Like many small businesses, you may be figuring out how to keep critical projects on-track as a potential full-scale quarantine looms on the horizon to limit the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). For employees, some may already need to self-quarantine due to recent travel or are requesting to work remotely to limit their exposure. As a small business owner, maybe you’ve decided to encourage employees to work remotely or temporarily shut down offices and ask teams to be fully remote.
Managing a remote workforce can be challenging. Specifically, it’s critical to ensure that employees have the IT support they need to securely access and utilize corporate systems and the resources to stay productive at home.
With over 20 years of managing a remote workforce and providing remote IT support for both consumers and small businesses, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to minimize the IT challenges that can hurt productivity when employees work from home—whether they’re a full-time remote worker or are only telecommuting temporarily during a coronavirus quarantine.
Here are our five best practices to help small business employees work from home efficiently and effectively:
1. Prioritize remote accessibility to core systems.
One common issue remote workers can face is resolving technology issues, like Wi-Fi connectivity issues and phone trouble, and accessing systems, applications, and knowledge-sharing portals while at home.
We address this with remote IT support by enabling remote password resets, automated account management workflows, authorized access controls, identity management, and IT support staff that are easily accessible via chat, email, video, remote access, or phone. This ensures quick and easy resolution to any technology challenges to keep small business employees’ in-home tech up and running during the coronavirus.
Putting these processes and tools in place proactively, if they aren’t already, and having a clear communication plan posted of how employees can access help for similar technical issues will save everyone a lot of time and frustration.
2. Set up strong security protocols and virus protection for remote access.
A recent study revealed that the biggest challenge a small business faces regarding technology is security. Position critical systems and data behind a virtual private network (VPN) that employees must access when working remotely. Additionally, leverage multi-factor authentication to validate employee identities and prevent unauthorized access.
If implementing a VPN isn’t an option, encouraging strong password requirements and providing two-factor authentication options for cloud-based applications can provide additional layers of protection.
You should also require that any device that connects to your small business’s network has the latest anti-virus, spyware, and malware protection. If employees use their own computers, you want to ensure they are using a strong endpoint protection solution.
3. Clearly communicate telecommuting policies.
Once access and security concerns are addressed, you should document and proactively communicate your telecommuting policy. The policy should outline expectations on core working hours, working environment, tool and ISP requirements, as well as non-taxable reimbursement—if any—for any use of personal equipment, etc.
For immediate implementation during coronavirus quarantines, companies’ work-from-home policies should communicate a few expectations to ensure all employees are on the same page and feel confident about their abilities to continue working effectively despite the disruption to their normal workflows.
Companies should also be prepared to develop more extensive policies that incorporate the protection of information and expectations of privacy.
4. Provide access to virtual collaboration tools.
Virtual collaboration tools can help make working in teams seamless, regardless of location. We use a variety of web conferencing tools, such as Zoom, messaging tools, like Slack, and document sharing portals, like Confluence and Google Docs, to allow for real-time, collaborative editing and knowledge management. With work-from-home growing by 173% percent over the past 15 years, these tools are tried-and-true to ensure teammates are able to collaborate on projects as easily as if they were sitting around the same conference table.
5. Expand your IT support team capacity and flexibility.
An increase in employees working from home can place extra demands on your internal IT staff. With a fixed amount of technical support staff (or maybe just one individual) usually located onsite at a local office, responding to fluctuating demands can be difficult for IT teams, especially if that staff also ends up working remotely. Supplement your in-house IT staff by partnering with an organization that is adept in providing remote help desk support to better leverage your IT teams during times of high demand from remote employees.
By following the five best practices above, your small business can be prepared to weather the current threats without disruption and provide a valuable benefit to your employees.
Kevin Ruthen is Chief Technology Officer at Support.com, and is responsible for product, engineering, information technology, hosting and critical systems. He is focused on spearheading innovation and growth strategies for internal, enterprise-customer, SMB and consumer use, harnessing his extensive experience in digital transformation and delivery excellence. Kevin is a technology thought leader who is passionate about providing a stellar tech support experience for all customers.