By Lloyd Witt, Solutions Architect for Managed Services, MTM Technologies
Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Top of mind for organizations of all sizes and across all industries today is how the rapidly growing COVID-19 and Coronavirus epidemic will affect their employees and their operations. We have already seen international measures impacting Asian and European workforces and some American employers have begun to issue precautions for their own employees. I’d like to provide some guidance and direction as someone who has seen first-hand, during the “snowmaggeddon” of 2010, the impact that a major storm can have on organizations, their employees, customers and operations.
In this article I discuss ways to create a “remote ready” working environment for your employees and IT team that includes virtual desktop (VDI) and collaboration technology and tools that can make remote working as equal to your current workspace as possible. At the end of the article I am including links to some tools that you can use immediately if your organization and its employees are facing imminent requirements to work remotely. If that’s you, be safe and scroll to the bottom now.
Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Planning
Whether it is a virus or a regional natural disaster like the recent California and Australian fires, there will come a time that your workforce is impacted and that your IT team will need to provide safe, secure remote working operations for your workforce. There are necessities for your employees that you should consider that may already be part of your Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) Planning Process – but you may want to review contingencies you outlined earlier to see what may have been missed. It’s unfortunately been my experience that BCDR plans, once created, are not often reviewed, let alone tested and revised.
Now is the time to ensure your BCDR plan is current, up-to-date, and that it works for all scenarios – not when you’ve already sent everyone home. If you find any holes in your DR plan, now is the time to fill them in. Make sure that your IT on-call routines are in place, that your documentation is up-to-date. Look at this as a holistic problem. Review your plan and all steps from the top down and then test it from the top down. Don’t put this off! The IT organization must be front and center for a DR plan to operate and for your employees to feel confident that they can work when disaster or outbreak strikes.
Think Holistically. Act Remotely.
When a virus or disaster threatens your organization, the first order of business is to ensure that your employees are safe. That may mean at home, at a family or friend’s home, in a hotel or sheltering at another location. It may not be your IT team’s responsibility to provide shelter, but you may want to establish a way for people to connect with one another and to locate available hotels – maybe by hosting an internal web page with contact information or making the company directory and employee mobile contact information available to other employees.
Once you are sure your employees are somewhere safe, then you can think about what they will need to continue working from that space. This part sounds easy, but there are a myriad things to consider.
Your employees will obviously need access to email and phones from their various remote locations. They will need internet and Wi-Fi access. They will need access to your internal applications. They may need to conduct face-to-face meetings. This last item is where things begin to fall apart. In the current environment, physical face-to-face meetings are out, and virtual face-to-face meetings are in. You must determine what capabilities your employees require and the best way to provide them with the tools they need.
And don’t forget that your own IT team expects the same capabilities. Your IT organization needs to ensure that all your systems work when they’re not physically present. They will not be able to walk in and reboot a system or connect something new. To make this work inside your data centers, you must make sure that your equipment can be remotely accessed. This is the time to seek a secure colocation or remotely-hosted data center that is professionally operated by an outside team and that is already well-versed in how to handle pandemic and natural disaster scenarios on behalf of multiple customers. When they go into lock-down mode, even if a system goes down, a new virtual system can be quickly spun up remotely with little lost time.
How to Make Your Workforce Remote Ready
You want to make your workforce “Remote Ready” for any contingency. This means that you need to provide a remote working environment that matches as closely as possible to your employee’s current working environment. Everything that they would have available had they come into their offices, cubicles or open working spaces must be as closely matched as possible and available to them from their temporary remote locations. Let’s explore two options for making your workforce remote ready:
- Collaborative remote office
- Virtual remote office
As you’ll see, these options are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the second option includes and builds on the tools I’ll detail in the first option. One of these is sure to be a good fit for your organization.
Building a Collaborative Remote Office
During a natural disaster, the first thing people want to do is run away and hide – they are not able to drive into the office. They’re also not going to go downtown to have that meeting with their client – who probably isn’t in their office either. As I mentioned earlier, in these scenarios, face-to-face meetings, while critical to business, are going to be conducted virtually instead of physically.
If you step back and look at this holistically in terms of what goes on during most meetings and what your remote ready environment needs to provide, your list may include face-to-face communication, document collaboration, presentation viewing and even the ability to conduct physical product demonstrations.
What does this require? A collaboration system like Cisco WebEx that provides a way for your now remote users to share and review documents of all types with their clients on screen. Clients see exactly what your users want them to see as they review documents. They can review how a contract looks, for example, and collaborate on changes. They can also demonstrate physical products not only by what’s on screen, but through built-in video on most desktops and laptops.
Video conferencing can be as simple and as practical as meeting in person. WebEx can handle multiple simultaneous users, so if your employees need to present or consult with a small or large group of people, they can do so without leaving their home or hotel.
WebEx and other remote collaboration tools provide HD-quality voice-over-IP (VoIP) audio for voice calls and HD-quality video for video conferencing.
Bottom Line: A Collaborative Remote Office solution is the easiest way to quickly stand up a remote working environment for your team to continue collaborating with as little downtime or loss of productivity as possible. WebEx provides a powerful set of tools that keeps you connected before, during, and after your meeting.
Building a Virtual Remote Office
We have all worked from a home office or hotel room or hotel business center before. It can be more than a little frustrating when that file you saved to your desktop is not available for your personal notebook or a business center desktop computer. That’s where a Virtual Remote Office environment, like Citrix Digital Workspace, gives you the capability of delivering your employees’ exact office working experiences when they are working remotely.
Citrix Digital Workspace is a remote working environment that enables your employees to log into a virtual workspace environment from a web browser or by downloading a lightweight client to their desktop device. From an internet-connected home laptop, company-issued notebook, or business office system, they can gain access to all their applications, which launch and operate as if they are back in their offices.
And the experience is fast; there is no lag from long application downloads and installations. Instead, applications are running from a secure, remote data center and your employees are receiving only low-latency screen updates.
According to Citrix, the average employee actively uses 36 cloud services for work with 75% of enterprise workloads now running in the cloud. Attempting to access these resources from a new, unfamiliar computer can be impossible and adds additional layers of complexity for both employees and IT staff. Citrix Workspace supports SSO, making it easy to provide employees with everything they need in a single pane of glass, no matter where they are located. It also helps to avoid helpdesk headaches from newly remote users who might be using unfamiliar systems and grappling with password-related issues while simultaneously giving IT teams more control over user access, security and compliance. Plus, multi-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption is supported ensuring your security policies remain consistent.
Citrix Workspace includes SSO with support for multifactor authentication for all apps, plus Citrix Content Collaboration Standard service and unlimited file storage.
Bottom Line: Citrix Workspace provides the exact same working environment whether in the office or working remotely. This reduces downtime and increases productivity as your employees operate in the same, familiar environment. When combined with Cisco WebEx, you can provide an entire end-to-end collaborative remote working environment. Your employees may not even notice they’re working from home. Except for the dog.
Remote Ready Tools You Can Use Today
- Cisco WebEx (Free; Webex Meetings plan includes meetings with 50 participants, HD video, screen sharing, and a personal room.)
- Citrix Workspace (Starts at $7 per user per month; Core Workspace offering with intelligent features for modern workers who use SaaS, web apps and file sharing services; plus, Citrix Content Collaboration Standard service with unlimited file storage.)