Woman Working From Remote Office

Working Remotely: Creating a Plan for Your Company’s IT

As of 2020, 5 million people (3.6% of U.S. employees) have spent at least half of their paid hours working from home. Owl Labs reported that 80% of employees prefer the option to work from home at least some of the time. Gallup has found that work from home employees report being happier and more engaged with their jobs compared to their onsite counterparts, which leads to heightened performance. If organizations aim to attract the best and brightest while staying ahead of their competition, the following question must be asked: is your company ready and able to transition into the new world of remote work? If your answer is “I’m not sure,” then fear not; you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll outline steps you can take to assess your current ability to facilitate remote work within your organization, then walk you through 3 levels of remote work technology that you can implement to enable your workforce in the near future.

Assessing Your Capacity for Remote Work

Person Touching Assessment

As with any IT project, it’s crucial to accurately assess your company’s current capabilities, business objectives, and the cost/benefits of implementation before greenlighting any level of transition to remote work.  

At Commprise, our approach to these assessments generally occurs in three phases.

Phase 1 – Identify Business Objectives and Budgets

Before you even begin defining implementation plans and timelines it’s crucial to clarify what you’re aiming to achieve from this transition – so all stakeholders and partners can work together to ensure its success.

Consider the following:

  • Is the purpose of the transition to save on capital expenditures? To increase remote capabilities? To achieve greater overall flexibility and/or security as a business? 
  • What does your company expect to spend to make this transition happen? 
  • If the cost/benefit ratio for the project is clearly favorable, how much of your budget could be allocated to the initiative?

Phase 2 – Infrastructure Inventory and Workflow Analysis

The goal of this phase is to determine what technologies you’re currently utilizing, the structure and efficiency of your current workflows, and some specifics about where and how remote work capabilities could be added or enhanced.

The results of this analysis serve as a benchmark and roadmap for what improvements your organization needs to make to get the most out of working remotely.

Consider the following:

  • What hardware and software technologies do you currently use? What are their capacities? Is any of your hardware or software due for an upgrade or replacement?
  • How do communications usually flow through your company? How do files and other data flow through your company?
  • Do any of your communications require people to be on-premise? Could these activities be conducted remotely without compromising performance or security?

Phase 3 – Solutions Consideration and Cost/Benefit Analysis

At this phase, it’s important to discover which technological solutions are most likely to improve your current infrastructure. 

Here is where specific vendors and solutions are identified and examined through cost/benefit analysis.

Consider the following:

  • Which of your current technologies can be upgraded or modified to meet your business objectives?
  • What new technologies can be implemented to meet your business objectives? 
  • What financial and productivity trade-offs would these technologies have? 
  • What is the total cost ownership of the various solutions you use and are considering?
  • Could productivity be hampered during the implementation of these technologies? 
  • Do these improvements align with existing or planned expenditures (e.g., you needed to upgrade your servers next year, so you might as well reallocate those funds into a cloud infrastructure investment)?

With these three phases of analysis in mind, it’s important to note that businesses often bring in an external entity for this kind of assessment, rather than tasking their internal teams – who often operate at near capacity with routine maintenance, upgrades, and end-user support.

An external opinion also helps improve the objectivity and accuracy of any assessments and analyses, as external teams have fewer ties to existing systems and have the skill and capacity to dedicate the time and focus needed to make an appropriate assessment.

3 Levels of Remote Work Enablement

Working and Chatting With Co-Workers From Home

Although remote work is a growing paradigm, not every company needs to ensure all employees are capable of working remotely full time.

With such a potentially large and disruptive transition, it’s important to consider questions like: 

  • What would be the costs of implementation and maintenance?
  • What tools will you and your employees need to learn?
  • What new workflows would need to be developed?
  • Will you allow a Bring Your Own Device policy? Do you have existing company-managed laptops that can be loaned out? Are you able to purchase and deploy more of these if needed?
  • How would you manage the inevitable changes in workplace culture?

When it comes to remote work enablement, we find that companies often fall into 3 general categories – or levels – of remote work. They range from quick and easy “bolt-on” solutions to more thorough infrastructure and workflow modifications.  

