Working from home – some tips for employers

25th Mar

Cloud services
Much of our data and systems are now stored “in the cloud”, which effectively means they are accessible anywhere from any device. Services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. are all designed and set up to make the process of out-of-office working easier. Many CRM and accounting systems are also cloud-based so if your business runs solely on cloud services then it should be relatively easy for staff to continue to work at home.
If everything, or even some of your resources, are held on your business premises, such as a Windows Server, then you will need to put a few things in place to make these accessible at home. The best way is to use a VPN – or Virtual Private Network. Your staff can log into this at home and it will create a secure, encrypted “tunnel” back to the office, allowing access to the resources they would normally have. You may already be using a VPN if you have remote workers so this would just need extending. The downside is, with more staff needing access to it, you may need some more hardware to cope with the extra connections. The upside is that this is bread and butter stuff for IT providers and they should be able to get this up and running for you with minimal fuss.

The next question is whether staff should take their computers home or use their own. There are some things to consider here. Do all staff have a suitable computer at home? Probably not. Even if they have a computer, it might not be the right specification. A basic office laptop is unlikely to run demanding CAD software, for instance. On top of that, you might need additional licences to run software on the extra computers. You also have to consider the security of your staff’s own equipment – it is unlikely to have sufficient antivirus and firewall protection. You can mitigate some risk by them using a VPN connection. In fact, even if staff are working from home and only accessing cloud resources a VPN is still recommended as a way of shielding your data from their home network.
The bottom line is it is much better for you to provide the necessary equipment – whether that is the exact equipment they use in the office or a work provided laptop. Even then, make sure they use a VPN.
And of course, make sure the equipment is insured to be out of the office!
This is not necessarily IT-related, but you are still responsible as an employer for your employees’ wellbeing, even if they are working at home. So do they have a suitable space to work? Spending eight hours a day working on a laptop on a sofa is a recipe for problems – which you may well be responsible for. So make sure you have a conversation with your staff and make sure they have a space to work. You might need to provide a suitable chair and desk.
Phones and communication
Will the office phone work at home? Well, it might, depending on what setup you have. Some Voip phones will work quite happily at home without any need to open ports on routers (something which many home based routers wont do) – others wont. Your Voip provider will be able to tell you.  Some Voip providers allow you to use apps on your mobile or computer in addition to deskphones, so they could be a good way of working remotely. Or, alternatively, you can forward the office number to a home phone or mobile.
In terms of communicating as a team, there some great tools out there. Zoom is great standalone tool for online meetings and conferencing and, if you have Office 365, Microsoft Teams will do the job for you. So you can still have that Monday morning planning meeting.
In short, it is possible to have staff working at home and still retain a high degree of functionality and operability. And in these testing times, we need that more than ever!
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