CYBER SECURITY | 13 MIN READ
If your company is looking to transition your office to work remotely, you might be wondering how to make that transition, especially when your office currently has little to no remote workers. From a technical perspective, certain software and hardware, for instance VPN's, must be set up. From a strategic perspective, company executives must answer important questions regarding the management of remote employees. Keep reading to learn the questions that must be answered and the steps that must be taken to transition your office to remote work quickly.
Not enough time? Jump to:
Immediate Questions to Answer
Before starting to transition your office to remote work, there are some important questions regarding scope and budget to consider.
1. How many people are you taking remote?
Before taking your office remote, you need to consider the scale of the transition. Are you taking the entire office remote, and are they all going remote at once? Depending on your industry and the job titles of your employees, some people may not be able to work remotely.
What about employees who are hourly or whose job requires them to be onsite? For instance, teachers and doctors cannot work remotely because their job requires them to be onsite to work hand-on with their class or patients.
Additionally, certain hourly employees, such as those who fix equipment, may need to have their hours cut back, which will require planning and open communication. If the transition will be for an extended period of time, you may need to consider how these employees will be getting paid if they cannot work.
No matter how many people you're taking remote, you need to consider how many devices you will need to buy or rent. For instance, maybe some of your employees don't have laptops and only work from a desktop in the office. Will you need to buy more laptops or work phones, or will you allow employees without work laptops to use their home laptops?
Keep in mind that if you do not wish to purchase more devices for employees during this transition, you may be leaving your company's network open to a data breach.
While work devices can be configured to have secure software, an employee's personal computer or phone might not have the right parameters in place to safely secure data, especially when sending secure documents.
If you plan on letting employees use personal devices, set standards for if/how they can copy and send sensitive information using personal devices.
2. What's your budget?
While shutting down the office may save you utility costs, the costs of purchasing the necessary hardware and software to keep your network secure can add up.
If you plan on purchasing additional devices for employees, consider renting instead of buying. If you plan on transitioning your office back from remote work after the pandemic calms down, you could be stuck with additional devices that you don't need. In this case, renting devices could save you money.
After you read the rest of the article and learn about the types of hardware and software you may need to purchase from a cyber security standpoint, figure out if all these are purchases that your company can afford. If not, discuss which hardware/software purchases are the most crucial.
3. For how long will your office be remote?
Will your office stay remote permanently, or are you looking to transition your office back at some point in the future? Answering this question can help you map out a plan for the coming weeks and months.
If you decide that remote work is having a positive impact on company culture, would you consider permanently keeping the office remote? If not, you will need to figure out how to manage expectations within your company regarding the length of the remote transition.
4. If your company plans to transition back to the office at some point, what will that look like?
If your company plans to transition back to the office, you need to have a plan in place to make it happen smoothly.
For instance, if you bought or rented software and hardware for this transition, will you return it after transitioning back to the office? Or, will you keep it for future use?
How will you schedule meetings once employees return to the office to ensure that there is not an overload of meetings happening at the same time?
Answering these questions will ensure that there isn't any bottle-necking in workflow once employees return to the office.
5. Can employees work off of personal devices or in public spaces?
Employees may prefer to use their own phones or laptops to work. The issue with this is that personal devices are not as secured as work devices may be.
While work devices most likely have robust cyber security software in place, an employee's personal laptop may only have a basic antivirus software set up.
This means that employees working from a personal device could leave your network open to data breaches, which means that hackers could access your company's private information. Figure out your preferences for the devices that employees will work off of and clearly communicate that to avoid confusion.
Remote employees may wish to get out of the house and go work at a public place like a coffee shop, which may mean connecting to public WiFi. Figure out if employees can work in public places, and if they're allowed to connect to public WiFi, if you will require them to use a hotspot.
Set rules for how employees should go about working on public or home WiFi. For instance, make sure that all employees know to use a VPN at all times when working online.
If your company handles a lot of sensitive data, for instance if you're in the healthcare industry, you may not want employees to be working in public places at all.
Employees working with sensitive data in, for instance, a coffee shop, leave the door open for strangers to walk by and see what the employee is working on, or take documents when they run to the restroom.
Establish clear guidelines for where and how employees can work, and effectively communicate these guidelines so there is no confusion.
Technical Steps to Go Remote
When transitioning your office to remote work, the technical planning beforehand is the most crucial factor that will determine a successful and seamless transition.
Keep reading to see what steps your office should take to prepare your network and employees for a transition to a remote office.
