For many businesses and organisations, IT can offer much of what’s needed to have staff work from home. At Microtrading, for example, we are fully equipped for remote working and we will continue to provide our clients with full IT support in the event of needing to self-isolate.
Preparation is the key to managing the potential impact of testing conditions on your business. So, we’ve laid out the measures and tools that should be part of your plan for ‘working from home’.
Begin by assessing your situation
In order to create any plan, it’s important that you first consider which functions of your business can conceivably be carried out from home. This involves examining both your work processes – as to what can be done outside of the workplace – and the individual situations of your staff if they were to work from home.
Assessing which of your operations can take place outside of the workplace requires you to take a variety of factors into account. For example, taking certain physical files and documents home, or at least outside of your premises, may represent a breach of your commitments to data security.
When discussing with your staff members the prospect of working from home, you need to establish whether they have suitable space, devices – including printers and the necessary connectivity to work effectively.
This information provides you with the basis for planning your response to Coronavirus and many other eventualities, such as heavy snow or office relocation. Importantly, it will also help identify the areas that need to be addressed in preparation – such as any devices you may need to provide.
Communicating and working together – from home
Conferencing and collaboration tools help to bring co-workers and stakeholders closer together and improve productivity. In the context of working from home, these tools help put you back in the office, allowing you to communicate with your colleagues through audio and video conferencing and instant messaging.
Microsoft Teams provides a cloud-based hub with comprehensive collaboration and communication facilities. To read more about using Microsoft Teams, read our most recent news piece on the application.
Important note: In order to ensure audio and video conferencing amongst your team during a period of working from home, all devices must have webcam, speaker and microphone facilities and internet connectivity (hardwired or Wi-Fi).
Accessing ‘the mothership’
One of the most crucial elements to being able to work remotely and remain part of the network is access to your server. This is especially true if you still use your server to store files and run line-of-business applications, such as your accounts system or CRM software. Without remote connection to the server, none of this is possible and staff will be unable to retrieve, edit and create files or access server-based software.
If your network operates on a cloud-based server, accessing the server is fairly straightforward as long as an internet connection is available. But what if you currently use a physical server?
Whilst, in the long-term, we recommend moving your server to the cloud, a cloud migration motivated by preparing for Coronavirus is unlikely to complete in time. So, what’s the solution?
Remotely access your physical server with a VPN
Using a Secure Remote Access VPN (virtual private network) connection can enable permitted staff to remotely access your physical server. You may need to upgrade your firewall services to enable this type of connectivity.
We can configure a VPN to allow your team to access the server from outside your premises – so they can continue to fulfil their responsibilities from home.
Whilst VPN is suitable for remotely accessing files and folders held centrally on your server, it can prove cumbersome when running line-of-business software applications. This is where a Remote or Hosted Desktop service comes into its own.
Using cloud-hosted desktops or remote desktops
Cloud-hosted desktops and remote desktops are a scalable and flexible way to enable you to access your system from virtually any location on virtually any device, as long as you have access to an internet connection.
Using virtual desktop instances and thin client technology, all processing is done at the datacentre and only screen images, keyboard and mouse movements are sent over the connection. This means you can continue to work effectively even if you have low specification devices and limited internet bandwidth (we recommend a minimum of 1Mbps).
Using hosted and remote desktops can provide your staff with the tools they need, at relatively low cost with predictable monthly pricing.
SharePoint Online allows you to securely store and collaborate on your files
Microsoft SharePoint Online, included in the majority of Office 365 plans, can be a real help, particularly if VPN connections or hosted/remote desktops are not an option for you at this time.
SharePoint Online is a cloud-based content management tool that serves as a platform for users to store and share documents and other files and collaborate on them. SharePoint is a highly customisable application where you can build an intranet or extranet that allows staff and clients to work together. For more information about SharePoint Online, see our Quick Tips piece on the platform.
OneDrive for Business could be a lifesaver
Whilst not an ideal continuity solution, if you need to work collaboratively, OneDrive for Business may prove to be a vital ‘last resort’ in these circumstances. OneDrive is a great cloud storage service, enabling you to store a variety of files in the cloud and share them with people easily. Rather than having to send a file, you can upload it to your OneDrive account, and provide the person you want with a link to the file so that they can access it.
By storing files in OneDrive, you can allow users to access and work on them from home. They can also create new files and store them in OneDrive, to be moved subsequently to your server at a suitable time.
OneDrive has its uses, in that it’s a great resource for storing and exchanging files – however, it has limitations when it comes to security and is inferior to other platforms such as SharePoint Online when it comes to group collaboration.
Controlling new devices on your network
If you move to having your staff working from home, they may well need to use their own devices to carry out their responsibilities. Even if it must be accomplished in a short period of time, onboarding user devices still needs to be done properly – ensuring data and network security. A mobile device management tool can help you do that.
Microsoft Intune is a comprehensive device and application management tool, included within Microsoft 365 and the Enterprise Mobility + Security suite.
Intune enables you to manage the mobile and BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) devices that have access to your network and data – verifying their security compliance, controlling their access to data and managing the rollout of updates. To read our recent article on Microsoft Intune, click here.
How can Microtrading help my team to work from home?
We can assist you in creating a continuity plan, not just for Coronavirus, but many other eventualities that may prevent your team from working on-site. We’ll help you identify and implement cost-effective solutions to help your team to work from home and provide expert advice that can keep your business moving.
Furthermore, we can deliver our full in-office IT support services remotely from home. So, should our own team need to self-isolate, we will continue to deliver a service you can rely on – keeping your network protected and running smoothly.
So, to combat Coronavirus, regularly wash your hands for the duration of two rounds of ‘happy birthday’, ensure your staff are all doing the same, and give us a ring – we’ll be happy to help.