Our practical IT guide to homeworking during the Coronavirus pandemic
The UK and the rest of the world is now in unprecedented territory as millions of workers are asked to grab their laptops and start working from home. So what can you do to help to keep your business running whilst we follow the Government's advice to keep each other safe? Here's our practical IT guide to working from home for the next few weeks.
Accessing your company data
Company data is usually stored in one of two ways, either a traditional on-premise server or NAS (or perhaps one that your company keeps in a data centre), or in a cloud service, such as SharePoint, Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.
If your data is on-premise, then the chances are that your company uses a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that creates a "tunnel" to allow employees to securely "dial in" to the company network and access shared drives as you would do in the office.
If you don't have a VPN in place then it is relatively straightforward to set up, with some IT knowledge, so speak to your IT support provider about this as soon as you can.
If you have (or are being asked to use) a VPN then don't be a VPN Hog - remember that everybody is in the same boat as you. Not every business has super-fast broadband and unlimited VPN "slots" so sitting with your VPN connected all day may be preventing others from working efficiently.
Although this goes against best-practice in a normal situation, consider copying the files you want to work on to your machine and then disconnecting from the VPN. Remember to connect back up and copy the files back when you have finished though, as your company will have backups in place should the worst happen. If you are managing a team then perhaps put a rota in place for workers to access shared drives and set themselves up with the data they need to work on during the day.
If your business has already made the switch to cloud services then you will be used to accessing your data through services like SharePoint or Microsoft Teams. Although companies such as Microsoft have enormous resources, you might find that syncing services are slowed due to high demand or the speed of your home broadband. Try not to get frustrated if data cannot be accessed instantly (or as fast as you are used to in your office), these services are robust and they will have engineers working to manage demand. Raising support tickets and demanding to know why your cloud service is not as fast as usual, or even briefly unavailable, will not help to "fix" the problem and may be drawing valuable resources away from a faster resolution.
If you haven't already, then please read our article on how to avoid that syncing feeling when moving to Office 365. There is no real need to sync all of your data constantly between your devices and the cloud, and adopting some of the ideas in the second half of the article will really help to take the strain off of the network and allow for a smoother experience and higher availability.
Be prepared to change your working practices
If you are expecting working from home to be the same experience as working in the office then you will very quickly become stressed out by the whole experience. You will have to make compromises, think about other users and their needs, and be prepared to adapt your approach to many of the daily tasks you need to perform.
Share ideas with colleagues and those who are less IT "savvy". You may find that another member of your team is struggling with performing some of their daily tasks and the workaround you have found could save them time and frustration.
Avoid bandwidth bottlenecks on your home Wi-Fi
It's worth remembering that a house full of people and devices will bottleneck your Wi-Fi connection. If you can, your best bet would be to set up your home workstation next to your broadband router and connect with a cable. But if that's not possible then think about the devices you have connected; smart TV, smart speaker system (such as Alexa), internet radio, phones, tablets, games consoles, and so on. With many of these devices there is constant "chatter" over your Wi-Fi network and this can cause your vital work laptop to fight for bandwidth. Consider disconnecting some of these from your home network to help productivity.
Use chat and video conferencing platforms to keep in touch
Working from home can be a lonely experience and productivity may drop if employees can't chat to their colleagues, share ideas, and keep up-to-date with company news and vital information. Luckily there are some really good chat and collaboration platforms available to use for a reasonable price and these could be a lifeline for some employees. If you are an Office 365 organisation then Microsoft Teams is already part of your package and is ready to log in and start chatting. It covers video conferencing as well as chat and is also a great way to organise and access your company data without the need for local syncing and clogging up the already overstretched networks.
Other platforms, such as Zoom, Trello, and Powwownow all offer great functionality for keeping in touch with your colleagues during this difficult time. It's worth checking how some of these services could benefit your business both now, and into the future.
If you don't have any of these then a Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp Group can do a similar job. You could also look at Facebook Workplace to provide an interface that workers will feel comfortable with and intuitively know how to use.
It's true to say that most businesses have to take IT security very seriously and will no doubt have professional firewalls and other security measures in place. Unfortunately, that can all go out of the window when staff start working from home, but you can follow these key steps to ensure your devices and data are as secure as they can be.
Router and Wi-Fi passwords
Your home broadband router can be a weak point for attack if left with the "default" settings. Make sure that you change both the default admin password on the router itself and the Wi-Fi password to make it hard to guess and hack. Passwords of eight or more characters with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols should be the minimum. If you don't know how to do this then you can contact your IT support company or Internet Service Provider for guidance.
Keep anti-virus and software up-to-date and use software firewalls
If your are asking people to use their own devices to work from home, then it is paramount that they have up-to-date anti-virus and Operating Systems in place and firewalls enabled on those devices. They should meet the same standards as you would expect your office PCs to have. It is well worth running a check on devices before you decide to allow users to access company data on them.
Be extra vigilant for scams
It's a sad truth that where there is uncertainty and vulnerability, scammers will be there to cash in. Ask staff and remind colleagues to be on high alert for scam emails and websites during this time. Look for official websites with information about what to look out for and ensure that the correct information is shared amongst staff. Also keep a look out for misinformation being distributed and read on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This article from Computer Weekly discusses threats already "in the wild" that use the Coronavirus pandemic to trick users into accidental clicks. And, the NCSC website is a great source for accurate information and practical steps you can take to protect your business and your workers.
Make yourself comfortable
The final piece of advice is the same as you would have at work. Set your workstation up sensibly if you can (we know this isn't always possible if you don't have the space) with an adjustable chair, desk and screen at a comfortable height. If you have a laptop then an external monitor, keyboard and mouse are a great idea, as is a docking station to save space. Remember to take regular breaks from screen work and walk around if you can to keep active and lower stress levels. It's also worth noting that natural light is far better for VDU work than domestic light bulbs so let as much in as you can.
We hope you have found this guide useful and we would like to ask our wonderful clients and friends to follow the official guidelines and stay safe at this difficult time. If you have any questions about IT and your options for homeworking then please give our team a call on 0117 911 8081.
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