At the start of March 2020, the UK Government stated that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic in the UK.
Possible solutions to stop the spread of Coronavirus have included encouraging working from home. That may help with the containment of the virus but what does it mean for businesses?
This article looks at the impact Coronavirus will have on businesses and how you can prepare for the disruption it will bring.
Preparing for Coronavirus
Being effective and productive away from the office is about more than simply having a smartphone and a laptop. It’s about having access to the right tools, the right information and the right contacts.
At Infotech we offer help with building and implementing business continuity plans. A business continuity plan is what you would normally turn to if there was a disruption in the running of a business, from say fire, flood, theft, cyber attack.
While a business continuity plan is a good starting point there are many extra areas to consider when preparing for a mass remote working event like this. As part of your preparations we recommend looking at the following (with a focus on security and continuity of business operations):
- Systems: Will everyone who needs access, have it if they are not in the office?
- Connectivity and VPN: Do you have the required connectivity with the right bandwidth to handle the whole business working from home?
- Devices and people: Has everyone got a secure computer (with emphasis on the secure) they can work from?
- Phones: Can you connect to your phone system from anywhere? How can your staff take calls?
- Communication plans: Do you know who to contact and how?
You need to look at what systems you need to be able to continue to work outside of the office. That needs to consider everything you use on a day to day basis. This is likely to include.
- Customer management system (CRM)
- Remote management tools
- Data storage
- Documentation systems
- Finance and Accountancy systems
Your business is likely to have specialist equipment not on this list. That is why it is important to start your planning by listing everything you need access to, to be able to continue to work.
Once you have the list you need to understand how you access them. Most of the applications we use are cloud-based so we can access them remotely. You might have applications that are on the company server or just installed on a few workstations.
We recommend making a table such as this.
|System||How do we access?|
|Office 365 - Online|
|Finance||Sage - Finance PC & Server|
|Files||Some in OneDrive, most on the Server|
|CRM||Salesforce - Online|
Once you have finished this table you need to see what would be available if you weren't in the office. Anything cloud-based can be accessed remotely but anything on a server will need a discussion on how to access remotely.
You need to decide what are the most important files to have access to. That might be client information or quote templates for example. When you have identified the files you will be able to ensure they are available to whoever needs them. Please note that you don't need to make them available to everyone if not everyone needs access to them.
There are various ways of making those files available. The recommended solution would be using a cloud-based solution such as Office 365. By using the Teams application you can create a team for each department and upload files to those teams. For security, only those within the team will have access to those files.
When working out how to store data you need to consider how to back up that data as well. Just because you have moved data into Office 365 doesn't mean its fully backed up. Microsoft covers you for outages from them but not for accidental (or malicious) deletion.
So you will need to have a system to backup your cloud data just as you backup data from your office server.
Using USB drives
USB's might seem a convenient solution but they can be lost and if you have more than one person needing access to that data they won't be able to. If you are going to be using a USB drive (if only one person needs access to the data) you will need to encrypt it to help keep the data secure.
You may have a system that is hosted on a device within your location. It might be a server or a workstation with an application installed on it (e.g. Sage). Details of how they can be accessed will be covered in the next section.
Connectivity and VPN
For anything that you cannot access in the cloud, you will have to use remote tools and VPNs. Remote tools, such as Screen Connect or TeamViewer, will allow staff to access their office workstation from another device.
A VPN creates a secure connection between your home and your office. It will be like you are connected to the office network.
Using a VPN
To create a secure VPN you would normally use your firewall. Not all firewalls have this function so please check with your IT provider when setting this up.
You will often need licences from your firewall vendor to use a VPN. Commonly, a small number are included as default. If every member of staff needs VPN access you will need to get more licences.
VPN traffic is carried over your internet connection. VPN traffic requires significant bandwidth, especially if you have lots of staff using VPN connections. The upload speed of your connection will be important and basic internet connections will likely struggle with this.
