Remote Working, Business Continuity | May 2020
There's no doubt we're in a moment of uncertainty right now as the global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus impacts the way we live and work here in the UK.
In addition to personal health concerns, business owners need to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead – can you carry on effectively if all your staff are forced to work from home in the longer term?
As an expert in outsourced IT managed services, Epoq helps companies prepare for threats to technology and operations, to ensure that even the most unexpected influences won’t compromise company performance.
We’ve compiled 4 key points to consider when safeguarding your business against new and demanding challenges, which you can implement in light of on-going COVID-19 restrictions.
Preparing for your IT system’s biggest test to date
COVID-19 is the latest in a line of unforeseen problems that have troubled company bosses over the past few months. From the UK’s storms to the Australian bush fires, mother nature has wreaked havoc on the business sector in 2020, and there may be worse to come.
Unpredictable events can force sudden changes to working protocols; offices may be affected by technical downtime or building closures, meaning staff need to work from home as the new normal. These changes put pressure on workplace IT systems, and leave firms vulnerable to performance issues and security threats.
The only way to protect your business against uncontrollable events is to adopt an ‘expect the unexpected’ approach, proofing your IT infrastructure for every eventuality, and testing it regularly. Here are some of the things you can do to get your back-office in the best possible shape for sudden changes to working protocol:
Cyber security is a threat to businesses in itself; one which can become much greater when an unexpected event like coronavirus changes office set-ups. If staff need to work from home, sensitive business data is suddenly flowing outside of the controlled business network – which makes it more vulnerable to leaks and hacks.
There are several things you can do to maximise data security among a remote workforce, including:
Adopting these principles will not only help to reduce security threats to your business systems, they will also allow you to identify and solve any problems that arise as quickly as possible.
While the priority aim of any business is to keep operations running as ‘normally’ as possible, the fact of the matter is that things go wrong sometime. In the office, a quick call to your IT helpdesk can provide a resolution, but this is much harder to achieve if your team is working remotely.
The best thing you can do to prevent technical downtime when staff are working from home is to have a robust backup and disaster recovery procedure in place at all times, and to test it proactively. This way, you can be sure the right procedures are in place in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong.
A proper backup plan can also help to limit the impact of system glitches – for example, ensuring emails are configured in a way that they won’t go down if equipment fails.
In addition to disaster recovery protocol, it’s a good idea to put proactive plans in place to help staff manage their day-to-day workload in the event of disruption. While many businesses let some employees work from home regularly, very few are prepared for a situation in which the entire team needs to work remotely at short notice - and maybe for the foreseeable future.
There are simple things you can do today to combat mass remote working challenges, such as:
Putting a business continuity plan in place is the key to carrying on successfully in the event of disruption to business operations, whether it has been caused by ‘normal’ risks or extreme events. It also supports our first point about security, as can feel confident that all team members are using authorised devices with the proper programmes installed.
Working from home can be a frustrating experience if employees can’t access all the documentation and systems they need to do their job properly. A small amount of advance planning can solve common remote working issues, and set staff networks up in a way that facilitates seamless interaction, even when people aren’t physically face-to-face.
We’ve mentioned the need for instant messaging and video conferencing facilities, but preparing for mass remote working scenarios can involve even more basic preparation. For example, make sure all staff can access their email accounts from home, with apps for hosted email solutions downloaded to authorised devices.
It’s also important to properly set up and test any VPN connections that staff may need to use, and ensure that you have the right number of licenses. Microsoft is advising administrators to set up VPNs with split tunnelling, in order to ease the strain on traditional network architecture. Approaches like this are key to ensure remote working is scalable in the event of increased isolation measures.
If you want further support with setting your workforce up to operate from home in a sustainable way, download our free remote working checklist.
Prepare now to avoid compromised performance
The rapid spread of COVID-19 doesn’t just have healthcare and science experts worried about the physical impact; major technology companies are concerned about the practical consequences for the global business community.
Paul Collinge, senior program manager for Office 365, recently told The Register that "this sudden switch of connectivity model for the majority of users typically has a significant impact on the corporate network infrastructure which may have been scaled and designed before any major cloud service was rolled out and in some cases, not designed for a situation when it is required simultaneously by all users."
While it may be too late for a complete system overhaul, there are still plenty of precautions that businesses can take to ensure your organisation are prepared for the operational consequences of COVID-19’s continued spread – and IT managed service providers like Epoq IT can help your firm to go through these steps thoroughly and systematically, to ensure your team can operate on ‘business as usual’ terms where possible and have the necessary resilience to thrive in the longer term too.
Written by Gary Swanwick
I lead Epoq-IT to deliver strategic IT service management, building strong relationships with SMEs to manage IT systems and services that support growth and align with business objectives.