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Planning IT infrastructure for long-term remote working

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ekaphone maneechot)

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there has been lots in the media about the working day, how it has changed, and what the future holds.

While some organizations are opting to return to the office for the ‘conventional’ five-day week, many are embracing more flexible working practices – employing hybrid models where employees can choose what timetable suits them, whether that is fully remote or a split between the two.

Mike Dunleavy, client director at IT solutions provider Central, explores what businesses must consider when planning their long-term IT infrastructure for remote and hybrid working.

Carrying out the initial fact-finding

No matter if colleagues are logging on from the office or at home, user experience and seamless access to corporate systems should be the same across all locations. But this can only be achieved if business leaders have a clear picture of where their firm currently is on this journey, and what the end goal looks like. 

By far the best way to evaluate this is to conduct user workshops, as they enable decision-makers to truly get under the skin of the organization and its employees – helping to determine what technology is currently in place, staff pain-points, and what is needed to deploy the most appropriate solution. And additionally, the individual needs and requirements of staff members need to be uncovered as part of this assessment phase.

Areas to consider include how much hardware or software is needed, what activities they will be used for, who is using the technology and how often, as well as during what time periods it has to be available. 

For instance, if a firm offers laptops to its employees already, it is worth asking whether these devices have a processor fast enough to cope with the tasks being carried out and if the operating systems up to date – because having a machine that’s not fit for purpose will cost more in time, money, and employee frustration in the long term.

Factoring in the security element 

Whether in-office or at-home working, organizations have always had concerns around the security of their systems, and when staff are pitching up from many different locations, it is no surprise that the threat of a cyber-attack increases.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by 451 Research revealed that 47 percent of businesses have reported an uplift in the severity and volume of cyber-attacks in the last 12 months, and a vast 82 percent remain concerned around the security risks of remote working.

Therefore, it goes without saying that leaders need to review their current safety measures and set-up with their IT team, and ensure that all security controls – such as antivirus and web filtering – are enforced on all devices when colleagues are logging on from home.

As a result, companies also need to ensure they have mobile device management measures in place, which allow their IT admins to access all endpoints that are off-premises. They can then make sure all web policies, software upgrades, and security patches are deployed efficiently.

If this is not considered at the start of the remote working process, this could not only make organizations and their networks vulnerable to cyber incidents and leave the door open for viruses to infect off-site machines, but it could also present a logistical nightmare when trying to update everyone’s applications.

In addition to device management planning, it is also worth implementing multi-factor authentication processes as well as organizing regular security campaigns to help educate users on news and emerging threats. Solutions exist which allow IT teams to send an organized phishing email to staff and obtain a report detailing how many clicks there were – and coordinate virtual training courses based on those results.

Embracing cloud storage solutions 

With the various lockdowns from the past year, many firms have been forced to accelerate their digital transformation strategies and make the shift from on-premise to cloud infrastructure. And as there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, each business should assess what’s right for them.

However, if long-term remote working is a model that is going to be employed, migrating to the cloud should definitely be considered.

With cloud services, employees are able to access corporate drives and all the information they need to carry out their job – 24 hours per day, seven days per week, from any location. And this is crucially important if colleagues are all operating on varying, flexible schedules.

As an organization’s workforce grows and an increasing number of people operate remotely, this puts more pressure not only on security but server, storage, and network capacities. Therefore, businesses need to be able to easily scale to accommodate demand – whether that’s increasing memory or adding more servers.

Ensuring seamless communication among staff 

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught organizations about the way they work, it is that peer-to-peer collaboration is crucial – especially when not everyone is in the same physical room. Therefore, as part of any long-term infrastructure strategy, this should be front and center.

Hybrid or remote operations mean employees need a way to bridge the physical divide – in order to continue building relationships with colleagues and customers, as well as deliver projects without experiencing any technical bottlenecks.

Alongside the traditional email and phone conversations, video has seen a huge uplift in usage – with communication and collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Meet seeing more traffic than ever before. And this is a crucial part of any successful IT roadmap.

So, while server size and cyber-security should certainly be a priority, implementing an internal comms and collaboration solution which seamlessly integrates into daily business operations should not be overlooked.

Preparing for the workplace of the future 

While no one truly knows how the ‘typical’ working week will look in the long term, a survey by Robert Half has uncovered that 89 percent of UK businesses expect hybrid working practices to become permanent – indicating it is certainly a trend we will see stick around long into the future. 

Ultimately though, when it comes to how to effectively plan IT infrastructure for sustained remote working, firms should never overlook the importance of taking stock of their assets, systems, and processes – as well as scoping out the current challenges and pain points from staff feedback.

It is only when IT solutions are aligned with business objectives – using in-depth gap analysis research – that fit-for-purpose solutions can be designed and deployed.

Mike Dunleavy, client director, Central