COVID-19 drove millions of employees away from their offices and workplaces. Many of us have worked from home before, but never to the extent that we are experiencing now.
Previously, if a piece of technology stopped working or a client required a face-to-face, we could always count on the office as a base of operations. However, almost overnight, our homes replaced our offices. While man organizations initially looked at this as a temporary situation, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it has begun to look like working from home will become a normal part of operations for our workforce. As we move forward, organizations will have to look at employees’ homes in a new way, or rather in the same way business owners and managers have always looked at their offices and infrastructure.
Let’s start with one of the basics: electricity. Most people who aren’t in the technology field don’t have a reason to think long and hard about reliable electricity and network connectivity. The power is on 99% of the time and if the Wi-Fi blinks out once a week, it’s not a big deal.
Turning your home into a place of work invites additional scrutiny. The power going out and shutting down your desktop or killing your wireless router could lead to the disruption of a crucial client meeting or result in hours of work being lost.
Your IT department or managed services provider (MSP) knows to deploy Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) devices to protect critical infrastructure in the office. It’s time to consider the same for our homes. UPS units come in a variety of sizes and price points, but at a minimum you should consider a small one (they start at $50) to protect your home networking equipment (don’t forget that cable modem or fiber terminal). Proactive businesses can even procure these units for their employees as a show of support that benefits both the employees and the company.
While we’re talking about equipment, make sure you keep spare keyboards, webcams, and laptops in stock. Consumer supply chains are still disrupted so leveraging your own can fill these gaps.
We’ve already mentioned networking as critical infrastructure that needs to be protected. There are two major items to consider: reliability and bandwidth. Reliability can be addressed in most homes by upgrading the basic wireless router that was provided by your internet provider. Wireless mesh network devices provide expandable and reliable coverage. Ditch the inexpensive wireless repeaters you might have in the house. They are 20th century technology and may cut off your VOIP call as your phone hops from one wireless connection to the other.
Mesh networking is more expensive, there’s no way around it, but with how important connectivity has become, it’s worth every dollar of investment. If you’re unsure how best to upgrade your wireless network, reach out to your technology support team or MSP.
Have a backup internet connection ready in case your wireless internet has issues or goes down. These days, that most commonly means being able to tether to your personal or company smartphone. Tethering requires some setup so make arrangements with your company’s technology support department or MSP ahead of time.
Upgrading your wireless network may make your connection more reliable but you still must make sure you have enough bandwidth for work. The modern home has a lot of devices competing for the same internet connection. Netflix, Playstation, computer games, YouTube all use significant bandwidth and can cause your business video and voice calls to become choppy or drop entirely, especially if you children in the home.
A NOTE ABOUT BANDWIDTH
While most business requires modest amounts of bandwidth, video teleconference and VOIP needs demand new protection in the home against recreational internet use. Also, if employees use cable internet that bandwidth is shared among their entire neighborhood. However, there may be some options on a new wireless router to prioritize and protect voice and video traffic. There are also dedicated home office business firewalls from Cisco Meraki and SonicWALL which can provide a dedicated wireless network for work laptops and protect productivity bandwidth using traffic shaping and Quality of Service features. In this area more than most, you’ll need someone versed in networking technology to assess your options.
The following are the bandwidth requirements for a popular video teleconference service:
• For 1:1 video calling: 600 kbps (up/down) for HQ video and 1.2 Mbps (up/down) for HD video
• For group video calling: 600 kbps/1.2Mbps (up/down) for HQ video. For gallery view: 1.5 Mbps/1.5 Mbps (up/down)
• For screen sharing only (no video thumbnail): 50-75 kbps
• For screen sharing with video thumbnail: 50-150 kbps
• For audio VoIP: 60-80 kbps
While the bandwidth requirements are modest, teleconferencing very sensitive to disruption from competing bandwidth consumers like gaming consoles and video streaming services.
Privacy and compliance
If your employees deal with regulated data (such as the healthcare field), it may be a worthwhile investment to keep that sensitive information from other adults and children who are near your employee’s work equipment. Something as simple and inexpensive as a privacy screen filter may be sufficient. In comes cases, you may need to advise employees on creating a more private workspace, especially if they’ll be speaking about protected or sensitive information on the phone with clients and customers.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but employees should be advised not to share their work equipment with anyone outside the organization. In the hectic, interwoven work/home life we’re experiencing, it’s tempting to let a child look something up for school or submit an assignment.
While security has been transitioning to mobile and work from anywhere methods of protection for several years, COVID-19 have invalidated some of these products and investments. For example, secure office wireless networks and endpoint protection do not extend to the home. While highly mobile users may already have sufficient protection, a fresh look is needed from a Zero Trust standpoint. Here are some steps that can be taken:
- Ensure your endpoint protection is installed across all endpoints and updated regularly
- Home office network equipment from your trusted vendors like Cisco Meraki and SonicWall can create a monitored and controlled zone around your company equipment and protect productivity bandwidth
- Evaluate how your security policies affect your employees now that they’re home most or all of the time. For example, Data Loss Prevention policies may need to be relaxed to allow printing or workarounds put in place.
COVID-19 will continue to change how we conduct business for the foreseeable future. New approaches both big and small will be needed to adapt to a constantly changing work environment. For technology organizations like Micro Strategies it’s both an opportunity and a responsibility to help our communities and employees work safely and reliably. As redundancy takes on a bigger role in our supply chains, human resources, and business processes, change will find their way into our homes and offices. We hope the time you’ve spent with us today has helped you know which change your business needs. If you feel technology could do more to help your business, please contact us.