Everyday more companies allow their employees to work from home. At Willits Technologies we have direct experience with this. We have one employee who works from home full time (in another state) and we allow our all employees flexibility in working from the office or from home on a regular basis. For us this works very well and we have been happy with it.
Fortunately technology has made working from home easier than ever. With the right tools in place and some good procedures, remote employees can be as effective as their office counterparts and appear seamless to customers and vendors. There are two primary methods for remote computing:
- Computer Running Cloud Apps
- Best Solution for full-time remote workers
- Requires the use of Cloud Hosted apps or apps that are designed to be accessed and run remotely.
- Provides the best end user experience and the most flexibility and options for configuration and device connectivity
- Remote Control
- Required if you need remote employees access to older apps that can not run in the Cloud
- Easy and inexpensive to implement for Office employees who sometime need to work remotely
- While it can be effective the end user experience may not be as clean and full featured.
The first method is usually the best solution for full time remote workers and will be the focus of this article. I will discuss remote control specifically later in the article.
Tools you will need:
Computer and Peripherals
Provide a “work only” computer for all remote employees. Don’t forget about other things they may need like monitor, a printer, scanner or other devices (possibly even a desk). You would be providing this for an office employee so there is no difference for a remote employee.
You will want a VoIP Phone system that allows phones to be seamlessly placed anywhere. Most modern VoIP systems allow this including the 3CX system that we use and sell. Phones at employee homes function just like the ones in the office and can be in the same ring groups and automated attendant call flows.
Video Camera and Microphone
You will want all computers (both in-office and at homes) to have a good video camera and microphone in order to visually communicate with employees. You will probably want a good Bluetooth or wired headset.
Team Communication / Collaboration with Video Calling
This might not be as familiar to you but it is critical for employees working from home. In order to have quick communication with all employees you will want a company wide Chat and Video calling solution. The video calling should also allow screen sharing and file sharing. We use MS Teams as our primary solution because it is easy to use and comes free with Office 365. Any of the following solutions are very common:
- MS Teams (part of Office 365)
- Google Hangouts and Meet (part of G-Suite)
- Separate solutions like Slack for chat and Zoom for video can also be used but are more complicated to implement
File Management System
Both remote and office employees will need to access the same files. In a normal office this is typically done via a file server with a mapped drive letter. If you don’t have many home workers, and you really like your file server, you can use a VPN to connect the remote computer to the existing office file server.
The best solution for remote workers is to use a Cloud Hosted file management solution that allows access and sharing of files from any location via a web browser or local file syncing. At WTI we use both Google Drive from G-Suite and OneDrive from Office 365.
Office Productivity Software
Basically this comes down to MS Office versus Google G-Suite. If you have apps that require integration with Microsoft Office then your decision is easy and you need to use Office. If not, however, you may want to consider G-Suite from Google. G-Suite is completely Cloud based and runs entirely within a browser which makes it a favorite among companies with a widely distributed workforce.
In my personal opinion G-Suite is the better solution but because we have to support Office 365 we use it as well and it is effective. This article was written in Google Docs with direct editing by all my employees at the same time.
Don’t forget that with remote employees come some additional security concerns. Most businesses have put some effort into their office security but most people don’t go to the same lengths at their homes. Some key things to consider are:
- Avoid using home computers for work
- Home computers should have no access to your systems
- Avoid using work computers for personal stuff
- Don’t let family members use the work computer
- Install the normal security and management tools on remote work computers
- Antivirus Software
- Computer management and support software
- Content filtering solution for the PC
- Enforce aggressive screen locking that locks out the screen after no more than 15 minutes and require password to unlock
- Enable session timeouts on all apps that allow you to control it
- Require 2FA (Two Factor Authentication) to login to all remote work computers
- This is much more important on remote computers than it is for office PCs but even office PCs can benefit from this.
Managing Remote Employees
Many of the traditional ways businesses use to manage employees and keep them working efficiently are not available with remote employees. You can’t just walk through the office and see if someone is actually working.
Think about how you measure job performance. Determine concrete ways to measure job performance that don’t require daily visual oversight. In our case we track Support Ticket processing and work time entered in the system. Every job type will have different needs but the trick is to come up with some quantifiable measure of performance.
Video Calls and Meetings
You should use video for as much communications as possible! This is likely the biggest change for a company when they have employees working remotely. One of the biggest disadvantages with remote employees is the loss of face to face communications and the quick and easy ability to look at something together. This is where the video camera, microphone and team communication software I mentioned early come into play. With these in place you can have face to face conversations and meetings no matter where your employees are. Over time you may find that this becomes your prefered communication tool even within the office. At Willits Technologies we now use this throughout the day for talking to each other even inside our main office.
Remote Control Solutions
The communications and management hurdles are the same whether you use computers running Cloud apps or Remote Control. Remote Control with a VPN is the best, and often the only, way for remote workers to access apps that can’t be run over the Cloud. There are two primary methods of Remote Control:
- Remote Control of office PCs by employees who have an office PC
- Uses remote control software like: Logmein, ScreenConnect, or the PC version of MS Remote Desktop
- Easy and inexpensive solution to implement
- May not require a separate work computer at home.
- Best for office employees who are only working from home infrequently.
- User experience is functional but not as good as being in front of the office computer.
- Remote Control via Microsoft Remote Desktop Server (Terminal Server) via VPN
- Best remote control solution for permanent remote workers or remote offices
- Good end user experience but still limited to devices and apps that support Remote Desktop Servers
- Need a VPN solution for secure access
- Requires purchase of a dedicated server and licensing
If you only have office employees who occasionally need to connect in remotely then the first option is a perfectly good solution that is inexpensive and easy to implement.
If you have full time remote workers then you need to implement a Remote Desktop Server (RDS). RDS can also be used to “publish” older non Cloud supported apps so that they can be run normally on a PC anywhere. This makes sense if you want to have your remote workers use remote computers with Cloud apps, but you still have one or two apps that they need to access that can’t run over the Cloud.
Technology has made it easier than ever to have employees work remotely but to be successful you need to address the unique technical and management needs of remote workers.
Willits Technologies can help every step of the way.
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