Remote working: How your team can work from home effectively in the UK
Working from home via videoconferencing
For more personal, hands-free communication, many businesses turn to videoconferencing. Once the preserve of the boardroom, such systems can now simply be a part of your suite of collaboration software.
“It’s turned our market on its head,” declared Andy Nolan, sales director at LifeSize – a division of Logitech focusing on flexible videoconferencing tech. “Only a few years ago, you’d have to buy a black box for videoconferencing. Now you can sign up to a subscription for as few as eight users, and you can all be online for a couple of thousand pounds.”
“We’ve managed to achieve that through providing access from the devices people already have – a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or Mac for example. This is a key catalyst for SMEs with restricted budgets.”
That change is supported by the fact that it’s now possible to get online from wherever you are. “Broadband is far more accessible and available than it was,” Nolan said. “We talk about ‘agile working’: it’s not just about working from home. You can be at a partner’s site, or a customer site, or in a meeting, and jump on and connect to the office as and when you need to.”
Accessing data and apps when working from home
Communication is important, but employees also need access to their data and applications. One option is to switch to a cloud-based set of tools – which may be easier than you think. “Most enterprises, when they look into it, are surprised at how many cloud-based applications they’re already using,” noted Tommy Armstrong, CTO of IT-as-a-service consultancy Virtual Clarity. Even for businesses that currently rely on local applications, “often there are cloud applications available with good enough functionality, and a migration path to make the transition straightforward.”
The challenge is in how to manage an application suite of which you don’t have full control. “It’s important to think about processes,” noted Armstrong. “Which processes can be moved from a legacy application to a cloud-based app? What constraints are there regarding regulatory compliance?”
The cloud isn’t perfect for everyone, however: “With legacy applications, which are critical to the business but that can’t migrate easily to the cloud, solutions such as desktop virtualisation provide a route out of managing on-premise distributed infrastructure,” he said.
In practice, this means a managed remote-access service, which allows workers to use remote apps or even entire desktops with systems such as Citrix GoToMyPC or Workspace Suite. “All our employees use Citrix to connect to our network,” revealed Richard Carty, Director of West Midlands-based Netshield Enterprise Services. “This centralises the solution: you can use any application, including those already published to the Citrix desktop. It’s a software vendor-independent platform.”
Such an approach not only does away with the need to install and maintain local software on remote employees’ PCs, it also helps keep things secure. “Applications and data are stored centrally,” explained Carty, “so the user’s device doesn’t store any data, and two-factor authentication can be deployed if it’s required.”
As Mark Jourdain at Solution Consultants pointed out, there are other measures you might need to take in order to reduce the risks of remote working. “Set up secure passwords, and automatic wipes of computers and devices; ensure you have automatic backups of data stored on devices.”
These security measures, as well as the general demands of keeping a central desktop service, do call for some management. “It’s best to manage remote working, to keep everything running smoothly,” Carty said. “Also, if a problem does arise then there’s someone on hand to help.”
Despite those costs, remote access can still be cheaper than having someone based in the office: “For five users, prices start from £30 per month per user, with discounts for multi-year agreements,” said Richard Carty. And after all, it’s not just about saving money. “The technology becomes an enabler that’s invisible to everyone,” promised Chris Martin. “The tools are there to facilitate the team – and to help people work closer and better.”
If you’re committed to a remote working environment, you should also take business-level encryption incredibly seriously, here’s why.
Images: Shutterstock, Michele M. F. – Flickr