The impact of the coronavirus on Irish society increases daily.  And two elements of that increasing impact are affecting the ability of businesses to function.  Firstly, kids are having to stay home – with the associated impact on parents’ ability to work.  Secondly, an increasing number of workplaces are sending staff home in an effort at containment.

Some businesses are better positioned than others to facilitate remote working.  Indeed, Google did a test run to see what problematic issues would crop up.  (They also had a suspected coronavirus case – so they had a dual motivation in asking people to work from home.)

But businesses in the SME sector can rarely afford any extravagant business continuity planning scheme.  Indeed, the corona virus has brought into focus how exposed many businesses are positioned in terms of facilitating their workers to work remotely.  There has already, before the coronavirus, been movement in the direction of facilitating remote working.  In-demand workers are requesting it.  Environmental issues with traffic are an argument in its favour.  Lifestyle needs have been applying another pressure point to employers.  So remote working isn’t just something to think about because of Covid-19.  However, this virus is presenting an unanticipated clear and present impetus.

Are you ready for your employees to be able, if the need arises, to work from home AND be productive?

Firstly, you’ll need to offer them some “soft” guidance such as:

  • Their productivity will be helped by having a space in their home dedicated to (only) work.
  • They’ll need to establish clear demarcation lines with their families to reduce productivity-sapping interruptions.
  • They’ll need to stay socially connected to others where possible to ward off feelings of isolation.

But presuming they have space, can work interrupt-free, and are still taking breaks to chat with friends/family, how do you ensure that they can effectively work from home if/when the need arises?

It is past time for you to be considering this question – whether it’s because of kids needing to be minded at home and/or if workplaces need to close.  And this is where the IT setup is crucial.  The main question is simple: Have you got the technology infrastructure that you need?

Your employees will need a laptop.  Those laptops will need to be encrypted for security reasons.  They’ll probably need some applications installed on them as not everything is in the cloud!

Speaking of the cloud, it cannot be accessed efficiently unless your employees have a decent broadband connection available to them.  Is their broadband speed adequate for their needs?  (Note also that broadband speed requirements can vary greatly depending on the type of work someone is doing.)  Are there speed upgrades available for their homes?  Are there any data limits on their plans?  (A related issue is to determine if they risk incurring a cost if any such data limits are exceeded…)

Another option you may wish to consider, rather than having employees accessing the internet directly from their homes, is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect your employees, via the internet, to your network at your premises.  In that scenario, they have a clear tunnel to all the capabilities offered by the network at your premises, including remote computer access to your own PC, using tools like LogMeIn and TeamViewer.

Alternatively, where multiple users require simultaneous access to their office desktops, remote desktop services (RDS) is an option. This provides employees with remote access to a virtual desktop with access to the company data and resources, either to a specific RDS Server at your premises or located in the cloud (e.g. a Microsoft Azure environment).

Remote working also means that a different type of collaboration is needed.  People can’t stand up and talk over a partition.  They can’t gather at the coffee machine.  They can’t stand together in front of a whiteboard.  Thankfully though, there are collaborative tools available on the cloud such as Slack and Microsoft Teams that allow employees to videoconference, to electronically “chat”, to seamlessly “look” at workflows (and everyone’s part in those workflows), etc.  Are you confident that you know what tools you’ll need for remote working?  Have you procured access to those tools?  Are your employees familiar with those tools?  Do they need training in the use of those tools?

You might also want to do a “Google”-type test.  Have the employees try working from home to see what (if any) issues occur.  Include yourself too.  Without a test, it is difficult to anticipate what issues might arise.  There is nothing like a real test to uncover where you stand, what questions you’ll need to answer, and what gaps you’ll need to fill.