In a new thought leadership series about remote work challenges, we hear from three JDL Technologies managers about how the pandemic changed the modern workplace for their managed services clients – and for their own teams.
Robert McClure, vCIO, JDL Technologies
Remote Work Challenges: Phones
When the shift to working from home instead of at the office happened virtually overnight in March of 2020, one of the first things our clients asked us was, “How is everyone going to communicate from a phone standpoint?” Companies that used local phone solutions were in a bind, because that didn’t work for remote access. They couldn’t just take their office phone number home with them. Clients who had Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems had no phone issues, because their modern workplace was already set up to make and receive business calls on their laptops and mobile devices.
The resulting rush to get new VoIP services caused deployment delays. It isn’t just a matter of signing a contract and downloading some software on your PC. Vendors supplying those services (3CX or Microsoft, for example) need to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Most vendors are quoting new customers two to four weeks lead time. Businesses considering improving their phone communications should investigate VoIP solutions and plan accordingly. It’s not a decision you want to delay.
Remote Work Challenges: Accessing Data
A concurrent challenge in the modern workplace was the ability to access data. Last year a typical scenario was for data to sit in a server in the office. The immediate challenge was how employees would access that data remotely. “How do we get them into our network from their home computers?” VPN was the first tool, followed by moving everything to cloud-based-as-a-service solutions. We migrated clients from their “good old file server” to Citrix ShareFile®, a file-system-as-a-service solution.
Remote Work Challenges: Cybersecurity
Then came cybersecurity concerns. With everything-as-a-service (XaaS) being accessed from various endpoint devices and networks, corporate IT was losing control. Users were accessing corporate data from their home PCs (which the company had no control over) or from work PCs over unsecured connections (like coffee shopping Wi-Fi). With more hackers actively perpetrating cybercrimes, businesses were justified in their security concerns. Where and how the security landscape is managed has changed because of this.
To secure the Microsoft environment, JDL uses Microsoft Intune to push down policies and access roles for applications and data. Intune allows you to specify how employees access data. For example, you can establish a policy that only allows them to access data using a company computer on a secure network. Or you can provide another policy that if those conditions aren’t met, they need to use multi factor authentication to get remote access. Or if they’re accessing company data on a personal computer, they can’t download the data. This removes abilities to grab data without permission. Intune enables people in an organization to be productive on all their devices, while keeping the organization’s information protected with policies you create.
Cybersecurity continues to be a critical issue. JDL has always focused on security; it’s one of our driving forces. Our minimum managed services package comes with a suite of security services – multifactor authentication (MFA) for applications, email security, local antivirus. We install this on company computers, personal PCs and mobile devices. We see it as so important that we won’t take on a client if they won’t implement this suite of security services. We also provide cyber awareness training, password management, vulnerability scanning and patch management.
It’s crucial to control how, when, where and which people are accessing your data. It can be perceived as a hassle to configure all this, but on a risk/reward scale, we believe it is worth the effort. A risk analysis can show the potential cost of not securing your data. We use common sense security techniques to minimize risk on a client-by-client basis, because not every organization has the same risk. For example, the need to secure healthcare information is different from that of a manufacturing business.
Recently Colonial Pipeline Co. paid nearly $5 million to cybercriminals to restore the country’s largest fuel pipeline. Between the ransom, loss of revenue and scrambling to restore backups, preventing the ransomware attack would have been far cheaper! A report released in April by a ransomware task force said the amount paid by victims increased by 311% in 2020, reaching about $350 million in cryptocurrency. The average ransom paid by organizations in 2020 was $312,493. It’s not worth it to skimp on cybersecurity.
The pandemic environment did generate some positive outcomes. I consider it an improvement that people can work from anywhere now. With VoIP, laptops, Microsoft 365, Citrix ShareFile and secure remote access, people can work in the office or go home and work (or to the beach and work). If everything you need is cloud-based, you have that flexibility. The pandemic has proven that you can untether workers from their desks and not lose productivity.
Connectivity is Crucial
The modern workspace is anywhere you want to be, because it’s in the cloud. At the office, at home or on the road — there are no servers on site. And in that case, connectivity isn’t just nice, it’s crucial. We used to look at client usage needs and their threshold for service quality as criteria for whether they needed a second internet connection and a failover device. How crucial was uptime to them? Now everyone should have at least two internet service providers and a failover device, even at home. It’s not difficult to implement and it ensures internet outages won’t interrupt productivity.
The Modern Workplace: Remote Work Continues
In the evolving modern workplace, we’ll continue to see companies adopt and accept a remote workforce. Businesses will move away from desktop computers in favor of laptops so their employees are empowered to work wherever they work best, whether that’s at the office or home or somewhere else. Companies will put in place the security systems, policies and procedures to protect data where it resides. We will continue to see a move to cloud to enable remote work.
Recommendations for Business Leaders
Going forward, I recommend that business leaders invest in — or at least investigate — collaboration and productivity tools for their teams. The Microsoft 365 suite offers a powerful level of efficiency and security at the same time. You can do everything from file-storage-as-a-service to email-as-a-service, website-as-a-service, workflow-as-a-service, security-as-a-service, laptop management, cell phone management. You can do data loss prevention. It’s all encompassing. Going down that road checks off so many different things from a security and efficiency standpoint.
Also consider the internet services your employees are using at home and if, based on those employees’ roles, they need to be upgraded. You don’t want productivity capped by upload speed issues. People working from home may not be aware of their true internet speeds. Consumer internet was built to download streaming content to homes, not the other way around. You can see ten times as much bandwidth dedicated to downloading vs. uploading. And now we’re doing a lot more things that require data uploads. A home network can maybe support two concurrent VoIP calls or video meetings; more than that and it can start to glitch. Between people working from home and family members doing online learning, a home network can get strained. And when a whole neighborhood is doing that – the internet service that everyone shares get strained.
There are solutions to that. As I mentioned before, you can bring in a second communication line and a device to combine and load balance traffic over both internet connections. That also helps if one of the internet service providers has an outage. Instead of being dead in the water, you can still operate over the second working link. You may decide that level of “never down” redundancy is appropriate for some roles, like customer service or executives. Short of doing that, I recommend upgrading your home internet service to the maximum bandwidth available in your area. And consider reimbursing a portion of the remote workers’ home internet bills. You can position it as an employee incentive, like a cell phone stipend. You may find the stipend is offset by the office space, supplies and services those employees aren’t consuming.
Without a doubt, the modern workplace has changed. Technology, thankfully, is keeping pace to not only allow for it, but to ensure optimal collaboration, communication, productivity and security. My advice to business leaders is to embrace flexibility and to invest in the technologies and management services that will help your business continue to grow and thrive.
Contact us to learn more about how JDL Technologies and Ecessa team up to solve remote work challenges for organizations of all sizes.