Remote Work Level 1: Implementing Software as a Service Solutions

Zoom Meeting Conference With Two People

Without a doubt the most straightforward and least expensive method of remote work, this level is also the least disruptive to your current workflows. Things can stay “business as usual” even while you set up these remote work technologies.

Much of Level 1 involves the implementation of applications that were built as “plug and play” solutions meaning, from an IT perspective, that most of the technical details are taken care of by the vendor.

Slack

Slack is a business communications platform, but most know it as a team chat app. It’s an excellent solution for remotely managing team discourse, and the flexibility of the platform encourages asynchronous communication.

Microsoft Teams

Some say that Microsoft Teams was born as a competitor to Slack. The tool certainly delivers as a reliable team chat platform, but it also holds its own when you compare its video conferencing abilities to Zoom. 

Regardless, this application is one of the best options for simulating an office workspace that enables your employees to get better work done together. 

Zoom

By this point, almost everyone has either heard about or is using this popular video-conferencing application. 

Using video chat to communicate remotely helps simulate proximity between your employees, which goes a long way in helping remote work feel a bit less remote. 

Online Office Suites

Over the past decade, Office Suites have been shifting away from installed software packages to more convenient and connected internet apps. 

Both Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G-Suite have been champions in this arena. The apps allow your employees to easily share files and comment on working documents, all of which can be observed in real-time. 

Call Forwarding

If you’re a large business with multiple dial in numbers and extensions, reconfiguring your existing telecommunications infrastructure is critical for ensuring remote work can happen with minimal friction for your customers and vendors.

The simple solution for this is to leverage any call forwarding capabilities your existing phone systems offer to automatically redirect calls placed to your existing numbers and extensions to your teams’ respective home office or cell phone number.

If your phone systems don’t support this, we’d suggest it’s time for an upgrade to one of the more modern VoIP systems we mention in Level 2.

CRM Systems

Your company may already utilize a CRM system, but if you’re stuck using a custom built, locally hosted legacy solution, now may be the time to migrate to a cloud-based SaaS option like HubSpot CRM or Salesforce.

Not only does modern customer relationship software allow you and your employees to access customer data from anywhere in the world, many also incorporate mobile apps and built-in customer calling for a workable remote telecommunications solution.

Security Considerations for Level 1 Remote Work

It goes without saying that coffee shop WiFi is not secure enough for business communications and any distributed team should be informed not to rely on it.

Especially when handling proprietary information, sensitive data, and important contracts.

Other security considerations for level 1 integration include: 

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

MFAs are useful systems that can help manage the security of work from home employees. A good example of MFAs at work is when Google asks you not only for your password but also for your phone number and a Google verification code. 

Secure File Sharing Solutions

If your business doesn’t already have file sharing systems and processes that allow for remote access, then it’s time to consider setting one up.

Cloud-based solutions like G-Suite Enterprise Essentials, Dropbox Business, and Microsoft’s One Drive for Business all offer adequate security and access control for most situations while also providing the fairly plug and play setup we look for in an easy, Level 1 remote work solution.

Antivirus Solutions

Your company should go out of their way to ensure that all devices that are being used to enable remote work have an up-to-date antivirus protection software.

Remote Work Level 2: VPN, Remote Desktop, and Other Essential Solutions

Whereas the first level of remote work could be considered a set of quick and easy solutions, the second level is more involved and can be more expensive depending on your existing infrastructure and the tools you choose to use. 

In exchange, however, these more involved solutions provide greater security for your remote workforce and company as a whole.

Network Access Via Secure VPN 

In the Business environment, VPNs are a tool that provides you with a secure connection between any remote location and your local office network. 

This encrypted connection is secure enough that devices connected via VPN can be treated just as if they were located inside your office – meaning they can safely be allowed to access any onsite resources such as applications, files, security systems, and even cameras, among other devices.

While VPN access requires more hands-on configuration and management than relying on SaaS/cloud solutions, for many businesses the increased control and ability to keep most systems as they are makes this a worthwhile tradeoff.

Accessing your office workstation via RDP 

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) provides access to the graphical user interface of your employee’s local workstations from a distance via home office or other offsite computers. 

To maintain security and compliance requirements, RDP is typically utilized in conjunction with your VPN. 

