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Setting up Your Remote Workforce for Long-Term Success

Suddenly, a remote workforce isn’t the outlier, it’s the norm. The organization's processes, culture and tools must adapt accordingly.

Kaseya Guest Blogger

April 30, 2020

7 Min Read
Setting up remote workforce
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There’s a big difference between employees occasionally “working from home” and having a true remote workforce.

In the first case, you need a VPN, company-issued laptops, a conference call number or two, and some basic ground rules. In these cases, it’s the exception, not the rule. But when a company fully embraces remote work–which many firms are suddenly finding themselves doing whether they wanted to or not–there are additional considerations. Suddenly, remote workers aren’t the outlier, they’re the norm. And the organization’s processes, culture and tools must adapt accordingly.

For MSPs, the recent switch to remote work in light of COVID-19 was either jarring and disruptive or it was more of a natural evolutionary step in its flexible approach to work. Either way, turning the new reality into a workable, long-term solution requires some tweaks–if not wholesale changes–in how MSPs run their day-to-day operations.

Properly Equipping Your Team

Remote workers can’t be expected to do their jobs day after day with an inappropriate home setup. Working in bed might be fun for a day or two, but it’s no way to live for months on end.

To be successful, you must ensure your team is kitted out with what they need to ensure maximum productivity. Everyone has a professional-grade laptop or desktop setup, including a monitor they won’t mind staring at for days on end. And while you may not have the budget for home office furniture, encourage everyone to create a dedicated workspace providing them with proper ergonomics in as quiet of an environment as possible.

Beyond the “stuff” they’ll need to do their jobs, the remote workforce also need guidance and protocols around how to work remotely and their employer’s expectations. Whether it’s mutually agreed upon working hours, a dress code for videoconferences or ensuring redundancy in case someone gets sick, MSPs shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone will approach long-term remote work the same.

There’s obviously a need for flexibility, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of professionalism or productivity. Having those conversations early on and periodically checking in with staff during the transition is crucial to avoiding bad habits from setting in. A refresh or additional training around security protocols may also help reinforce things.

Getting Comms Squared Away

Communication is going to be critical during this period, so workers need a reliable system for staying in touch with colleagues and customers. If possible, they should be using the business phone system and having calls forwarded to their remote office. They should also be able to check their voicemail remotely.

To ensure they sound professional, they should be using headsets. Even better, a dedicated VoIP phone line can create some separation from personal calls and device usage, not to mention superior audio quality.

Videoconferencing and screen sharing are also paramount during these times, so make sure there’s a solution in place supporting these functions. It not only helps with maintaining human relationships, but also makes it much easier to support customers struggling with their own remote work IT challenges.

Securing Client Systems

Depending on the nature of their business, many customers might not have embraced working for home before recent events. Even those who did might have still expected certain staff to always be onsite, which is no longer the case.

Opening up what used to only happen in the office to a fleet of remote workers requires a new level of discipline regarding security and remote monitoring. MSPs should be sure clients have proper defenses in place to defend data and systems while allowing seamless access to those requiring it.

Multifactor authentication is imperative given how many employees will be logging in from unfamiliar devices, as is secure VPN access to servers. And any device a remote employee uses for work should be running current operating systems, applications and browsers, along with having the latest security patches and upgrades installed.

Some people also need remote access to systems that can’t leave the office. In these cases, MSPs can use endpoint management tools to easily enable those workers to do so from their devices at home. Creating automated scripts for common tasks like these will streamline the client support process.

But beyond the technical infrastructure, clients also need policies and best practices for maintaining a safe and disciplined approach to remote access. This might entail documentation, training, and one-on-one check-ins with remote staff to ensure they understand and follow the proper protocols.

Network and access monitoring are more important than ever when workforces have shifted to remote locations. Not only will activity originate from a whole new rift of IP addresses and devices, but workers will be logging in at unusual hours as they juggle home-life responsibilities and their jobs. MSPs must vigilantly separate approved access from suspicious activity.

Service Call Preparation

While much of the value MSPs provide can be provided off-site, there are still occasions when an on-premises visit is required. Whether it’s a hardware failure, adding or swapping physical storage, or handling another essential task, sometimes there’s no way to avoid going there in person.

To ensure the safety of employees and customers, service teams should take several precautions. Not only should these visits be kept to a minimum, but if employees must go onsite, they should make the most of it. Before heading out they should have any equipment and parts they could need, and their to-do list should include both the urgent matter at hand as well as any other routine or preventative tasks they can complete, minimizing the need to return any time soon.

Employees making service calls should pre-install any mobile apps for essential functions on their devices so they can get in, get the job done and get out as quickly as possible.

Beyond maximizing the efficiency of these visits, staff should also be armed with the right supplies to maintain proper health and safety. This includes masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, as well as training on best practices to minimize contact with other people and surfaces.

Remote Friendly Monitoring and Management Systems

For remote work to actually “work,” MSP employees must do everything they normally can do in the office. That means the interfaces and systems they use daily must function the same on a laptop in someone’s basement as they do when they’re sitting in the NOC.

This includes remote access to all critical applications, along with collaboration and virtual meeting tools to conduct important meetings. They’ll also need easy access to any and all IT documentation for every client.

Using fewer separate systems to manage customers is best, particularly given the challenges of a remote workforce. Employees should be able to easily jump from service tickets to remote endpoint management for quick and efficient issue troubleshooting. Each additional interface and set of credentials slows things down and increases the switching costs and learning curve.

A Daunting, but Doable, Undertaking

Empowering a remote workforce will pay dividends for MSPs in both the short and long term. Not only will it enable MSPs to maintain business continuity and keep their current staff employed and engaged, but it also opens up future possibilities when it comes to staffing and office space.

MSPs can cast a wider net for workers if they embrace remote work. Both full-time and contract workers can be located anywhere, which means more candidates to pick from a more diverse talent pool, not to mention potentially lower costs for staff located in different geographic areas. And with more employees working from home, MSPs can spend less money on square footage and furnishings to improve margins and reduce overhead.

There will be bumps in the road, be they technical or cultural, but the ability to ramp up or maintain a virtual remote workforce will serve every firm well going forward. Using a thoughtful, strategic approach to this endeavor and relying on tools and solutions optimized for this situation is key to making it smoother for everyone.

This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship.

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