Is your organization prepared to implement widespread remote work to protect employees against coronavirus? Here’s how IT can help.

Is your enterprise IT organization smelling a little more like hand sanitizer these days? It's going around. As organizations in the US and around the world prepare for the advance of the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, plenty of unknowns remain about the virus that has killed thousands around the world. Several US metropolitan areas have reported cases of the illness, and the spread can be tracked by this dashboard and map from Johns Hopkins.  Public health officials are also tracking the spread, and the corporate world is proceeding with caution.

In light of COVID-19, public health experts recommend keeping a "social distance" from other people of 3 to 6 feet. That's hard to do if you are wedged into an airplane seat, a keynote auditorium seat, an open-office workstation, or even one of those old-fashioned cubicles. That's probably why many companies are also allowing or even encouraging employees to work from home. In some cases, the directive to work from home is just if the employee is sick. In other cases, such as Twitter, all employees are being encouraged to work from home.

Is your organization ready to work from home?
Thanks to digital transformation and cloud computing, you probably already have migrated a lot of work to the cloud. You may also have collaboration tools in place such as chat software and video conferencing. Still, are you ready for the day your CEO tells everyone to work from home tomorrow?  

If you haven't prepared at all for such an event, it's a good idea to start with a team of maybe eight employees and tell them all to work from home starting tomorrow. You want to make sure that this pioneering team has someone from the C-suite on it, so that there's someone who can override any bureaucratic bottlenecks to making it work, such as authorizing a software purchase. That team works from home for one day with each person doing their normal work. They interact with co-workers, clients, and partners using all of the systems your company has in place. The next day, do an assessment. How did it go? Were there any hiccups? That's where you need to direct your attention. Troubleshoot the problems and then roll out the solutions to the team. It's only through practice that you will turn this new way of working into muscle memory, making it as natural as working at your desk at the office.

If you are the one who will be working from home for the first time, or for an indefinite amount of time, it is recommended that you test your VPN before you leave the office. To test your VPN, first disconnect from the office network, then turn on your mobile phone's WiFi hotspot, and connect to the corporate network that way. Make sure you can connect via VPN or gain entrance through whatever security measures your enterprise has in place. Do this while you are at the office so that you can enlist the help of IT workers while you are there. Make sure you can access your email, your chat, your video conferencing, and any other essential tools this way.  

Look at your physical desk. Are there any physical files you need to take with you? Do you need the phone number of the help desk in case you can't get access to the network from home? Bring it with you, along with your laptop and your mobile phone. (Don't forget chargers).  If you'll be using your mobile phone and video conferencing, you will also want to make sure you have a headset and maybe an external webcam. These can be a step up from the webcams built into your laptop, allowing you to position them properly.

For management, pull out those rules and procedures you wrote up to deal with emergencies and crises.  Figure out the way that you will communicate directives with employees. Will instructions go out over an office email, or a group text message, or a robocall? How will you communicate so that all employees get the message?

Tough times doesn’t have to mean you close your business.  There are proactive strategies that can go a long way in dealing with unforeseen limitations, circumstances or disasters.  Setting up a VPN and the proper protocols for securely accessing your company information is a first step in making sure that your business stays on track.  Call us to discuss what you need to put a robust business continuity plan in place for your organization.