Here’s a snapshot of what it would looks like to use these tools in tandem: 

  1. Your users connect to the VPN with a computer or mobile device.
  2. Now that they’re securely connected to the local network with an office IP address, they can access your network resources as if you were on site – including their office workstations by establishing an RDP connection.
  3. When you’re finished working, you’ll disconnect from the VPN and your remote desktop connection will drop as well. 

That’s it. 

So although it takes a bit longer to implement these tools when compared to the level 1 solutions, the process of using them is incredibly simple when compared to the costs in time and capital migrating to new solutions can require. 

Other Essential Solutions for Level 2 Remote Work

Voice Over IP (VoIP)

Just as the name implies, Voice Over IP technology allows you and your employees to place and receive phone calls over the internet, rather than traditional telecom infrastructure.

What makes this technology such a game changer is that with it, all you would need to make calls is an internet connection, and you can use the same extension across multiple devices, regardless of where you or your employees are located.  

You can go with any VoIP provider you want since all of them would be accessed over your existing internet connection. In this way, VoIP allows much more flexibility in implementation and configuration over traditional telecom systems.

Nextiva

Another business communications application you’ll want to take note of is Nextiva. They’re a business VoIP service provider that brings messaging, video, and phone together behind a sleek user interface. 

Other useful features include Nextiva’s helpdesk software and CRM bundle, a selection of software integrations, and call analytics for greater insight into your customer interactions. 

This application makes the shift to connected communication easy and quick; that, paired with its unified structure, make it our recommended VoIP solution. 

LogMeIn

This is a remote access solution that enables your distributed team to securely access their local computer desktops from a distance. 

Easy to set-up and use, it’s an ideal go-to for short-term remote work conditions. However, unlike a VPN and RDP solution, LogMeIn utilizes their 2nd party infrastructure and thus is slightly less secure. 

Keep in mind that although connections are encrypted, if someone outside of your organization were somehow able to steal your password to the application, they’d be able to gain access to your network with little to no resistance. 

Security Considerations for Level 2 Remote Work

Next Generation Firewall

At this level, standard firewalls may not be sufficient for protecting your company’s sensitive data from potential threats and intrusions. 

For instance, you’ll want protection that’s able to block malware from entering your network, and unfortunately, traditional firewalls fall short of this.

For this reason, we recommend a next generation firewall solution. 

Gartner defines next generation firewall as:

“[a] deep-packet inspection firewall that moves beyond port/protocol inspection and blocking to add application-level inspection, intrusion prevention, and bringing intelligence from outside the firewall.”

A good example of a quality next generation firewall vendor is Sophos XG

They’re a long time player in this field, with nearly 30 years of experience with anti-virus and encryption products. 

Their XG Firewall solution comes with a suite of offerings including enterprise protection, public cloud protection, enterprise integration, and other services that aim to meet their client’s unique needs. 

Their intuitive web-based management console is simple and easy to use so that you can access your next generation firewall features without getting caught up in a web of technical complexity. 

Business Continuity Disaster Recovery (BCDR)

Datto Business Continuity Disaster Recovery (BCDR)

Another security measure that should be considered at this level is business continuity disaster recovery.

Remote or not, the last thing you want to happen to your company is to lose critical business data that lives on your local servers and employee devices. This could happen as a result of an outage or some other external disaster that can’t be predicted. 

Datto is a leader in this arena. 

It’s Unified Continuity solution allows for the speedy recovery of any lost on-site data via cloud backup while also ensuring efficient data and ransomware protection.

Remote Work Level 3: Cloud Infrastructure Migration

Computer cloud webhosting services

This level involves migrating the majority, if not all, of your data infrastructure to the cloud.

Although by far the most time consuming and cost-intensive level of remote work enablement, it allows for greater scalability, mobility, and by design offers superior data protection in the event of a disaster. 

Below are some essential services to consider.

Microsoft Azure

Launched in 2010, Azure is popular in part for its array of solutions that are suitable for the needs of businesses across many industries.

Compared to other cloud hosting services like AWS or Google Cloud Platform, Azure is most similar to traditional on-premise infrastructure setups most Microsoft-based companies are used to. 

The service supports a variety of databases, programming languages, frameworks, and tools. It’s migration-center also reduces the difficulty of cloud transfers, making them faster and easier to perform. 

