With the likelihood of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) having at least some impact upon the United States in the near future, IT departments will be asked to provide a response. For organizations that already have highly mobile workforces, the response from IT will be minimal, as they are already well served by the existing tools, and processes in place. However, organizations that traditionally have most of the workforce on site, and computer systems designed around supporting this onsite staff have a greater challenge.
The most important tool available to all organizations is making it clear that employees will be supported no matter how things progress. Naturally people need to address their own safety, and the safety of their families first. The more support organizations can provide staff in addressing that safety, the better off the entire organization will be. From an IT perspective, this requires providing the tools needed to support highly flexible work options, even if that isn’t normally the case.
When looking at remote work, in a traditional environment the first tool that comes to mind are remote access virtual private networks (VPNs). Most organizations will have these in place now, but are they setup to support the ENTIRE workforce using them simultaneously? Often VPNs are configured with a client on a corporate owned system, that meets all of the corporate security standards. If the entire workforce doesn’t have such a system, then what? Purchasing and deploying large numbers of laptops in a short amount of time is unlikely to be successful. However, there are also VPN technologies available that allow non-trusted (ie personally owned PCs) limited access to corporate resources such as a single terminal server. This type of VPN can be quickly setup to allow everyone in an organization to continue to work in some capacity without having to be onsite.
As mentioned above a single system that allows many simultaneous users, called a terminal server, can be extremely helpful to folks that don’t normally work outside of the office. When properly setup, the system will behave the same as the user’s normal desktop, with access to all of the same tools. The major benefit of a terminal server is that it can be a single system, or small number of systems that can be granted conditional access to non-trusted client computers on one side, and then full access to internal services. While it is possible to grant similar access to user’s desktops, the management of such a system increases in complexity with an increase in the number of desktops. Often terminal servers can be located in more well protected server rooms that offer redundant power options and environmental controls that can allow them to continue to operate while individual desktops may be off.
As mobile workforces have found, tools must be in place to allow for rich communications of the organizations staff. For folks who normally work together in person, this communication is a natural thing, that doesn’t require IT assistance. However, tools should be put in place to facilitate this for everyone. Fortunately, there are many options today, and they can often be quickly and easily implemented. Of course, high quality audio is a must, but video, and screensharing should also be included. Other features to look for are shared virtual whiteboards, file sharing, and support for unlimited duration “meetings”. In addition to e-mail, chat tools should be available for quick ad-hoc communications and information sharing. Finally, having a call tree available on paper with everyone’s personal contact information is always a must.
While it may seem “too late” to implement the suggestions above, that isn’t the case at all. To miss quote a Chinese proverb, the best time to implement these tools was last year, and the second-best time is now. Additionally, once in place your organization will have greater flexibility in meeting other work impacting issues in the future, such as severe weather, or even flexible staff hours to address high traffic.
iuvo Technologies has extensive experience with these services and can help your organization meet this and future challenges head on. Contact us if you would like to talk about how to keep your business running with the coronavirus looming.