In response to the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, we’ve been answering some clients’ IT questions related to working remotely. I’ll cover some basics about safely working remotely, which could be a crucial capability during this pandemic — and for unforeseen situations to come.
Most small companies today have at least some employees working remotely. But what if your team had little or no choice but to work in separate places for an extended period? Would you be ready?
I’m breaking this post into the three practical areas involved in expanding and/or improving your company’s ability to work from employees’ homes or other remote locations:
- What are good remote-working IT tools for small to medium-sized businesses?
- How to set up your home office now, with professional help if necessary.
- How to address cybersecurity when working remotely.
1. What are Good Remote-Working Tools for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses?
Cloud-based suites of communications and work applications
Two solutions common in the SMB universe are the business versions of Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G-Suite. I’m mentioning them first because they offer many of the capabilities listed below.
Office 365 is the most commonly used solution for TechGen clients, and it’s the more comprehensive suite of the two. (Office 365 has so many features, in fact, that I recommend preparing yourself to use the remote work capabilities via Microsoft’s Office 365 tutorial videos.)
OneDrive and SharePoint: Both of these are included in various Office 365 subscriptions. OneDrive acts as an online file folder system for your private files. SharePoint does that, too, but also includes more features that aid in collaborating on files.
Both Microsoft and Google have offered free services to help companies cope with the COVID-19 situation:
- Microsoft Teams: You already have this collaboration platform if you have Office 365, and if you don’t, there is already a free option. But now, the company is offering businesses a free six-month subscription to Office 365 E1. Read the details here.
- Hangouts Meet: If you have G-Suite, Google is now providing its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities. This includes the ability to run meetings of more than 250 people per call and the ability to record meetings and save them to Drive. Read more.
Connect remotely to your office computer
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): If your company’s network runs on on-site physical servers rather than a cloud-based system, a VPN allows your employees to securely connect to your business network from outside of your office. Your VPN can be configured so that each employee’s applications, files, and information will be accessible remotely. Speed and performance may not be as good as they are at your office — it depends on how employees are connecting.
- Remote Desktop Server (RDS): This option for Windows Server users allows employees to securely login to specific applications your company uses from any computer with internet access.
- Remote Control Services: GoToMyPc and LogMeIn (owned by the same company) allow you to remotely control an office desktop PC from any remote device, usually for a monthly fee. These work similarly to a VPN with a remote desktop. Another option: If you use a managed IT services provider, that company may have its own remote control service their clients can use (ours is called TechGen Control).
Get your email from any browser
- Office 365 Webmail: Access your Outlook Mail, Contacts or Calendars from outside the office in any browser using this link.
- Google for Work (Gmail): This is part of the G-Suite.
Collaborate with employees and clients via chat, video, and file sharing
- Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is also available if you are on Office 365 and enables group and individual chat, screen sharing, voice/video chat, and file sharing. Log in to Microsoft Teams here.
- Slack: This is an instant messaging platform that some companies use for internal communication instead of email. It allows one-on-one and group chats that can be organized by “channels.” Includes free and subscription options, some of which allow making calls and screen sharing. Use this link to login.
- Zoom and Uberconference: These are web conferencing services with packages for small businesses that include voice or video conferences with multiple parties that can be recorded and transcribed. Plenty of other features.
- Dialpad: This voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone system lets you make calls from your computer, make and receive calls from your work number on mobile devices, among other capabilities.
- Your existing phone service’s remote capabilities: Virtually every phone system allows employees to forward calls to their cell phones for continuity when they are working remotely. Nearly every phone system also has a website for remote access to voicemails or remote access to calling features.
2. How to Set Up Your Home Office Now, With Professional Help if Necessary
Don’t wait for an urgent situation to make sure you’ll be able to work effectively from your home. Take a good look at the computer you use at home now. If you work with an IT vendor, get some professional advice — and for help with installation of one or both of these options:
- Augment your laptop: Here’s a blog post showing a good home setup that augments your laptop with dual screens and other gears that can make you more productive.
- Mirror your office setup: If you have specialized hardware and software that you really need to do your work effectively, consider a home setup that mirrors your work setup. This could involve a docking station for a laptop that you use at work and home. And it should include peripherals like scanners/printers.
3. How to Address Cybersecurity When Working Remotely
You can bet that hackers will be exploiting circumstances surrounding COVID-19, such as more people connecting remotely with their business IT networks.
For some basic cybersecurity tactics, review some of our recent posts:
- Is Dark Web Monitoring for Your Business Really Needed?
- Free Guide to Navigating Cybersecurity Compliance for Financial SMBs
- The Basic Email Security Tool Most SMBs Should Use — But Don’t
- 5-Step Cyber Insurance Shopping Guide for SMBs
- 5 Cybersecurity Controls That Thwart Wire Transfer Scams and Employee Fraud
- 5 Keys to Creating Cybersecurity Awareness Training Your Team Won’t Snore Through
Here are a couple of specific tactics I recommend:
- Remote control is better than VPN: Using a VPN is an effective way to access work files, but in many cases, your business has no control over the home computers that employees are using to connect via VPN. Instead, the remote control options listed above are less risky.
- Updated security software on employee’s home equipment: Make sure your employees have updated antivirus protection on their home computers. They should also make sure any security patches available for their operating systems are installed. Ask your IT vendor to check their systems if they’ll be using personal devices for work over an extended period.
There’s no reason for most of us to panic about COVID-19, and there’s no reason to panic about keeping your business running remotely. But in both cases, it’s important to take reasonable precautions now.