How businesses can bolster connectivity for telecommuters during the coronavirus pandemic

As more employees work from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, organizations need to make sure their employees have the right tools to support telecommuting.

The impact of the coronavirus is evident worldwide, especially with the influx of telecommuters. More than half (52%) of employees across industries said that their workplace has either restricted travel or asked them to work remotely because of COVID-19 concerns, a Fishbowl report found.

SEE: IT pro's roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"Clearly this pandemic is unlike anything we've seen in modern times," said Rishon Blumberg, co-founder and managing partner at 10x, an agency that represents freelance developers. "It is causing massive disruption in virtually all areas of our lives. Most people are working from home for extended periods of time (and it could perhaps be extended to months)." 

Many professionals being asked to work remotely aren't accustomed to it. Employees are figuring out how to work remotely, and managers are learning how to manage from a far. For anyone to successfully work remotely, however, he or she needs to have the right tools and connectivity. 

Setting up for success

  • Bandwidth

The first thing organizations must do is determine if they need to supply their employees with additional bandwidth, said Will Ellis, founder of Privacy Australia and an IT security consultant. 

"Look at the applications [that] are needed and how they will be used," Ellis said. "If the applications are already hosted in the cloud, you may be able to get away without getting additional bandwidth. If, on the other hand, the applications which are frequently used, use up a lot of resources (such as CAD software or file-sharing systems), then you may need additional bandwidth." 

Luckily, simple applications such as Slack or video conferencing applications don't typically take up too much bandwidth, which means your employees might be able to access the necessities without additional bandwidth, said Monique Becenti, product and channel specialist at SiteLock.

  • VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a great tool for organizations that want to ensure the online safety of its users. 

"As organizations face the imminent need to have their employees work remotely, it is important to continue keeping cybersecurity best practices top of mind during this time," Becenti said. "We recommend organizations ensure all employees use a virtual private network (VPN) on company-issued laptops to ensure communications stay secure."

SEE: Atlas sees surge in VPN use across Italy, US, and other countries amid coronavirus outbreak (TechRepublic)

Ellis recommended organizations review their licenses and confirm the number of users agreed upon to use the VPN.

"You may need to revisit this license. You may also need to check the specifics in terms of firewalls which are being used based on your current limits vs. new ones," Ellis said. "Once you have put these procedures in place, you will find that the transition into a safe, efficient remote workplace will be much easier."

Liviu Arsene, global cybersecurity researcher at Bitdefender, warned that having too many VPN connections can sometimes cause bandwidth congestion. Or, if the VPN is able to handle a large volume of users, Arsene suggested still deploying updates as gradual rollouts, to avoid any backups. 

  • Collaboration tools

All remote workforces should invest in collaboration tools, since communication becomes even more imperative with telecommuting. 

"[Remote work] is only possible because there are so many amazing new technologies that allow for truly effective remote work to occur (Trello, Slack, Asana, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.)," Blumberg said. "These same tools can help any company to transition into a remote structure."

Doug Gray, senior vice president of engineering and general manager of internal platforms at Indeed, emphasized the value of cloud-based collaboration services for remote work.

"Cloud-based collaboration services offer more flexibility for employees to access a company's applications, private databases, communications, and even email systems since they do not need to rely on physical on-premise infrastructure," Gray said. 

He said that within cloud-based collaboration tools, video communications and asynchronous chat are some of the most helpful.

SEE: 8 ways tech pros are helping healthcare providers cope with coronavirus (TechRepublic)

"Many video conferencing tools can be integrated with calendaring systems, making it easy to add video chat links to the calendar invites so that attendees quickly find the link that opens the video meeting, making joining meetings simple and efficient." Gray said. 

"While asynchronous chat solutions allow employees to create chat rooms where conversations can be documented in case someone who originally was not part of the original discussion needs to learn what was communicated about a particular topic before," he added. 

With these tools, the stress of remote work during the COVID-19 scare can hopefully be somewhat alleviated. 

For more, check out The coronavirus could make remote work the norm, what businesses need to know on TechRepublic.

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