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By: Ben Kohn on March 13th, 2020

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How to Enable a Remote Workforce on the Fly

IT | Managed IT Services | Managed IT Chicago | Work From Home | WFH

As of March 10th, Framework IT has enacted a remote work policy for our staff. This is in response to the direct threat posed by the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the United States. Many of our customers and friends have encouraged their teams to stay home as a preventative measure to combat the spread of this virus.

As an IT Service Provider, we are in a unique position to discuss how we have used technology to streamline the transition from in-office to in-home. We understand that this is an unprecedented crisis in the information era, and many of you reading this may be wondering how to enact these policies in a pinch. Employing a work from home policy will help to control the spread of this virus to our most vulnerable friends, family, and community members.

When preparing your team ready to work remotely, we generally focus on three primary areas:

  1. Process
  2. Collaboration
  3. Security

As always, these are not meant to be comprehensive recommendations, but general guidelines you may look to follow.

Business Processes for Remote Workforces

This has become a large area of emphasis for software and hardware vendors globally. We understand that no matter your industry, business processes are becoming increasingly digitized. To make such processes useful to employees outside of your primary offices, you need to make the software or infrastructures that house them are available outside of your local network.

One way to do this is to utilize Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, hosted in cloud environments. Many SaaS providers make their products available via web browsers, meaning anyone with a computer and an internet connection can get into their CRM, Accounting Software or ERP.

If you are not currently utilizing SaaS in your business processes, you will want to enable remote access to the environments in which your workflows live. Those hosting their applications internally will need to reconfigure their networks to allow for VPN or other access. This requires specific, though not entirely difficult network configurations that an IT service provider or internal network leader should be able to enact. As a general rule, we recommend migrating all applications outside of customer premises as quickly as feasible. If your architecture looks like this currently, you will want a vendor to help you ensure access is available and usable for all of your teams going home to continue working.

 

Keep Lines of Collaboration Open

Framework prefers to keep its teams in our office during normal business hours to foster a collaborative team environment. Often, our people solve problems or evaluate opportunities most quickly by just turning to the team members near them. In an event such as the spread of COVID-19, we don’t have that luxury.

What you will want to do is mimic that working environment through the use of collaboration software. For us, that means taking home the handsets to our hosted unified communications platform and leaning heavily on the chat or video functions within Microsoft Teams. For your business, this may mean a combination of these tools, additional inter-office chat functionality like Slack or Google Hangouts, or just the good old fashioned phone tree.

Being able to communicate with one another effectively is as much organizational as it is technological, but technology can certainly help. If you are not currently utilizing an inter-office chat tool, there are many available with free versions. If your phone system currently lives on-site, your vendor may be able to help you forward individual lines or the whole system to people’s cell phones.

While it is not ideal, these are a few easy ways to keep your teams in touch while we figure this thing out.

 

Maintaining IT Security While Allowing Remote Users

This is complex because there are many variables at play. The primary responsibility of security in a scenario such as this is to keep your people able to access your environments, but no one else. To do this in an environment that is largely cloud-based is easy; we give usernames and passwords to internal teams and enforce two-factor authentication (TFA) on those solutions.

If your environment is hosted internally, you will need to get creative quickly. The VPN (Virtual Private Network) solution may work to give users with an identified laptop or computer at home a route into the network in your office, allowing them to operate as though they were in your physical space.

Your on-premise infrastructure may be capable of presenting itself as a “cloud-hosted” environment, either by establishing itself on the internet for browser use or through a series of infrastructure add-ons that mimic the SaaS products mentioned above. Implementing these changes in a sprint may be difficult, if not impossible, but there are ways of evaluating the viability of them quickly. In this situation, the responsibility of your organization to closely monitor the users of the solution and block out any intruders increases exponentially.

In any event, securing company data and processes remains paramount, whether your team is in a specific space or distributed across the globe. The role of your IT team is to understand the value that these solutions create and to do their best to establish a strong perimeter around them.

 

We’re in This Together

If any glitches arise while enabling your remote workforce, Framework is working nearly around the clock to ensure our clients' infrastructures maintain stable during this unpredictable moment in time.

If you are on the fence about a work from home policy, we counsel to err on the side of caution. Framework IT recommends reaching out to the person within your organization that knows your IT environment best and tasking them with building the best action plan they can in 24-hours.

Stay healthy and take care of each other.