How to Go Remote When You’re Not a Remote “Type” of Business: 3 Tips for CIOs

The COVID-19 virus hit…and now your company needs to figure out how to work with no employees in the office. What is your remote workforce strategy? What do you do if you are the CIO?

Some companies have been “remote” for years. But what is “remote”? Put simply, it is when employees are working secured, remotely, from some location that is not under your company’s control—coffee shops, homes, soccer fields, airports, remote beaches, etc.

While this might feel foreign to you now, keep in mind that the most high-performing companies have been flexible about where employees work from for a long time; the rest of us are just now catching up.

So, don’t panic. Even if it’s not what you had planned for, this is not a “bad” move. You might even keep a work-from-home policy in place after the crisis passes.

To help you get started on your remote workforce strategy, here are my top 3 advice tips for CIOs of companies needing to make the transition fast:

#1: It’s time to move business productivity off prem and into the cloud

This means you need to get rid of your Exchange server. Get rid of your file servers. Get rid of your network shares. If you want your workforce to work from anywhere, you are killing them with these tethers.

Think about it. If you have a network share, that means you need to have a laptop that is on your company’s domain to ensure your employees are who they say they are, and that the asset is owned by you.

Next, your employees need to have a VPN (gosh, I hope you are using a VPN for your network share, or you have bigger problems). That means that your data center must be online, operational, and staffed to ensure that the VPN endpoints are running.

Finally, your employees must have a stable internet connection without a drop. Have you ever used a VPN and gotten this message: “Connection interruption, attempting to reestablish…”? My point is, this works, but your IT department had to do a few critical things first:

  1. Deploy a VPN solution
  2. Connect the file share to your network
  3. Deploy Domain Joined assets (laptops)
  4. Ensure that the employee is on a stable remote connection

Now, this might seem like a workable solution – and often it is. But it comes at a high price in terms of IT costs for your company.

However, there is a lower cost solution: Microsoft Office 365. If your documents and email are on Office 365, you can eliminate all four of those considerations; the only thing that your company cares about is “who” the user is, based on their identity. The user could access their documents from any device—be it a laptop, cell phone, tablet, or other—based on their ID.

The connection is secured by Microsoft, and you can containerize the solution (that means to secure it) so that the documents meet your IT security constraints. No stable connection needed (outside of the needed initial connection), everything is “occasionally connected,” with no VPN needed, even no company owned assets (unless you require it – which is another conversation completely).

Basically, you could take your existing employees, migrate them to Office 365, and they would still have access to everything from everywhere, and your IT department can take a break. NOTE: If you are worried about “who” they are, you need to protect their identities.

#2: Look to Azure to deal with legacy client/server applications

Most firms have some software that is critical to their operations. And that software is often “client/server” based. What does that mean? It’s not SaaS (software-as-a-service), but a physical software product that is running on the desktop that is needed to access a back-end system, like Great Plains or a terminal to an AS400. What about those pesky developers with Visual Studio plus other developer apps who need their desktops? Those applications cannot be SaaS-ified.

So, does that mean you’re in trouble? NO!

Today, there are remote desktop solutions that work in the cloud! With Microsoft Azure, you can create an extension of your company’s network in the cloud, which can be accessed from anywhere. Azure allows you to spin up remote desktops, either through full remote machine access or slim remote desktop solutions like RDP or Citrix.

Developers can connect to their “workstations”—hosted in Azure—from anywhere, and your front-line business teams can connect to their business applications from a web browser, or iPad, or Android tablet, or Google Chromebook.

You can surface those “legacy” applications, or rich developer experiences, through a virtualized remote environment in the same, secured manner you enjoy today—without the need for connections to your on-prem networks or deployed assets (laptops). And this solution can be designed and deployed in the manner of hours, not days or weeks!

#3: Team collaboration – I want to see your face!

The last, most common concern with working remotely is losing the human element. How do we get the water cooler conversation going if there is no water cooler?

Effective remote teams have been using remote collaboration tools like Teams and Yammer (gasp!) for years. These tools are so relevant today in this environment, but most IT teams overlook them for IT obstacles; the perception is “Yammer is outdated,” Teams is “complicated,” heck… even Bluejeans is “weird.” But all of these tools share a common thread…THEY HELP YOU GO REMOTE.

With Teams, a user has a simple “free” client running on their desktop (think replacement for Skype or FaceTime). It has AOL or Skype Point-of-Presence built in (green for Available, red for Busy, red with a stop sign for Do Not Bother) built in – so you know if a user is available.

The free version, connected to your Azure AD, lets you see your entire company’s status! Add a small, per-user charge and you can go beyond just chat…you can share documents, work on those documents at the same time with someone, and even create “teams” to work on a project.

If you have a fully remote workforce, you can even enable a PSTN (Phone Service Telephone Network) and assign a phone number to each user. Why? To eliminate your physical telephone network!

With a PSTN, my Teams allows a call to my work number to ring my desk phone, my cell phone, my iPad, my laptop, and any other device I’m logged into with Teams. With Teams, you can have a full collaboration experience from any device—with or without your company deploying assets.

The corporate world must change…even if your culture isn’t ready to

Regardless of the reason for the move, a move to the cloud helps your workforce modernize. It doesn’t have to be a destabilizing activity; it should support what your culture needs. Faces with web cameras, documents where you need them, access to applications when you need access, from anywhere. Azure truly enables the modern workplace through the hybrid data center.

These are not expensive projects to enable, and they are culturally enabling. With a surprisingly small investment, you can keep your entire workforce productive in these “remote” times…and beyond. AKA can help with advice, expert architecture, or whatever it takes to get your company back to work.

Read The Sudden Need to Work Remotely: How This Company Transitioned 500 Users in Just One Weekend with a Cost-Effective Solution on Microsoft Azure to learn how we helped one company transition in record time, then contact us to discuss your needs and timeline.

By | 2020-04-04T23:00:14+00:00 April 4th, 2020|Cloud (Azure)|0 Comments
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Contributor: Greg Inks

With two decades specializing in Microsoft and Azure platforms, Greg leads AKA's Cloud practice. He is a Cloud evangelist offering deep expertise in Cloud architectures and adoption strategy. Greg has developed subject-matter expertise and wide-ranging business acumen by working with some of the largest, most successful technology providers and client companies on the planet.

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