COVID-19: Is Your Organization Equipped to Securely Support a Remote Workforce?
During this difficult time of international crisis and uncertainty, we want to help our clients and other organizations continuing to operate with an unprecedented, unparalleled landscape ahead, by equipping their workforce to work safely, remotely and securely. With government-mandated stay at home orders, many businesses are scrambling to enable their workforce to work from home while ramping up their work-from-home policies and culture to align with the recommendations on how to keep their employees safe and healthy.
The one thing we all understand is that these are unprecedented times. As organizations and as leaders we strive to keep everything running as smoothly as possible for our workforce while meeting new challenges every day. Given this, we are sharing our expertise in enabling remote working technologies securely, while thinking about both the technology and people policies & procedures that must be in place to optimally support and enable remote working.
Why Do Organizations Need to Review and Revise their Remote Working Policy Now More than Ever?
We’re now living through what has been deemed “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. The continuing spread of COVID-19 means working from home has become the new normal for a lot of companies. In fact, many COVID-19 contingency plans rely on enabling a remote workforce to ensure staff can work from home with as little impact as possible on collaboration and productivity.
According to 2018 research by freelancing website Upwork, nearly two-thirds of companies had remote workers, but the majority did not have remote work policies in place. It’s understandable – often working from home starts as a request approved by a manager, with nothing formal in place. But given the current times that we’re living in, it’s important to dust off and update your remote working policy to protect your organizational data and secure access to information while enabling your remote workforce.
How can Organizations Securely Enable Remote Working?
As the old saying goes, when you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. The truth of that idiom is magnified when we’re talking about emergency preparedness. So how can your company get prepared to react to the fall-out of the COVID-19 virus? Here are three key pointers to get you off on the right foot.
- Support your Workforce to Work Remotely
Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Neither will just telling your employees to work from home and hoping it all works out. The sooner you can start empowering and supporting your remote workforce, the better off your organization will be. Assessing your security infrastructure is necessary to highlight gaps and potential vulnerabilities that currently exist so that these can be rectified quickly. Office 365 Cloud App Security can alert you to suspicious activity in Microsoft Office 365. Using policies that are defined for your organization, you can receive alerts when potentially problematic situations arise, see how your data is being used and accessed, as well as manage user accounts displaying suspicious activity.
- Ensure your Hardware and Software are up to the Task
If like most organizations, the majority of your employees are working remotely, their access to and familiarity with IT hardware and software is an important indicator of success. Enabling your remote workforce through technology such as MS Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive can drive collaboration and productivity. Security is an important factor now more than ever so it’s essential to review your existing Endpoint Management scenario as well as available tools such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), which for a feature that is relatively simple to turn on, offers a great deal of protection to your organization.
- Set up your Communications Plan
When working remotely, the need for a clear, concise communications plan is paramount. At a minimum, this plan needs to include how to reach everybody (all contact information in one place), your primary communication channels (email, IM, MS Teams, Yammer, etc.), and how and when teams will coordinate and meet. Enabling communication and facilitating seamless collaboration are important success factors for remote working.
Explore the Webinar series for insights and best practices on Microsoft tools and technology to help enable and support your remote workforce. Learn how to ensure secure access, communication and collaboration to support your remote workforce effectively.
What Policies and Tools Drive Productivity and Collaboration for Effective Remote Working?
Well-defined policies and tools are what sets a successful remote working environment apart from a chaotic and dysfunctional one. Here are some things you’ll need to consider:
- Space/Location – Will employees be required to work where are there privacy concerns that mean remote workstations need to have locks?
- Working Hours – Will your employees be expected to be online from 9 AM to 5 PM?
- Equipment – what equipment will your employees use at home? Do you have policies in place to protect corporate data on both corporate-owned and personal devices?
- Software – You’ll need to invest in great tools and technology to help facilitate easy communication between employees, regardless of where they are located. You’ll want the ability to chat, host meetings, access to project management tools, and a file-sharing platform. Or, ideally, something that can do it all, like Microsoft Teams.
- Security – It’s important to understand the tools and technology required to enable secure collaboration across your remote workforce. Using policies that are defined for your organization; Office 365 Cloud App Security can alert you to suspicious activity in Microsoft Office 365. Turning on Multi-factor Authentication is a quick way to enhance security across your entire network while Azure AD and sharing policies in SharePoint help to manage guest access.
