Disruptions to your company operations can happen at any moment due to major events such as natural disasters, epidemics, and terrorism, or even local events such as building fires, a burst pipe, and issues with an internet provider. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, 80% of executives say that their companies use social technology tools to enable collaboration, yet only 35% of those organizations have integrated those tools into employees’ day-to-day work to a high degree. The best scenario for deploying a remote work solution is as part of a company’s long-term business strategy, but when disaster strikes it may be the only viable strategy for maintaining business continuity.
While companies can find themselves in a rush to implement a remote work solution after a disruptive event, doing so without a well-planned strategy can create confusion among their employees, discourage adoption of new processes, and lead to significant delays in restoring productivity. There is even greater risk for companies with regards to keeping sensitive data secure once remote collaboration and access becomes available. With a well-defined company solution and policy on remote work, employees less likely to resort to unapproved “shadow IT” solutions that open employers to the risks of lower security, data loss, compliance issues, and a fragmented unmanageable IT infrastructure.
Evaluating which functions your employees will need is the first step in choosing a solution. Many of the interactions your employees traditionally have on-site can be taken for granted and while it is not practical to replicate your office environment, you can provide new ways to fulfill their needs for interaction and keep them engaged.
Here are tips and considerations for successfully enabling remote collaboration:
Real-time Screen and Document Sharing are Essential
Something as simple as stopping by a coworker’s desk to look at a document can be extremely difficult and time consuming when working remotely. Emailing documents to discuss over a phone call is not only cumbersome but creates multiple document versions where important changes can easily get lost.
Screen sharing tools enhance your team’s productivity by allowing multiple members to view the screen of another member in order to work on projects, make presentations, provide training, and provide IT support. Microsoft Teams (part of the Office 365 Suite) and Google Hangouts (part of Google G-suite) are among the most popular options, with rich feature sets for scheduled or impromptu video conferences and screen sharing. In addition, each solution suite provides online document storage and collaborative editing options.
Casual conversations and informal meetings are an extremely essential part of productivity, and while some degree of communication can be handled via email, texts, or instant messaging, the personal element is often lost. Both Office 365 and G-suite include intuitive tools for creating team channels, managing projects, and creating tasks. Slack is an excellent option for team messaging and overall communications and can be integrated with both G Suite and Office 365, but you’ll likely still need the rest of the productivity tools offered by either Office 365 or G suite.
Keep Your Data Your Own
Controlling access to your communications and data is crucial, as well as the ability to trace how your data moves around. You should embrace multi-factor authentication in order to secure login access, but not all solutions allow enough flexibility in configuring MFA to meet your company’s specific needs. If your company is in an industry with strict compliance requirements, your solution must be certified and include options such as archiving, auditing, reporting, content search, data loss prevention, threat protection, and litigation hold. It is important that the tools selected have the capability of these features and better yet is if they can be viewed through a single pane of glass.
Bring Your Own Device
It may not be practical to purchase company computers for your employees on short notice, making personal computers the only choice for access. BYOD devices at home may not be updated to the level that your corporate devices continually undergo and can potentially have malware and other payloads waiting to make their way into your corporate environment and they also may be in device types you are not used to managing with your current systems.
In order to secure devices for remote work, special configurations need to be made to provide control for accessing resources. The BYOD devices will be outside of the corporate network so many methods of keeping systems up to date are not available. The prevalence of Windows 10 Home edition, Macintosh and Linux systems also impose challenges for supported methods of managing the endpoints. Microsoft has integrated options for enforcing security standards on BYOD devices that can ensure that the device has a sufficient level of security.
Don’t Change Too Much Too Quickly
If you already use cloud-based mail and document systems you are in a great position to extend your existing services. However, migrating a legacy mail or file system to a cloud based solution can take considerable time and resources. Your employees are already dealing with major disruptions to their daily lives and working from home is a tremendous adjustment. Your solution should add essential functionality with minimal training to be avoid a steep learning curve. You can incrementally add features as the need arises. Should you need to access on-site resources such as file servers or PCs with local running applications, you may need a VPN or remote desktop solution.
Choose one platform that integrates all the functionality you need.
Having your employees login to multiple systems is burdensome, creates security issues for controlling access, and hampers the team’s ability to link their conversations with required documents, so choose a platform with single sign on capability and integrated functionality. If you already use a productivity suite such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite, you may already have access to a wealth of tools that can be used right away.
Get Experienced Guidance
If you have employees with remote work experience, they are an invaluable resource in evaluating and maintaining your path toward an effective remote work solution. Being effective at working from home requires a skill set that needs to be developed over time. While everyone works differently, there are common guidelines that can help provide an informed work from home policy. This isn’t the time to be experimenting with multiple new systems and while it may be tempting to have your own employees design and launch your remote working solution, there is a lot involved in rolling out a solution and they are likely busy with their current responsibilities.
Which solution has been making the transition to remote work the easiest for employees and employers to manage? We found that leveraging Microsoft Teams and the overall Office 365 Suite has provided the most integrated solution that has voice, video, chat, file collaboration and whiteboarding while providing the security controls that companies need. Add to that the single pane of glass offered by the security center and you have something that enables and protects with the least required customization. This makes providing the overall solution easy on the entire organization.