Since the COVID-19 outbreak forced many companies to adopt a work from home policy in March 2020, 62 percent of employed Americans have been working from home. Of those surveyed, their WFH setup has been a welcome change for many workers, with three out of five surveyed voicing that they would like to continue working on a remote basis.
Other findings show that teams are more efficient when working from home. Tech enterprises like Twitter, Square, Facebook, Shopify, Groupe PSA, Box, Slack, and others announced they will be accommodating employees that wish to keep working remotely–even after the pandemic clears up.
Beyond employee satisfaction, there is a business case for allowing WFH on a more permanent basis. There are costs associated with returning to work under the current conditions: office reconfigurations for distancing, monitoring behavior connected with harm reduction, liability concerns, and a likelihood of more lockdowns on the horizon.
Rising to the challenge of WFH deployments
When the initial round of office closures came, companies had their business continuity plans tested. Companies that were ready enabled key people to keep the business running from beyond the four walls of the office. The agility granted those companies a competitive advantage; now other companies are looking to apply brick-and-mortar office policies into the homes of employees across the country, or maybe even around the world.
From an IT infrastructure perspective, making sure a company is remote-ready presents a number of challenges. For many, it’s a question of scale: companies previously set up to support a small percentage of employees accessing data assets remotely now are wondering how they can accommodate most of the company doing so.
Collaborating in the cloud
Many office productivity applications have moved to the cloud. A company looking to shift to a remote workforce would opt for a cloud-based solution like Microsoft 365, which is sold as an annual per-user subscription, and bundles together the latest desktop and web versions of the applications in MS Office Suite (Word, Exel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Teams, and others, plus 1 TB of storage per user). The subscription model is designed especially for work from anywhere type of business. Microsoft 365 Business migration on-premises Microsoft Office deployment requires a well-thought out plan, and there are many partners and resources available to help companies do this cleanly.
Expanding asset management
Employees need to have the basics to work from home. For many, this means having a laptop and a reliable internet connection. Companies might purchase a fleet of business laptops to issue to their employees, or take BYOD stance and offer an allowance for the purchase of a laptop PC of their choice. With dozens or hundreds of company-issued laptops in the field, designing an IT asset management plan to keep track of them becomes a priority. Here’s a handy checklist.
Support for home networks
Network connectivity for remote workers is a little trickier; it does not make sense for IT departments to troubleshoot employees’ home networks. A suitable workaround might be to put a policy agreement around WFH network requirements that users must follow in order to head off potential problems. Requirements might include: passing a network speed test at home; instructions for disabling SIP ALG on home routers; requiring an IP phone installed by their ISP, and others. Here’s a helpful guide for what that might look like.
Scaling VPN solutions appropriately
Not every work application will be cloud ready. Access to on-prem software from outside the company domain requires VPN. Businesses typically license VPN solutions on a per-user basis, and may find out they are short on capacity when the entire workforce wants to access. Work with your vendor to ensure you have the appropriate licensing for any new user needs.
Pushing servers and switches to the limit
Inbound traffic to your servers will increase in situations in which more users are accessing company servers from remote locations. Will your network infrastructure provide enough bandwidth? You’re going to find out! Experts say it’s important to put your equipment through the paces to properly determine your needs moving forward. In terms of avoiding downtime, a safer way to come to a conclusion is by taking a phased approach to working from home if it all possible, which aligns well to the hybrid model of office work many companies are considering.
Separate business and pleasure
Improving basic VPN infrastructure benefits performance for remotely located end users. Increasing network bandwidth between the VPN servers and internet can help. Using a split tunnel approach wherein only sensitive, work-related data passes through the VPN into the company datacenter will reduce the load on company network infrastructure. Check out tips from a network engineer on Stackoverflow about scaling up VPN in a short period of time.
With everyone working from home, VPN security also becomes a concern as infrastructure is now mission-critical. Make sure that all VPN servers are up to date with security patches, and check logs regularly for any irregular patterns. Placing VPN logons behind multi factor authentication if available is always recommended.
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