Remote Control: IT is Key to Optimize the Work-From-Home Experience
Where exactly society will land on the ratio of employees working in a centralized office to those working from home is yet to be determined. But regardless of what that dynamic looks like a few years now, it’s worlds away from what it was just a few years ago.
When COVID hit, businesses didn’t have the time to plan a proper migration for their employees to go from the office to the home office. If planned for, this is the type of project that would take months or even years to implement and carry out. It was done in days.
Businesses, municipalities, and institutions — almost any type of organization you can think of — have spent the last year learning. Companies have been continually adapting and the infrastructure is catching up to support the new reality of 2021 and beyond.
It has been exciting to be at the forefront of such a pivotal moment — I’ve never seen anything like it before in my 25 years in IT.
I was recently quoted in a story on RemoteReport.com about how companies are helping their remote IT workers thrive and thought I’d take the opportunity to expand on the ideas I expressed in the article.
Making a necessary investment
Many companies have upgraded their IT to enable remote work over the past year, but many also have not. With cyber attacks on the rise, remote workers at those companies may be more susceptible due to loosened restrictions and the presence of unprotected devices on home networks.
Companies that weren't ready to go to remote work a year ago had the choice either to scramble to catch up or to remain vulnerable. Some have gone one way, some have gone the other.
Fortunately, the companies I'm involved with as a virtual CIO have viewed the challenges of the past year as an opportunity to invest in IT to optimize the way their business operates and give them more flexibility.
It has enabled them to weather the pandemic and position themselves for growth coming out of it.
Availability can’t be compromised
Flexibility is of the utmost importance with the new hybrid model. Working from home is not the same as being “out of the office” or “away from your desk.” When there’s a project or a task that needs attention, all employees need to be available.
You don’t want a situation where people say, “Oh, so and so isn’t here in the office today so therefore we can’t work on this.” I think you have to promote a culture of flexibility.
We can’t stop just because someone is working from home that particular day. We have to get beyond that and we have to say regardless of where that person is working, the business must go on.
That culture needs to be managed and it needs to be accepted throughout the organization. If you have management that says, “Why isn’t your person here today?” that’s going to result in a culture that’s not so accepting of the hybrid model. You’ll just drive resentment and impede progress.
Mirror the office and home experience
No one will ever be able to fully duplicate the office atmosphere at home, and not just for obvious reasons like cats on keyboards, crying babies, doorbells, and dress codes. But an employee’s productivity shouldn’t have to suffer.
A lot of businesses don’t have the best internet capabilities. When everybody is at the office they’re on the local network and have access to servers and it doesn’t affect internet connectivity.
When everybody is working from home and using a VPN to remote into the office, now all of a sudden bandwidth is strained. Making sure employees have fast access is important.
We’ve even seen companies run out of licenses on their VPNs. There are also certain ERP applications and CRM applications that don’t work well remotely.
For example, we’ve found certain vendors are slow to offer a suitable cloud application for ERP. So they’re forced to go back to the physical server in the office versus using a cloud application. Companies that rely on application vendors who haven’t modernized are struggling.
As always, communication is key
In a hybrid work environment, companies need to be even clearer about establishing well-defined goals and managing productivity and performance through KPIs and other metrics. It’s less about punching a time card and being present for a certain window of time than it is about getting work done.
Walking the dog, doing laundry, or running errands during the day may be perfectly acceptable as long as all pertinent tasks are completed. That time can be made up later in the evening or on a rainy weekend afternoon.
The metrics and KPI data often reflect anecdotally that some people are happier and more productive working from home. If it works for the employee and the company and both sides are happy, it should be encouraged.
Tools of the trade
Outside of the obvious needs — laptop, smartphone, etc. — a proper home workstation can be extremely beneficial. Ergonomics have come a long way in the last 20 years, but we’re seeing an even more competitive marketplace these days.
Standing desks or desks that are tailored to the user and the user’s home environment are more common. As we move away from the office setting, where the furniture was typically bought in bulk, the home office favors more of a personalized touch.
Before the pandemic, remote work was often seen as something that would be done on an ad-hoc or temporary basis. Companies are now viewing the home office as an extension of the office.
Employees need to be equipped with a fast and secure internet connection, laptops, smartphones, and external monitors, but even something as untechnical as an ergonomic chair can help enable employees to be efficient and healthy while working from home.
As many companies move to a hybrid model, providing a docking port with an identical monitor, mouse, and keyboard at both the office and the home office can allow employees to easily plug in their laptop and have a seamless working experience regardless of location.
Managing the security of home networks is daunting, but with remote work a permanent fixture in the new business environment, it's something companies have to address lest they open themselves up to a host of vulnerabilities.
Providing a firewall, segmented gateway via separate VLANs, Wi-Fi SSIDs, or even a separate account with an ISP ensures that other devices in the home don't pose a risk to the employee's work computer and the company network.
Make the right call
Voice communication at the home office is another area that some companies didn't have to think about much before the pandemic. Everyone has a cell phone these days, so what's the big deal?
That may work for a day or two, but relying on employee cell phones is not a viable long-term approach. Providing employees with VoIP and handsets or headsets allow them to make and receive calls as if they're at their desk at work.
It's essential to ensure smooth communication between employees and to make sure your team is reachable for your clients.
There are many VoIP options available that allow for more transitive-type work, especially internal call transfers between different geographies, and porting the office phone numbers — these should be considered by companies as they review their remote voice needs.
If you have questions about how to handle this transition at your business, speak with one of our specialists. We're in a hybrid setup ourselves, and we've helped hundreds of businesses like yours with their remote work and hybrid environment needs.