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Can your organization support a Work From Home or Remote Work Contingency Plan?

As the uncertainty of the impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues, many organizations are considering Work From Home (WFH) or remote work contingency plans or reevaluating WFH plans already in existence. While few companies have yet to implement this contingency as a mandatory requirement for employees, the potential for the enactment of these plans has never been more possible. It’s unknown how far government officials will exercise their authority to issue executive orders in terms of social distancing.

When considering or evaluating WFH plans, business leaders should consider all of the tools necessary to implement this change in work model.  Some of the most basic activities we take for granted in a normal office setting can be easily overlooked. Some considerations should include:

1. Do your employees have the hardware they need to be remote and productive? 

Computing
Does everyone have a laptop, and do they bring it home every evening? Do they remember to bring their laptop charger home, or do they have a spare at home? If not, do they have a home computer they can use to connect to the company network? Does their home computer have the necessary software to connect to the company network? Are those computers secure, and are they keeping you in compliance with rules or regulations you must adhere to?

Voice Communication
Do employees have headsets for their computers to make calls if that capability (utilizing a laptop as a voice base station) exists with your phone system? If you’re not operating on a VoIP voice system, do all employees have mobile phones to maintain communication with clients or customers?

Network
Do employees have internet access at their homes, and is the bandwidth enough for their system interactions and job responsibilities? Remember, their kids may be home from college or K-12 school and also taking classes virtually. Home bandwidth may be at a premium. One other consideration is the bandwidth in your employee’s neighborhoods. They may not be the only ones working from home and, with kids home from school, demand on bandwidth in their area will be increased.

Consider conducting an inventory of employees’ broadband connections, and pay attention to their capacities, down and up, to ensure you have adequate capacity for telephony, video, or screen sharing. Everyone won’t need the same amount of bandwidth, so you may require some role-specific guidelines to keep requirements realistic. For some key employees without broadband internet access, you may need to invest in mobile hot spots and related data plans to establish adequate internet access at home.

2. Do you have enough infrastructure at the corporate office to support an influx of remote WFH workers? 

In situations where most of your employees work from an office location, remote access capabilities are usually designed to accommodate a small number of mobile workers. You should inventory your remote access capabilities to ensure you have enough:

  • Bandwidth
  • VPN licenses
  • Network hardware
  • IP addresses pools

Try to identify possible unforced errors by testing your infrastructure to ensure it can handle the expected load it will need to support.

3. Do people know how to work from home?

For individuals who have no experience working remotely and connecting to a network via a VPN, they may require training on how to configure their VPN client and how to connect.  They may also need tutorials on how to access certain applications based on the remote access capabilities you have designed into those applications (web-based versus legacy premise-based apps accessed via either remote desktop or some other tool/method). Your IT team may need to write out specific instructions, have online training sessions, or create “cheat sheets” for employees.

4. Is your support desk ready?

When your workforce is remote and trying to figure out new processes and tools on their own, your support desk requests may surge. Do you have self-service resources and knowledge bases to provide support before requests occur? Do you have enough IT resources to cover increased demand?  Evaluate – today – your ability to troubleshoot remotely. From taking pictures with mobile devices to using remote-assistance software, this will be necessary when in-person options are not available. You may have to get creative if you are not able to meet and diagnose in-person to still help your remote workforce resolve issues.

5. Security and mobility?

If your remote working strategy involves employees using personal devices, employees will shift from working on secure networks and machines to relying on their own devices and home and public Wi-Fi. To address the security concerns these changes represent, here are a couple of ideas:

  • Fast-track multifactor authentication (MFA) to allow your workforce access to the sites and files they need while ensuring the right person is logging in. This can take several months to implement at a sizeable organization – both technically and culturally – so start working toward this today. Meanwhile, in the Azure and Office 365 ecosystem, Intune, and Conditional Access can be combined to validate that the devices accessing your data are sufficiently trusted before providing access to corporate systems.
  • Get people remote access without sacrificing security. Are all apps and programs that employees use accessible from home? If not, are you relying on VPN technologies that put untrusted personal devices onto your corporate network? Microsoft Azure offers several solutions to address this.

6. Do you have the culture to support virtual collaboration? 

If working from home is not the solution for your company just yet, there is at least a likelihood that travel will slow down due to COVID-19. (Salesforce recently announced it is suspending non-essential travel for its 50,000 employees.) More meetings will have to be virtual, making a platform that allows effective communication essential. Does your culture promote video conferencing today? If not, can you make efforts to become more virtual before these work-from-home policies are required? Using video helps employees stay connected, regardless of distance. If your company doesn’t have the remote working culture today, it will be even harder to change and teach employees how to use your digital workplace collaboration tools while remote.

