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Coronavirus pandemic: 5 remote work tips for IT

VMware's Shawn Bass and Brian Madden shared tips to help IT workers make remote work a reality for their organizations as the new coronavirus pandemic progresses.

Companies without remote-work strategies in place will likely go into triage mode for the next couple of weeks, as coronavirus emergency measures are set. As the months progress, they may have the ability to explore more permanent options.

In a webinar, VMware's Shawn Bass, CTO of end-user computing, and Brian Madden, lead field technologist for end-user computing and formerly of TechTarget's BrianMadden.com, talked about how to quickly set up a remote workforce. They laid out five strategies for IT administrators who suddenly need to provide remote-work options to a massive number of workers.

1. Understand how employee needs differ

Madden suggested IT professionals first categorize the types of employees they are working with. Different employees will require a varying amount of set up -- for instance, an employee who is already remote will need little help, while those who never work from home and do not have a company laptop will require a considerable degree of assistance.

Brian MaddenBrian Madden

"Break down users into different groups and, for each of them, determine what they need and look at what devices they have," he said.

Bass said this process would also include determining whether an employee can do their jobs remotely in the first place -- some, like doctors and security guards, cannot. Knowledge workers, he said, are typically good candidates for remote work.

2. Be creative about provisioning

Once it's determined an employee can work from home, IT professionals should look at the devices at a user's disposal. If, for instance, workers already have a company-issued laptop, they are in relatively good shape. If an employee typically works with a desktop, the situation is more complicated.

Shawn BassShawn Bass

Bass said a company could decide to invest in new laptops, but noted that many firms were in the same position -- meaning supplies could be constrained or deliveries slowed. Allowing people to use their own computers, he said, may require some enterprises to relax their security standards or adopt zero-trust security. Such security, he said, continuously evaluates the device and user actions to ensure company data remains safe.

In some cases, companies asked employees to go to their local electronics store and purchase a laptop there, according to Madden.

3. Keep home setups in mind

Working from home presents employees with a range of challenges, and those can be exacerbated during a pandemic. Occasionally sending an email from a couch or working from home every other Friday, Bass said, is very different from full-time work at home; the coronavirus means people may have to work there eight hours a day, five days a week for months at a time.

If employees have a quiet place to work, that set up might be fine, Bass said. What if, though, they need to make frequent calls, and their cell signal there is poor? A worker using a virtual desktop every other Friday might be workable, but what happens when everyone in the neighborhood is also using network bandwidth at the same time?

IT professionals, Bass said, could urge their workers to be responsible network users. For instance, though video conference calls may help people feel connected, they should evaluate if they could forgo some video to save some bandwidth.

4. Consider what is already in place

It is easier, Madden noted, to grow what a company already has in place than to set up an entirely new product or service, like virtual desktops.

Bass agreed, saying that standing up a new, complicated system in the midst of a crisis is not something a company should do as a "knee-jerk" reaction, as such things require a great deal of planning.

Still, even having the technology in place does not guarantee a smooth transition.

"It's not necessarily the case that you can call your conferencing provider and get 10 times the number of licenses immediately," Madden said. "Everyone [is using] more cloud capacity at the same time, and the cloud is not infinite."

Madden said IT should look at all the core services it needs to provide to workers and evaluate how easy they are to scale.

5. Be flexible

Bass said that while the tech industry makes a big deal about all-encompassing products -- managing everything from a single pane of glass -- IT professionals should use what they can to make things work. It is acceptable in a pandemic situation, he said, to consider disparate services, as long as a firm is meeting the needs of its workers.

Madden said, however, organizations should be cautious that emergency solutions do not short-circuit long-term planning.

"We've found, a lot of times, hasty decisions become 'the way things work' for the next five years," he said.

While an emergency must be handled immediately, Madden said, businesses could seek more permanent solutions during the next several months to ensure stability in an uncertain world.

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