Note: To ensure that the most accurate information regarding technical transitioning has been compiled for you, the following section was written in collaboration with our Director of Managed Services, Chris, as well as one of our Senior Network Engineers, David.
Set Up VPN's
VPN's, also known as Virtual Private Networks, can be used in conjunction with public or home WiFi to ensure that data is encrypted when being sent along a public Internet signal to and from your office's network.
VPN's authenticate your information with your network's firewall before allowing it through, which ensures that information is encrypted and your network is still secure when all employees are sending information, logging into programs, and communicating with each other.
Even if employees aren't handling sensitive data, it is a good rule of thumb to ask everyone to always sign into a VPN before going to work online remotely.
Make sure that every employee has a VPN installed and set up on their computers before taking your office remote. Your network should already have a corporate VPN, so you can set your office up on that and make sure that everyone is trained on how to use it.
Configuring VPN's for all employees is arguably the most crucial step in setting up your office to go remote because it ensures that your network is still secure even when everyone is out of the office.
Without a VPN, hackers could access sensitive information that employees are sending to each other over public WiFi.
Set Up a Business Continuity Disaster Recovery Plan
If your company doesn't have a BCDR (Business Continuity Disaster Recovery) plan, consider setting up at least the foundations of one before taking your office remote.
Network outages and ransomware attacks can happen even when your office is remote, so ensure that your business can avoid lengthy downtime by taking a few simple steps.
Make sure that your business' data is automatically backed up as often as possible. In the event of a network outage or ransomware attack, you may have to restore all devices to the most recent backup. If you don't back up data frequently, you risk losing access to important documents.
Additionally, make sure that all executives and any in-house IT staff know the proper steps to take in the event that your network is breached or stops working. This will minimize downtime and ensure that everybody is on the same page.
Update/Patch Necessary Cyber Security Software
Before taking your network remote, audit all computers within it to ensure that all antivirus and anti-malware are working properly. Make sure that all antivirus and anti-malware are running the latest version so that all security gaps are patched.
Additionally, if you want to be really thorough in an examination of your network, check that all computers on your network are free of any security gaps.
Set Up Remote Communication Platforms
If employees will be working remotely, they may need more communication channels than just email. Consider which additional communications platforms that you wish to implement.
If you have a unified communications platform, you may already have services such as instant messaging and virtual conferencing bundled in. Check to see if you have any of these platforms before looking at buying/leasing a new software.
For instance, Elevate includes virtual conferencing platform AnyMeeting with all unified communications packages.
If you wish to set up instant messaging platforms, consider Slack or Microsoft Teams. If you already have Office365 set up, all your employees should be able to access Teams.
Planning for remote meetings may become a little tricky, but by setting up virtual conferencing platforms, you and your employees will be able to have phone and video conferences.
Consider platforms such as Zoom for virtual conferencing. As long as employees have a fairly strong Internet signal, conferencing should be able to take place with minimal issues.
When you're planning for remote conferences, you also need to consider whether or not you wish to purchase headsets or microphones for employees to enhance the sound quality during meetings.
Also, if you want employees to be able to call each other while away from their desk phones, figure out if they will be using personal phones for communication and if so, what that will look like.
Configure Office Phones for Remote Work
Some business phone systems have a "call forwarding" feature that allows for seamless call re-routing from a physical phone in the office to a work or personal phone outside of the office.
Certain employees such as your salespeople still need to be in constant contact with clients when working remotely. If you wish for their calls to still be routed through the business phone on an employee's desk, check to see if your phones have this feature available, and if so, consider enabling it.
If you do not have this feature, figure out if you will temporarily purchase and configure work phones for your employees to use.
Business phones may also come with a feature called “Find Me Follow Me”, or twinning. With this feature, calls are forwarded from an employee's desk phone to their mobile phone.
If that employee doesn’t pick up after a few rings, instead of letting someone leave a voicemail on their mobile phone, which can mean that sensitive information is now stored on an employee's personal device, the call is re-routed back to that employee's desk phone so someone can leave a voicemail there instead.
Then, a transcript of the voicemail is emailed to that employee. This feature lets you control where your company's data is stored by ensuring that no voicemails that may contain sensitive data are left on an employee's personal device. If you have this feature, enable it before taking your office remote.
If you wish to save money and have employees use their personal phones to make business calls, whether it's to other employees or to clients, consider the ramifications of that. Ramifications could include reimbursements for minutes or data used to make business calls.
