Many companies in these uncertain times have been forced to switch to remote work mode. But is “forced” really the right word? The IT industry has been betting on working from home for a long time, and this model is perfect for working with dispersed teams and employees. However, the home office is not reserved for IT companies. Are you wondering what steps to take to enable employees to work remotely? What technical and hardware aspects should you take into consideration? Drawing on our own experience, we explain further in the article below.
1) Configured VPN
The first step to working remotely is to provide a secure, encrypted connection so that employees can access the company’s resources (applications, systems used, shared drives) from home. In order to do so, the IT department configures a Virtual Private Network (VPN). There are a number of companies that can help to create a safe environment for remote work as part of cooperation. VPN services can be delivered using hardware (e.g. Sonic Wall from Dell or Cisco) or as a Windows Server service. In many cases, free tools such as Open VPN work well.The implementation of a VPN alone takes a couple of hours. After that, it is necessary to configure everything properly on user devices.
If you use PC equipment in your company or need access to mobile devices, you can use programs such as Ultra VNC or TeamViewer. The latter is a popular solution which is also available free of charge. It allows users to access company resources, and is also used by IT departments to administer the equipment of employees who are connected to the VPN network.
2) Applications supporting remote work
Tools that will help to create our workspace or virtual office. Remote work should not affect your team’s communication and information exchange. Document exchange should be made easier thanks to solutions such as Google Drive, Google Documents or Dropbox, which make it easy to share company files. Microsoft Office 365is also a popular solution.
It is true that people who work from home for a long time can complain of a feeling of isolation, especially if the rest of the team is working from the office. Programs that facilitate communication come in handy here. The most popular solutions are Skype for Business, Slack and Microsoft Teams. The latter has recorded an increase in the number of users by 12 million in just one week. This Microsoft solution combines functions that facilitate communication and file sharing; it is intuitive and does not require training for employees. Here are most important possibilities which it offers:
- Cloud space – making it easy to share files with coworkers and work together on shared documents.
- Online collaboration – video conferencing, chat programs.
- Integration with other applications – MS Teams provides full integration with the Office or Dynamics 365 applications used in the company. You can also integrate it with other programs to facilitate work planning, such as Trello, Jira or Confluence.
- Privacy protection – functionalities that help protect employee privacy, such as background blurring during calls or the “do not disturb” option
3) Appropriate equipment and tools to facilitate administration
If you use hardware with Windows software, it is worth obtaining applications for remote hardware management. The System Center Configuration Manager provides such possibilities. This tool allows you to manage any device connected to the network, including those that use Apple software when the connection is established using a VPN. The IT department can use SCCM to update the system, update the virus database, and provide users with Office 365 updates – all this without the knowledge or involvement of users. SCCM is an important tool for IT administrators – it enables the management of servers, mail, and database systems in the company for ERP and CRM systems. Microsoft SCCM is available as part of a partnership with Microsoft.
Another solution is the TeamViewer Application, which allows you to support employees connecting via VPN. This solution allows the IT department to solve the problems of employees working remotely in 90% of cases. The user who needs support generates an ID number using the application and gives it to the IT department, who takes over his computer remotely. In the case of Apple hardware, it is important to have a tool that allows for the remote management of devices. If you use Apple equipment, you may want to consider using a system such as Jamf Pro, which allows you to efficiently manage iOS and macOS devices owned by employees. Here are the most important possibilities it offers:
- Limiting physical contact – managing and monitoring devices on an ongoing basis does not require physical contact.
- “Zero touch” implementation – useful if you have a new employee who is starting work hundreds of kilometers from your company’s headquarters or who is going to receive a new, configured and secure MacBook Pro or iPad.
- Remote administration – Jamf Pro administrators remotely install the necessary programs, applications, upload configurations and solve technical problems faced by users without involving them. If a software update is needed, it can be deployed to all devices using Jamf Pro.
- Self-service portal – employees can use the self-service portal to download company-approved software with one click, and even set up a VPN on their own.
- Security – the security policy guarantees an unchanged level of security on computers, such as a firewall. With a system like Jamf Pro we can easily introduce restrictions related to access to USB or to network resources.
4) Organizational culture fostering remote work
Equipment and infrastructure alone are not enough to make the remote work model effective. As Joanna Martynowska, Team Manager at JCommerce, says of the IT industry: “The IT industry is – or at least should be – fully prepared for employees to leave offices while maintaining business continuity. But having the adequate infrastructure is not a guarantee of success. From the perspective of a Team Manager or any supervisor, fully remote work means a lot of challenges. Many managers ask themselves: How to control an employee? How to keep relationships? Can you trust an employee to perform their duties, and if not, how to enforce the improvement? The right approach is key, as is trusting that our teams consist of responsible professionals. We give them the trust they deserve. To maintain relationships, though, let’s organize teleconferences from time to time, but be careful not to overdo control. There are so many options to stay in touch nowadays.”
At first, employees may find it difficult to get used to the new, remote reality. As an employer, you can take care of the adequate infrastructure, necessary tools, and trust your team. An employee who works from home just needs to prepare a suitable workplace where he or she can concentrate on the task at hand, with access to the Internet of course. With a sensible and committed approach, remote work will be beneficial not only to the employee, but also to the entire organization.
- Tomasz Winiarczyk, IT Manager
- Anna Valkenburg, Business Development Manager
- Paulina Materna, Business Unit Manager
- Joanna Martynowska, Team Manager