical setup you need. They analyze your workload to understand what kind of bandwidth will be required to provide the performance you expect.
Connection Method #2: Cloud-based Applications
The second way organizations provide access to remote employees is by utilizing cloud-based applications. Many enterprise resource planning (ERP), primary business applications (PBAs), and communication tools (like email) have enterprise-level applications equivalents in the cloud. Cloud applications allow employees to securely connect and collaborate with their colleagues. Connection occurs no matter where they are in the world, as long as they have a reliable internet connection. Location flexibility is one of the primary reasons why utilizing the cloud is such a benefit for many businesses. Whether it’s software or migrating from on-site servers to cloud servers, using the cloud is effective for WFH setups.
2. Home Office IT Needs
Laptops Are a Must
The minimum tech setup required for working remotely is a portable device, aka a laptop. There are plenty of laptop options available today that cover the computing needs of most jobs. The benefit of having a laptop is that the employee can work wherever there is a reliable internet connection. Work can happen at home with a traditional internet router setup, or on the road with a portable hotspot.
Typical Office Devices at Home
Remote workers with a permanent home office often mimic a complete cubicle setup, with a laptop docking station, monitors, and even a desk phone. We also recommend adding a decent webcam and headset into the WFH setup. This way, your off-site employees can have effective online video conferences with your team.
3. Remote Worker Security
Cybersecurity while working from home
Cyber crime is everywhere, so know these cybersecurity tips for work-from-home employees. Some tips are technology and system related, like having a secure internet connection Others are health and wellness related, such as keeping your personal work and your job-related work separate. For even more tips check out SANS Security Awareness Work-from-Home Deployment Kit.
Physical Security at Home
Some business facilities utilize key-card access, entry control systems, and additional private locked offices for HR or accounting staff. Consider the type of work your employee is doing and provide her with the appropriate security setup at home. For instance, use a physical lock and key for the room where you store business devices. Lock filing cabinets with printed materials, and use secure storage systems for equipment. Encrypt device hard drives and protect access to networks with multifactor authentication (MFA). Implement best-practices, like geofencing, if it makes sense for your organization.
Equipment Security while Traveling
When traveling, always keep your device on hand or within arms reach. If traveling on an airplane or vehicle, always carry on vital equipment whenever possible. Keep all necessary cords with you to reduce the possibility of damage or theft.
4. The Work From Home (WFH) Workspace
Let’s face it — the real challenge with working remotely is not technology. The real challenge of working at home is constructing an effective working environment. Office space environments are designed for collaboration, productivity, and teamwork. Now that employees are out of your office environment, what kind of environment do they need at home or at their remote site to continue being productive workers?
First and foremost, the remote workspace needs access to an isolated environment that encourages productivity. The type of isolation depends on a person’s personality and preference. While Jane might enjoy a silent home-office setup devoid of interruptions, John might concentrate better working near people with the white noise of conversation in the background. Figure out what works well for your employees and suggest they try a few different environments to find what optimizes their productivity.
Separate Work & Home Life
For those who do set up a permanent office at home, setting up a working schedule and space that ensures a clear separation between work-life and home-life is critical. First, establish habits that minimize the need to go places that might cause distractions during the time you have identified for office work. Then, set clear boundaries to prevent office-related activities from crossing over into personal time. Finally, educate the rest of your team about your schedule and turn off notifications if your job requires intense concentration. That way, your team doesn’t expect you to respond during your pre-scheduled blocks of concentration time.
Is your home workspace too distracting?
Next, give some thought to designing your space to be comfortable during a typical 8-hour workday. Purchase an ergonomic chair, make sure there is decent lighting in the room where you work, and set up a temperature-controlled environment with appropriate ventilation.
5. Prioritize Facetime
The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” is an excellent starting point for any discussion about the importance of facetime for remote workers. We have one team member who works 100% remotely from his home office in Indiana and says “facetime helps you not get forgotten about.”
Behavioral studies show that increased proximity to other people boosts response rates. Humans naturally communicate with a combination of spoken language and body language. When a conversation is held primarily via text-based chats or emails, misunderstandings increase.
Video Collaboration Tools
Enter video collaboration tools, an excellent resource to put facetime back into the communication equation. Popular tools include Cisco Webex Teams, Microsoft Teams (through Microsoft’s O365 platform), Zoom, and Slack, to name just a few. During the current coronavirus pandemic, many companies are also offering short-term solutions for video conferencing to connect people who have been asked to isolate themselves to avoid contraction.
Video collaboration tools help people feel more connected to their co-workers and less isolated in the remote environment. Social connection is especially important for the social extroverts out there that prefer working close to other people.
6. Shift Your Communication Culture
If you are communicating using different tools, by definition, your communication style needs to change to maximize your effectiveness. Here’s what we’ve discovered works the best for our team.
- Instant messaging: Accessed through a desktop or phone app via a platform like Cisco Webex Teams, instant messaging/chat is best to quickly connect to see if people are available, get fast responses, and to send images or pictures to describe a situation. The other benefit of chat is many programs show if the recipient has read the message.
- Email: Email communication is preferable when contacting multiple people. It’s also effective if you have a long subject, you need to send a message to people outside of your organization, or you need to keep a record of a conversation chain.
- Voice: Voice is preferable for more complex conversations that require immediate back-and-forth conversation or collaboration.
- Video Conferencing: Video conferencing allows participants to gain valuable facetime during their remote discussions and is an adequate substitute for face-to-face meetings.
Are you tired of too many emails? Fun fact: centrexIT implemented chat and reduced email traffic by 80%.
We have many technicians who travel to different clients daily. One of the most significant shifts we made when increasing collaboration with remote employees was to set up a consistent cadence about when the entire company met.
How often do we meet as an entire company?
Every day. We meet every day at 8:00 am, sharp, to discuss updates or developments from the day before. This enables us to immediately set priorities across all departments.
For more tips on shifting your communications culture, take a look at how HackerOne approaches keeping over half a million remote workers on track and productive. GitLab also has an excellent Remote Manifesto that has some great tips on how to integrate remote work as part of the long-term version for your workforce.
Effectively working from home is a combination of having equipment that can provide the required functional performance, as well as having the collaboration tools necessary to collaborate with other team members remotely.