Set Up Secure File Sharing
Remote working doesn't halt the sharing of private documents and sensitive information. Setting up secure file-sharing platforms ensures that business continues to flow smoothly and securely.
Platforms such as OneDrive or ShareSync let you open and view your synced files directly from your phone and share files with co-workers and clients.
Keep in mind that if you have a Managed Service Provider, you may already have a secure file-sharing service bundled into your cyber security package, which will save you the cost of having to buy one of these platforms.
Conduct a Remote Test Run
Before taking your entire company remote, consider conducting a test run to address any issues that pop up. Ask a few employees to work remotely from home for a few hours and monitor them.
Make sure that they can log into their computers and programs, and that their connections are secure. Check to make sure that there are no security gaps that pop up.
Make sure that your network will not be overloaded by a massive influx of remote workers accessing the network, and if it will be overloaded, make necessary adjustments.
Additionally, test your Business Continuity Disaster Recovery plan at this time to ensure that all steps would unfold smoothly in the event of a network outage or ransomware attack.
How to Prepare Your Employees to Work Remotely
Once the technical steps have been taken to ensure a smooth transition to remote work, you need to answer some important questions regarding how employees will make and manage the shift to remote work.
Answering these questions before transitioning will ensure that employees understand all necessary protocol, easing the transition later on.
Note: To ensure that the most accurate information regarding transitioning has been compiled for you, the following section was written in collaboration with our Director of Managed Services, Chris.
Set Accountability Standards
If your office has little to no remote workers, employees may become confused as to what standards to abide by when working from home. Set standards for how employees should conduct themselves before transitioning your office.
The first point to figure out is what shape the remote work will take. Will employees still be working normal business hours, for instance from 9-5, or are you okay with employees working whatever hours they prefer as long as they are present for meetings and complete projects on time?
While many remote workers prefer the flexibility of picking their own hours, you may prefer for work hours to be as close to normal as possible.
Additionally, should employees show proof that they're online and working? If so, how often? Figure out if you will require employees to clock in/out, or be logged into certain messaging platforms as proof that they are online during work hours.
You may want to have times when employees should periodically check in with managers or other co-workers to stay current with projects and show that they're online and working.
In terms of responsiveness, figure out if you want to set standards for response times to emails and calls. For example, maybe you want instant messages to be returned within 15 minutes during work hours, and important emails to be responded to within an hour.
Finally, establish clear guidelines for work hours. For instance, when conducting video conferences, maybe you prefer that employees be dressed in at least business casual clothing or that they go to a room with minimal background noise.
Additionally, maybe you want employees to screen-share during meetings to show what they're working on.
In terms of where employees can work, make sure to state whether or not employees can travel to other cities while they're working. Employees may try to travel to visit families or or go on vacation during this time, which means that they may end up working while in different time zones. This can potentially complicate projects, so figure out if this is a guideline that you want to set.
While setting accountability standards and open communication will put employees' minds at ease in terms of how to smoothly make the transition to remote work, a few lingering questions may remain that need to be addressed.
Before making the transition, consider having a company-wide meeting or sending a company-wide email laying out expectations for the transition. Make sure to include points about how long the transition will be for and lay our what you expect from employees.
Establish Open Communication Guidelines
Since employees will not be working face-to-face, communication standards will be shifted. Employees who are used to popping into offices or cubicles may struggle a little with figuring out how to communicate solely remotely.
To put employees at ease, make sure that all managers and executives have open and honest lines of communication established. Employees shouldn't hesitate to reach out to their managers if they have questions or concerns about working remotely.
This doesn't mean that employees should feel like they can call their manager at 11pm with questions, but it does mean that employees shouldn't be afraid to reach out to their managers if they're struggling with the transition to remote work.
Setting up open and honest communication ensures a happy and productive company.
As a managed services provider, Standard Office Systems aims to use our cyber security knowledge and resources to educate the public about how to safely secure their networks.
As our world increasingly transitions online, businesses are starting to consider shifting online as well. While transitioning an office to work remotely can benefit company culture, a business needs to ensure that their cyber security is not negatively impacted.
Here at Standard Office Systems, we help our clients make a seamless transition to remote work by mapping out strategic and technical steps that must be taken.
By implementing the steps listed above, companies can ensure a seamless transition to remote work that will not affect network functionality or workflow.
Posted by Erica Kastner
Erica Kastner is a lead Marketing Specialist at Standard Office Systems as well as a University of Georgia graduate. She aims to use her passion for problem-solving to help businesses understand how to better leverage their network infrastructure.