IT tips for managers with teams working from home

April 28, 2020

As the lockdown in the UK continues, we are now into the 6th week of working from home for those UK workers whose job allows them to do so.

With the initial rush to get home working up and running, companies may not have had a chance to research all the technology available to them. So, we thought a summary of things to think about with some hints and tips might be useful at this stage, so you can ensure your company set-up is working as effectively and securely as possible.

1)     IT Setup – Think Security

There are many options companies can use to get their teams set up and working from home. We are concerned though, that some companies may not have considered the security implications of letting people access shared files from home. For example, we know of companies using file sharing services such as Dropbox to share company files – even confidential ones – which employees are then accessing using their home computers.

This can constitute a data security risk, both because if home computers are not set up properly they may be open to hacking, and because there is no way to control whether people download these files to their own device and share with others.

With the requirement to be able to let employees access shared files while at the same time ensuring security is maintained, we have been recommending the following to our clients depending on their individual circumstances:

  • Via a company laptop or desktop using a ‘VPN’
    • A VPN is a virtual private network, and in this case the VPN provides a secure connection to the company’s server, allowing employees to safely and securely access the files on the shared drives.
  • Accessing a work desktop from a home device (desktop or laptop) using specialist software.
    • This means that employees can essentially use their home device as a monitor, keyboard and mouse on their office/company device – so seeing everything they would if they were working at the office.
    • For Premieredge clients we also push Endpoint Protection out to the home device, protecting the device from ransomware, phishing, malware, and other cyberattacks.
  • Using RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) to link into a company RDP server
    • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a Microsoft tool, providing users with a graphical interface to connect to an RDP server over a network connection. It allows users to access a company RDP server from their own device – as long as the server has been pre-configured to allow this, and RDPguard has been installed to protect against brute force attacks.

We would not expect companies to be able to make a choice about the best set-up for their business from these descriptions, so if you would like to talk to us about which secure setup could work for your company, please give us a call.

2)     Telephony – Think Seamless Integration

If you have a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system such as 3CX then this should be easy.  If not you may want to consider investing in one as the lockdown looks like it is going to continue for some time, and it could also save you money and improve the way you handle calls in the future.

A VoIP phone system operates over the Internet rather than over traditional phone lines.  This means that there is far greater flexibility in how it is used as VoIP systems are not reliant on a fixed phone line.

In the case of 3CX there is an app and a web client. This means the VoIP system can be deployed onto mobile devices or PCs with a headset, giving staff the ability to use their mobile/computer as part of their work phone system. For example, they can call colleagues on their extensions, see if they are available, carry out blind/attended transfers and make outbound calls that display the company number. Basically, it behaves exactly the same way as the handset in the office.

3)     Workstation set up – Think comfort and safety

Most companies will have invested in office furniture within the office to ensure that their staff are comfortable and are not having to crouch over their computers. It is also likely that due to meetings, informal chats and possibly company policy, employees in the office are not sat looking at a screen for hours on end.

These good practices may all have been lost with the move to working from home, potentially meaning employees may be storing up back problems for the future as well as possibly suffering eye strain and headaches now as they don’t take regular enough breaks.

A couple of simple suggestions:

  • Ask your employees about their home working set-up and advise on improvements if necessary. It might also be a nice gesture to offer to pay for a keyboard and/or a height adjustable monitor if they are working from a laptop to help mitigate potentially poor posture.
  • Let your team know about the recommendations around computer usage to avoid eye strain – i.e. that they should look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and look at something around 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Blinking often is also advised to keep eyes moist.

4)     Holding successful meetings – Think planning!

There has been much in the media about the rise of video conferencing and in particular Zoom as more and more companies hold ‘virtual’ meetings.

Video conferencing software offers a way for meeting attendees to be able to see the other attendees and share information via share screen options – and in this environment video meetings can also ease the sense of isolation that team members may feel working from home away from the rest of their teams.

Like any meeting though, successful video meetings rely on a tight agenda and a good chair if they are going to be productive – so we would suggest sending out the agenda in advance and ensuring that someone takes responsibility for keeping the meeting on track. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for some social chat at the beginning of the meeting – just that it shouldn’t dominate it!

Specific to video conferencing is also the etiquette around muting and talking across each other. Some systems handle the audio side of meetings well, while on others any noise can interrupt the microphone if attendees aren’t muted – potentially leading to the focus of the camera being on an individual who is not the one speaking. Meeting attendees should ideally be informed in advance about expectations re muting microphones and how they make it clear that they want to speak.

Video Conferencing Software

When it comes to software there has also been much in the news about the fact that Zoom’s security is somewhat lacking, making it possible for hackers to find out what was said. Taking a practical stance however, this would take a lot of time and effort for a hacker and is something they are unlikely to pursue for the average work meeting.

Our view is therefore that in most cases using Zoom is probably fine unless you are sharing highly confidential or secret information.  However, as a company we recommend Microsoft Teams especially if you already use Microsoft, both because of the security issues around Zoom, and perhaps more importantly because we think it is intuitive and integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft Apps. The way it handles audio also means that noise doesn’t interrupt the microphone in the same way it can with other systems.

Whichever software you use, if your team members don’t have broadband or their Internet connection is patchy then they are going to struggle to participate fully in an online meeting.  Like with their workstation set-up, we would suggest having this conversation with your employees and if their work is being hampered by poor broadband connection you may want to consider helping them out. For example, you might consider paying for an upgrade or even paying for a new connection in the short term at least. If you require help with this, we partner with several broadband companies and can advise you of the best options in the area.

 

We hope that you found the above tips useful. The Premieredge team have successfully helped our clients to move to working from home, using the best solutions according to their specific circumstances.  If you are looking for help, just give us a call on 01275 400 300 or send us a form here.