Oakland, FL (Mar. 20, 2020) – Businesses have evolved into becoming dependent on the internet in order to stay competitive and to streamline their business processes and workflow. For most business owners and key personnel, this also has meant the ability to work from home or remotely in an effort to always stay connected. In some companies that simply meant having 24/7 access to email. In others that has meant being connected to the corporate network and corporate resources and often having the appearance of being in the office while working remotely.
With the recent spread of COVID-19, more businesses are quickly turning to remote workplaces for all their employees, not just the essential or “remote” workers. This means more of our workforce will be working from home while maintaining the same level of production as being in the office.
The technology to make this happen already exists, and in most cases, companies just need to make minor modifications to their current IT infrastructure and may need to purchase inexpensive hardware or software for their employees to efficiently work remotely. Most employees have adequate internet capabilities in their homes to make working remotely a viable option.
The issue for most business owners is knowing what they need to transition their workforce remotely while remaining secure and productive.
Clinton Pownall, CEO of Computer Business Consultants, a Central Florida based IT provider, has provided some insight on the topic.
What does a business need to enable their employees to work remotely?
The resources needed to make the transition to a remote workforce are already in place for most organizations. There are several options available. In some cases, businesses are going to do something they have never done before, which is open up their computer network to be accessible by the outside world.
To ensure the security and integrity of the internal company network before allowing outside access the network must be secured and ready for outside access. This entails having an up-to-date firewall with full security services enabled, End-Point-Protection (EPP) on all devices, (formerly known as “Anti-Virus” but much more), and secure encrypted data backups in case of a security compromise.
What do employees need to work remotely?
Depending on what device the employee will use to work remotely will depend on how remote workplace is deployed. Typically, we use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection or set up a remote workplace agent. A VPN is a secure encrypted connection that extends the organization’s private network across the internet. The VPN can only be accessed by the originating device and the organization’s network.
If an employee already has a company-issued laptop or a company-controlled computer in their home, an encrypted Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPN agent on the device can be used to access the corporate network. In some instances, a firewall with full security services is installed in the employee’s home and access to the corporate network is accomplished through a site-to-site, or firewall-to-firewall, VPN.
If an employee is using their own device to remotely work then secure remote workplace access is used to gain access to their workstation in the office. This allows the employee secure remote access to their office workstation and act as if they are in the office using their office workstation.
In either case, using a VPN or remote workplace access, the employee will have complete access to all the company resources and if needed the ability to print to office printers or home printers.
How secure is working remotely?
Using either a VPN or remote workplace access is very secure as long as the organization’s internal network and resources are secured. This does not mean the organization’s current policies on network and internet security should no longer be adhered to while employees are working outside the office. All employees must constantly remain vigilant when it comes to security. At Computer Business we make every effort to convert our clients’ staff from being security liabilities to becoming security assets. This means educating them on how hackers manipulate their way into an organization using technics such as social engineering and email phishing scams.
With a remote workplace, it does become more difficult to control the organization’s network environment. There are now many more access points into the company network. To alleviate this, maintaining a strong central security strategy within the organization’s network is essential. To accomplish this requires constant monitoring of the organization’s resources and network, End-Point-Protection (EPP) on the employee accessed devices, firewalls with full security services, encrypted data inspection on the network, the use of strong passwords policies, and control of company data. As a final measure, a well-implemented data backup and recovery solution is imperative.
What about company telephones and employee extensions to maintain a seamless work environment while working out of the office?
Most organizations are already using Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service providers. With VoIP, traditional hard-wired telephones have been replaced with telephones using the network and internet. In most cases, the VoIP provider already allows for access from any internet-enabled telephone. In some cases, allowing remote access to an organization’s internal telephone system will require modifying firewall access to allow the remote extension access to the telephone system.
Instead of desk phones to work remotely, employees can use a softphone. Softphones are widely used software apps that can make telephone calls over the internet through a computer or mobile phone. Employees can use their built-in microphone and speaker or if they prefer, purchase inexpensive headsets.
How can video conferencing and remote collaboration help?
Video conferencing is a great tool for maintaining face-to-face discussions. Most laptops and devices have built-in cameras and desktop USB cameras, with built-in microphones, are minimal in cost. There are many well-established providers such as Skype, GoToMeeting, Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams for video conferencing and online collaboration.
Social distancing may be present in the workplace for some time and we are entering into a realm where remote workplaces and meetings may become the norm as the workforce and companies find remote employees are a viable and cost-effective solution for the bottom line even after the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved.
Video conferencing will enable socialization of what is to become a non-interactive workforce. It will add the face-to-face component and visual cues needed to converse which will become collateral damage of remote workplaces.
Already the younger generations are attending online classes at the collegiate level with video conferencing and online collaboration. All Florida universities utilize this technology which is why it was a seamless transition for Florida universities when they were required to convert their entire classes online on such short notice at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within one to two short years, I expect most public K-12 schools in the U.S. will embrace this technology.
Are there other concerns businesses should consider to enable their employees to work remotely?
While I cannot speak from a legal standpoint, I recommend a thorough policy outlining remote workplace guidelines. These include instructing employees to maintain a safe and secure working environment at home, checking in and out with their supervisor when leaving their home workspace and maintaining professionalism as if they were in the office.
At Computer Business our staff must adhere to all Computer Business policies and procedures and must ensure their remote work is consistent with their current assigned responsibilities. Employees working outside the office must be available as if they were working from the office.
In the event a staff member is unable to work remotely due to utility outages, unavailable workspace, issued equipment failures, or for any other reason, they are required to immediately report the unavailability to their supervisor and to work from the Computer Business office.
The remote workplace transition COVID-19 is forcing upon today’s business may be here to stay as more businesses realize the ease at which employees can work out of the office and still be productive.
Computer Business is a full-service information technology (IT) company offering a comprehensive suite of IT services ranging from complete IT Managed Services and Security to innovative custom-designed solutions. Computer Business has a worldwide client base in a broad range of industries including health care, law enforcement, financial, legal, technology, real estate, logistics, government/municipalities, B2B and B2C, and the U.S. military.
Serving Central Florida for more than 24 years, Computer Business is very engaged within the community by providing strong support for education in both Orange & Lake counties, and the arts through the United Arts of Central Florida, the Orlando Shakes in partnership with UCF, and the Enzian Theater. Computer Business also supports entrepreneurship and is an active trustee for both the South Lake and West Orange Chambers of Commerce, and executive members of the Orlando Chamber.
Please contact us if you are interested in interviewing Mr. Pownall.