The challenges of remote working
When work and entertainment all move online, then it not only puts people’s patience to the test, but also technology. When children had to start online schoolwork and parents remote work on Monday, then it became clear quite quickly that the creators of existing systems were not prepared for such a sudden load increase. Since the virus is affecting all countries, then not even the biggest service providers were safe – not only was eKool in Estonia experiencing technical difficulties for a short while, but even Microsoft’s teamwork solution Teams and its messaging platform were affected.
If the employer and the nature of one’s work allow it, a lot of things can be done using free tools (e.g. Slack, Dropbox, WeTransfer and many others), but since free services generally mean having to make certain concessions in both security as well as user experience, then the most optimal route is to continue using the same solutions that were being used pre-quarantine and to follow the same security requirements while keeping in mind the changing environment and its conditions and, if necessary, adapting to them.
Amazon, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure alone have thousands of services that can be added or removed as needed. To optimise their costs, companies should conduct a review of whether all of the services they have subscribed to still meet the requirements of the company and if so, whether they are set up correctly and to scale to actual needs as automatically as possible. This helps keep costs down during lower load periods – such as during the night or an otherwise calmer period. At the same time, this approach enables companies to easily service any kind of sudden load increases, for example, those caused by any colleagues working from home or by an increasing number of visits to the company’s web services.
Regardless of whether your company’s cloud services have been chosen by a partnering IT company or by an in-house team before, now is the time to turn to an IT company so that you would not have to start figuring everything out from scratch and so you could save precious work time.
When masses of people start working remotely and have to move data over their home connection instead of the office’s connection, then the connection’s speed and consequently, the quality of the work can both suffer. It is recommended that companies check their employees’ home connection speeds and, if necessary, increase them via employer subsidies. If a company’s policies require the use of a VPN, then that should also be checked and set up according to the current situation and its requirements.
If the existing local VPN service cannot handle the current sudden load increase, then companies should consider implementing an additional cloud-based VPN to help share the load. There are many cloud-based VPNs of which Google Cloud’s and AWS Client’s VPNs are the most widely known.
If before, a company had given their employees access to its various services via the office’s IP address and they do not use a VPN, then now, they must implement alternative security measures. For example, dependent on a service’s security settings, it should be determined whether there are any maximal measures available, such as two-factor authentication, access restriction based on one’s country, proactive monitoring of authentication attempts and use patterns etc.
Another thing to definitely consider is that certain limitations will be determined by the telecom company’s readiness to manage the networks and increase bandwith. If this cannot be changed, then any alternative possibilities should be mapped out immediately and work re-organised accordingly.
Access to databases is another priority item that needs to be checked to avoid creating a situation where a key employee only has access to the databases from the office’s network connection, a specific MAC address or a specific location.
In a situation where meetings are being held virtually, the best possible substitution is without a doubt the video conference format, which can be done via Skype, Slack, Amazon Chime or any other similar solution. In bigger companies, the security and privacy policies of the chosen solution need to be reviewed as well as the maximum number of people allowed in a call and the quality of its video feed.
Any meetings that require a high level of security must be conducted according to the security requirements currently in effect. For companies where prior to the coronavirus outbreak, video conferences were not allowed to be held anywhere but the office or from certain IP addresses, this means having to change their policies or cancelling meetings. If changing the security policy is not enough and the company needs to procure additional hardware or replace its existing hardware, then the first thing they should look at are software solutions as these can be implemented much more quickly and at a lower cost than when buying new hardware. The most effective solution is to expand the company’s services with cloud solutions since that enables the company to dispose of any unnecessary services after the crisis is over in a much faster and easier way than expired hardware would require.
It is recommended to map out any relevant video conference solutions and to create a list of those who are willing to install and set them up during this difficult time and to offer technical support for them as well in the near future. Using a local company is recommended for this as their workload is generally not as big as that of companies who offer global solutions.
Moving Events Online
Since it would be very costly or nearly impossible to cancel or postpone various events that have been planned for a long time, then one alternative to consider is moving those events online. By now, we have seen many companies do this.
Whether it is a concert or a company’s big general meeting, events can be conducted in various ways and it is much easier to do than most people think. For example, an event with a small number of participants could be held via a webinar or video conference service by using either a computer camera or a smartphone for this. For large events with a lot of attendees, various cloud services have been created, which can be hooked up to professional video equipment as well as a regular webcam or a smartphone.
Smaller companies who use standard solutions can get support from international support centres if they need it, but they must account for longer wait queues than usual right now. Big companies whose employees rely on their customer support must plan ahead for a larger workload than before.
Physical work that needs be done for employee devices, in-house servers and the cloudiest clouds should not be neglected either – attention may be required by a server or one of its components whose contracts have expired, by disconnected connections or by servers that require a physical restart.
At the moment, IT support people are working under a heavy workload and each employer must take care to ensure that essential personnel are protected and kept safe. If necessary, additional employees can and should be hired from external partners. If security policies need to be changed for this, then that should be done while keeping in mind the current situation as well as the possibility that the following months will not get any easier.
In addition to the IT systems, people must not be forgotten about. Both your remote working colleague as well as others around you who are currently cut off from their social circuits need more attention and support than before. We recommend creating communications channels in your work systems that are not focused on work alone, but also enable your colleagues to socialise, joke around and keep other social topics ongoing, all to lessen the unpleasant feeling created by isolation. If your company does not use digital tools that would enable this, then there are many free and easy to install services out there that can be used to great effect. And most importantly: show and tell your overburdened IT support employees, your colleagues, partners and other people around you directly that you care about them.