Can You Help Me with Remote Working?

It might not surprise you too much to learn that one of the most common questions we get asked in these days of COVID-19 is: can you help me with remote working? The answer is “yes”, of course. But there are a few vital issues you will need to consider.

For those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, the Coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to do something we might only have dreamt of previously.

The notion of not having to deal with the daily commute and being to be able to take business meetings in your pyjamas might seem idyllic from a distance but it does, like anything, come with its own set of challenges.

Even if you have space to be able to dedicate an area of your home to working, often finding a quiet moment can be a challenge – especially at present when we are all inside with our nearest and (often noisy) dearest.

Business owners are being put to the test

For business owners, scrambling to put the mechanisms in place to enable their staff to work from home, the challenges are even greater.

In the last few weeks many companies have reached out to us to help them put the necessary arrangements in place, whether they are existing customers of ours or not.

Of course, we’re happy to help wherever we can. We’ve put arrangements in place to protect our staff and customers, and we are working to deliver the same excellent level of support and assistance we always do.

To assist further, we thought we’d list a few key technology considerations to help anyone thinking about putting WFH arrangements in place.

Are staff going to use their own PCs?

Ideally, the answer to this is going to be a resounding “no”. Any good IT support partner worth their salt will have set up the network so that foreign devices are not recognised by or allowed access to the network.

There are several good reasons for doing this. This is, after all, not the time to start relaxing security. With so many people not able to work, we need to reflect on the old adage about “idle hands” and expect the cyber threat to increase not wane in these strange times.

Because you have no visibility over staff’s own devices, you mustn’t allow them to access the network. Hackers will always look for the easiest route in, and that is exactly what these unprotected and unsecure devices represent. Those machines may already have been compromised – without the right scans and security tools in place, you just won’t know.

Instead, you need to allow staff to take their workplace computers home with them. This way, you know the machines are fully equipped with the right anti-malware, anti-virus, security and access control mechanisms – as well as the right applications and business tools.

If this isn’t possible, consider whether investing in some laptops might be a good idea. This way, you can ensure the right security tools and access controls are in place on the new machines before shipping them out to the people who need them.

This doesn’t have to be expensive. And it offers you greater flexibility moving forward.

How are staff going to access the network?

You need to have a secure way for staff to access the network. We recommend either VPN or RDS, preferably RDS.

Virtual Private Network technology is the slightly older of the two but remains an effective way to ensure secure access. Today, we usually recommend Remote Desktop Services using the Microsoft RD Gateway. Both allow end users to connect to internal network resources securely from outside the corporate firewall.

RD Gateway achieves this through three means: by establishing an encrypted SSL tunnel between the end-user's device and the RD Gateway Server; by authenticating the user (using the inbox IIS service or RADIUS protocol with Azure MFA); and securely passing traffic back and forth between the end-user's device and the specified resource. You’ll need to specify timeout policies and other access rules.

How are you going to ensure files remain secure?

The easiest way to ensure staff aren’t downloading or – worse – emailing files to themselves to view later, is to ensure that you have a good platform for file sharing established that is easy to use and for which everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

We love the document management tools within Microsoft Teams, part of the Office 365 suite. As well as providing a safe place to share and access files (and to collaborate on them), you can set clear access rights and permissions per document which prevent users from accessing, downloading, sharing, or even capturing screen shots of restricted and sensitive documents.

If you aren’t using Microsoft Teams already, now is the ideal time to start – as well as providing essential document sharing and accessibility tools, it is a highly functional collaboration tool which can aid productivity and working across teams.

How can a distributed workforce collaborate effectively?

There are numerous tools that enable us to work remotely. During the current pandemic, video conferencing tools like HouseParty and Zoom have become very popular. However, experts have warned about significant security issues with tools such as Zoom.

However tempting it might be to leap on the tools everyone else seems to be using, Business owners need to ensure that staff have the right tools to ensure secure communication. We recommend that you use the Teams conferencing functionality within the Office 365 product suite.

Teams has many advantages, most importantly close integration with your Office and Outlook calendars. It’s easy to host virtual meetings with multiple participants. Features include the ability to share desktops or windows, video conferencing, chat, as well as a handy recoding feature. The ability to blur the background is also rather appealing at times!

Plus, using a secure and tested tool such as Teams sends a good message out to your clients: you aren’t compromising security as part of the new WFH arrangements.

Teams also offers other benefits, including the ability to create and manage teams, group chat, document sharing and control, workstreams by teams or project, calendars, and project management cards akin to Trello.

Of what else do I need to be aware?

While these four aspects are the main considerations that small business owners need to be thinking about, there are a couple of other things you might want to bring to the attention of your staff.

A key issue for them will be the quality of the WiFi connection at their home. This is quite difficult to overcome, especially at the moment. Longer-term, options might include paying for business services or swapping operator but, for now, it is really a case of perseverance or looking for low-cost mobile data.

You might also want to push out some policies to staff about how you expect them to behave when working from home. This could cover backups, sharing information, business attire for video conferencing, etc. – all difficult issues that need to be ironed out as part of the new WFH reality we now find ourselves in.

One often overlooked security policy it is definitely worth reminding staff about is to remove voice assistants from any room in which they work – if Alexa starts recording sensitive business meetings, your carefully crafted GDPR policy goes out of the window!

Reach out for help

If you would like any assistance rolling out any of the technologies mentioned in this blog to help support staff who suddenly find themselves working from home, please get in touch with our team.

Call us on 08081644142.

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