The work from home revolution is finally upon us; unfortunately it's upon us because we've been forced to send everybody home for Social Distancing. While it's definitely a good thing to do as we attempt to flatten the curve, it does mean that everybody is going to be leaving the office and heading out to their home and working from God knows what sort of work situation.
As we consider this mass migration, there are a few things we want to consider from a business and technology standpoint.
First, there are some basic technical challenges.
Hardware and Computers
If your workforce all heads home, are they able to take their computers with them? Or, are you planning on having everyone use their own, personal computers? Either option leaves challenges and opens more questions. Does the company have enough computers to go around? Do we have to worry about Personally Identifiable Information (PII) sitting on home laptops?
And, of course, there are the basic security issues with any connected device, and sometimes we rely a bit too much on network security and not enough on local firewalls and virus protection Ė making sure that's all up to date and works on home systems poses some new challenges.
Many companies have moved to virtualized phone systems, so if your job does require a direct line, that line can be forwarded to your home phone or cell phone. But this can open up new questions Ė is everyone ready to get calls on their personal phones? Will voice mail work properly or will callers get an odd, personal greeting instead of a nice professional one?
There are also some challenges with video conferencing, but those are driving more from the next couple problems Ė internet reliability and employee competency.
Home internet is a little different than corporate internet. There's the fact that most people use cable for Internet which means the connection back to the cable company is shared with everyone else in the neighborhood. There is a lot of Netflix and Disney+ streaming going on right now and those connections are becoming a lot busier and a bit slower.
Now, let's add the fact that a home network usually has a lot of other devices running on it such as baby monitors, TVs, streaming devices and security cameras (and yes the irony that security systems provide network security vulnerabilities is not lost). In a proper environment you should separate your wifi into two networks, one for business and one for home use, but that's unlikely to happen, so we have to again ask if the computer we're working on is secure enough to operate in an unsecure environment.
A company VPN helps with the network security issue, but with EVERYONE suddenly using it, you may find the connection back to the VPN a little overwhelmed. This can be solved with split VPN rules (don't run YouTube through the VPN for example) but that often needs constant tweaking, and again, we're finding ourselves in a crash course in our current situation.
Employee Technical Competency
Personally, I've been working remotely for almost as long as I can remember. There are so many things that I hardly think about, but if you've been working 9-5 in an office for the past 15 years, there is going to be a learning curve. There are a lot of remote tools that may need to be set up, and your remote staff may not be able to get the training or support that they need because there's a limited number of people who know how to help them use these remote tools.
Then of course there's even the question of whether they can install the tools on their hardware if they do need them. Simpler, web based tools are best, but this may require a change in the way your entire company manages it workflow.
Work From Home
Whenever we have the conversation about people working remotely the usual questions come up about discipline, supervision and all the other basic things that frighten management. But the real question can be summed up with, "Is there a quiet place to work?"
We've all heard the children or pets in the background, we all know how hard it is to get interrupted with the garbage disposal or questions from our partner. We often go to the office so we can simply sit down at a desk and work. Not everyone can work from their couch because there are too many other things going on in the room and on the couch.
It's going to be an interesting few weeks while we're practicing this social distancing but I think we're all going to get through it and learn a lot in the process. If you have any ideas or questions you want to talk about in terms of how to take an entire enterprise into the field be sure to say hi sometime.