Strengthening the IT Environment to Support Remote Work

The response and urgency with which we all had to react to COVID-19 came on quickly. Suddenly, we found ourselves having to ramp up an offsite workforce, testing company productivity, IT teams and infrastructure. While some had remote employees or work from home policies, a completely remote workforce and IT infrastructure operating out of office was not a fully baked plan for most.

Now, companies are looking to adapt their IT environments, and as a trusted technology advisor, you should be talking infrastructure, helping customers assess their current state and more importantly quickly identifying any gaps or inefficiencies.

Network & Bandwidth

What to Ask: What performance issues are you seeing or are employees experiencing? What network modifications have you already made? How is bandwidth keeping up?

Employees already face distractions while at home. Add in the pain of slow internet, too many users and connectivity issues and you have building frustrations. PC Mag reports a third of remote workers say weak internet is hurting their productivity.

Start discussions around network capacity. Look into both popular applications employees are running and business applications draining the company network. Determine what is cloud-based and what can be moved to the cloud. See if remote desktop programs could be a viable solution to free up the network.

Another worthwhile discussion would be around work from home best practices. Give businesses tips to share with their employees on ways to reduce network traffic like staggering application usage, limiting access to non-critical services or using audio versus video when possible.

VPN

What to Ask: What issues are happening with employees working off VPNs? How many VPNs have you needed to setup quickly and what security measures did you add?

Many companies rely on virtual private networks (VPNs) to securely connect between remote employees and company servers. Previously, it was common for some employees to have VPN connections; now entire businesses are connected, requiring more devices, more bandwidth and more security risks. To mitigate some of those security risks, at minimum, businesses should be requiring multi-factor authentication. While VPNs connect and authenticate users, identity access management (IAM) solutions authenticate before connecting, enforcing a stronger defense against attacks.

Companies should provide employees with training on accessing company systems through VPNs and even a refresh on security best practices (secure passwords, safe connections, approved devices, etc.). Employees should only be using company-approved devices updated with the latest security and network requirements. Provide security assessments for your customers, work with TBI to identify vulnerabilities and position security solutions that go beyond basic email and access threats.

Strengthening IT Environment with Remote Work

Devices

What to Ask: How are devices being delivered to employees? What are you doing when employees need devices repaired? How are you getting devices back when an employee leaves? Do you have a BYOD policy?

With each employee requiring devices to function (laptops, tablets, phones), many IT departments have been under the gun to quickly get equipment up and running and in the hands of employees. Does the company have a BYOD policy? What security measures are in place? Does IT have a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution in place to remote lock, wipe or assist with stolen or compromised devices? Now might be an opportune time to discuss desktop as a service (DaaS), where IT can deliver applications and email over the internet without needing to maintain more hardware.

Deploying and configuring secure dedicated virtual desktops could enable home computers to function as though they are the employee's computer in the office. If you missed it, check out TBI’s Tech Gurus talk DaaS on the Tech15. With DaaS, moving desktops to the cloud frees up hardware resources and lets users gain access from any device while still giving businesses complete control, including lockdown settings. The virtual desktop is running on enterprise level hardware, through a secure data center, making it less susceptible to ransomware and attacks and making management easier while providing higher reliability and uptime. 

Security

What to Ask: How have you increased security for the new remote workforce? What additional checks are in place?

This pandemic has brought about an onslaught of cyberattacks.  With traffic running through employees’ home internet, IT teams need to focus on endpoint protection, firewalls, anti-malware, patch updates and threat monitoring. Full-disk encryption of devices should also be in place, keeping sensitive company data securely stored without being easily accessible to potential intruders. If your customers have not yet made the move to a zero trust architecture, you should be presenting it as a strong security approach that treats every user as a possible threat whether inside or outside the network.

Do your customers’ IT teams have the capacity to be quickly dispatched should a critical security issue occur? Because that’s a real possibility and responsibility does fall on IT. Scary to think about, but what would the consequences be should a breach or attack happen? For many, a managed security offering might be the way to go, offsetting liability on an already overworked IT team.

Finally, you cannot talk security without bringing up disaster recovery – 95% of companies have DR plans but 23% have not tested them. As their IT consultant, push for an audit of disaster recovery plans along with penetration testing and vulnerability scans. As an added safety measure, recommend that customers send out internal communications regarding cybersecurity best practices and any available trainings. Employees should also have direct contact information for IT staff and know how to proceed should they suspect or encounter any security issues.

Communication and Collaboration Tools

What to Ask: What struggles are you having with communications? What are the authorizations and securities on your current communication platforms?

Communication and collaboration tools are keeping businesses going right now, connecting internal staff as well as employees and customers. These solutions allow for chat, voice and video conferencing, but also can be a means to track employee activity and engagement. Many customers have multiple communications platforms, so it doesn’t hurt to quickly assess and evaluate their systems – there’s a good chance you’ll find an opportunity to streamline tools. Also, bring up reporting capabilities and how communications tools can facilitate employee management as supervisors are no longer monitoring direct reports in person.  

As with most IT matters, you should address security for communication solutions. Video conferencing has exploded by offering an alternative to face-to-face interactions, but security concerns have made headlines, too. Make sure your customers have proper authorizations and controls established.

TBI continues to produce new materials to support you and your customers as businesses navigate these challenging times. Check out COVID-19 resources for solution recommendations, provider promotions and customer-facing material. Also, use the COVID-19 campaign in Partner Marketing Center to easily reach out to your customers and start conversations.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a Senior Digital Marketing Manager at TBI, Stephani spearheads campaign strategy and marketing programs designed to drive awareness around emerging technologies and generate demand amongst our providers. Her primary focus is to support and help develop business units at TBI including Omni Center, Channel Sales Enablement, Partner Referral Program and Tech Guidance. You can reach Stephani at sfitzsimmons@tbicom.com or connect on LinkedIn.