Regarding costs, Azure offers a competitive pay-as-you-go pricing model.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon web services (AWS) was an early leader in public cloud computing and is still going strong today. 

Users of AWS are able to access a variety of tools such as encryption key creation, auditing, and the customization of infrastructure requirements. They also offer a robust control panel that users can securely access.

There are three different pricing models for AWS:

  • Pay-as-you-go
  • Save when you reserve
  • Payless using more

Google Cloud Platform

The Google Cloud Platform offers an extensive array of modular web services and provides a secure, multi-layered infrastructure for its users that guarantees greater security. 

The service also allows your company to build applications and run them on both hybrid and multi-cloud environments with alternative cloud providers.

In this way, Google Cloud also helps your company avoid vendor lock-in.   

As far as payment is concerned, Google Cloud offers a pay-as-you-go pricing model. 

Choosing Your Cloud Type

When choosing your cloud service provider, it’s important to consider the cloud type you want to go with. There are three basic options for you to consider.

Public Cloud

With a public cloud type, your resources are completely hosted across one or more cloud providers. AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud are all public cloud types. 

Anyone can utilize public clouds, and because they come with prebuilt infrastructures, they’re generally the simpler option to go with. 

Private Cloud

Unlike public clouds, private cloud types are–well–private. They’re specifically established to meet your company’s unique needs. This allows for greater customization and personalized security.

Private clouds can be constructed locally, or they can be hosted via third-party providers. Since the infrastructure of private clouds has to be built, they generally come with a heftier set-up fee as well as ongoing maintenance costs. 

Common private cloud platforms include VMware’s vCloud and OpenStack

Hybrid Cloud

As the name suggests, hybrid clouds are a combination of public and private clouds. 

This merging of the two types allows for greater flexibility, allowing users to move workloads, applications, and stored data that needs to be passed between your public and private spaces. 

The hybrid cloud type is often expensive due to its high set-up costs. It’s generally utilized by businesses that want to save on costs with a public cloud but also have confidential data that they prefer to store privately. 

Slow & Steady Wins The Race

Encouraging sign next to remote workstation

The world is changing at a rapid pace, and keeping up is no easy task. It’s for this reason that we aim to deliver information like this to give you a leg up when you need it most. 

So to make sure the most important points of this article stay with you, let’s briefly recap them one last time.

  • Conduct an IT Assessment – Any transition to remote work should be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of making drastic changes in an effort to keep up with the times, give yourself and your team the space to properly assess your remote work needs and capabilities. 
  • Three Levels of Remote Work – No two companies will have the same remote work needs. There are varying levels of remote work enablement, but we broke it down into three levels: implementing software as a service solutions, utilizing VoIP along with VPN and RDP, and total cloud infrastructure migration. 
  • Security Considerations – At every level of remote work transition you should take the proper security considerations to protect your company’s data. Important tools to look into include antivirus, end-to-end data encryption, next generation firewall, and BCDR solutions. 
  • Cloud Infrastructure Migration – Although the most time consuming and expensive level of remote work transition, total cloud migration allows for greater scalability, mobility, and data protection. In addition to having to choose a cloud service provider, you should carefully consider whether your business is best suited for a public, private, or hybrid cloud type. 

Ultimately, a single article can’t sufficiently address all the challenges your company will face when transitioning to remote work. 

But hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what to expect when tackling such a project. 

As we mentioned earlier, every company will have different remote work needs, and even if after your assessment you decide that your best bet is to employ a complete migration to the cloud, remember that the change doesn’t need to occur all at once. 

Better to transition slowly and steadily than to implement a fast migration that ends up collapsing amidst the rush for change. 

Managing Your Transition to Remote Work

If you decide that managing the transition of this scale on-top of your current workload is simply too much, take some weight off your shoulders by considering our Managed IT and Network Services.

Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all service, we meet you where you are to design custom-built IT solutions that fit your unique business needs. 

Our Network Services not only maintain a high-speed network but also provide next-gen firewall and DNS level protection/filtering, so no more worrying your employees stumbling upon potentially malicious websites when working away from the office.

The idea of working remotely is only becoming more widely accepted and expected by the modern workforce. We’ll make sure your company’s IT is able to stay ahead of this trend.