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Snow problem or big problem? Giving your team the tools to work from home

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The Beast from the East has certainly hit most businesses hard over the last week. Many employees have struggled to get to work whilst parents and guardians have had to take time off at short notice as schools have been forced to close.

Often, it’s SMEs that are affected the worse. The impact of a weather event on their total employee base can be much greater when they have fewer offices that are less geographically dispersed and their main customers are often larger organisations whose requirements, penalties, financial terms, etc rarely accommodate weather disruption.

Then, if you throw in outdated systems and technology, this can really add to the pressure and prevent business continuity during a disruptive weather event – 72 per cent of organisations both large and small, are still using old fashioned technology such as desk phones, tying their workforce to the office.

Work from home – sounds simple, but not in practice

Is it even a viable business continuity plan? It depends on the sector and person’s role. If you run a restaurant and your head chef can’t get in, then having meals produced at home is not much use. But, if you have certain roles that can be performed effectively from home, how do you create a business continuity plan that supports the business and your employees during times of disruption?

The best business continuity plan is business as usual

The effectiveness of a business continuity (BC) plan is directly related to how recently you successfully tested it as illustrated in this diagram:

Test your BC plan every day, by using it as part of “business as usual” – embrace home working where it makes sense in your organisation to ensure that the technology works, the business can function, and employees are comfortable using it. Then, when another Beast from the East arrives you just scale the solution and not invoke it, and this is where a cloud-based system can assist as scale as you pay for what you use is where cloud is at its best

Consider the technology challenges you’re likely to face

Security – always start here. Fail the security of your employee or customer data and the business will likely be finished…snow or no snow. Don’t panic, securely enabling employees to work from home is not a major challenge for most organisations, but you should seek help and ensure you know what security controls you need to safeguard the business. Work with a partner who has expertise in your sector as they understand what security controls, training, constraints, etc. are needed.

Prioritise – does the employee need to do everything from home that they do in the office? Probably if they’re a permanent home worker but not for occasional homeworking and for BC. Work out what activities are easiest to achieve remotely AND most important to the business in the context of a BC event lasting a few days.

Technology review – now you know what employees need to be able to do and what security controls must be in place, you can review how technology (and process) can enable it.

Telephony – is this a channel internally between employees or is it a vital inbound or outbound customer channel? Cloud based unified communications and/or call centres can be used here.

Email and productivity tools – email, instant messaging, calendaring, intranet, document sharing, data stores, etc. are all vital to many organisations’ day to day services. The use of O365 is pretty ubiquitous here but ensure you seek help from a strong partner to get the most from it.

Networking – this distributed connectivity requires a rethink of the entry and exit points to your network along with the security controls and how they adapt to where the person is connecting from and with what type of device. A simple VPN giving open access into your entire organisation may not be appropriate.

Business applications and systems – likely that many of your applications are not delivered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications over the Internet. Therefore, giving secure access to them remotely needs consideration and a review of how well they will perform remotely. It may not be practical to run the applications remotely and therefore consider technologies like Citrix XenApp.

Access device – it may not be practical or desirable to furnish everyone with a laptop, even for those that will occasionaly work from home. Not always because of budget and technology but also the personal risk of employees carrying them to and from work. A mature working from home approach will embrace a range of options and when widened to include BC, can enable the scaling up much easier.

You can’t prevent or reliably predict weather events. Mitigate the risk by embracing modern work from home approaches and technology as part of business as usual, then plan how they can scale to support your broader business continuity requirements. To get started, discuss your requirements with a managed service partner that has expertise and knowledge of your industry so you know you can keep the lights on even when the snow is piling high outside!

Kevin Linsell is CTO of Timico, a managed service provider that delivers transformative IT solutions

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