Our daily lives have been overturned by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this includes the way we do business. Internal IT teams are working around the clock to ensure companies can keep going, particularly in their efforts to support their remote workforces. This poses many challenges, and demand for strong leadership has never been higher.
For many organisations, there is nothing new about managing a remote workforce, and the necessary security and productivity tools are already in place to support remote teams. But the effect of COVID-19 has been to create broader groups that lack the experience of remote working and are ill-equipped with the necessary security tools needed to protect company data.
How IT teams are coping with the crisis
Fortunately, such technology is readily available. A decade ago, this wasn’t the case. We would have been looking at a potential disaster, but even today, there are challenges. To minimise the impact on business, we must get things right. Here are some of the ways internal IT departments are helping out.
Few people had adequate time and resource to set up and test their remote working system properly; we all had to do so in a hurry. To make sure that people can continue to do their jobs and to maintain a secure working environment the first step was to check that all who need them have all the essential elements including laptops, log in details, adequate broadband, and headsets.
It is also crucial to ensure that the home working environment is sufficient. For instance, is the home Wi-Fi system suitable and sufficiently secure? In many areas of the country, broadband services degrade during the day when most people are using them. Perhaps it is necessary to upgrade to a higher service level. Most businesses will require employees to connect to a company VPN, so employees need to know how to do so. While this is all fairly basic, any failures could jeopardise both productivity and security.
Employees are likely to need ongoing support, especially for those inevitable times when things go wrong. Employees must be still able to contact IT when this happens.
Good and efficient communications are essential. Teams that usually interact face-to-face will need to use various communication tools to stay in touch. Online chats, video chats, and frequent phone calls are all ways to stay connected and to avoid feeling isolated at home. Not only do these boost productivity, but they are also great for morale too.
Although the IT team must keep things running smoothly, it is also essential to avoid burning out these support teams. Sharing solutions and quick fixes for everyday problems can do much to take some of the pressure of IT. Everybody should be aware of the need to back up data safely and securely and for IT to ensure they do so. Automatic backup systems can do much to avert potential problems of data loss.
Getting into a routine
Once all employees are up and running, and fundamental issues have been ironed out, it is essential to establish reliable methods for continuing business as usual. Again strong leadership is necessary. Currently, the situation is open-ended; nobody knows how long the lockdown will last and how it will be lifted in the future. While there is every likelihood that lockdown will be eased gradually through several phases, for some sectors and employees, the lockdown could be prolonged, possibly until a vaccine is developed. In reality, timelines are complete unknowns.
The longer it does go on, the more long term problems are likely to emerge. For instance, paying suppliers could become an issue as could dealing with specific financial milestones such as the end of fiscal quarters and years. For many organisations, there are unlikely to be existing mechanisms for doing this remotely, and new measures will be needed. IT and other departments need to be aware of such challenges well before they become a severe issue and ensure the necessary tools and protocols in place.
Until regular service is restored, businesses and employees will be under potential security threats. IT must stay on top of this, and all employees should be well versed in how to handle exploits such as phishing attacks. Advanced threat detection tools, spam filters and antivirus software should be used to identify and isolate malware, viruses and other attacks.
Remote network monitoring should be used by IT to gain full visibility of remote workers’ systems. Potential downtimes must be managed to minimise potential disruption should things go badly wrong. A thoroughly tested disaster recovery processes must be in place. There is always the danger of many employees becoming too ill to work; of running out of supplies; and the loss of critical suppliers and customers. Perhaps it is appropriate to minimise business dependencies and to develop contingency plans in advance.
The need for strong leadership
As we said before, strong leadership is essential. We will need to do more with a smaller resource than we had before. Globally our infrastructures are under more stress than ever, certainly since the last World War. Business leaders need to be resilient and adaptable. It is time for imagination and initiative. While some businesses will fail, others are likely to thrive. Those individuals and organisations who live up to challenge will have an exciting future.