COVID-19: Prepare Your Business for Telecommuting  

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) pandemic has begun to affect every part of our lives. From event cancellations to overrun grocery stores, you can’t read the news without getting a COVID update. With the United States implementing more quarantine policies every day, there’s one major effect on businesses, and specifically, business technology – extended work from home policies, or telecommuting.

Properly Prepare Your Employees for Telecommuting

What this means for businesses, who have their employees telecommute, is supplying a broad level of remote access for employees. The challenge many businesses face is that they don’t have company-issued systems, I.e. employees are not able to easily pick up their office technology and use it in their home. For some employees, this may not be an issue. Many applications used by American businesses are cloud-based or web-based, meaning you can connect to them on any device from anywhere, not just at the office or on a company laptop. For example, Salesforce, a common Customer Relationship Management software used by many companies across the country, is based out of your web browser. This means that many sales teams can work from home easily, without requiring additional technology. Sales is just one example.

However, some employees have documents or software that can only be accessed on their company’s internal network. There are two main options available to these employees so they can continue to work uninterrupted, in ways that keep your company’s network secure. The first is VPN, or Virtual Private Network. The second is VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

Please keep in mind that not all businesses may have these options today. Be sure to assess your employees’ responsibilities to determine if they can access all necessary tools purely from the internet or cloud, or if they require additional access to the company network. Working with a third-party I.T Service provider to help navigate department and employee requirements while properly positioning remote access for those employees is the best strategy.

What are Virtual Private Networks (VPN)?

VPNs allows access to the business’ internal network that you would typically use day to day if you were not telecommuting. In order to use a VPN, the user must have a company laptop to gain access. VPNs are fairly easy to set up, but require licenses in order to allow users to access the network. It is important to know just how many employees will require VPN access so that you have the correct number of licenses available. If you do not, this can cause interruptions for any employees that are not able to access the VPN due to all licenses being used.

A VPN is like a “door” into the network, and your business and I.T. team can decide what exactly you want to allow through that door. These are secured with encryptions. It is also important to further secure VPN access by using multi-factor authentication, or at the very least, very strong passwords for VPN logins. If employees have a company laptop, and need documents or software stored on the internal network in order to do their jobs, a VPN allows them to access all those materials even while they are working remotely in a secure fashion.

What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

VDIs allow you to remotely access your desktop exactly as it exists in your office. As long as you have internet access, you can utilize a VDI (if given access from your I.T. department, of course). Unlike a VPN, you do not need a company computer or laptop to access a VDI if your I.T. department has given you the proper credentials.

VDIs are a completely private “shell” that you cannot influence from whatever device you are accessing them from. This means they are highly secure, despite not having the same hardening methods as a VPN. If you have employees that do not have access to a company laptop, or need access to proprietary software specific to your business, a VDI is a better option for them than a VPN. However, VDIs have limitations – they are very expensive and time-consuming to set up, and require licenses in the same way a VPN does. Many companies are not positioned to run this more complicated method. If this is the case, VPNs are a more rapidly available and accessible option.

Telecommuting Strategy In Your Pandemic Response Plan

Understanding these two tools for telecommuting is essential to understanding how to plan for your business’ pandemic response. While most businesses have a business continuity model, those typically are in preparation for disasters such as floods or cyberattacks. It is important to formulate a plan for this pandemic, even if you did not have one previously.

Recommendations for creating a comprehensive and secure pandemic response plan include:

  • Understanding who within the company needs connectivity to the business.
  • If you are going to provide remote access through a VDI or VPN, make sure it is secure. Ensure your VPN is encrypted, and use multifactor authentication or very strong passwords for employees accessing the VPN.
  • Not everyone will need remote access to do their job. Be selective about who you give access so you can maintain the integrity of your internal network.

Once you have created and documented your pandemic response plan, you can begin ensuring all employees have the access they need so you can continue daily business operations.  If you are unsure of how to proceed, it is important to consult with your I.T. team or outsourced third-party I.T. partner to facilitate remote access in the most optimal and safe way possible.

No matter how you choose to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can read CDC and WHO recommendations on best practices to keep the spread of the virus down in order to keep your employees, your family, and the rest of the world as safe as possible.

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