The pandemic has obligated every business to rapidly scale their telecommuting capabilities, and it’s a credit to every business that has managed to do so and stay open. Given the rapidity of change, combined with fears related to health and an uncertain economy, it’s easy to envision more than one CEO issuing a terse “just make do” response to staff telecommuting woes.
But as a CEO, it might at this point be worth pausing for a moment and contemplating a more long- range, more comprehensive, virtual office strategy-;one that will help your business grow long term, despite, and even during, this horrific crisis.
Migrate vital infrastructure to the cloud asap
As an IT professional, as well as a CEO who has operated a virtual office for years, I’d suggest starting with a hard look at services which are housed on premises.
- Can in-house servers continue to work without anyone in the office to maintain them?
- Will current network bandwidth be enough to support all applications with all staff working from home?
- Considering the aggregate bandwidth needs of all office applications, will there be enough?
Shifting vital production to the cloud can, in many cases, be rapidly achieved. Discovery may prove to be a bit challenging with everyone at home, but it is attainable via VPN and remote access. The actual migration is even easier: physical access to source systems is rarely necessary. Your staff can stay safely at home. Zero downtime migrations are also possible to ensure uninterrupted workflows.
Long term, placing your systems closer to your customers will result in better response times at a lower cost than building infrastructure on premises, and this leads to increased customer satisfaction.
Access your security
Are your backups working as expected? If so, where are they housed, and will you have access to them? If your company is still using a traditional tape array and sending tapes off-site, consider:
- If your office is closed, who’s going to remove the tapes from the array to send them off-site?
- If you need to do a restore, who’s going to accept the tapes from the storage company?
- What if the site is contaminated and they can’t get you the tapes?
Additionally, just about every company that relies on these backup systems expects new tapes to be loaded in daily or weekly, as tapes are reclaimed from the off-site storage vendor. If that isn’t going to happen, these backup systems are going to fail. Moving backups from an on-premises tape backup system to a cloud-based backup system gives you the peace of mind to continue your existing solution, with minimal changes to the implementation-;all minus the third-party vendor, minimizing costs as well as opportunities for error.
When it comes to doing test restores, or even production restores, using a cloud-based backup solution has the added advantage of being faster too: there’s no need to wait for the storage company to deliver the tapes, which can add hours or days to your process.
Networking your staff from home
Operating a virtual office requires looking at what your employees’ connectivity, compliance, and resources. You may need a virtual private network (VPN), or some sort of virtual desktop interface (VDI) solution, to securely access internal resources. In terms of hardware, examine policy: Do you only allow access to these solutions from company-owned laptops, or any machine? Evaluate the risk of allowing non-company-owned devices onto your network and whether this risk is acceptable. In terms of telephones, some industries have a requirement for calls to be recorded. Employees can utilize “soft phones,” which are software programs that allow you to make phone calls over the internet. Most can mimic an office phone and include call recording functionality.
Applications and office processes
Cloud-based applications like SharePoint Online, Office 365, G Suite, etc. don't require a VPN connection.They are secure applications which can be accessed over the internet, but they, or competitor platforms, do require planning to decide which best suit your company, as well as setting up the appropriate library and permissions. Otherwise employees frequently take it upon themselves to use applications that best suit them and end up with competing document drafts. At our company, we collaborate using Microsoft Teams for instant messaging and meetings, SharePoint for document collaboration, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 as our CRM so that we can share customer data between our salespeople seamlessly.
Embrace the challenge: optimizing cloud and telecommuting capabilities can immediately increase uptime, ensure better availability, reduce management overhead (no more server or network failures), eliminate hardware refresh cycles, and allow you to scale instantly-;all while protecting the health and safety of your most important resource, your staff. Some businesses may even discover that a virtual office is not only feasible, but optimal and a cost-savings bonanza.
Denny Cherry is a world-renowned author and speaker on the topics of databases and cloud solutions. He’s also a certified Microsoft MVP and VMWare Expert.