April 16, 2024

Paull Ank Ford

Business Think different

How to Prepare for a Remote Digital Workplace

Faced with the potential threat of Coronavirus, household names like Amazon, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and Microsoft are among a majority of North American companies that have instituted travel restrictions or work-from-home policies. But while the concept of working from home may sound simple, the preparation that goes into a 100% digital workplace is no small feat.

At West Monroe, we help organizations become digital workplaces — typically to improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, and save costs. With COVID-19, a company’s ability to operate as a digital workplace is top-of-mind, even if only for a defined period.

CFOs have little time to make investments and decisions. So we pulled together five questions they can ask their technology team in order to hit the ground running.

Do employees have the hardware they need to be successful? 

Simply, employees and contractors needs the right equipment to do their jobs. Do they have a laptop, either instead of or in addition to a desktop? Do they have headsets to make calls and spare laptop chargers at home? If not, we recommend taking the proactive step to have enough laptops, headsets, and other hardware for everyone, as soon as possible.

Once the workforce is equipped with the right hardware, broadband connections become important. Do employees have the right internet speed while working from home for the type of work that’s expected? Conduct an inventory of employees’ broadband connections and pay attention to their downloading and uploading capacities to ensure there is have adequate capacity for telephony, video, or screen sharing.

Not everyone will need the same level of bandwidth, so some role-specific guidelines may be necessary to keep requirements realistic. If the workforce is lacking bandwidth overall, the company’s collaboration strategy may need to take that into account.

It may also be necessary to revisit reimbursement policies regarding personal broadband connections. For some employees it may be necessary to invest in mobile hotspots and related data plans to establish adequate internet access at home. Work with employees to get at least a minimum-viable capacity in place.

And if the company relies on VPN and all employees are working on it simultaneously, current hardware may not be able to handle that load. Starting today, test the limits to understand whether the existing mobile workforce solution needs to change.

Virtual collaboration 1: Are the right tools and technology in place? 

We often take for granted how many colleagues, partners, and vendors we collaborate with daily to get our jobs done via phone, email, and other communication devices. To be successful while remote, maintaining that collaboration is critical.

Does the company have tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, WebEx Teams, or Zoom that allow the ability to chat, co-author documents, access important files, and host meetings with video? Are there intelligent workplace tools such as Beezy to help people stay connected and productive? These types of solutions help connect employees at all levels and deliver targeted, personalized information to the right employees at the right time.

Having the right collaboration tools is crucial, but do the company’s employees and partners have the proper training and skills needed to use them effectively?

There is a good chance this may be the first time they are using such tools as intended. Are there documentation and best practices that can easily be shared as employees navigate these platforms? When users are given proper instruction and support, their usage of the tools increases and their productivity improves. Investing in this type of support now will cut down on the time learning them later.

Virtual collaboration 2: Do you have the culture to support it?

If working from home is not a solution for the company just yet, there is at least a likelihood that travel will slow down due to coronavirus. (For example, Salesforce recently announced it is suspending non-essential travel for its 50,000 employees.)

More meetings will have to be virtual, making a platform that allows effective communication essential. Does the company culture promote videoconferencing today? If not, can efforts be made to become more virtual before these work-from-home policies are required?

Using video helps employees stay connected, regardless of distance. If the company doesn’t have a remote working culture today, it will be even harder to change and teach employees how to use digital workplace collaboration tools while remote.

Traditional ways of working will also change. Teams will need to be flexible with a potential shift in working hours. Consider the school closings in Japan: If daycare or schools begin to close, traditional work hours might shift to accommodate changing schedules. Team meetings may have to shift to earlier or later in the day to best fit schedules.

Managers will also have added pressure to ensure their teams can perform well while remote. They will need to make sure their team has an adequate understanding of tools and that they encourage collaboration, foster open communication, and can measure productivity.

Microsoft’s usage analytics is a good built-in tool to see how people are working. Third-party tools, like Brainstorm’s QuickHelp, can also help with monitoring and shaping effective usage through learning, support material, communication campaigns, and analytics.

While this data is helpful information, managers still have the task of clearly crafting and communicating expectations for how their teams should interact and collaborate — for instance, being available and online during normal work hours.

From there, it’s a matter of managing to those expectations. How the management team goes about managing this change can make a significant difference in results.

What is the best path forward for security and mobility?

If the company’s remote working strategy involves employees using personal devices, employees will shift from working on secure networks and machines to relying on their own devices and home and public Wi-Fi.

To address the security concerns these changes represent, here are a couple ideas.

First, fast-track multifactor authentication (MFA) to allow the workforce access to the sites and files they need while ensuring the right person is logging in. This can take several months to implement at a sizable organization (both technically and culturally), so start working toward this today.

Meanwhile, in the Azure and Office 365 ecosystem, Intune and Conditional Access can be combined to validate that the devices accessing the company’s data are sufficiently trusted before providing access to corporate systems.

Second, get people remote access without sacrificing security. Are all apps and programs that employees use accessible from home? If not, are you relying on VPN technologies that put untrusted personal devices onto the corporate network?

If you are stuck with applications hosted in the data center, consider using a reverse proxy such as Azure Application Proxy to make web applications available to users outside the corporate network, quickly and securely, using TLS and multifactor authentication.

This can effectively reduce the burden on VPN infrastructure while maintaining security. If there are desktops in the office to which remote workers must have access, solutions like ConnectWise Control can be integrated with Azure Active Directory, protected with TLS and MFA, and deployed very quickly.

While not a cloud-first mobile-working experience, solutions such as ConnectWise Control can allow employees to access their everyday desktop from anywhere and work without significant disruption to their everyday processes.

Can the company’s support desk handle a higher volume of requests?

When the workforce is remote and trying to figure out new processes and tools on their own, support desk requests will surge. Are there self-service resources and knowledge bases to provide support before requests occur? Are there enough IT resources to cover increased demand?

Evaluate — today — the company’s ability to troubleshoot remotely. From taking pictures with mobile devices to using remote-assistance software, this will be necessary as in-person options subside.

You may have to get creative if you’re not able to meet and diagnose in-person and still help remote workforce resolve issues. Consider increasing self-service capabilities by using a tool like ScreenSteps to easily create and publish guides that help avoid many of the issues that go to support.

It’s even possible to create workflow articles that mimic the troubleshooting process that people would get from a first-tier agent. If done right, through the process, the workforce can even become more adept with technology and troubleshooting.

It takes a great deal to keep a workforce efficient while remote. While not exhaustive, this initial set of questions will help mobilize your digital workplace and make the company more nimble — for tomorrow and beyond.

Kaumil Dalal is lead digital workplace director at West Monroe, a national management and technology consulting firm. Frank Lesniak, Rick Sabatino, Alex Foucre-Stimes, and Ryan Milton contributed to this article.

This article was originally published on West Monroe’s website.

Azure, coronavirus, COVID-19, multifactor authentication, remote workforce, secure networks, VPN, West Monroe