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Remote Working in 2020: 3 Building Blocks for Success

Today, many businesses have increasingly embraced the remote working model as another way to empower their staff to have workplace flexibility, keep productive and be efficient without having to physically be in an office.

The move toward cloud-based software has rapidly enabled us to work from any location, at any time, across devices - and according to Indeed, over 68% of Australian employers have recognised the shift.

Continuously evolving digital collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams have also helped employees at all levels to work as effectively from home as they do at the office.  Combined with the opportunity to reduce costs, many leaders have revised their remote working strategy to better align with digital workplaces and drive staff agility and engagement.

This mission for better remote working could not be more important in the current global climate.

Remote working as a business capability is more crucial than ever to get right as the COVID-19 crisis disrupts normal business operations around the world. A Gartner HR survey in March 2020 revealed 88% of Australian organisations have encouraged or required employees to work from home in the wake of the coronavirus. The challenge for many of these companies, now, is providing the right platform and processes to make remote working seamless for their workers.

Providing a strong strategic framework and technology foundation for collaboration, communication and interaction is essential to empower employees to meet their goals, keep efficient and experience as minimal disruption and roadblocks as possible in their day-to-day. 

But it’s easier said than done, of course.

An effective remote working framework does not just consist of giving workers new devices and new software. It requires education, understanding and even training across the business to be successful - otherwise, assumptions about what can be accomplished remotely, loss of productivity and resource wastage can derail your remote work program before it can begin. So, where do you start with remote working - and how can you better provide it for staff?

In this article, we cover the 3 key building blocks for remote working in 2020 - and how you can better enable staff and users working from home with the best tools, processes and support.

 

#1 - Familiarise staff with the full potential of your cloud collaboration and communication platforms

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Remote working is far more accessible for businesses in 2020 thanks to the widespread usage of cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) products like G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365, which don’t necessarily require companies to be fully invested in the public cloud to begin using to these useful toolsets and their full workstream capabilities.

With productivity tools like Teams, Excel, PowerPoint and Word all bundled into one cloud-based solution, Microsoft 365 is a prime example of a convenient central software ‘hub’ for teamwork, organisation and collaboration that makes it easier for staff to smoothly transition between remote work and in-office work with minimal disruption or roadblocks.

Most organisations today are using all-in-one digital products like Office 365 for their work processes, and most likely already have in-built work capabilities and features at their fingertips that make remote working that much more seamless and simple for all users. And because the software delivery model is cloud-based, all users have access to critical data when they need it and get automatic updates without having to maintain anything - nobody is left behind.

However, while many companies are already reaping the benefits of productivity gains and reduced operations costs from investing in remote working technologies for employees, some haven’t yet established formal policies or conveyed to staff just how useful these tools can be for enhancing and improving day-to-day work tasks while working remote.

  • Cloud-based software platforms typically bundle calendaring, emailing, data analytics and visualisation, file sharing, identity and access management, instant messaging, storage, security and compliance, scheduling and task management and video conferencing so that instead of staff needing to download or manage multiple apps to work, they only need to stay within one ecosystem, while remote or in the office.

  • Cloud software solutions like G-Suite and Teams centralise core work productivity applications like Access, Excel, OneNote, Planner, SharePoint, Word and more third-party applications directly within the same program client, with automatic integration that keeps work documents, important emails, correspondence between staff and customers notes and more without having to minimise the client or juggle multiple windows. Work is automatically saved to cloud storage whenever changes are made, and can be accessed across devices with zero hassle.

  • Cloud solutions such as the Microsoft Office 365 suite offer co-authoring capabilities that let staff remotely access and work on the same document, presentation, or project in real-time automatically, improving not just overall productivity, but offering a whole new wave of collaboration opportunities while working remotely.

Around 67% of mid-sized and large-scale companies surveyed by Indeed already report remote employees as productive compared to 37% of small company employers, indicating many bigger businesses are rightfully reaping the rewards and fostering a digital workplace culture. 

Many more companies are still balancing their investment in the tech versus their formal remote working policies, so it’s recommended to focus on educating both your business leaders and remote workers on the complete capabilities of the digital tools they have at the ready to get the most out of your available cloud software (and not waste or overlook its many productivity benefits) keep agile, and maintain the same efficiency while working away from the office.

Taking the time to train and familiarise staff with the capabilities of the cloud will not only improve productivity while working remote, but make the broad benefits of the remote model clearer.

 

#2 - Elevate security for the remote workplace as the network perimeter isn't where it's managed

 

In order to foster a perimeter-less digital workplace in support of remote workplace initiatives and drive employee agility outside of the traditional office, you must also minimise security risks. 

