By Craig Yellick, VP Business Solutions
Remote Work is a Common-Sense Alternative
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a year since most of us have gone from commuting to an office every day to regularly working from home or otherwise remotely. My company, Blue Net, is a managed IT services provider, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how smoothly most of our clients were able to make the transition. Many are taking a hard look at making this a permanent change and ask us to help coordinate it. One client went so far as closing their physical office entirely and became a pure-virtual organization. We believe this is a trend that will accelerate as office leases come up for renewal. Perhaps not closing completely, but down-sizing for sure.
Numerous research reports find that remote work is not only tolerated by most people, but also, many prefer it and want it to continue. So even if, as a manager or business owner, you’re on the fence about the subject, offering remote work options could well be a key to retaining and recruiting and staff.
Technology is the Key to Successfully Supporting a Remote Workforce
Supporting remote workers generally means migrating to cloud-based technologies. Blue Net has settled on the extensive Microsoft Office 365 stack as the most cost-effective way to get started. It fully supports an incremental process, so you don’t get a huge shock to your system. We also consider it the best all-around solution due to the wide array of features and functions that are all integrated. One platform to support one platform for staff to learn. We’ve done cloud migrations for dozens of clients and many thousands of users and have the process down to a science.
Here are the most common challenges we’re seeing and how we’ve been able to help our clients overcome them.
- User account security: Working outside of a well-managed corporate network is potentially insecure. Phishing attacks and web-based malware are continuously evolving to exploit this situation. No matter how complex you make a password, and regardless of how often you change it, you are at risk because all it takes is one slip-up. This is why multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be a requirement for all user accounts. With MFA enabled, a compromised password isn’t enough to allow an attacker to exploit an account. We also like to couple MFA with user security awareness training to close the loop.
- Collaboration: Being able to conduct virtual meetings with products like Zoom is not the same as actively collaborating with colleagues. Back in the days of physical meetings in conference rooms, were you actually getting work done? Typically, when the meeting ended was when the real work began. We’ve found that Microsoft Teams is by far the best collaboration tool available today. Seamless integration with the rest of Microsoft Office makes it possible to shift between applications yet stay connected and interacting with colleagues. Features like presence awareness (who’s available, in a meeting, busy, in a call, away from the desk, etc.) visible in every application, collaborative document editing, and more make a remote team more productive.
- Management: How can a manager stay on top of what’s going on, short of routinely bothering people for updates? Microsoft Office has numerous tools that help managers monitor business processes. Use Delve to see document and collaboration activity and the Productivity Score dashboard for metrics like time utilization – how many hours are spent in meetings, percentage of “focus” time, and much more. Use Planner and To Do for easy, informal projects and task management.
- Remote device and application access: Sometimes, a worker has a sophisticated desktop workstation located in a company office setting. It’s impractical, and sometimes impossible, to detach it from the company network and haul it all home. Remote access technology exists that allows a relatively weak, consumer-grade laptop or workstation to securely connect to an office computer and fully utilize it, including using multiple monitors and coordinating file transfers. Similarly, there are software applications that are not web-based and require not only physical installation on a suitable computer but also must connect to network resources like a file share or database server. Remote access technology is a quick and easy way to solve this problem.
- Remote workers and remote clients: Your staff is trying to coordinate with an equally disbursed customer/vendor/contractor workforce who are facing their own remote work challenges. To make this easier for everyone, we use a solution from Microsoft called the Find Time App. This free Outlook add-in streamlines the process of getting a meeting date and time consensus across multiple organizations. It does not require Outlook to participate. A little thing for sure, but a huge time saver.
Here at Blue Net, we’re ready and able to help with your remote worker challenges, whatever they may be.
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Blue Net is your strategic technology partner delivering first-class, client-focused services and support. Our team stays on top of the latest technology and business trends to help companies meet and exceed their IT needs.