Key Considerations for Launching a Remote Working Program
It’s no secret that the workforce is globalizing. Technology has made it possible to work effectively and efficiently from anywhere, allowing employees to untether from traditional offices. Organizations are eager to embrace this trend, allowing them to increase employee satisfaction while gaining business benefits such as access to better talent and decreased overhead costs. But the transition isn’t as easy as hiring workers from across the country or telling everyone they’re free to work from home. A successful and secure work at home program takes a lot of planning.
Take these key factors into consideration and plan accordingly before making the switch to supporting remote workers.
Remote Working Use Cases
Before moving to a remote working model, assess which teams or types of worker are most suited to a remote situation. Individuals who do a lot of routine, “heads down” tasks (such as customer support agents, data entry workers, transcriptionists, researchers, etc.) will likely fit well with a remote situation whereas highly collaborative, fast moving teams may take longer to make the adjustment.
When assessing user profiles, consider:
- What type of work that user profile performs
- What data they access
- What applications they use
- How often they typically need IT trouble shooting
- What level of security controls would need to be in place
If your organization is completely new to remote working, identify a top use case that would be easiest to implement and support and start with that division as a trial. This will give you an opportunity to see how the program works, what new demands it will place on the company and to assess any unanticipated needs or risks.
Once you have your top use case identified, start by planning for the following requirements.
Once you have established that your work at home employees have a fast and reliable Internet connection (an absolute must-have for any remote workers), the foundational question of work at home programs is, “What are employees going to use to work?” There are several approaches organizations can take:
- Ship all employees a company-issued laptop
- Allow employees to provide and use their own device
- Provide more affordable thin or zero clients that require employees to only supply peripherals such as a monitor and keyboard
The first option is expensive, labor and resource intensive, and dramatically slows down time to productivity for new employees. With that in mind, a BYOD (bring your own device) program may seem like the way to go. But it’s not that simple. Allowing remote employees to use their own personal devices introduces a host of potential compatibility and security issues and can make troubleshooting much more difficult.
Before deciding what approach is best for your organization, consider the expense of each approach and the support and security ramifications. It’s crucial to involve IT in this conversation.
Every company has a software stack they work with, ranging from the Microsoft Suite to highly specialized, homegrown applications. Traditionally, organizations control this stack by loading necessary software onto any company-issued devices. This allows the company to make purchasing decisions that always keep hardware and software aligned and makes patching and updating software more streamlined. Once you introduce devices that are outside the corporate office and a BYOD program, you dramatically increase the difficulty of keeping the tech stack aligned and keeping required software patched. The rise of SaaS (software as a service) helps with this, but you may still encounter compatibility issues with BYOD programs, out of date operating systems or programs like browser or Java versions on remote company-issued computers.
Virtual application streaming and virtual desktops help further mitigate these scenarios. Streaming apps ease compatibility challenges by making applications accessible across operating systems – even systems the native app typically isn’t compatible with. Virtual desktops mean all your employees are working within the operating system of your choice, regardless of the native OS and version on their BYO device. This allows internal IT to maintain control of application-OS alignment. It also allows you to automatically push patches or updates as needed.
Effect on IT
The benefits of implementing a remote working program can quickly be outweighed by the new stress on in-house IT teams if companies don’t plan carefully. The biggest question is how IT will troubleshoot. Without direct, hands-on access to remote devices, IT teams may have difficulty fixing issues and provisioning desktops for new employees. For security reasons, it’s also important that IT retain master control over software and operating system updates and patching. The recent WannaCry ransomware attack made it painfully clear that end users are notoriously bad at updating their setups, leaving them exposed to risk even when a patch is available. For this reason, patching and updates should remain in the control of IT.
Work closely with the IT team to identify solutions that allow the in-house team to easily access remote devices to make necessary updates and to decide on the best way to provision desktops for new remote employees.
With your data out in the wild, keeping tight user and environment controls will be more important than ever. Start with the device itself. Whether remote workers are using their own device or you send them a company laptop, odds are that device will also be used to personal purposes. This exposes your data to higher risk of a breach. An employee can click on a malicious email in their personal account, giving a virus access to your data and network. Or they could accidentally expose company files if someone else uses the computer or by attaching a work file to a personal email or file sharing account. When planning a remote working program, carefully consider isolating the work desktop, applications and data within a secure environment of a virtual desktop. This allows you to limit the risk of exposure, implement specific user controls and easily revoke access if an employee is leaves the company.
Remote working programs also call for stricter user controls. Since you have less control over how an employee accesses and uses your company data, you’ll want to lock down high risk functions that aren’t necessary for job completion. Disabling features such as printing, screen capture, copy/paste and external saving help keep your data from being improperly handled, stored or shared.
Plan for the End
No employee stays with a company forever and taking a work-issued computer back and revoking access to applications is a key part of handling any employee departure. This can become more challenging with remote employees. To minimize the loss of capital expense after an employee leaves, opt for a BYOD or low cost endpoint solution for remote employees as you will likely not get many laptops returned.
Revoking access to cloud based apps is simple, but ensuring remote workers no longer have access to corporate data is less straight forward. While work desktop isolation and strict computing controls are important to preventing a data breach, they’re equally important at this phrase because they allow organizations to protect data after an employee has ended their time with a company. By ensuring company data can’t be saved to a location outside an isolated virtual desktop environment, you can instantly cut off access and protect your data simply by revoking access to that desktop.
Find Internal Champions
A remote working initiative is bound to fail if it does not have buy-in at multiple points within the organization. This is a big shift for many companies and will impact several departments. In order to give the program the best chance at succeeding, find internal champions that are willing to collaborate on a working solution and push the initiative through to completion.
Key players for this type of initiative include:
- C-Level or VP: This business leader should understand the benefits of remote workers and be able to articulate business-focused reasons to other members of the organization as well as the board of directors. This champion is critical as their seniority and power can help push stalled projects forward.
- IT Director: No technology initiative can get off the ground without IT buy-in. Include someone from the IT department at the very beginning stages of planning so they understand the drivers for the change and can help guide technical decisions for a smooth and successful pilot.
- Managers of the remote working divisions: These individuals are necessary to get a clear picture of the functions remote employees perform and the software and data access they’ll need to get the job done. This will help define the remote workers’ virtual desktop and application streaming environments.
With Careful Planning, You Can Find Success
Embracing remote workers is a big – but necessary – transition that many organizations will face in the coming years. Employees are looking for better work-life balance and 65% feel they can be just as productive when working remotely as they are in the office. This worker-driven mentality shift is steadily driving the workforce as a whole toward remote working. By 2020, more than 50% of the world’s workforce is expected to be remote.
With this trend expected to surge in less than five years, companies should start planning accordingly now. Remote working situations can go terribly wrong from an implementation, security and management standpoint if organizations underestimate the amount of planning required before launch. However, with careful consideration and updated policies, processes, procedures and solutions put in place, an organization can confidently embrace the remote worker movement, allowing them to get ahead of the curve, keep employees happy and attract and retain top talent moving forward.