Are you prepared for your whole business having to work remotely? The coronavirus is just the latest instance of where you could have all your employees working from home or off-site at short notice.
Is your business prepared? Would you know how to set up a secure working environment for remote working? Even if you are already operating remote working has your policy covered all the security issues that remote working comes with?
While your company might have spent significant time and money formulating your business continuity and disaster recovery plans, many of these plans do not account for the unique issues a pandemic can bring.
we have identified the key considerations for you to consider when planning for a pandemic or enforced period of remote working. To help you get started with your planning we've created a checklist to follow. You can download the checklist here.
In this article, we have highlighted some of the key technical areas you will need to consider.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Of course for any emergency pandemic plan, you will need your employees to be able to work from home or remotely.
A VPN is mandatory for any pandemic plan or any business that offers remote working. A VPN allows employees to connect via the internet to the business network.
Many businesses already have a VPN but having one is not enough. A pandemic is going to bring new challenges you need to plan for. Can your existing IT infrastructure support your entire workforce work remotely all at the same time.
Unfortunately, it is not just as simple as getting a VPN and setting it up. You will need to consider:
- Which VPN to buy. There is a wide choice of products available.
- How much bandwidth you will need for your whole business to work remotely.
- Most VPNs are sold on user counts. You will need a licence that will cover over 90% of your business.
Because a VPN is vital to remote working, especially on the large scale required in a pandemic plan, Infotech can help you buy the right VPN and set it up so your whole business can work efficiently from home.
Right behind the VPN comes business communications. This is just as important to the success of your pandemic plan. You need to have a way for employees to communicate with your customers, with each other and with your suppliers and vendors.
You will need to evaluate your existing telephone and communication set-up based on pandemic requirements. As a minimum, your employees will need to be able to forward their work phone to their personal phone. They must be trained to be able to do this remotely and by themselves.
VoIP technology has made it easy to set up remote workers with a way of communicating with your business and its customers. If you have a VoIP telephone system your staff can use that to make calls from anywhere they can connect to the internet.
A business already using a VoIP system has a distinct advantage in a pandemic situation as long as connectivity is available at the business head office and the homes of your employees. You can find more information on the advantages of using VoIP here.
Work at Home Training
If you already have remote workers they are well prepared for the changes that a pandemic will bring, but are the rest of your staff prepared? Do all of your employees have VPN access and know how to access your standard software?
If you have systems in place have they been tested? One possible way to test is to have the business work from home at least once a quarter. This will help you establish if there are any additional training you need to consider for remote working.
It will also allow you to address any technical issues that arise and give you an understanding of the comfort level your employees have with remote working. You will also be able to identify any tasks that will still need to be performed in the office.
During a pandemic or emergency maintaining your level of security will be a challenge. Do your security policies cater for emergencies or widespread remote working? They may have to become flexible while not allowing all the rules to go out the window.
Preparation will always be the key to success. So there are some specific security issues you will need to consider and evaluate.
It is unlikely a pandemic situation hits out of the blue, there is usually a build-up period. That will give you time to make the necessary data available to the required employees. The best way to do this is by giving them access through the Cloud. That way you will not have to take physical data outside of the office.
You will also need to consider that a pandemic is unlikely to last a couple of days. It could be weeks even months away from the office. By storing data in the cloud and using cloud applications, such as Office 365, your employees can access and collaborate on documents in realtime.
If your employees have to take hard copies of your data home with them you will want to consider adding encryption and security methods like MFA to their devices. You will likely have a policy on what data can and cannot leave the office. You should consider if that policy is viable in a pandemic situation.
It will be likely that a lot of your existing cybersecurity procedures are carried out automatically or are only set up for devices within the office. You will need to consider how to implement anti-virus on employee devices. You will also need to make sure that updates and security patches are still being installed on devices outside of the office.
Given the time that a pandemic will last it might be viable for employees to take workstations home with them. You will need to consider:
- Should antivirus software be configured to download updates directly from the vendor as well as the business server? This will ensure that machines that do not connect regularly to the VPN will continue to receive updated virus definitions
- Do patch deployments typically run for VPN users? Can the VPN handle your regularly scheduled patch maintenance? Do patch deployments need to be broken up into separate pieces or staggered? Should clients be configured to automatically update applications and operating system files?
Both of those issues should already be covered for devices within your office. For the pandemic plan, you will need to decide on the best way to tackle those issues if workstations are taken home. As with so much of a pandemic plan, it is a case of weighing up risk vs reward.
What data is critical?
Data classification will help you decide which data is important in running your business. It will help you identify which processes have dependencies on other processes and which employees are required to complete each critical business process.
You will need to consider how this is affected by pandemic conditions. It should already be covered by your business continuity plan so then you just need to consider what is achievable when working remotely.
Other considerations to consider (will vary depending on industry)
We have focused on the main technical aspects of the pandemic plan but there are other areas you will need to consider. They are all included fully in the checklist but we have selected a few for you to consider.
Classification of job roles
Will you need people to cover certain roles? Who is responsible for what areas when the business is working remotely? It might be that some roles need to be split among employees.
Business processes that require physical presence
We touched on it briefly but there might be processes important to the business that can only be done from your location. How do you continue those process and who will be responsible?
Alternate Delivery Methods
If you rely on delivery to your customers you will need to consider how to arrange this when working remotely. In certain pandemic situations, deliveries will not be possible. Your business will need to be able to adjust to this.
Your business might rely on goods being shipped to you. Again you will need to decide how to do this remotely and also plan a contingency if receiving good is not an option.
If you have to active the pandemic plan out of work hours how will you notify all your staff?
Notifying business partners and customers
The same goes for customers, suppliers and vendors. How will you notify them all?
The checklist available below is a full in-depth look at all the aspects your business will need to consider to keep running in the event of a pandemic. It may also help you spot actions you might have missed out from your business continuity plan.
Infotech offers a business continuity plan service and we can help you plan and implement large scale remote working. For more information, you can contact us here, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01634 52 52 52.