By Ryan Denehy
The shift to remote work has been accelerated by the current pandemic we’re in, and it has brought to light many shortcomings in our technology stacks. We’ve taken a giant step forward in workplace philosophy and two big steps back in workplace capability, security, and standardization.
For organizations with a remote-focused culture prior to this pandemic, this situation is merely an extension of the capabilities and infrastructure they already had in place. Unfortunately, most businesses were not prepared for what’s unfolded over the last few months and are playing catch-up—only just now considering how to roll out work from home protocols at scale.
If we forget about VCs and longtime teleworkers/freelancers, the average home office and remote IT setup is about as technically capable as a cubicle farm from 2005. Employees are doing their best, but most left the office expecting to return in a few weeks at maximum.
We’re all taking this day by day, but it would be doing your teams a disservice to not prepare for this to be our reality into the next fiscal year. Even if stay-at-home orders are lifted, executives need to be cognizant of the fact that many people wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to the traditional commute or packed offices for a long time.
How efficient are your employees’ home offices?
If you were to ask those in positions of leadership basic questions in this current state, such as:
1. Do you want your team members to succeed and do their best work?
2. Do you care about the security of your organization, employees, and customers?
No self-respecting leader would answer “no,” but it’s important that they first reflect on these questions through the lens of an employee and their home office setup at the moment:
1. Access and usability of tools
Do all employees have what they need, and, if they don’t, how easily can they get these assets in the most efficient and secure way possible? Who needs to use what apps? Are these third-party vendors running a tight ship? For most organizations, this just means adding licenses ad hoc and then touching base with the CFO at the end of the quarter. This process not only impacts long-term productivity and cost, but can also pose security risks as well.
2. Predictable system performance
Some employees have a great internet service provider in their building or neighborhood, some don’t. Almost nobody has a commercial-grade router, and very few are using VPNs. Now consider each of your employees’ computers, which are often used for personal computing in addition to work. Is there regular system maintenance being run on all devices touching work data? Both network and laptop management have to be completely reevaluated in a remote work environment.
With in-person interaction out of the question during this time, tools such as external monitors, digital white boards, cameras, smart keyboards, etc., are the cultural glue that holds your company together. You might know what you need to be productive, but does everyone in your organization know how and what to properly optimize? Has it been rolled out in a cohesive way?
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Setting up a technologically efficient home office
As remote work continues to become a larger fixture of the modern business, and employees’ home offices become an extension of your company, leaders need to accept responsibility to create a setup that mirrors the standards of quality held in traditional offices.
Home offices should be based on a handful of principles that encourage seamless production of work with minimal technical disruption:
1. Laptop performance and security
Employees’ computers should not just power on and function to some degree—they need to work as fast and efficiently as possible. If this isn’t the case, a remote help desk needs to fix the device immediately. The devices (all of them: Mac, Windows, Linux, Android) should be visible and controlled from a central location. My team chose to automate Jamf and Kaseya deployment, and built a centralized management console so even a non-technical person can manage hundreds or thousands of devices. That’s not the only route available, but it’s worked for us.
2. Keep patching frequent
Applications on employees’ work devices should be installed and updated automatically or semi-autonomously. We’ve all been the person to hit “remind me tomorrow” on a device update—it would be irresponsible to assume everyone has a firm grasp on the importance of device patching and why it’s so important. To navigate this, automate the process so they don’t have a choice to hit snooze.
3. Network/ISP performance
Company-wide home office speed tests should be the norm. Deploying a small commercial-grade router to each home office is a small price to pay for centralized management, troubleshooting, and security for hundreds or thousands of home networks. If you have the capability, create a customized work-from-home IT infrastructure that includes a relatively inexpensive commercial router that can be shipped to each employee and easily deployed.
Standardize all home-office peripherals, including shipping and installation. This might seem trivial—“Just get a second monitor”—but depending on a person’s role, there’s more to it. A graphic designer and a sales rep don’t need the same monitor. Your head of legal or CFO might be accessing more sensitive information than your marketing team, so they may require additional security devices like a VPN. What about a digital white board? What’s your hard phone/soft phone strategy? What does that even mean? A lot to consider!
The office of the future is now
The office of the future arrived early. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either really cool or not cool at all (and you’re probably in it right now). Maybe there is a dog sleeping under your desk or a child asking you for an iPad.
Beyond the technical specs, consider the new normal that your teams are grappling with. If you’re a CEO, reach out to as many people as you can. Check in on the people keeping the lights on. If you’re new in your career, voice your challenges and struggles to management. Take time to step away from screens. Encourage face-to-face video chats, but give ample notice so all parties can brush their hair.
We need to start with the basics to make sure we’re setting up teams for success. On a personal level, that starts with a check-in; on a technical level, that starts with elevating your work-from-couch IT capabilities.
Excellence in the “new” office starts with leveraging IT as an enabling-function for your team. It starts with rethinking IT and the definition of “office” from the ground up.
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