As it’s looking more likely, but not definite, that coronavirus will become an epidemic here in the UK, many companies are assessing their collaboration technology and reviewing remote working options. This week Twitter urged global staff to work from home, Google’s EU headquarters in Dublin were mostly empty and many UK companies are trying to accommodate self-isolation for staff who have recently visited the worse affected areas such as Northern Italy.
The best time to prepare for remote working was last week. The second best time is right now!
Many tech companies like Twitter have been moving towards a distributed workforce anyway, and coronavirus is providing a catalyst for accelerating this process. For those companies that haven’t been motivated to facilitate remote working before, the prospect of school closures and movement restrictions could be challenging.
Even those companies that have remote working policies in place may struggle. Often they haven’t planned for wide-spread remote working; instead it’s been an option for only certain departments and roles, or senior leaders. Even companies who’ve migrated to the cloud and solutions like Office 365 may find it challenging if the majority of employees need to work from home. For many this will be a test of remote working policies and user adoption. IT support teams will need to ensure that users can be productive from home which may involve a crash course in using Microsoft Teams, Yammer and other collaboration tools.
Advice for preparing for wide-spread remote working
So what should you be doing to ensure your organisation is prepared if coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the UK? Here are our top tips:
- Set up a working group
Form a working group to identify specific risks and mitigations that your organisation needs to get in place to ensure it continues to function smoothly, if an office needs to move to remote working.
- Prioritise critical users and teams
Identify users and teams that are business critical to ensure they have the tools needed to work productively from home. Anyone whose absence for more than a couple of weeks could impact the bottom line.
- Identify ‘problematic’ users
These are the people who may be more vulnerable to the virus, or live with people who are at risk. They may also be employees who are single parents or primary carers who may need to work from home because of school closures.
- Audit the apps and systems needed to maintain ‘business as usual’
Starting with your critical users and then your ‘problematic’ users, create an inventory of the key applications needed by employees to maintain business as usual. Can employees access these remotely? Do they know how to use them online? Prepare in advance by rolling out training now.
- Don’t overlook your network
For successful wide-spread remote working you’ll need network resources to handle high volumes of users accessing the network remotely. Assess likely workloads and what type of activities they will need to use the network for. As well as accessing your VPNs and public cloud-based applications, employees may also need to make outbound calls or receive calls to their work phone number. Identify who needs a VoIP solution, scale up existing services accordingly or explore new services now.
You should also make sure your employees have adequate internet access and bandwidth in their homes to work remotely. You may need to support them by arranging for a bandwidth boost for your critical users or employees who need to move data across the network.
- Remote working and cyber security
You should also review your security policies, cyber security tools and identity and access management solutions to ensure they can flex with an increase in remote working. Employees will most likely be using their own computers to access your systems, so explore solutions like Microsoft Intune to protect corporate data. Training is also critical. Make sure staff understand the security risks associated with remote working and best practice for keeping systems secure.
- Optimise video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams
Employees can also comply with business travel bans by using video conferencing tools instead. Make sure Teams is turned on for everyone and share support information such as training videos. If rolling out Teams is to meet demand for online meetings, the video below provides a quick overview of how to manage meetings.
While you may be accustomed to using Teams for quick video chats and calls with colleagues, it can be used just as effectively for larger formal meetings internally and with external attendees. Top tips for a successful online meeting include setting a clear agenda, resolving any audio issues at the start of the meeting, and taking minutes to share later. You can also record meetings for those who can’t attend.
For more advice on using Teams for remote working, check out David Bishop's article sharing his tips for a rapid deployment. Click here >>>
If you would like to discuss practical IT steps to prepare for wide-spread remote working or explore how to optimise your cloud platforms like Office 365, please get in touch. We’d be happy to offer a free online consultation to discuss your organisation’s IT environment and contingency planning.