I interviewed Australia’s top IT experts to get their advice and tips on how businesses can successfully set their teams up for remote work.
Here’s what they said.
1. Keep IT simple
The most important thing for your employees is that they actually have the capacity to work remotely. Simplicity is crucial in delivering an effective remote workforce.
I spoke with Ian Welch, CIO of IT distributor Dicker Data, to get his advice on how to set your remote teams up for success.
“People really need to look at the simplicity of the deployment. You need to make sure that your non-IT-based workers can go home and get their laptop online.
“There’s no point giving them the fanciest solution if they don’t have the skills to make it work.”
Pat Devlin, director of ICT vendor Aruba Networks, agrees.
“It’s got to be easy — you make it too hard, no one’s going to use it.”
Providing a simple, straightforward remote access solution comes down to understanding your teams, and their daily workflows. Without access to the software and systems they normally have, their workflow will suffer.
2. Make security a priority
Is your data going to be protected when it’s spread out and distributed among a wider geographical area, with multiple access points?
Welch says you should always assume your staff aren’t using secured networks.
“We need to make sure that the endpoint is protected. If you’re logging in from an airport or your own private home connection, I’m going to assume that someone on the network has a computer virus, and therefore we’ve got to make sure we protect against that.”
As a business owner, you need to prepare your network for defense at scale. But while a lot of businesses may have capability for remote access, they’re not necessarily set up for such swift growth.
“What a lot of people are not really ready for, and we’re seeing a lot of this in our own customer base, is they’re not ready for remote work at scale,” Devlin says.
“If you’re used to having 20 people on the road — and now you’ve got five hundred — that can put a lot of strain on resources.”
Don’t rely on one security method
Welch recommends a DNS-based security system that can be deployed for your entire remote workforce. This, coupled with the right authorisations and authentication, and a robust virus scanning solution, can deliver a secure remote workstation for your employees.
Devlin recommends a security system that provides a closed, secure network, with visibility of your end-user. This way you’re able to create a secure head office-like network, that isolates its users from their home network. After all, you never know what sites other people on your network are using.
Royce Johnson, managing director of TechInnovate says that there’s also an onus on your employees to manage security from their end.
“If they’re connecting from home, the most important thing is security. If you’re connecting into the company network, it needs to go through a VPN,” Johnson says.
“If they are using any sort of BYO device, then obviously they need to monitor if there are any viruses or anything like that. Even if you connect through a VPN, a virus or malware can still get through.”
3. Get the right internet connection
One boon for remote work is that we’re living in a hyperconnected world. The majority of your workforce will have an internet connection at home.
But with the increased strain on our networks, fast internet speeds are critical for productivity.
The sharp rise in remote work means we’ll all be using more data. More apps, more platforms, more downloading and uploading, and more video calls. And it’s all going to add up.
Mike Bull, director of CMS at MSP Interactive, cautions the importance of checking your employees’ internet connections, ensuring that they have the home internet capacity necessary for your business’ regular workload.
“I think what you’re going to see in the telco supply chain is that they’re going to get more and more requests,” Bull says.
“So I’m sure that whilst they’ll try their very best, their service queues will become longer.”
The easier, the better
Welch says the solution doesn’t have to be complicated.
“Something as simple as 4G and 5G dongles, or 4G and 5G routers, that obviously provides some instant connectivity, that can easily be configured by IT internally.”
And what of internet costs? Is reimbursement necessary?
“Depending on how big the business is, I would suggest maybe a reimbursement for the home internet,” Johnson says.
But this really depends on your business.
While not feasible for every business, a simple gesture like this can demonstrate that you’re doing everything you can to support your staff in these uncertain times.
4. Keep the team productive
Working from home can be isolating, and brings a range of distractions that are conveniently avoided when in the office. So it’s crucial to ensure your employees stay productive when they work remotely.
The key is that they remain connected.
We’re living in a time where online communication is normal. But connection isn’t just emails, or messages, it’s about the people. The community. Your workplace culture.
An abrupt shift to remote work can see employees blindsided by this missing element of their workday.
There are many online collaboration tools available at the moment.
Welch recommends collaboration and video conference platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx.
Workloads can be shared via platforms such as Microsoft OneDrive and Citrix ShareFile, allowing for team-wide file access that effectively doubles as the office file server, and is distributed among your workforce.
But the human element of the workspace is critical, Welch says, which is why video conferencing software is imperative.