Traditional ways of working will also change. Teams will need to be flexible with a potential shift in working hours. Consider the school closings in Ohio. If daycare or schools begin to close, traditional work hours might need to shift to accommodate changing schedules.

7. Do you have the right tools and technology for virtual collaboration? 

We often take for granted how many co-workers, partners, clients/customers, and vendors we collaborate with daily to get our jobs done – via phone, email, and the old-fashioned face-to-face interactions. To be successful while remote, maintaining that collaboration is critical.

Do you have tools, such as Microsoft Teams, that allow the ability to chat, co-author documents, access important files, and host meetings with video? These types of solutions help connect employees at all levels and deliver targeted, personalized information to the right employees at the right time. If your organization does not have this technology available now, see below for more information about Microsoft Teams.

8. Do your employees and partners have the proper training and skills needed to use virtual collaboration tools?

Having the right collaboration tools is critical, but if your employees and partners don’t have the proper training and skills they won’t be able to use them effectively. There is a good chance a mass WFH strategy could be the first time much of your workforce is using the programs and tools to this extent.

Plan Ahead and Test Often

All of these eight considerations can impact businesses differently. If you have the ability, consider testing your WFH capabilities by having a number of employees work from home for a few days.  This will allow identification of what changes you need to make in this effort. It is not uncommon for organizations to test their capabilities annually by having a large portion of their employees work from home over a short period of time to identify issues and address them before it’s too late.

If you would like to discuss your business contingency plans, your ability to support a WFH strategy, or assistance in implementing such a strategy, please contact Tom Skoog, the leader of our technology practice.

More about Microsoft Teams

Many middle-market companies seeking increased collaboration across their employees had already budgeted for a rollout of Microsoft Teams. Often this was on the 2020 technology roadmap to get accomplished. The COVID-19 scare has accelerated the timing for many of these Teams implementations. Blue & Co. can get your employees up and running in Microsoft Teams rapidly, usually within 48 to 72 hours. 

Microsoft recently announced they are giving companies free access to the premium tier of Microsoft Teams for six months in response to the increased need for employees to WFH due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  While Microsoft does have a free version of Teams, it typically has limitations on video calls and conferencing.  Microsoft has lifted these restrictions and is offering a free Office 365 E1 trial license, enabling remote workers to fully utilize the features of Teams for remote work – at no cost.

If you are interested, Blue & Co. can assist you in obtaining the necessary licenses. Contact us today.

Benefits of Microsoft Teams

Not familiar with Microsoft Teams? Microsoft Teams is the chat-based workspace in Office 365 that makes it easy to have conversations, host meetings, share files and collaborate on documents, and get work done with teams across the company from anywhere. Microsoft Teams is designed for highly-engaged teams that work closely together to get things done:

  • Share updates and give feedback in the open
  • Make quick decisions and stay in the loop with team activities
  • Coordinate on projects and tasks, including co-create content and deliverables

Teams lets your employees work in a natural, conversational way — with everything they need in one place — available anytime, on any device.

Training your employees on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a fairly intuitive product. But to get your team up and running quickly, Blue & Co. offers a wide range of Microsoft Teams Training:

  • OnSite – We will come onsite to your business and guide you through an introduction to using Microsoft Teams, along with other parts of the Office 365 product set.
  • Remote – If onsite training is not possible, remote training is an option as well.

In addition to Teams, there are other ways Microsoft’s tools can help enable remote work:

  • Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktops enables your employees to work remotely by accessing company files and applications from anywhere via an internet browser.
  • Microsoft Intune is a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution that enables your business to quickly set up computers or laptops in the home for users without the need for a visit to a physical office. Key applications are loaded remotely but controlled centrally.
  • Microsoft Power BI can provide insights and signals into how your business is performing in a remote work environment. Power BI is a business analytics solution that lets you visualize your data and share insights across your organization, or embed them in your app or website. Connect, model, and then explore your data with visual reports that you can collaborate, publish, and share. Power BI integrates with other tools, including Microsoft Excel, so you can get up to speed quickly and work seamlessly with your existing Microsoft solutions.

If you would like to discuss if Microsoft Teams is a good fit for your organization’s needs, please contact Tom Skoog, the leader of our technology practice.

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