Despite most COVID-19 restrictions lifting for businesses, many of us are still working from home. For some companies working from home is the new norm. Others are bringing staff back to the office but are making significant changes to how office work is done. The architecture of the office is in flux.
There’s a problem with being focused on “working from home.” Companies that only think about how their employees will work from home in the future are making the same mistake they made before COVID-19. Many companies only thought about their employees working from the office. They weren’t prepared to support their staff working from home. Even now after months of doing so companies are still finding that they have problems supporting these remote workers.
“Home” is just another location, like “office.” Companies are getting hung up on a specific location and not understanding the important reality – work is a thing we do, not a place we go. Regardless of location, we need to enable employees to work successfully and safely.
Why think about “working from anywhere” rather than “working from home?”
Thinking about work as a location creates blind spots. Many companies had remote work plans and capabilities for their employees. They never anticipated having all of their employees working from home. Their infrastructure wasn’t set up to handle the load. Their business practices could deal with a few people from any team working remotely, but not everyone working remotely, for extended periods.
For the people working at home, their companies never considered what would happen if every company was working from home. No one thought about all their workers at home with their spouses, and their kids, with their pets and all of the regular at-home interruptions. Residential internet connections didn’t have the bandwidth or reliability to support important work. Work practices and cultures weren’t set up to cope with interruptions, different work schedules, and barking dogs on video calls. Companies didn’t consider the security implications of having everyone work from home. Companies weren’t ready for the communication challenges in the new environment. These issues and problems are avoided when a company adopts a “work from anywhere” approach.
Companies with a “work from anywhere” approach don’t necessarily have all or even most of their employees working away from the office all of the time – but they are prepared to do so. Being set up for work from anywhere means providing employees and the company with the greatest flexibility possible for getting work done. It means removing the strictures of both making everyone come to the office and being a fully remote company.
How to work from anywhere
Now is a great time to move to a “working from anywhere” approach. Your company has already had to make adjustments for COVID-19 so you’re already on the path. Here are some specific things you can do to help your employees work from anywhere, safely:
- Private cloud – move your infrastructure from an on-premises data center (or closet) to a secure, private cloud. It allows employees to access your data and applications from anywhere.
- Virtualize your endpoints – Access the data and applications in the private cloud from virtualized workstations in the same data centers. This removes the dependency of having specific physical workstations for employees to do their work. Instead, employees can access their desktops from any device they have, anywhere.
- Move to SaaS applications – Whenever possible, move your primary business applications to a Software-as-a-Service offering. This also makes it easy for employees to access applications from anywhere and usually from any device.
- Use SSO – When you move to a “work from anywhere,” cloud-first, digital-first approach security is paramount. There’s no longer a central, on-premises network to rely on for user authentication You’ll need to implement a new system. Implementing Single Sign-On (SSO) provides an easy way to establish secure authentication without overly complicating employee’s lives. No one wants to have to remember 100 passwords!
- Use MFA – To keep your SSO secure, use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). MFA helps you keep applications and data secure by using both passwords (one factor) and either a smart-phone based authenticator or a secure physical token (second factor) to verify logins. This makes it much more difficult for attackers to guess or steal credentials and get access to your data.
- Use collaboration tools – While some employees can be successful working alone, most need to be involved in regular, frequent communication with colleagues, managers, and customers. Email alone isn’t going to be enough in a “work anywhere” environment. Adopt collaboration tools – chat systems like Slack and Teams are necessary but not sufficient! Look into tools to manage and automate workflow and approvals as well as data and knowledge sharing. Take care to adopt tools that can operate asynchronously. It may be that not everyone will be in communication at the same time. A key factor for success will be allowing everyone to find the information they need and to effectively communicate even when other employees aren’t available.
- Use a cloud VoIP phone system – Telephone systems are increasingly merging with other communication and collaboration tools. Your customers are probably still calling you on the phone, though. If you haven’t already, move to a telephone system that isn’t dependent on your physical location. You don’t want your telephones and video conferencing systems to stop working if your office isn’t accessible.
- Beware the “two-class” system – Often remote employees are “second-class citizens” compared to their in-office colleagues. Remote employees aren’t as able to participate in the informal culture and build relationships the same way that the team in the office does. Worse, they’re not under the eye of managers and are forgotten or devalued when it’s time for advancement. “Work from anywhere” can help avoid this by having everyone participate in both styles of work, but only if there’s a commitment from the top. If the senior management never works from anywhere but the office you can be sure that working from anywhere else will be viewed negatively by the rest of the organization.
- Invest in training – Working from anywhere requires different technical, organizational, and social skills than regular office work. Employees who have worked their entire careers in an office won’t have these skills. To be successful provide training in the new technologies and applications, in cybersecurity, in collaboration skills, and in organizational skills. It isn’t enough to just hand over a box of shiny new tools and hope everyone can use them.
Even if there’s never another pandemic, even if your company never has to deal with a situation that closes a key office, or even if all of your employees return to work in a single facility, being prepared to “work from anywhere” can be a huge benefit. Properly configured the new technology infrastructure is more reliable and easier to maintain. Employees have more flexibility in how they work. Managers have more flexibility in how they organize and group teams. Disaster recovery is baked-in. Your company or organization will simply be more efficient and more resilient.
Finally, remember that when it comes to cloud, private cloud is generally better than public cloud, and free technology is worth what you paid for it. Making the right choices is critical to being successful with a “work from anywhere” approach. At Brightworks Group, we provide an entire platform that provides nearly everything you need to help your employees work from anywhere, safely. Contact us to learn how we can help you.