You will have seen many articles in recent weeks that talk about working from home (WFH) as if it’s a brand new concept, clearly, this is a very different time with extended pressures on technology, but as we and a number of our clients at FluidOne already have systems in place, I wanted to put together a guide that looks at the things your business should be considering, both today and after the pandemic.
In a time where businesses need to be focused on how they can keep their staff working effectively and efficiently from home, I can share some lessons learnt from our own experiences at FluidOne and those from some of the customers who turned to us for support in adapting their systems to provide business continuity
At FluidOne we started preparing for the impact of COVID-19 earlier than most organisations, partly because of our ISO 22301 (Business Continuity Management) and partly due to our understanding of the role technology plays in effective WFH solutions. Despite this early planning, we still faced some challenges, which I imagine many businesses are facing today. If you are currently facing challenges, some systems can be implemented without face to face contact, but to ensure you pick the right solution, you need to follow a series of steps to make sure you are not making the same mistakes again.
What needs to be considered as part of a comprehensive WFH solution is unique for every organisation. Different applications, different departments, different processes and different customers will ensure that no two organisations will need the same systems and approach.
There are however key elements to consider that remain consistent for most, if not all organisations. Below I have broken them down into questions to help you evaluate your specific situation.
Which applications are business-critical and can they be accessed remotely?
In today’s world, almost everyone has access to email remotely, either on a smartphone or laptop. Whilst more and more applications are being consumed as SaaS (software as a service/cloud), you need to think beyond that and look at what other applications are run internally and how people access them if they are not in the office. You also need to consider if the systems are robust enough to allow a large number of remote users.
Are the systems your team uses designed to support a scenario where everyone in the organisation needs to work remotely?
Often remote access systems are designed to support temporary or limited access to systems. Is there enough capacity in key areas including hardware capability, software licenses or throughput? It is important to evaluate what the systems can deliver. For example, you might have enough VPN licenses to support all your users, but is the Firewall able to cope with the required throughput of data or does it risk becoming a bottleneck or a single point of failure.
How does the use of mobile phones and mobile data form part of your business continuity plan?
At FluidOne, several of our smaller customers choose not to take resilient internet connections because they rely on the option of tethering mobile phones to laptops to gain internet access. The challenge with this option is that while this is a viable short-term solution, beyond a couple of hours per day, it does not work effectively. The cost of mobile data used in this way can be very expensive unless purchased on the right plans.
How secure are your plans?
Stories of data breaches have been prevalent in the media for years. In most cases, these come from either staff clicking on malicious links in emails, or hackers breaching remote access gateways. You need to ensure that there is the right balance between security and accessibility and the access you give to staff for remote access is not an open door for cybercriminals.
What we have learned since Coronavirus reached the UK
- Ensure that all your staff know how to use their applications remotely – can everyone work effectively if they can’t access the office, and if not everyone, then as a minimum can key employees from every department work effectively. It might be that the systems work as they need to, but with the lack of time to prepare do you need to consider taking a step back and providing some training for key staff.
- Have your systems been designed (and tested) to support a full-scale disaster such as COVID-19? If not you might need to consider additional options. The fact of the matter is that whilst most organisations encourage a certain amount of home working, the load on systems for more than 80% of employees trying to get access at the same time has just not been tried and tested.
A FluidOne customer realised that they didn’t have enough bandwidth to support effective access for all staff. Fortunately, we were able to quickly provide an effective upgrade to increase the capacity.
Several FluidOne customers have had to change firewalls or add additional VPN licenses to support a growing requirement for remote working. In some cases, it is easy to add additional licenses, however, this is not always the case as the hardware can have limitations.
- When everyone is in the office, it’s easy to find colleagues when you need to speak to them. Whilst Unified Communications platforms, such as 8x8, make it easier to stay in touch when you are not in the office, it is never the same when you are working remotely. You also need to consider the new challenges facing businesses, senior people, in particular, are going to be difficult to get hold of. As a business, it is essential to ensure that everyone is comfortable with how to get the best from the systems and applications and that they understand which system to use in which situation, if you provide access to different platforms. Having a training guide explaining how to get the best from systems might help – and if not done already this is still worth considering.
- With the huge increase in the number of people working from home, home broadband has naturally been affected, which in turn is having an impact on the productivity of many. Even for those companies that planned in advance, if your colleagues are not used to home working this is a difficult one to plan for. We have seen that in some rural areas, 4G provides better speeds than DSL, if you have the right plans in place, this can be a really effective solution.
The challenges thrown up by the outbreak of Coronavirus will undoubtedly change the way we work and change the way we plan for business disruption.
Who knows when things will settle down, and return to normal? Who knows what normal will even look like? When things do settle down there is no doubt that all organisations will take a hard look at current and future strategies to build more flexible and dynamic platforms. Exact changes will be dependent on what infrastructure is already in place, but I think we can confidently say that top of agendas for IT Departments will be;
- Ensuring the Unified Communications platform meets the voice, messaging and collaboration needs of all departments, with the best, seamless user experience from any device in any location.
- Standardising and simplifying the way that users access systems. The likely outcome being that organisations will invest in a more consistent access method with more users being given laptops and or company mobile phones.
- An increased investment in SaaS applications, and or more workflows moving to public cloud platforms to make access to data more seamless.
- A strengthening of access security with an increase in organisations multi-factor authentication products to add an extra layer of security to their systems and data.
- Reviewing mobile and mobile data contracts to understand how 4G & 5G technology can play an effective role in remote working.
I hope that my thoughts have stimulated some ideas that will help you reflect on why your businesses home working challenges may have arisen and perhaps how you can fix some of these problems in the short term. Undoubtedly, life after the coronavirus will be very different and I am sure we will all be working hard to ensure that any future issues cause the minimum amount of disruption to our businesses. Stay safe everyone!
About the author
Will Brooks, Enterprise Sales Director, FluidOne
Will is an experienced Sales Director with a proven track record of managing teams selling IT and connectivity Solutions in channel, direct, new business and client management situations in markets including server infrastructure, storage, virtualisation, Managed Services and more recently Cloud, connectivity and Unified Communications.
Will's management style is to actively encourage and create an environment that drives individual and team success, understanding strengths that ultimately benefit individuals and the business. At FluidOne Will looks after the Acquisition, Account Management and Strategic Partner teams.
Will is married with two daughters and lives in North Oxfordshire. While his days of playing rugby are behind him, he actively gets involved with his local rugby club; and is also a keen golfer.