With the outbreak of COVID-19, we are increasingly having conversations with our clients about working from home, so we thought it timely that we share some of our recommendations to help us all get through the next few months with as little disruption to business as usual as possible. While every business is different, here are just a few of our suggestions to help enable more flexible work places.
1. Make effective communication your top priority
This is more of a leadership issue than technical, but it is extremely important for your staff to know what is expected of them. Create a detailed list of what you expect from each team member working from home. List the activities required to do their job well, then have a discussion to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Once these are in place, use the collaboration tools mentioned below to keep things running.
2. Ensure that your team are ‘work from home’ ready
It is very easy to assume that everyone has fast internet and a quiet place to work uninterrupted. Not everyone has NBN just yet, and ADSL might not be good enough to collaborate on large files, so the tools and way we interact as a team needs to be considered. Home environments are also an issue. It might be the case their partner is at work and children are at school and they can work quietly and effectively from their apartment, but circumstances can change rapidly.
Is providing your staff member a laptop and using 4G a consideration? Do they need a second monitor, or an IP voice handset, or even a mobile phone? The way we managed this internally was to set up a shared spreadsheet, and asked everyone to update their individual situation to finalise the logistics of what each team member needs to enable them to work from home effectively.
3. Choose and implement the right communication & collaboration tools
Having a quick chat to the person in the cubicle, or quick team meeting is now going to have some challenges. Fortunately, there are already a number of collaboration tools to choose from. Email is great, but online chat, and video conferencing tools will help even more. Many vendors are also assisting by offering free access for the next few months. Some tools to consider include:
- Cisco WebEx free version with toll-free call-in options for 90 days.
- Google Hangouts
- LogMeIn Emergency Remote Work Kits free for three months.
- Microsoft Teams is free for six months.
- Zoom free version.
4. Think about how you will share files
Once we solve the team communication problem, the next challenge is how do we access our documents and file shares. Unless you already have a Remote Desktop or Citrix environment, this will pose some unique challenges. But there are options:
Option 1: Configure a dial-in VPN to the office and get your IT support team to map a network drive from your file server.
With this option, your remote workers will see their G: drive (or whatever letter you choose) from their home PC just like they would in the office. Only downside is that accessing large files can be slow, and is contingent on the internet speeds at the end users’ home, and more importantly at your office. If your office still runs on ADSL, this is probably not a viable option. Security is also a concern with this option as although the VPN ensures data transmission from home to office is secure, you cannot always guarantee that a user’s home PC is not infected with any number of malware or even worse – ransomware – that could easily impact the server data over the VPN. A robust business-grade anti-virus/anti-malware installed on home user’s PC is essential in this scenario.
Option 2: Use a cloud-based file sharing platform
Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business can help. They will keep a copy of your work files in the cloud and both Google Drive and SharePoint Online allow simultaneous user collaboration of files. Microsoft Teams also allows this (since it is built on SharePoint Online). If these tools are not already in place, have a chat to your IT team about getting it set up correctly to avoid problems in the future, especially when it comes to who has access to what files, as by default everyone will typically have access unless the structure is configured correctly from the start with specific permissions.
Option 3: Take a copy of the files and try to reconcile later
Our least preferred option would be to copy a batch of files to a USB drive and take them home. Obviously, this has major security implications if the company data is lost or intercepted, as well as the problem of merging back the changes at a later date (which would be an extremely time-consuming process). This should only ever be considered as a last resort, and not recommended.
With any of these options it is also important to consider how you will continue to back up company data once it has been dispersed outside of the normal server infrastructure to either a cloud-based platform, home PCs or a combination thereof. With cloud-based platforms like SharePoint Online and OneDrive, products like Datto SaaS are perfect for ensuring back ups continue no matter how many staff the company data is shared with. If the data is being stored directly on home PCs this becomes more difficult (but not impossible) however company data stored in this way is not recommended.
5. Think about how you access applications
Once we have access to the raw data, we need some software both for the documents and your unique line of business applications. For Microsoft Office documents, customers with Office 365 Business Premium or E3 may be entitled to download and install an instance on their home computer. Otherwise licensing might be a problem. Talk to your IT team about your options.
For your business applications, generally you won’t be licensed to run them from home and you probably have a server in your office where the database resides. So your options are: Use or create a Remote Desktop Server, or potentially remote control your office PC. There are a number of ways to implement this, with varying security considerations, so it is best to talk to your IT team about what the best option with the least risk is for you.
6. Think about your processes
Some roles are more suited to remote work than others so we might need to adapt the way we manage and allocate work. Line managers may need to have daily morning huddles with their team and potentially break work down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Goals and tasks might need to be tracked in a shared spreadsheet or an online tool like Asana. If you don’t have scorecards for your team now is the time to implement them.
With a bit of planning businesses should be able to get through the next few months without too much of an impact on productivity from your remote teams working from home. Keeping in mind government and health official advice changes daily and no one really knows how prolonged this crisis will be. However once this crisis is over the way we work may be changed forever. If you have any questions about the suggestions in this article please reach out to us. As always, at Greenlight we are here to help.