Even just 15 years ago, the idea of “working from home” (WFH) was reserved for writers, artists, and other siloed professions that didn’t rely much on regular collaboration. In the corporate landscape, remote working was rarely considered, and in most cases not even possible.
But with the vast range of hardware and software designed to allow employees to work from home now available, it’s no longer uncommon for companies to consider this route. In some cases, it may be their only option. There are a number of common situations that may cause an organization like yours to consider the work from home--or remote--option:
- If you’re a startup with few employees and don’t yet have funding for an office space
- If you’re an established company looking to cut down on office costs or hire strong talent regardless of their geographical location
- If you’re a company that wants to implement an emergency plan so that your business doesn’t slow down in the event bad weather conditions or onsite disasters.
If you’ve never considered how your organization would handle the technical challenge of supporting your employees to work from home, now is a good time to start.
Why Every Company Should Consider Their Work-From-Home Infrastructure
Even if you have no desire to utilize a team of remote employees to handle day-to-day operations, having a plan for business continuity in the event of a physical disaster is imperative. Part of that plan includes putting a system in place that allows your key people to keep the business running from outside the four walls of your office.
Or, if you are a startup working out of a venture capital office or borrowed space, or a company simply interested in the possibility of allowing employees to work from home, the same rule applies: Knowing the technical limitations of your current IT infrastructure and planning for future remote working needs will keep your organization running like a well-oiled machine.
Here are the 5 points to consider when building and supporting a WFH system in your organization:
1. Who Will Be Working From Home
It’s unlikely that every employee in your office will work from home on a regular basis, but failing to properly plan for your organization’s WFH needs could be a costly mistake. Consider the purpose that your WFH system fulfills for your organization. If you’re a startup and know that remote employees will be a regular part of your business model as you grow, then you need to account for accessibility to data and systems securely with scalability in mind. If your WFH system exists solely for the purpose of emergency planning, then you need to consider how many key employees will need to work remotely to keep your business running in the event of bad weather or facility issues at the office.
2. Internet, Email, and VPN
This may go without saying, but without internet and email access, your company probably wouldn’t get much done. Every tool that allows your employees to work from home--email, VPN, instant messaging, video conferencing, etc.-- requires an internet connection. Once you know which employees will need to work from home, they must be equipped with the following resources:
- A fast and reliable internet connection in their home or remote location
- Ability to access company email from a laptop or mobile device
- (Optional) Remote access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access company resources
Every remote employee will require two pieces of hardware at a minimum:
- A laptop, desktop, or other fully functioning mobile device
- A cell phone or phone line
Every employee will need some kind of device to access the internet and use web-based tools to get their work done. Your employees likely have a laptop, desktop, or mobile device of their own. Determine if it’s acceptable for them to use these devices for company work, or if you’ll need to provide them with a company issued piece of hardware. Be sure to consider the security of your systems when allowing personal computers to access your company resources. The need for antivirus software and the ability to copy data to these systems needs to be understood. Consider the option of maintaining some pre-activated devices that can be distributed in the event of an emergency.
Even with all of the gadgets and apps available to your team, few items are as practical as a phone line (landline or cell) with voicemail. Make sure every remote employee is equipped with a way to make and receive calls and messages during business hours.
4. Software and Licensing
There is a vast range of software available to help your organization plan for remote working conditions. Everything from traditional enterprise solutions like VPN and Remote Desktop Services to cloud-based services like hosted email systems and cloud based file systems can help your people get their job done remotely. What’s important for you to consider is:
- Which type of solutions are best for your organization (traditional or cloud-based)
- Which programs and systems are imperative to your daily business operations
- How your employees will access these systems from home
Most cloud-based services allow users to log in from any computer, but traditional software needs to be installed on each unique device--which leads us to another important consideration:
How readily are you able to scale your current software licenses in the event you need to utilize more devices? Right now you may have plenty of software licenses for the computers in your office, but that number would change if you suddenly needed 5, 10, or even 30+ people to start working from home. Are you equipped to handle that?
It’s important to plan for these situations now so that you’re not left without options down the road.
5. Bandwidth and Backup
Finally, with everything else in place, you need to be sure that your ISP solution will have enough bandwidth (both downstream and upstream) to handle any number of employees who need to login to your system. Will your on-location VPN or Remote Desktop Service solution be able to handle the number of people you expect to connect remotely when needed? If 30-40 people needed to access your servers from outside the office, will these systems withstand it?
In these situations, it’s best to plan for a worst case scenario. Many organizations are quick to sign up for low broadband because of the monthly savings. But knowing that your infrastructure can handle anything you throw its way will go far in providing peace of mind as your organization grows and prepares for emergency situations.
When it comes to building out your WFH policies and the technical infrastructure to support them, advance planning makes all the difference. We recommend that you play the “what if” game. Sit down and map out where each of your IT assets live and get an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of your current IT infrastructure. If you think your system can already handle it, consider setting up a test run. Choose a day and have key members of your organization work from home. This will quickly reveal if there are holes in your system, or places to be improved.
If you don’t have any IT-support on staff to help with this setup, consider working with a managed IT partner. To learn more about how an outside IT partner can help you evaluate and support your IT needs (from setting up remote working capabilities to data backup and more), download our free guide: The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing.