Whether dealing with the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis or anticipating a future natural disaster, organisations need to prepare for emergencies that require employees to suddenly switch from a corporate environment to a home office. Even once the crisis arrives, organisations might have to drastically adjust their plans to address the scale required.

Continuity plans must encompass not only the technology required to keep the business up and running, but also the human aspect — making sure employees are well-trained and prepared to work remotely.

As the size of the remote workforce suddenly increases, here is a checklist for IT leaders to consider when tackling the technology piece of the puzzle:

  1. Network capacity planning: Conduct a capacity analysis to determine whether internet bandwidth is sufficient to handle the increased WAN traffic that occurs when large numbers of employees access the network. Additional items on the capacity planning checklist include firewalls, VPNs and other remote access-related technologies that might be overwhelmed by the increased volume of traffic coming from outside of corporate headquarters.
  2. Security monitoring: Intensify activities designed to detect and prevent attacks. Hackers are likely to take this opportunity to increase malicious activities. “Secure the Human” training can be delivered remotely to ensure that employees remember the organisation’s security practices.
  3. Identity and access management: Beef up identity and access management for remote workers through methods such as multifactor authentication.
  4. Data protection: Ensure that security is extended and corporate data is encrypted to prevent the unintentional or malicious exposure of sensitive data.
  5. VPNs: Make sure that VPN agents are installed on every device that connects to the corporate network to provide secure remote access.
  6. Devices: Prepare for a shortage of devices to support the growing number of remote workers. Have a contingency purchase plan as well as a template for quickly configuring the device and loading the appropriate software.
  7. Bring your own device (BYOD): Consider BYOD as supply chains are strained and the ability to get the needed hardware to employees becomes increasingly difficult. Using a cloud-based portal, employees can self-register their devices and download VPNs and other security tools, with the ability to segregate corporate data from personal information.
  8. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): Consider deploying a thin client architecture for remote workers as another option. However, upfront planning is required to make sure the thin clients are available and that the back-end server infrastructure is in place to support the thin client model.
  9. Collaboration: Provide strong communication and collaboration capabilities to help keep employees productive and engaged. Organizations may want to look at videoconferencing tools to compensate for the lack of face time to help employees feel more connected. Collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 with Teams activated and G Suite, as well as videoconferencing services such as Zoom, are providing new ways of working, connecting and collaborating. Training employees on how to conduct work in these virtual spaces is critical.
  10. Omnichannel support: Be prepared for a significant volume increase for IT support. Some employees may have been abruptly moved to a remote access environment, while others may now find themselves with new devices, software or tools they have never used before. And as a remote working model typically provides increases in flexibility, spikes in support needs may not follow the traditional patterns of regular business hours. The IT department needs to be prepared to offer omnichannel and remote support, including video options for face-to-face communications. Of course, service desk employees may themselves be working remotely, so pay special attention to make sure they have the capacity and the tools to respond to service desk issues from their home offices. Proactive and predictive analytics tools, combined with an easy-to-use support portal, can drastically reduce the calls to a strained service desk for rudimentary problems.

As we all know, even the best-laid plans don’t always work perfectly. In the midst of a global crisis, organisations might find that their business continuity plans haven’t accounted for an unprecedented level of scale, urgency, capacity and employee needs. In these instances, organizations should stay in close contact with their preferred vendors. There is no need to go it alone when expert help and support are available.

Unexpected challenges can cause maximum disruption to people’s lives and to business. The way in which we mitigate risks to ease the strain on businesses and their employees will ensure an organisation’s ability to continue into the future.

 

Rich Owen, DXC Technology Digital Transformation Center advisor, contributed to this article.