- Ways to Secure Your Remote Working Environment
It’s important to ensure all your data is secured and that the data and endpoints that access that data are also secure, safe and managed. Below are three ways to secure your environment:
- Set up Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Provide an advanced form of authentication with MFA which uses two or more methods to verify that users are who they say they are and brings an increased level of security to user sign-ins and transactions.
- Secure Information Access: Secure access to corporate resources and safeguard identity by using strong authentication and enforcing access policies for conditional access.
- Use a VPN solution: Allow your users to access your On-Premises resources. Other options include application or desktop virtualization and there’s also a service available within Azure.
How can MS Teams Facilitate a Connected and Productive Remote Workforce?
Microsoft Teams is an invaluable tool for in-office and remote workers alike. MS Teams allows employees to connect with one another effortlessly, whether they’re in the same office or on opposite sides of the globe.
Here are just some of the ways MS Teams can help keep your remote working team working together:
- Chat – With both group chat and one-on-one, MS Teams has all the options to ensure everyone is on the same page. And, productivity aside, chat allows coworkers to stay connected, something that’s especially important right now.
- Meetings – Meetings that include a virtual “join” option enables team members to join from wherever they are located. Turn video on so your team can interact face-to-face and feel more connected. As a bonus, you can record the meetings for later review or for anyone who couldn’t make it.
- Project management – MS Teams allows employees to quickly check a dashboard of their current projects and tasks through project management integration. Employees will be able to review the tasks that they have yet to complete while also seeing what their fellow employees are currently prioritizing (a lack of visibility can often pose a challenge for successful remote working).
- Document sharing – One of the main benefits of Microsoft Teams collaboration is how easy it is to trade information, such as sending documents to each other as attachments. MS Teams makes it simple to share files and work on them together. If your files are Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Visio files your colleagues can even view, edit, and collaborate on them, right within MS Teams.
Although all the above features are also valuable for in-office collaboration, they are simply mandatory for a largely remote workforce. Through MS Teams, your employees can work remotely as though they are still in the office together. Whether staff are working from home temporarily due to an emergency situation or potentially, more long-term, they are able to better communicate and collaborate with other employees, while maintaining access to the information and tools they need with MS Teams.
How can you get the remote working plans in place today for tomorrow?
Whether caused by a virus, weather event, or simply employee or organizational preference, remote working is a modern reality, and the sooner your organization gets prepared for it the easier the transition will be. Now is the time to put in place the policies and tools your employees need to successfully work remotely.
Luckily, out-of-the-box tools provided by Microsoft can help you to secure information and access, and tools like MS Teams can bridge the physical distance, and help to promote a cohesive and unified workforce, regardless of where everyone is physically located.
As the spread of COVID-19 has shown us, you never know what kind of challenges your organization will have to face next. All you can do is be as prepared as possible to face whatever comes your way.
There is also an opportunity to take advantage of the Microsoft FastTrack Ready Program, where there are dedicated resources to get you up to speed on remote working, Microsoft Teams, Office 365, Enterprise Mobility + Security and Windows 10, as an enablement benefit of your existing subscription free of charge. To take advantage of this service with Steeves and Associates, as a Microsoft FastTrack-Ready Partner, please send an inquiry to FastTrack@steeves.net or complete our form.
Here are Some Technical Resources to Help Enable a Remote Workforce Securely
- How to Use Microsoft Teams Effectively: Best Practices for Getting the Most Out of Microsoft Teams. Source: Steeves and Associates
- Cybersecurity Tactics for the Coronavirus Pandemic. Source: McKinsey.
- How to keep your business secure with remote workers. Source: Techradar.
- Enabling Your Remote Workforce Securely Webinar Series. Source: Steeves and Associates
- Microsoft FastTrack Security Assessment: Move Forward Securely to Microsoft 365. Source: Steeves and Associates
- Endpoint Management: ConfigMgr, Intune or Both? Source: Steeves and Associates
- Work remotely, stay secure—guidance for CISOs. Source: Microsoft
Author: Dave Steeves
Dave Steeves, CEO and Founder of Steeves and Associates, has been on the cutting edge of technology throughout his career with the past 25 years running his own company as Microsoft 1st Canadian Cloud Partner and one of the first Microsoft Certified Partners. Steeves has always been an early adopter and visionary, helping his clients adopt disruptive emerging technologies managing risk with careful selection of viable use cases to create value. When not tinkering in tech Dave enjoys hockey, skiing, and spending time with his family.