IT’s Role in Supporting the COVID-19-Driven Work-From-Home Phenomenon

By Ryan Kreger, VP ASG Information Technologies

The COVID-19-related global shutdowns have radically transformed work. An astonishing 84% of office workers worldwide—and 97% in the U.S.—were working remotely at least some of the time as of June, according to a survey by workplace consultants Iometrics and Global Workplace Analytics.

Now, perhaps more than ever, information technology (IT) can play a front-and-center role in organizational productivity and effectiveness. Below are five questions all organizational leaders should ask about their IT capabilities:

How are people connecting to our network—and staying connected?

For many employees, their home internet connections are personal and not employer-provided or controlled. Unreliable or inadequate home broadband connectivity is the primary technical challenge businesses now face, according to a just-released survey by international IT services provider Navisite. This can be an even bigger issue when parents and their remote-school-attending children are all competing for a slice of the home’s broadband capacity. 

Some companies offer remote desktops (RDP), which essentially allows employees the ability to log into more powerful and secure workplace or virtual computers. RDPs can keep bandwidth-and storage-hogging applications and files on more robust office systems, and support stronger cybersecurity by maintaining it on the office or virtual system.

Employees with less-than-stellar connectivity should also be encouraged to use a hardwired connection because it will always be more reliable and faster than Wi-Fi. For the most part, organizations should consider requiring or subsidizing the cost of high-speed broadband in employees’ homes. If that’s simply not an option, organizations can provide Wi-Fi hotspots to select employees. While their performance isn’t foolproof, they at least provide some connectivity.

How are we maintaining security and compliance?

Cybersecurity is an even bigger issue in a remote work world. Employers should issue work-maintained computers to employees, so that organizations can keep security and connectivity software are kept up to date. Employees should be discouraged from using public Wi-Fi, but if it’s necessary, they should be equipped with Virtual Private Network (VPN) software, which can provide greater security against hackers.

How are employees staying productive and how are we monitoring it?

Employers have the right to know that their employees are working productively and safely during work hours. A plethora of software allows employers to monitor their employees. While few would quibble with an organization’s right to protect its confidential information and safeguard against cyber threats, the issue becomes murkier when it involves monitoring employees’ keystrokes, time online, or physical locations. While employers are generally allowed to keep virtual tabs on their workers during work hours, especially when they’re using work-supplied equipment and information, organizations are best served by being transparent about how they monitor employees’ behavior and productivity. Some employers even involve employees in establishing acceptable levels of surveillance.

How are staff members collaborating?

One of remote work’s biggest weak spots is maintaining team unity and organizational culture. IT can support these objectives by staying up to date and offering the latest collaboration and communication software. Beyond the ubiquitous Zoom and Webex teleconferencing platforms, popular tools include enterprise-wide messaging apps like Jabber and Slack, and integrated business communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams. These platforms also can help employees combat the loneliness and isolation that are downsides of working remotely. 

How are we continuing or facilitating training?

An advantage of virtual work is the increased ability and convenience of training and education. IT should drive the training needs of any new software and applications, but the department can expand its contribution and relevance by researching, identifying and supporting engaging and convenient training about other issues and topics important to the organization and its mission. This can range from formal online seminars and classes offered by professional or educational entities to webinars or virtual presentations on subjects the organization’s leaders know will interest its workforce.

The coronavirus has forced many organizations to quickly ramp up to an often 100% virtual work world. IT departments can play an oversized role in creating an effective and productive experience.

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