“So you still get all the inflection and facial expressions and so on. That’s what people want, but as they start to self-isolate, won’t be able to get.”
This is particularly important as a leader. You need to manage your teams, and stay in touch to ensure morale remains high.
Because isolation can be hard. If motivation declines, morale declines — and productivity declines.
As a leader, you need to set up a robust communications strategy with your workers that everyone has access to. This way your teams understand their expectations and how you’re going to communicate.
5. Checking in regularly
Regularly checking in with your team helps to establish some degree of normality and familiarity in an otherwise completely unfamiliar environment.
Your employees shouldn’t feel like you’re micromanaging from a distance. Instead, make sure you’re checking in to see if they have everything they need.
“It’s not checking in to see that their job is okay, [it’s] checking in that you’re giving them the right tools to enable them to do their job,” Bull says.
Regular online check-ins, and setting expectations around availability over these platforms, helps to set that sense of business professionalism and continuity.
As a manager, it’s about being available for your staff, and showing that you care about them, as well as their work. If your team is struggling, then they won’t have an enjoyable remote work experience. A supported team is a productive team, regardless of where they’re situated.
6. Remain flexible
A rapid shift towards a remote work paradigm requires a flexible attitude. Your teams are suddenly thrust into this new way of working, and their personal lives must adjust to accommodate this.
“I think it’s a difficult time to maintain productivity generally. People have got a lot on their mind, and particularly if schools were to close, it’s going to be challenging,” Devlin says.
“I think the best way forward for people is to embrace the advantages that flexibility brings.”
Things aren’t as cut-and-dry as they are with the regular nine-to-five, and working from home delivers more opportunity to address family commitments.
As Bull states, “everything happens around people”.
“You’re going to have to be a little bit more flexible.”
This includes timeframes. Remote work can often see regular work hours go out the window. For example, if your employees have children, they’re going to take priority at times. And that’s okay — you just need to work around that.
Allowing your employees the flexibility to break up their day for important personal tasks means they don’t have to worry about being ‘always on’. They get peace of mind they can still be a parent or partner when working from home. Taking an hour here, or two hours there, to take care of their personal and family lives won’t hamper your business.
This may take some adjustment on your part too. Businesses need to shift focus to task-based outcomes, rather than the specific hours worked. Overall, you’ll still achieve the same outcomes. It may just take a slightly extended timeframe.
The key is to have your communications strategy, your expectations, and your remote work tools in place, and provide structure to your new remote employees.
7. Set clear expectations
Your employees need to understand and agree to what’s expected of them, and how you expect them to operate, whether they’re working from home for a few days or in a period of self-isolation.
After all, they’re still at work.
But be mindful that this is a completely new way of working for some, so be flexible in some of your expectations. And as the situation changes, review them. Does this still work? Has the situation evolved?
Continuing an ongoing dialogue with your employees about your expectations ensures your business always stays on track.
8. Bring your MSP on board early
Your MSP (in other words, your IT company) will be integral in transitioning to a remote workforce. And the earlier you involve them, the better.
“Contact your MSP early. Try and get ahead of it,” Bull says.
“It might cost you a little bit of money now, but what it’s going to do is save you a lot of money, heartache, and stress in the long run.”
Understandably, this proactive approach may not be possible for some businesses. But even a reactive approach is better than none.
Develop a rough scope of what’s needed now and discuss this with your MSP as soon as possible.
Devlin recommends the first thing a business owner should do is map out their best-case and worst-case remote work scenarios. Taking this data to your MSP will save them a lot of time in developing a solution for your remote teams, which will get your new workforce up and running faster.
You might need a vast influx of remote employees quickly — your MSP needs to be aware of this.
But they can’t create a remote work plan out of nothing. Provide them with as much crucial information as you can. This can include:
- Confirming the type and level of security your staff have on their home networks, if any;
- Determining the type of internet connection they have, and their bandwidth; and
- Determining the strength and reliability of their home Wi-Fi, and its capacity for increased load.
“During [the] rollout, there are lots of people that are not traditionally IT savvy, but they’re expected to plug in a router and get online and get connected,” Welch says.
So support from your MSP during and after your roll-out is critical in ensuring your remote workforce thrives.
Will remote work become ‘the new normal’?
The rapid shift to widespread remote work has the potential to change the face of the workplace for good.
But if your staff are set up with fast, flexible, and secure home workstations, then your business is ready to handle whatever the future throws at you.
It’s a changing world out there — but you’ll be ready.
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