With the increase in numbers of people self-isolating due to the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis, there has been an increase for businesses in getting their staff working from home.
In just a few weeks, working from home has moved from a luxury to a new way of life for many employees. Although we understand that the crisis brings many concerns in terms of health and the wellbeing of staff, businesses are also struggling with how to maintain their operations in the face of this unprecedented event. With many companies closing their offices for now and asking staff to work from home as much as possible, businesses are asking for practical advice on how to achieve this. This guide will hopefully address some of those questions.
One of the key elements to home working is have a good reliable Internet connection. So making sure staff have adequate broadband facility to enable them to do their job from home is essential. This can be achieved by using Fibre Broadband or 4G. However, you need to first examine what you need the connection for.
- Are you connecting back to the main office via VPN and Remote Access?
- Are you using cloud servers and services like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams?
- Does your company house on-premise servers for emails, file sharing and databases?
- Are you using videoconferencing to manage meetings?
You could have one or more of these needs in order to allow the homeworker to be productive and it would mean the more services the greater the bandwidth needed. A solution could be, deploying 4G and getting staff to exclusively use that for connecting their computer to the Internet and therefore not sharing bandwidth with the rest of the household. This can be costly if unmanaged, however the solution would be to invest in a Unlimited Data Plan with the mobile provider. As an alternative and if your employee isn’t on Fibre Broadband is to ask them to Upgrade to Fibre and make a one-off juster to cover the cost in doing so.
Hardware technology has changed over the years, from big box computers that sit under your desk to single board computers that sit in the palm of your hands.
Businesses have a couple of options here in terms of what they do for staff working from home.
- Purchase a low cost computer, preloaded with all the resources a homewoker would need and have it shipped to the employees door. This obviously puts an overhead on the costs for the company, however it insures that the right tools and security are being put in place to allow staff to work efficiently and safely.
- Allow the employee to use their own home computer. This is a more cost centric approach and is quickly deployed. However, you don’t have the same controls on security and accountability as option 1.
In either case, security is paramount and having an IT support solution in place would overcome many of the legal issues in resolving this. However, if you felt that option 2 was a faster and more cost efficient way forward, a monthly small business support plan could be used to cover them and provide all the technical support needed.
The software needed to enable users to work from home varies on your business sector and model. However, most office staff who are being asked to work from home need the “Essentials”. This is office applications, email, and accounting software. As with all of these guides cost has to be a consideration, here are some suggestions:
- Office 365 Business Premium – A monthly subscription which provides all you would need for office applications, email and collaboration.
- Secure Hosted Exchange – Based on a subscription service, Hosted Exchange, provides access to emails via both client software like Outlook and also via a browser specifically, with security, data retention and backup built-in.
- Kashflow Accounting – Is a cloud based accounting package with no user limitations, meaning on-premise staff and homeworkers dealing with the accounts, billing and purchasing can do so at no additional cost.
There are alternatives to those suggested here like OpenOffice as your office application suite, GMail for your emailing system and Sage Cloud for your accounting. However, our suggestions are the solutions that most small businesses could deploy quickly and efficiently and switch on or off as the need arises, also in terms of manageability.
Many, many businesses feel that hard copy is the only resolution to getting information in front of their customers. This is not the case, you should use more cost effective methods in getting contracts, flyers and information in front of your customers. Here are just a few tips.
- Go paperless with invoices, purchase orders and reminders, by emailing these, not only do you shorten the time recipients receive these, but also reduces your human contact current recommended by the government.
- Send letters and contracts via email in secure PDF format.
- Send large attachments via online services like mailbigfile.com, again using secure methods.
- If working together on documents, share it via OneDrive with work colleagues, so you can work collaboratively and reduce the need in printing draft copies.
If you have no choice but to print an item because of the nature of your work, then you may need to have VPN access back to your office so that you can do this securly.
Meetings & Collaboration
Meetings are important to all aspects of your business life, now more than ever. All of the personal contact you might have once engaged and even enjoyed has now stopped. From customers to suppliers and from staff meetings to training, you are asked to use alternative methods. Here are some solutions that you can employ to help you with this task.
- Skype – Is a very usable, easily deployed solution in having 1:1 meetings, it can be used from computers or mobile devices in engaging with colleagues.
- Zoom – Is an cost effective Videoconferencing tool that allows participants to hold multiple meetings and presentations. sessions can be recorded and setup in advance or as an ad-hoc one.
- Microsoft Teams – Allows businesses to get staff connected, work in a collaborative way integrating their Office 365 environment into one place. It also brings videoconferencing facilities to businesses for internal communication via most devices.
- Facebook Messenger – Can be used for simple voice or video discussions where companies allow it. This provides a low cost solution with a bit more of a social element, which some companies may find useful for staff moral.
Security & Data Protection
Even though these are difficult times and we want to be able to keep moving forward, we must not become relaxed in our efforts in compliance and Data Security. As such we need to make sure that our businesses are protected from Legal Complications and Data Breaches. Here are some simple guidelines.
- For employees and employers, check that your Cyber Insurance covers you and your staff to work from home.
- In some cases it might be required to provide a Home Working Policy covered in your IT Policy.
- Companies need to make sure that the IT used meets the same standard of security as it would do at work.
- All personal devices used must be patched & updated.
- All devices must be locked to maintain Privacy & Confidentiality.
- Updated anti-virus & security tools must be employed
- The use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) must be used at all times.
- Create different user login’s on home computers for work use.
- Use secure browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome
The security landscape isn’t changing because of the coronavirus, it is actually getting worse with Phishing attacks on the increase, so If in doubt, employ an IT team to manage your IT systems and resources and training.
Please read our advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and staff who need to self-isolate, https://www.rlscomputers.co.uk/news/?p=668. If you want to setup facilities for your staff to work from home, please give us a call on 01553 776937 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Microsoft Office 365
- Secure Hosted Exchange
- Microsoft Day in the Life – Small Business Owner
- Small Business Support
- 3G and 4G Explained
- Fibre Broadband Checker
- Zoom – Videoconferencing
- Our Company COVID-19 Strategy
Please follow the Government Guidelines on social distancing and Stay at Home during this crisis.