Leased lines will guarantee you bandwidth so check with your provider on the level of bandwidth you have available to you. In the table you did earlier you can include who needs access to that data or application. That will help you understand who would need access to a VPN.
|System||How do we access?||Who needs access?||Actions|
|Office 365 - Online||Everyone||Check security|
|Finance||Sage - Finance PC & Server||Andy and Mary||Setup VPN|
|Files||Some in OneDrive, most on the Server||Everyone||Move key files to Teams|
|CRM||Salesforce - Online||Sales department||All ok|
People & Devices
With people working out of the office you need to know what device they are going to use. Depending on job roles they may be okay using their mobile. In most cases you will want your staff using a laptop or PC but does everyone have access to one of those?
What devices are available
You are going to need to make another list to see what devices can be used. If you have lots of employees you may want to break it down by department to make the list more manageable.
Note down each employee, the device they will have access to. Then add the access they require and what actions you need to take to make sure this will work.
|Bill||Spare laptop instead of PC||VPN for Sage, Email, Salesfoce, Teams||Set up VPN and test|
|Anne||Company laptop||VPN for Sage, Email, Salesforce, Teams||Set up VPN and test|
|Laura||PC in office, company tablet||Email, Teams||Happy to use tablet for email and docs|
|James||Company laptop||Email, Teams||No action|
The problem with allowing staff to use their own device to connect to company systems is you have no control over that device. The device might have dormant malware that the owner is unaware of. This will cause severe security concerns around usernames or passwords being stolen or virus being transmitted.
Consider who is a key part of your business. Do you have any staff that you can afford to not have working? It might be a safer solution that they don't work over the time you out of the office.
If you are already using a VoIP based telephone system you are in a strong position. Much like with the file storage, a cloud-based solution is designed to offer the flexibility of working away from the office. You need to consider how to communicate internally and how to communicate with customers and suppliers.
If you are a smaller company you might be able to get your main number diverted to a mobile phone. It's best to speak to your telephone provider to understand what is possible.
If you are a larger organisation you will have different problems. Can you divert extension numbers through to mobiles? Will that affect your phone bills? Sometimes forwarded calls are treated as two calls, so that might be an expensive solution.
How are you going to tell your staff not to come into the office? Have an agreed way of sending that information out. You will also have to do the same for customers and suppliers as well.
Informing your staff should be easy enough in the days of instant messaging, tons of apps can be used for that. Communicating with your customers will be harder. You might want to consider having a collection of key contacts that you will need to get hold of.
Pandemic plan checklist
This has looked at the technical aspects that mass remote working will entail. We have produced a checklist that will help you consider all aspects of the business and how they might be affected. You can download a copy here.
Further info on Coronavirus
Much has already been written on Coronavirus but we have gathered together some key details taken from the Government to help you understand the threat a bit better.
What is Coronavirus
A coronavirus is a type of virus common across the world. Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that was identified in Wuhan City, China in January 2020. Covid-19's incubation period is between 2-14 days. That means if a person remains well 14 days after contact they have not been infected. That is why you would have seen 14 days or 2 weeks mentioned so much.
Signs and symptoms of Coronavirus
The following symptoms may develop in the 14 days after exposure to someone who has Coronavirus infection:
- Difficulty in breathing
Generally, these infections can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
How Coronavirus is spread
The spread of Coronavirus is most likely to happen when there is close contact (within 2 metres or less) with an infected person. The risk likely increases the longer someone has close contact with an infected person.
Preventing the spread of infection
There is currently no vaccine to prevent Coronavirus. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
Public Health England (PHE) recommends that the following general cold and flu precautions are taken to help prevent people from catching and spreading Coronavirus:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze. See Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
- Put used tissues in the bin straight away
- wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Hopefully, you won't need to use the plans you make and we can all work as normal. However, it's a good exercise to plan for and can be used in any event you might not have access to your business.