As the COVID-19 virus outbreak continues, we’re receiving lots of inquiries about remote work and how to effectively use technology to keep ourselves and our communities safe. As you’re aware, the most effective way for all of us to slow or contain the spread of the virus is to minimize person-to-person contact. In support of this, many events have been cancelled, and many organizations are considering, or implementing remote work or Work-From-Home policies. As you can imagine, we’re receiving lots of inquiries and calls about remote work and how to provide a productive remote work environment for your employees.
Working from home presents significant challenges from an IT perspective: By connecting company computers and resources to users’ home networks, the company network suddenly includes the entirety of each of those home networks. IT departments work hard to find a reasonable balance between security and efficiency when building computer networks, and suddenly having that network become exponentially larger, with a huge number of completely uncontrolled nodes and connected devices, presents significant challenges to your IT team whether we’re in-house or outsourced.
That said, the current situation will require flexibility, clear eyed risk assessment, and frank discussions about the risks and benefits of the various facets of enabling work-from-home.
To the degree possible, allow only company owned and maintained systems to connect to company IT resources (VPNs, cloud accounts etc.). It’s preferable to send employees home with their work computers or laptops rather than connecting their personal systems to Company resources.
Use Multi-factor authentication. Secure all of your cloud accounts with MFA (e.g. an authenticator app or similar).
Use Single-Sign-on for VPN and remote access. We use and recommend the OpenVPN Access Server. It’s secure, easy to deploy, and easy for end-users to set up.
Adopt and enforce Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies that include requirements for Antivirus/Antimalware software, software updates and patching, firewall settings etc..
Adopt and enforce Mobile Device policies that include baseline security requirements and company data protection (including remote wipe etc.).
Edit 2020-03-18: Be aware of the potential challenges if you send workstations home – for example most home networks are wireless, and more workstation computers are not. Be prepared to run network cables (we have those, and can build custom lengths should you need them, up to 100 meters (the mxzimum length of a Cat5 cable). Or, you may be able to add wireless network adapters, but there’s a frustrating chicken-and-egg situation if you need to download a driver for a new piece of equipment, but that piece of equipment is necessary to get online… So configure any new components *before* you dismantle and relocate the system!
Below are some ideas and resources for implementing Work-from-Home for your business. The technology community is pulling together to provide the resources folks need, at reduced cost and sometimes even free.
Remote phones/ teleconferencing:
The Digium Switchvox PBX has been quietly adding features that are incredibly valuable in this situation. As part of your existing licenses, you are entitled to a new feature called ‘Additional Phones’ that can be leveraged to provide remote, seamless access to your phone system from anywhere.
If you would like assistance with setting up these additional features, please let us know and we’ll get you going. https://www.digium.com
Microsoft Teams is a powerful and flexible collaboration, chat, document sharing and whiteboarding, and video conferencing application. Teams is included in most Office365 subscriptions. https://teams.microsoft.com
Google Hangouts is a similar offering included in your GSuite plan that also includes notes, commentary, messaging and video conferencing. https://hangouts.google.com
Both Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams also offer well-developed and feature-rich mobile apps.
Zoom Meeting is a 3rd party conferencing and meeting application. https://zoom.us
All of the above require nothing more than an Internet connection and basic webcam. If you’re on a laptop that hardware is likely built in to your system.
Document collaboration/ access:
Google Drive provides ‘anywhere access’ to documents stored in your Drive folder. It works across devices and requires only an Internet connection. It provides sync, so even if you aren’t connected to the Internet, you can work on and save documents and your local copy will sync up to the cloud when you reconnect. https://google.com/drive/
Microsoft OneDrive is a similar offering that’s part of the Microsoft Office365 ecosystem. https://onedrive.microsoft.com
Dropbox is an independent ‘access-anywhere’ file sharing and sync service. https://dropbox.com
Cloudflare is a security company that provides many of our clients with website protection and firewalling services. They’re offering their Cloudflare for Teams product to small businesses at no charge: https://blog.cloudflare.com/cloudflare-for-teams-free-for-small-businesses-during-coronavirus-emergency/
Cloudflare launched a Small Business Hub as well: https://openforbusiness.org/
Slack is another up-and-coming collaboration tool: https://slack.com
Obviously, rbTech is familiar with all of the tools and resources listed here, and we are fully prepared to help you and your team develop and implement your remote work plans. Please stay safe, and together we’ll get through this.
One last note: In the same vein as the shortages of toilet paper and other grocery items we’re seeing around the world, work from home equipment is rapidly disappearing from our supply chain. Laptops and headsets are the first things we’ve noted a sudden shortage of, but it’s certain that more items will disappear. Please don’t make knee-jerk purchases, but if you’re considering procuring gear to support work from home, don’t delay either.
3/18/2010 Further notes: Wireless network adapters are getting harder to come by.