Remote Workers – Where to Start
Remote Workers and IT Success
Three Main Areas to Focus on
In light of current events, many organizations are feeling the effects of life’s unpredictability. With many organizations having to cancel in-person events and meetings, shifting from in-office to remote workers in just days and mandating temporary work-from-home policies, companies are quickly realizing just how prepared they really are.
Many IT organizations around the world are suddenly dealing with a massive increase in the number of home/remote workers they need to support. The past few weeks have seen countless vendors and providers creating guides for how their software and solutions can help in situations like these.
While this is helpful for longer-term planning, my reaction tends to be more along the lines of, “That sounds great, can you sell me a time machine too?” because what I should’ve done six months ago to prepare doesn’t help me when I wake up to this email:
Now what? Where do you even begin?
Think about three areas
The first step is to break this massive challenge into smaller, easily digestible parts. We like to think about three areas:
- The users’ PHYSICAL home environments
- Your company’s CULTURAL environment
- Potential TECHNOLOGICAL issues
Let’s explore each in more detail.
What does the physical home environment look like?
For each employee who will now need to work from home (or some other remote location), there are several things to think about.
At the most basic level, does the user even have a proper work environment? Is it ergonomically correct? Lots of home workers “work” with their laptops on the couch or while sitting in bed, which is fine for a few hours here and there. But if users suddenly need to work eight hours a day, five days a week, for multiple days at end from that same location, a couch and laptop aren’t going to cut it.
Also remember that not everyone has a dedicated room to work that’s quiet and lets them concentrate, especially when others in the household will most likely be home too. How do multiple people share the same desk, and both be on their own work calls at the same time, while also watching the kids who are unexpectedly home from school?
What if their quiet place is in the basement, but their mobile phone has bad reception down there? What about their internet connection? Is their bandwidth or data transfer limit going to hit?
If you’re someone with lots of remote work experience, think about how long it took you to get comfortable and your whole setup dialed in. We have to be realistic about expectations when we throw massive users into a home working environment quickly.
What does the cultural work from home environment look like?
Remote workers have challenges. Working from home is not for everyone. Many people crave the human contact that’s lost at home, which is why you see so many people working at coffee shops and cafes. But due to recent circumstances, that probably won’t be an option, so how can you help the feeling of isolation?
One tip seasoned remote workers from home share are to always use the webcam when connecting to conference calls, rather than just voice. But we also have to remember that not everyone will be comfortable with that. People are protective of their private space, and they might be embarrassed about whatever is in the background of their webcam.
We have to keep in mind that a large number of people are working from home, so that viral video of the expert being interviewed on BBC TV while his child and wife ran around in the background is something that’s going to happen. We have to reset our standards and expectations for newly displaced workers.
Your users’ security, safety, friends, and loved ones will take priority over whatever work is going on. People are going to interrupt work calls to answer their phones when a loved one calls. They will keep one eye on the news and social media and be texting their spouses to make sure they have enough toilet paper while searching to see if they should worry about their new cough.
Remote workers will be dealing with their kids and giddy pets. They’ll be new to working at home and won’t understand how to balance laundry with TPS reports. And there will be random, unexpected absences, like when their kid’s college tells them that classes have switched to virtual and now the employee has to take the day off to drive and pick them up.
So, generally speaking, there will be a decrease in productivity. Forget all the studies that show how users can be more productive from home, in theory. Users will not be more productive.
What technology issues could there be?
This is an IT blog written for IT pros, so naturally the tech issues are what we all think about first. This is why we put it last, so that you’ll actually think about the physical and cultural issues too. But when it comes to technology issues, wow, there are a lot!
Home technology issues
For users who are now suddenly remote working from home, you need to know whether they have ever worked from home. This will inform how much support they’ll need. Questions to consider could include:
• Does the user have a work computer they can bring home, or will they be using a home computer?
• If they don’t have a home computer, will you try to order and send them one? Or tell them to go to a retail store and buy something? Or try to have them work from their phone?
• Will you try to get the user to run apps locally, or do you have some kind of existing VDI/RDS/DaaS solution in place?
• Can their computer even run the apps that are needed?
• If the user needs to connect a home computer to the corporate environment, have you implemented any kind of endpoint scanning that might disqualify whatever device the user happens to have?
• How well will the remoter workers’ internet connection work since everyone in the neighborhood will be working from home at the same time? (Sure, the user might have a 100mbps cable connection, but the cable company’s concentrator at the end of the block can’t have all users utilizing all bandwidth at once.)
Corporate technology issues
You also have to think about tech issues back at the office that could impact a user’s ability to work remotely when you suddenly have 80% of users remote instead of 10%. For example:
• Can your VPN handle the additional capacity to support that many remote users?
• Even if your VPN hardware and licenses can handle it, does the corporate location have enough bandwidth to support all those tunnels and connections?
• If you have an existing VDI/RDS/DaaS platform, can it support all the users who are now connecting from home? If yes, do you have the bandwidth to support all of this?
• You need to be ready for a given percentage of new home workers to fail the security requirements. Additionally, you need to know what you’re going to do in that case – relax them or tell the users to get different hardware, or to patch, or?
Support technology issues
The final tech nuance to think about relates to support. All these users suddenly working from home will both (1) require more support since everything is new and different, and (2) require that support to be remote.
So, you need to think about:
• If users need to update or patch their systems before they can connect to your network or install any apps, do you have that support capacity?
• Does your helpdesk have the capacity for increased call volume? Do you have the tools for remote desktop support?
• Where are your helpdesk employees going to work? Remember, your helpdesk workers are remote now too. Do you have the ability to forward helpdesk calls to helpdesk workers in their homes? Do your remote control/remote support tools allow a home-based helpdesk tech to support another home-based user?
Wow, that’s a lot to think about! Once you start to put some thought into all of that, you can start to create a plan. D9 Technologies can help you develop a plan for upcoming work-from-home solutions or help with an existing patch you may have in place now. Let us know if you need help with the next steps, contact us.
This blog is an excerpt that was written in collaboration by Brian Madden and Shawn Bass, CTO of VMware End-User Computing.