Never before has there been such a rapid and widespread shift to remote working. As countries across the world grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, any organisation which can enable is employees to work from home is being encouraged – or ordered – to facilitate this as quickly as possible.

In turn, this is raising a raft of IT challenges. How can organisations – no matter what their size or sector – best manage these challenges? Here are our key considerations.

Retrofit the planning process

In the UK at least, many organisations have been forced to switch to home working with little warning, meaning that the usual planning and testing process for a major enterprise IT project has not been possible. However, it is possible to retrofit some of that preparation. Time should be taken to identify any major tasks or events which are unlikely to fit easily into the remote working mould and to come up with workarounds now. For example – does your organisation incorporate manual or paper-based processes that cannot easily be switched online? Do you have particular systems or databases which are locked down and only accessible from the office or from a particular IP address? And of course, which of your processes, systems, and data are particularly critical or high-risk?

Likewise, time should be taken to prepare documents or guidance for staff to guide them through the key applications and processes to which they need to adapt. Better late than never.

Security and stability

A key element of such guidance or documentation should be cybersecurity. Malicious cybercriminals are already seeking to exploit fear and uncertainty around the pandemic through new forms of social engineering and by creating new infected email attachments and websites. It is crucial that your organisation proactively educates and warns staff as to these techniques, and how they can protect themselves. This is particularly pertinent if staff are using their personal devices to carry out their work, or if they are sharing devices with other members of the household.

Connectivity considerations

Fast and reliable home internet access is clearly the foundation for effective remote working – and in most cases, it won’t be an issue. However, it is important to consider the needs of employees who may have limits on their home internet connection – particularly with children now home from school and placing other demands on capacity – or employees who live in areas without fast broadband speeds. Can, and will your organisation take steps to increase their capacity for this period of home working? For many organisations, remote access to a VPN in order to access private company resources will be important.

Communication and collaboration

Videoconferencing and collaboration tools are likely to be the foundation of your organisation’s switch to home working. For organisations which have already been using the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, this may not be much of a change, but for others, the evolution will be rapid.

Happily, many of the major providers have stepped in to offer their resources for free for a limited time. Slack has hosted free consultations for companies newly adapting to remote work; Microsoft has made its cloud productivity suite, including Teams, free for businesses over the next six months, and Zoom has lifted the 40-minute restriction on its free tier.

Prepare for a new normal

Many business leaders and managers will be counting down the days until the country returns to something approaching normality – but it is important to acknowledge that this dramatic change in working practices is likely to bring with it longer-term cultural change. Discussions are already ongoing as to whether this extraordinary event is actually likely to drive a permanent shift to more flexible working practices, with employers and employees alike recognising that productivity can be maintained outside of normal hours and away from the office. As such, be prepared to take on board such feedback from your own staff, and to use this unprecedented time as the foundation for a new normal.

 

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