IT Strategies for a Remote Workforce
The move from in-office to at-home work arrived with stunning speed at the start of the pandemic. Dates to return to the office have been set, then postponed — often several times.
At Google, for instance, there’s been a series of false starts; the latest, a January 2022 return-to-office deadline for employees in the United States, has been pushed back, according to CNBC reporting.
Meanwhile, employees crave flexibility. A March 2021 study looking at more than 30,000 people in 31 countries found that 73% of employees want permanent remote work options.
Nearly two years after the start of pandemic lock-downs, uncertainty lingers about a return to in-person work for all companies, including ours. At Deem, where we already supported a hybrid workforce with employees based around the world, we were used to accommodating a remote team. But we still experienced some rocky moments in the transition.
Initially, it made sense to develop stopgap measures to allow employees to work from home. Now there’s an opportunity for a proactive, more comprehensive IT strategy that accommodates employee needs without sacrificing security or overburdening the IT department.
As IT director for Deem, I’m sharing how we’ve adjusted to a fully remote workforce and our framework for an evolving strategy.
A reactive strategy was a reasonable approach at the start of the pandemic. At Deem, workflows for the IT department shifted greatly: Instead of provisioning laptops in person on an employee’s first day, we partnered with local service providers, shipped equipment across oceans, and couriered pre-configured laptops to new hires’ homes.
With a strong possibility of continued remote work, new approaches to technology are justified. If you’ve already considered and rejected the notion of becoming a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) shop, this is a moment to reconsider. That’s what we’re doing at Deem. Where previously the security risks seemed daunting, making legacy solutions appealing, we’re now reassessing a way to transition to BYOT.
The concerns remain: Due to regulatory requirements, we need quarterly audits of all company devices, from laptops to servers, which necessitate being able to access granular details, such as the date of a machine’s last virus scan, patch status, and more. But these challenges are not insurmountable.
For instance, we’ve started leveraging cloud computing to help our systems process sensitive company data in cloud environments vs on employee devices. This saves the trouble of transmitting large amounts of data over long distances to monolithic legacy data centers which are susceptible to high latency as well as connectivity challenges. Expanding our investment in cloud computing will reduce many operational efficiency in terms of data flow, but will greatly increase our flexibility for employee device provisioning and maintenance. This approach will allow us to be in a position to support a BYOT model, and avoid mailing laptops around the world.
Bottom line: IT practices from February 2020 most likely no longer make sense. But hastily implemented strategies from March and April of that same year may also be ripe for reassessment and adjustment.
For anyone leading an IT team, security is near and dear to the heart. Here are some best practices to follow that are particularly essential with remote employees.
- Prioritize SSO integration. With single sign-on in place, if someone’s account is compromised there’s a single off switch that will break the user’s access to everything — email, VPN, internal sandboxes, and so on.
- Give employees the right access. Identity access management (IAM) allows you to distinguish between a junior developer, who might have read access, and a senior one, with read-write access. Having IAM in place tightens security, protects data, and enables compliance with governmental regulations. At Deem, we’re following a zero-trust security model as we shift from legacy data centers to the cloud.
- Creating sandboxes to protect intellectual property. For Deem, a tech-based company, the notion of source code living on an individual’s laptop is alarming. (And your company may need to safeguard other forms of intellectual property.) One strategy, when it comes to code, is to create an encrypted sandbox environment, where interacting with company data involves connecting to the network. This means individuals who have access to the sandbox can be removed as needed.
In a world transformed, the IT department, which interacts with all employees, has an outsized role to play. Because of this, it’s important for the IT team to expand how they think about supporting employees. This often includes:
- Using technology to drive connection. An abrupt transition to remote work removed opportunities for collaboration that can occur naturally in the office. As in-person interactions shift to video, encourage employees to keep their cameras on to maintain that human connection. Ensure that hardware works, and that software furthers seamless collaboration. Think about documents that are easily shared for simultaneous editing and chat programs that encourage lively interactions.
- Acting as a lifeline to new employees. There’s a mountain of information for new hires to go through. While a single hour of technical orientation and a packet of documentation is sufficient for some, others require more hand-holding. Plan to support new hires for at least a week (longer if necessary) with answers to all non-HR questions. This presents an opportunity to back up troubleshooting sessions by sending links to your knowledge base, which may provide the new hire access to more helpful information and increase their ease of acclimation to company culture and workflow.
- Modeling a can-do approach. Early in the pandemic, your IT department may have been called on to help isolated employees troubleshoot internet service provider issues that were decidedly outside of the department’s domain. Giving guidance—as much as possible—with these home networking opportunities helps showcase IT as a problem-solving department.
Demolish silos and end tech redundancies
Silos spring up at all organizations, counteracting efficiency and productivity. In a remote environment, silos can lead to unnecessary spending and hard-to-find files that impede project progress.
Companies may find themselves supporting Google Workspace for documents, Microsoft 365 for email, Zoom for meetings, and Slack for chat. By failing to embrace the entire ecosystem of an enterprise-level license, organizations wind up with unnecessary duplication.
This can be a pricey scenario: It means you’re not taking advantage of what’s available in your license (that is, what you’ve already paid for.) Relying on a patchwork of buzzy solutions also stands in the way of IT’s workflow, since a single, feature-rich platform makes the onboarding and off-boarding processes exponentially easier. That, combined with fragmentation, causes a logjam and confusion for employees; disparate technologies make it difficult for people to locate essential files, or use an incorrect version of a document template.
If the finance team relies on Office while marketing leverages Workspace, it makes cross-team collaboration unwieldy. Even finding everyday resources, like a template for the decks or the latest version of a company logo, can eat up excessive time. When all remote workers use the same platforms, it leads to productivity gains across the board, while also reducing licensing costs.
The global reality may be uncertain. But for IT leaders, this is a moment to reimagine the future, prioritizing security, productivity, and support to an evolving workforce.
See how Deem is revolutionizing corporate travel with innovative, mobile-first technology at Miles Ahead 2022: The Next Decade in Business Travel, on March 2. 2022.
Header image courtesy of Good Faces, unsplash.com