By now, most company’s IT teams or IT providers should have been all set for this latest lockdown, with little or no disruption to your staff. If this didn’t happen for you, then it’s time to start asking, ‘why?’.
For people who can work from home (WFH), they should have been able to grab their laptops and connect from home with no concern about being able to connect to your company’s systems and files.
We’ve been through lockdown before, we’ve had earthquakes that shook up a lot of systems and showed weaknesses. It’s August 2021; by now, things should run smoothly if we go into a quick lockdown, or – and we definitely hope not – another earthquake hits us.
If your systems aren’t prepared, what can you do to move forward and be ready for the (potential) next lockdown?
It doesn’t stop at IT
Of course, it’s not just IT systems you need to consider. Did your phone system switch over seamlessly, so staff could take calls from their laptops, just like they were sitting (or hey, even standing) at their desks?
And let’s not forget IT security. While staff are working from home, you have a much higher security risk. You don’t have any control over their home environment; could someone simply walk past an open laptop and look at documents or emails? Of course they could.
My company had issues again; what should we do?
Let’s focus on companies using an external IT provider, as we would expect that surely an internal IT team would have everything sorted and ready to go. If you do have an internal team and things didn’t work out the way you expected, feel free to get in touch and let’s have a chat. It might be time for a partial IT review on your systems, or Business Continuity.
So, you use an external provider, we went into a snap lockdown and yet it was still an IT lolly scramble, with staff rushing about trying to grab random pieces of equipment? Some of your issues may be down to your IT provider, and some may be of your own making, knowingly or perhaps unknowingly.
Let’s break it down into categories.
If your staff can work from home, by now I’d expect them to have a laptop as their only device. No more desktop, just a laptop with a docking station for use at the office. Using a docking station means that the user should either have the power pack for the laptop already at home, or with them. Icon IT has heard of companies that sent their staff home, but some staff members forgot the power pack for their laptop, and so (eventually) the company had to buy new ones online and get them couriered to the staff. This is obviously not productive, as the laptop is only going to last up to perhaps 6 hours and then die.
The simple answer to this is to be prepared. Check with staff that they have simple things like the power pack for their laptop, ready to go home with them or at home already. Charge one person to physically go around and ask people face to face. It’s too easy for people to say ‘yes’ on email. You may need to email staff who work in other areas, or better yet – call them and ask them.
Monitors at home are always a sore point. There’s little doubt that having a (bigger) external monitor is more productive, and two monitors can give up to 20% more productivity, according to statistics on this. But who pays? Some companies are telling staff they need to buy their own monitors for home, others are getting users to take the monitors from their office desks home, while others are simply supplying monitors for use at home. Asking staff to take their monitors home can be problematic; the might leave a cable behind, the monitor could get damaged taking it to the courier/in transport/taking it into their house. It’s not ideal to ask staff to take their monitors home with them.
What’s the best option? It’s all down to your company’s view, and your WFH policy.
Working from Home Policy – have one
Do you have a Working From Home policy? Many don’t, so it leaves the company prone to staff members making assumptions, because making assumptions is easy if there’s no company policy to follow. This is yet another ‘be prepared’ scenario. If you have your WFH policy in place and staff are notified about it, there’s no excuses.
Right, your staff are WFH and have laptops with them, your WFH policy is in place – what happens next? Your staff need to be able to access any company resources they need to do their job, plain and simple.
This is why many smaller companies are moving all their resources to cloud services; it means that no matter where their staff are, the resources should be available, as long as those staff have an internet connection.
If you are one of those companies with resources in the cloud, good on you. Everything should be at your fingertips, just like you were in the office.
Virtual Private Networks
If your company still has onsite servers, or some servers onsite and some in the cloud (‘hybrid’) then it’s likely you use something like a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to your systems. You might also use something like the aging system, Terminal Services (also called RDS). Generally, you need to enter at least a password to use your VPN connection, but there are other options like Microsoft’s Direct Access or its replacement, Always On VPN (AOVPN). Both of those products connect automatically, so your staff don’t even need to do anything. Just log into their laptop, and then files and resources should be available. Great!
But VPNs can be problematic, and that’s normally down to the quality of the internet connection at your staff member’s house. There’s not much you can do about that, but perhaps encourage them to get fibre/a better connection/get their connection tested. Working on VPN connections is a common issue for IT providers during a lockdown.
Some of these issues may be down to the staff member’s Internet Service Provider (ISP). We have seen issues with VPN connections in the past, where the ISP of your staff member has blocked the ‘ports’ required for the VPN to work. A good way to test this is to ask your staff member to connect to their laptop via their cellphone’s HotSpot (at home), and see if it works. If it does, then they need to contact their ISP to report it. Their ISP should be able to open this up to work.
Don’t forget phone calls
This is often overlooked – some companies get a lot more phone calls than others, and not having this working or having issues with phone calls during a lock-down can lose you business.
Check with your telephone provider that they are ready for a lockdown, if anything at all needs to be done to switch over to working offsite. Do you need to do anything to switch your phones over? An example of this is some of the Mitel/Shoretel phone systems where the user has to change one of the settings to switch from using a deskphone to a ‘softphone’, which means using your laptop to make/take calls.
Do you need to divert calls to a mobile phone for some/all users? Have a plan! Know what needs to be done, before it needs to be done. This would include the order in which things need to happen, who has to do it, what they have to do, and how to get a hold of them/whoever they need to talk to.
This exact scenario is where Microsoft Teams for Calling shines. You don’t have to do anything – users simply continue to use their laptop to make or take telephone calls.
Security at home or offsite
At your staff member’s home, you have no control over what happens. Perhaps at the office, you’ve managed to educate staff to manually lock their computers when they walk away from their desk? Likely you also have something like a ten-minute timer that automatically locks their screen if they aren’t there. You only have one of those things working at their home.
We aren’t saying that a spouse or child is going to start snooping through your company’s files or Customer Relationship Management (CRM), but it could happen. What can also happen is one of their kids jumps on the laptop when dad is away getting lunch and goes to dodgy websites. Sure, you should be protected from nasties on the internet but still, it’s a business risk.
You have a few options here, and the key one is education. It doesn’t matter where you staff member is working from, they need to manually lock their PC when they walk away. It’s as simple as Windows Key+L, and that’s it. Once that habit is ingrained, they will do it without even thinking about it.
Bitlocker is your friend
One more thing to keep in mind is when that staff member is on the move. Perhaps they’re stopping in at the supermarket on the way home, and their laptop gets stolen from their car. This has happened many, many times. Or their home gets burgled and the laptop stolen, or they leave it on a train/plane/bus. Perhaps not a plane in lockdown, but you get the picture.
You may think, “well all our laptops are protected by a password, so the thief can’t login anyway”. If the hard disk on that laptop isn’t encrypted, then a thief can get access to everything on that hard disk in a few minutes, using a disk caddy. The hard disk is the storage device inside the laptop, and a disk caddy is a $50 device that lets the thief take the hard disk out of the laptop, and pop it into the caddy and simply read everything on that disk. Everything.
Hard disk caddies are used by people to legitimately access files on a hard disk, but of course they can also be used by a thief.
The only thing that will stop this is if that hard disk is encrypted. Encrypting the disk means it can’t simply be popped into a disk caddy and read, end of story. The beauty here is that most versions of Windows have a free version of a hard disk encryption program all ready to go, and it’s called BitLocker. Ask your IT provider or your IT team if all your laptops are encrypted (or, “Bitlockered” if you want to sound geeky). If they aren’t, then make this a priority. It isn’t hard to implement, and it could save you exposing sensitive files and/or private client data to the whole world.
Some security software systems also have their own encryption software or will use Bitlocker to do this for you. We can’t stress enough how important this is.
Still not sure?
Icon IT would be happy to come and have a coffee with you, and chat about your needs. We might have some instant advice for you, or it may lead to a partial or full IT review, so you can really see where you stand when it comes to your IT systems and their resiliency.