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IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

With more than 50% of employees working from home at least once a week, employers are challenged to provide information technology resources outside of the traditional workspace. Those working remotely full time or even just occasionally require the same IT resources needed to do the job at the business location.

Remote access, rather than being an IT afterthought or a special add-on to the traditional network, has evolved into an integral portion of a company’s overall IT strategy.

The basic considerations for an employer looking to extend the reach of their IT to remote workers starts with internet access, making access to cloud and corporate services possible.

The need for robust, high-speed internet access cannot be overstated. Without a fast, reliable connection to the internet, trying to productively work remotely is akin to trying to tie your shoes with one hand tied behind your back. It’s possible but not as efficient as it would be otherwise.

Here are a few important considerations for internet services:

Speed (download and upload)

Bandwidth must be sufficient to accommodate the type of work required. Workers who must access videos or images as part of their work will require more bandwidth than those who will only access email and documents. Traditional residential internet service will tout high-speeds at a low cost, but many will only be high-speed on the download portion of the offering, with a much slower upload speed.

Remote workers, depending on their assignments and work role, can find themselves uploading data to company resources as frequently as they’re downloading it, so a slow upload speed can be limiting. Even though they tend to be more expensive, internet service offerings geared toward businesses are the way to go for the remote worker.

Dedicated circuits

In a perfect world, an employee who primarily works remotely will have a dedicated internet circuit for their business use. It can be very frustrating for those at home and at work when employees are fighting with the other members of the household for internet access. A devoted internet connection for remote work is recommended, as sharing of bandwidth can be a bottleneck that impacts productivity.

Managers, coordinating with the employee and their company’s IT team, need to review the internet service provider’s offering and service level agreement (SLA) to assure that factors such as quality of service (QoS) are available to prioritize latency-sensitive voice and video services. Cost will also be a consideration.

This review should occur prior to the employee signing a contract with the internet service provider (ISP). A worst-case scenario is an employee signing a long-term contract for a service that is inappropriate for the work they need to do, and being stuck with monthly charges or expensive early termination fines.

Internet access medium

Internet access is delivered over a variety of different media, and some are better than others for remote workers. Some services will have higher latency than others. Latency can introduce issues that may preclude establishing a VPN tunnel, a secure and frequently used connection method.

Latency creates a noticeable delay between typing and characters appearing on the screen when working on remote systems like remote desktop or Citrix systems. Again, the company’s IT team can assist the remote worker with selecting the internet connection media, prior to signing up for the service.

IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

Redundancy

Ideally, staff who work primarily from a remote location will have redundant internet access. This redundancy is achievable through SD-WAN services provided by many ISPs and through hardware appliances that can be set to failover to a secondary internet service connection.

Data security

Secure use of company IT resources must be maintained. Remote workers present special IT security challenges in addition to the usual business IT security requirements. The network protections on-premise workers rely upon are not in place for remote workers.

Firewalls and encrypted networks do not exist at home, nor do they cover remote workers who access guest networks in public places such as coffee shops and airports. A zero-public Wi-Fi use policy should be in place. Public Wi-Fi networks are vulnerable to attacks and can be easily intercepted or used as a gateway into the company’s data.

For those who work from a single location, such as a home office, a firewall should be installed and configured by the company’s IT department. A virtual private network (VPN) should be set up to provide an encrypted online tunnel, protecting your data from unauthorized intrusions during web sessions and to mask IP addresses making locations untraceable. These measures will offer protections from those who seek access to your data through the remote worker connections.

Consider a dual method of authentication for all who access the company’s information remotely. A dual factor can take the form of a numeric code which can be sent via text to a cell phone. When the code is entered, in combination with the user name and password, the worker can gain access to the company’s IT resources. This extra layer of security strengthens the authentication process for all who seek access.

As always, passwords should never be shared, should be complex and unique to business access. Personal passwords should never be used for business system access. Keeping track of passwords can be made easier by using a secured password vault. Password vaults are often provided by the company’s IT team or can be recommended by them.

The endpoint device used by the remote worker must be protected by an enterprise-class anti-virus and anti-malware product. On-premise IT will usually update these endpoint protections, and it is important for the remote worker to make sure the device is updated as well. The company IT policy should prohibit connection to the company’s IT resources unless the endpoint protections are in place and current.

Compliance

Another consideration for setting up remote workers is regulatory compliance. Some industries require that data never be transferred outside of the U.S. If this is the case, location of the remote worker, the path the data will traverse and where data will be saved will be important considerations.

Enabling remote work in your company can increase employee satisfaction, expand the pool of qualified workers, and positively impact employee retention. When you prepare your employees for remote work, educate them on best practices and have the right safeguards in place. Then you can offer this perk knowing they can be productive and your data is safe.