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Keeping IT operations running for remote workers

Measuring employee experience and enabling self-service are some of the ways businesses can manage and empower a remote workforce

The health and economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic have percolated rapidly across the world due to globalisation. As travel restrictions and social distancing measures are enacted in record time to keep populations safe, businesses suddenly find themselves plunged into the crucible of remote work as employees are asked to work from home.

Although remote work is not new, many of its niggling challenges were never completely resolved. One area that needs more attention is the user experience of remote working. It is one thing to keep servers and applications running, but that counts for nothing if flaky home wireless coverage or intermittent hiccups with the corporate virtual private network (VPN) causes frustration and loss of productivity.

In many cases, deskbound employees may have ended up with older, decommissioned devices to take home, or even forced to turn to personal devices. Unlike corporate devices, many of these might run old versions of applications, be behind on critical software updates, or are missing required software. All these need to be rectified – remotely.

Inundated by an entire workforce operating from home, traditional phone, email and remote access software are suddenly revealed as completely inadequate. Without easy physical access to these machines, new tools must be put in place to support remote workers adequately.

A start might be tools to automatically capture and measure the experience of these workers in the early remediation of problems, and new capabilities to troubleshoot each worker’s unique work environment.

Regardless of how well prepared they are, IT helpdesks are likely to be inundated with service requests. Although there is no magic bullet, a recent Gartner report called for the implementation and promotion of digital and self-service channels to support organisations’ operational continuity. So why not start with IT support?

For some organisations, this might mean finally rolling out a web-based helpdesk to automate ticketing and incident management. This gives the IT support team a way to manage and prioritise incoming tickets and ensure support requests are addressed in a timely fashion. Also, a centralised knowledge base can go a long way to help employees help themselves.

Of course, a self-service approach can’t solve all problems. With a finite number of loaned laptops available, additional laptops will need to be acquired, and new guidelines put in place to ensure that those most in need of assistance get the devices or IT support they require to work effectively.

Finally, how can organisations ensure that remote workers are adequately protected against cyber threats? Joseph Blankenship, a research director at Forrester Research, advocates a zero-trust approach, a security paradigm in which no one, either inside or outside the network, is trusted by default.

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With remote working set to become the new normal for the foreseeable future, organisations need to decide on the road ahead.

“Many firms need extra VPN capacity to accommodate all the work-from-home workers,” said Blankenship. “Fortunately, many were able to obtain additional licences from their providers on an emergency basis for little or no extra cost.”

But as the months roll on, these organisations must decide whether to continue with their extra VPN capacity – and pay standard rates for them.

Alternatively, they can use the opportunity to transit employees to zero trust network access (ZTNA). “Security leaders need to plan to embrace ZTNA for longer-term access to enterprise applications,” he said. “ZTNA solutions enable secure access and may provide additional security capabilities.”

For now, security teams have their work cut out. They need to make sure employees follow safe web browsing guidelines, are aware of phishing risks, and are complying with data-handling policies, said Blankenship. Also, IT teams must ensure that devices used for work are protected and receive security updates.

The Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly culminate in new strategies and tools to support and manage remote workers effectively. For now, delivering a good service experience to remote workers, providing timely IT support and securing remote devices, is a good starting point.

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