That involves taking charge of new identity and access management (IAM) and networking security considerations to guarantee sensitive data is safeguarded, users are authenticated and provided the proper access, and staff are always safe when working remotely.

Some examples of typical security pain-points that our customers who are transitioning to providing better remote working programs have mentioned include:

  • Data breaches (intentional and unintentional)
  • Incorrect role-based access or user permissions
  • Unsecured access

The current capabilities of digital remote workplace solutions means staff don’t just access business data or work from a single corporate take-home device anymore. Users could be on their PC at home, switch to a phone while commuting, then a work laptop on the same day - that’s not including other devices such as tablets. Devices can also be lost or compromised.

The remote working model means the network perimeter is no longer where security is managed - access is not determined based on physical location, IP address or VPN. To make sure staff can access what they need when needed on any device - and protect both business users and assets - you must elevate security and identity processes to accommodate. 

According to Gartner, by 2021 approximately 40% of organisations will balance this new need for enhanced security and remote usability by enforcing adaptive access to SaaS applications, up from less than 20% today. This is a combination of multifactor authentication, authenticated user identity, device-level trust and access denial that consistently provide users the right level of access to sensitive data based on a number of set factors - role, department, credentials, etc.

Combined with existing authentication and authorisation techniques such as single sign-on (SSO) and intelligent adaptive access controls that trigger access and policy decisions that properly allow or deny remote access or request additional user authentication details, which are in-built into most modern day access management solutions, these capabilities guarantee that remote working remains safe, secure and seamless for both business leaders and users.

Some examples of modern digital solutions that offer in-built adaptive access controls through product integrations include Microsoft Azure Active Directory, which can set device compliance and ensure device integrity before providing a user remote access by integrating with Microsoft Graph API, and Okta, which uses mobile device management (MDM)-based device trust capabilities to provide adaptive access only to managed devices and SAML-based cloud apps. 

Xello recommends always speaking to an expert consultancy for further assistance in finding the right toolset for your remote working business needs before diving into any new solution.

 

#3 - Keep staff always connected even without physically being together

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Remote working is not some isolated arrangement where staff are or have to be completely untethered to the goings-on of the larger business.

Cloud software solutions and workstream collaboration platforms like G-Suite or Teams don’t just bring all critical data and productivity tool sets together, across devices and locations, but they seamlessly connect staff to each other via in-built video conferencing, organised chat channels, task lists and private instant messaging conversations that keep everyone easily connected to each other and their current tasks, dependencies and activities.

Companies who experience a communications disconnect with remote working employees or have staff reporting dissatisfaction or loss of productivity and connectivity with remote work should examine the recommended building blocks when refining your remote work policies:

  • Align IT with staff remote needs: Determine and confirm all employees have the appropriate equipment (laptops, etc), cloud software resources (SaaS like Office 365) and access rights (identity and security) to conduct work as normal while remote. Oftentimes organisations try to stretch out the use of technology to keep costs flat or expect employees to provide their own hardware resources, causing issues for remote workers. Conversely, remote workers must clearly specify the hardware and software they need to do their work. Align both your IT and your remote staff to determine what the minimum (hardware and software) are needed for remote work and establish if the business, the staff or both will provide said resources and keep channels open.

  • Establish availability and communication requirements: Keep workplace connectivity and visibility the same when staff are remote working by properly planning out communication and availability requirements ahead of time. Make it clear to staff what communication platforms and tech are available to connect with one another and set mandatory policies that remote workers and direct managers must follow when connecting with colleagues and management on a defined basis. All of this helps ensure remote workers don’t lose their day-to-day connection with the rest of the business and keep communication and activities transparent as in the regular workplace.

Creating, establishing and enforcing a formal remote working policy is not just beneficial for management, but for employees, too, so they know how to keep connected with colleagues and direct managers as normal, but also to prevent a disconnect in active communication.

 

Building blocks for remote working: Where to start?

Providing the right software and tools is no longer enough to succeed, foster productivity or guarantee satisfaction while remote working. As more companies adopt a remote-first, flexible work environment, it becomes ever more important to have the right preparation and policies in place to guide how staff can stay connected while remote - especially in a time like now with the COVID-19 crisis changing how we work globally.

A thorough examination of your business's formal remote working process and policy is highly recommended, in consultation with experts in the cloud space that can not only help you implement these tools and the security and identity required to protect remote workers, but also help create the proper strategy and policy necessary for success.

Tags: Microsoft 365, Office 365 ProPlus, Microsoft Teams, Managed Services, Remote Working