Does it make sense to make your office available for remote workers?
Are you or someone you know a remote worker? A whopping number of employees in the US – nearly 40% – work from home at least part of the time. This includes people who spend part of the regular workweek working remotely as well as those individuals who check in after hours or during weekends. Just two decades ago, only 9% of workers telecommuted. Why the growth?
Attitudes toward remote work have changed significantly over the years. In fact, telecommuting workers were once seen as less productive. Studies have shown, however, that remote workers are actually more productive than their in-office counterparts.
Of course, part of this increased productivity is due to the type of individual doing the remote work. Highly disciplined and motivated individuals perform well in a telecommuting scenario. But another part of this equation is the technology available to the remote worker.
What Remote Workers Need
Six inches of snow on the ground? Sick kids? An employee with a sprained ankle? Even those folks accustomed to working in the office during a normal workweek can turn into telecommuters under such circumstances. When you make it possible for your employees to work at home, you enable them to continue to be productive. But what do remote workers need to successfully telecommute?
Fortunately, the list of needs is pretty simple:
- A means of communication
- Secure connection to company servers
- Access to cloud applications or proprietary software
- Equipment, either company-issued or personal
Technology has made remote work possible and simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without concerns.
What IT Departments Should Do with Telecommuters
Experts agree: the future of remote work is expanding. By 2020, remote workers will make up more than 70% of the workforce. But remote work creates a different set of challenges for IT. Without a doubt, network and data security is easier in the controlled environment of the office. Still, it’s critical to have a secure environment for those employees who work remotely. How do you accomplish this?
Remote work policy
If you’re going to have remote workers, they need a set of rules by which to play. A remote work policy will spell out the responsibilities of the worker as well as the authority of the business as it relates to the work performed. This should include, but not be limited to:
- Guidelines for personal PC configuration – If you allow your remote workers to use their personal devices to conduct company business, establish specific guidelines for the configuration of such devices.
- Protocols for security – Make the latest patches and updates accessible to remote workers, and provide guidance on browser security settings
- Boundaries for home network use – Remote workers using home networks should turn off file sharing on those networks.
- Policies for data backup – Back up data, automatically and frequently.
- Document storage rules – Documents generated by remote workers should be stored via removable drive or cloud-based applications.
- Guidelines for the prevention of device theft – It might go without saying, but a remote work policy should include instruction regarding protecting devices from theft.
- Recovery plan – Have a plan in place to recover data if a remote worker’s equipment is damaged or lost.
Notice that these guidelines focus on security rather than productivity. Remote workers are often just as productive, if not more so, than their in-office counterparts.
Topmost among all IT concerns is the need for a secure connection to company servers. Your company needs will dictate whether you use an IPsec-VPN or an SSL-VPN. Each has its merits. The IPsec-VPN is installed as a VPN client on all user equipment, including company-issued laptops and employee devices. In contrast, SSL-VPN is an appliance installed on your company network in conjunction with your firewall. It does not require installation on any other equipment. This is a good option for individuals who access the company server via mobile device.
Though a VPN will encrypt information for safe travel between the company server and the remote location, it is possible to import malware into the network. Secure the network with a Unified Threat Management (UTM) firewall to scan all network traffic for threats. A static firewall can only secure against threats that existed when the device was installed. A UTM firewall will reduce your vulnerability to new attacks.
Secure File Sharing
The sharing of files between a remote location and the office can be a chink in the armor of your network security. It’s tempting – and easy – to share files via email attachment… but it’s not a good idea. Instead, encourage the use of a file-sharing service such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft One Drive for the transfer of files between locations. Even if your email is encrypted, there is a margin of error for email to be compromised. A file-sharing service can help to reduce the possibility of files falling into the wrong hands, or a virus or malware catching a ride with attachments.
Preparing for Remote Work
The basic guidelines above are a must for every remote work situation. Security is essential. Remote workers must have secure communication with company servers in order for the entire business to be productive. Businesses would be wise to approach remote work as an extension of their regular office space, and plan their security accordingly.
Have remote workers in your business? Need to prepare for your in-office employees to work at home? Talk to us about setting up secure connections between your company servers and remote locations. We can help you to establish a remote network that is effective and secure, whether it’s used infrequently or daily.