5 things IT teams can learn from initial weeks of telecommuting

Millions of people are working remotely due to the coronavirus. As a result, many organizations have been forced to reorganize and improvise IT strategies on the fly.

Telecommuting 101: How to support and manage a global remote workforce

In the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have witnessed a surge in telecommuting as more companies transition to remote work. Over the last couple of weeks, we've seen a spike in web traffic (including a record-setting number of Zoom calls) as companies make the switch. Initially, there was even concern that this massive onslaught in web traffic might even break the internet, but, for now, it looks as though we've avoided this particular calamity. Nonetheless, the Great Telecommute Experiment of 2020 is well-underway.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

The challenges involved in this overhaul are daunting for many companies and IT teams to say the least. Fortunately, this process doesn't have to be all trial and tribulation by any means, even if organizations are a bit late to the game with their preparation. To assist, we've curated a series of tips from tech pros across the industry to help iron out some of the wrinkles as teams around the country make this clunky transition en masse.

Don't be afraid to start from scratch and reinvent your workflows

Companies are now being forced to take a long look at their standard practices and overall technological infrastructures. There may have been protocols and procedures in place with glaring warts and inefficiencies prior to this switch. Now, with an entirely remote team, these problems are further exposed and doubly compounded.

"Most businesses assumed that their workflows and infrastructure have to be optimized on the company's usual work setting. Now, suddenly every remote employee defines part of the infrastructure. Almost every process works differently on location versus remote. Take for example the typical help desk, that could be offered on location for employees--has to be virtual now and immediate now," explained Back Technologies' CEO and founder, Christian Eggert.

Right the ship first, and take challenges in stride

This transition to remote work isn't going smoothly for some organizations, especially those who have had to play catch-up with policy and establish more advanced technological infrastructures. For some companies, the initial focus is squarely on stopgap solutions and righting the ship.

"There has to be another wave of reckoning in planning and execution that I don't think the industry is really taking into consideration yet because this has really been [a] shock to the system," explained Steve Stover, vice president at ITSM solutions provider SolarWinds.

"To keep businesses going is kind of the first phase and then the second phase is figuring out what [the impact] is going to mean," explained Stover.

Scale or fail: Managing the surge

Once companies identify short-term solutions, it's then imperative to focus on scaling these operations for the long-term. This involves everything from upgrading outmoded ticketing tools and streamlining company-wide communication tools to enhanced security measures.

"If there was ever a time when you thought you were going to need to scale your processes, it's now,"  Stover said.

SEE: Telecommuting Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Inefficient ticketing systems can be a drag on IT teams and the overall organization and this is a perfect example of an area requiring automation and scale. In a recent SolarWinds post, the company detailed a client testimonial highlighting the ticketing quagmire marring some newly remote organizations. One IT team reported progressing from about 1,200 tickets in a given month to logging 500 ticket requests in a single day during the initial switch to telecommuting.

"There's so much demand, [so] how do you deal with that and effectively make sure you're servicing your customers correctly? You're going to have a surge and a kind of demand you weren't expecting before, so making sure you have processes that scale are going to be key," Stover said.

Streamlining ticketing requests with more sophisticated programs and giving employees flexible methods to communicate with the help desk is also imperative. Additionally, Stover specified other guidance such as creating self-service solutions. This basic step can alleviate some of this stress on IT teams by enabling employees to help themselves with some common problems.

SEE: Your home Wi-Fi network is going to be exposed by telecommuting, work at home (ZDNet)

Have policies in place for failure and business continuity

On the security side, this chaotic transition is certainly ripe for failure and breaches. With more teams working remotely, there are sure to be enhanced endpoint vulnerabilities. Additionally, more companies will increase the number of third-parties with network access during this transition.

"Organizations need to understand that more sensitive data will be stored and available via a remote workforce. You don't want intentional or unintentional data leakage, which might require new controls on remote endpoints and cloud applications," explained CRITICALSTART founder and CEO, Rob Davis.

As a result, more companies are looking to VPNs to beef up network security. One such provider recently reported worldwide use of its VPN technology had recently increased more than 160%. Although, as CRITICALSTART noted in our correspondence, there are other basic measures companies can adopt such as establishing multi-factor authentication and single sign-on protection. Regardless, even with the most comprehensive security measures in place, companies should also have a response strategy in the event of a breach.

"Plan for failure. Most breaches are caused by human error, and the best intentioned people still make mistakes. Have an incident response plan that is updated to work in this new environment," Davis said.

Adjusting to the new normal, patience, and finding balance

Acclimating to the new digital workplace can also be stressful for employees. Logging off after a workday becomes difficult as the line between work and home blurs. This call for patience and understanding during this awkward transition was highlighted by ISACA Chief Technology Officer Simona Rollinson.

"Lack of routines and boundaries between work and personal life can cause anxiety and stress. Multi-tasking is the bane of today's world and moreover of remote work. Being present, really present, is a challenge," Rollinson said.

Plugging millions of people into a remote network and getting them up to speed is no easy task. This grand experiment is certainly not going to be efficient in the short-term as companies look to reinvent their entire technical infrastructures. One of the more basic tips individuals and IT teams can implement is a basic level of patience and understanding during this chaotic time. 

"IT teams must remind themselves that it's OK for service to just be 'good' during this turbulent time, and then the focus should be on gradually improving day by day as we all adjust to working remotely," explained Riverbed CDO Alpna Doshi.

Also see

remote work, telecommuter, teleworker, work from home

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