REMOTE OFFICE | 9 MIN READ
Many companies who had their first remote trial run earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic are now wondering if they should permanently keep their office remote. Keep reading to see all the factors a company should consider before deciding to permanently work remotely, as well as how to secure and manage a remote office.
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Factors to Consider
The decision to go remote permanently is driven by a number of factors. Keep reading to learn tips on what factors to consider.
Do you think your employees would be more productive in an office or in a remote environment?
Many businesses prefer physical offices out of a belief that they boost productivity. Business owners think that if employees are physically in the office, cubicles, in-person meetings, and the overall environment will help employees stay on-task and get more done.
While this belief is true for some employees, others many benefit from the flexibility that working from home offers. Some people are naturally productive at night, so they may prefer to crank through a big project for a few hours in the evening.
Others may dread a long commute into the office, and may feel refreshed in the morning not having to drive over for work. Consider conducting a survey to see how productive employees feel they would be if they worked from home.
Taking your company remote comes with a price tag. Weigh these costs against the spending required to remain in a physical office to see which option is more cost-effective.
Typically, the cost to rent office space is a bigger chunk of a company's budget then one would think. Along with renting the physical space comes all the other associated costs, from utility payments and office furniture to cleaning services and more.
When you transition to a remote office, the main expenses are for the up-front purchase/lease of any necessary hardware and software. This includes any laptops or workstations that employees may need, VPN's, additional software for security and business operations, or a sufficient business phone system.
Software can include remote conferencing and messaging, email filtering, and more. With business phone systems, you'll need to find one that's different from a traditional setup.
Especially in your sales department, you need a solution that can make a fleet of work or personal phones function as a cohesive unit. Compare phone systems to find one that suits a remote environment.
While these expenses can sound sizable in the short-term, in the long term it is more affordable than paying for a physical office.
Strong company culture can be maintained whether you are in a physical or remote office. If you wish to transition your office to a remote environment, think about how you would continue to craft a strong company culture and keep morale high.
Some companies have found success with periodic in-person team building events to allow employees to interact face-to-face. Remote events such as virtual happy hours and trivia nights can be used to create bonding opportunities outside of work hours.
However, company culture is more than just happy hours and perks. To really ensure that company morale stays high, you need to cultivate a culture of open communication. Use messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack to allow employees to voice their opinions and stay connected with one another.
Businesses looking to set up a remote office may wonder how secure their network will be. Having a physical office can make you feel like your network is more secure because you can visit your server room, communicate with any in-house IT personnel face-to-face, and more.
However, if you properly configure your VPN's, effectively re-work your network's infrastructure, and set protocols within your company, your remote network can remain secure.
If you decide to go remote, consider outsourcing part or all of your IT to a Managed Service Provider. In-house IT managers can quickly become bogged down with fielding help requests from other employees, which can take them away from their main job of protecting your network.
Whether your office is remote or not, when it comes to network security, your employees can be your greatest threat. They click on malicious links, fall for phishing schemes, and more. To feel more comfortable with a remote office, seeing as you won't be able to physically monitor employees as much, hold educational cyber security seminars and establish security guidelines.
How to Secure a Remote Office
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.
For an extensive summary of the points addressed in this article, check out our blog post titled How to Transition to a Remote Office.
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 Manage a Remote Office
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 3 am with questions, but it does mean that they shouldn't be afraid to reach out to their managers if they're struggling with the transition to remote work.
If your business is on the fence about deciding to work remotely permanently, use this article as a conversation starter.
As a Managed Service Provider, we have helped businesses transition their network to a remote environment. Throughout this process, we have developed an in-depth understanding of what it takes to both set up and manage a remote office.
If your business needs assistance transitioning and managing a remote network, reach out to us! We're here to help.
Posted by Erica Kastner
Erica Kastner is a lead Content 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 cyber security infrastructure.