6 Best IT Productivity Tools for working remotely

‘Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it’ 

Stephen Hawking

 

This blog is specifically aimed at helping IT teams, who form the pillar on which technology companies stand. Without a dedicated IT team doing the heavy lifting, it’s almost impossible for companies to continue their operations.

Before we get on with the tools that an IT team needs, let us acknowledge the problems they face during a crisis. These can be broadly classified into the following categories:

  • Connectivity problems 

This sudden influx of employees working from home puts a huge strain on the internet, most people are likely to face connectivity issues. 

  • Network problems

Because of the way tech companies work, there is an incessant need for securing data. Both internal and external data. This means certain internal applications are modified to work only on the office WiFi. 

  • Device Management 

Shifting from a cubicle to a home environment is easier said than done. This means employees with a desktop are now in need of a laptop. It also puts a dent on the companies’ resources and IT infrastructure.

At Freshworks, we’re also facing these same problems. I spoke with members of our IT team to understand the tools they’re using to manage infrastructure and security under these extraordinary circumstances. We feel that this could be a list that any IT team around the world could make use of. Without further ado,

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Remote Desktop Tool

A remote desktop is an essential piece of the IT toolkit. It helps the IT team remotely access an employee’s device, whether there’s an issue to be solved or an app needs to be installed. Having a remote desktop tool ensures that there is a seamless channel between the IT department and the employees’ devices.

At Freshworks, we use AnyDesk. It provides a simple passcode which you can use to access your teammates computer remotely. Built on a proprietary codec, DeskRT, Anydesk feels smooth and doesn’t betray any latency that would normally occur in other tools. With a robust security framework and high performance, AnyDesk checked all our boxes. What’s more, it is built as a cross-platform tool that works across Linux, MacOS, Windows, iOS and Android.

Notable alternatives – Teamviewer, Splashtop, LogMeIn

Internal Communications Tool

The most important thing an IT team can do is to constantly keep in touch with their co-workers. This not only helps solve any potential IT issues that arise, it also provides the right sort of an environment for employees to fall back on. Knowing that you are always on the other end can go a long way in reassuring your teammates. 

We are currently using Slack. If I were to be honest, we only recently migrated and that had nothing to do with Covid-19. But, as it turns out, Slack is one of the best tools for internal communications. Slack provides organization-wide channels for announcements and private channels for internal discussions within a specific function or team. But the best feature, in my opinion, is that Slack provides integration with a host of other remote work-enabling apps such as Zoom. Which brings me to my next topic. 

Notable alternatives – Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Flock

Virtual Communication Tool

While seeing the green dot, indicating online availability, next to your teammates’ names can put you at ease, nothing can be more reassuring than having a face-to-face conversation. However, in these socially distant times, we can be content with a virtual tète-â-tète. Cue Zoom, the video conference software du jour around the world. Video calling and setting up meetings through Zoom are extremely reliable features. It is even possible to conduct employee training programs, thanks to their split-screen support. On a fun note, Zoom has a virtual background feature that’s all the rage currently. Any meetings you have can be directly synced up with your calendar. Combine this with Slack and you have one unrivalled combo in telecommuting. 

Notable alternatives – Skype, GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx

VPN tool 

While the above tools provide a basic communication channel between the IT department and employees, there are other tools that help in throwing a safety net over the organization’s applications and data. There is a reason why employees should only access critical internal applications on-premises and over the company’s WiFi. This is to strengthen the company security perimeter, to prevent data leakage.

A good tool to prevent this is to enable a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that enables remote workers to access necessary and critical company resources without worrying about any data or IP loss. At Freshworks, we have deployed Palo Alto Networks’ GlobalProtect VPN. It is a simple desktop application that can be installed on any OS, It allows you to monitor traffic and usage while keeping your corporate data safe from phishing and credential theft. GlobalProtect also allows IT teams to customize access control for all devices, even unmanaged ones.

To manage our Apple devices, we have enabled jamf. This helps in device management and also helps secure them through data encryption, passcode management etc.

Notable alternatives – Addigy(Apple devices only), Rippling

IT infrastructure monitoring

When all your employees are working from home, it becomes doubly important to keep your data centres, infrastructure systems up and running to ensure a smooth transition. It is imperative to invest in a tool that will keep your servers up without significant downtime, provide warnings to prevent a data overload and also monitor your entire IT infrastructure. We found such a tool in Nagios, it’s the best open source networks monitoring tool you can deploy. 

Nagios offers a host of features including continuous monitoring, quick problem detection with any application, process or service that you may have deployed internally. It also gives you options to troubleshoot to minimize downtime as much as possible. Nagios is available across Linux, UNIX, Windows and Web applications. 

Notable Alternatives – Solarwinds, GFI LanGuard, Zabbix

User Identity Management

Another important aspect of securing your corporate network and data is managing user profiles within the organization. Technology companies of today have evolved to the extent where an employee is given a single ID, that acts as the key to unlock any application or collateral used by the company. This is possible through platforms that help interconnect applications within the organization and provide easy access. 

When choosing our own application, we turned to Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory. It boasts a single sign-on feature and multi-factor authentication that staves off cyber attacks. With features like self-service management and conditional access, it is a robust tool for a company of any size. Also, with close to 3,000 SaaS applications in the Azure marketplace you are well and truly covered. The single sign-on feature is enabled through GSuite’s powerful SAML-based SSO option. 

Notable Alternatives – Okta, onelogin, JumpCloud

We’ve covered the most basic tools in an IT toolkit that should keep your operations afloat. We, at Freshworks, are committed to our employees and customers to maintain a fabric of normalcy in these unprecedented times.

If you are interested in knowing more about how to cope with working from home, please visit our dedicated Remote IT Support page

With inputs from: Senthilkumar Iyappan, Sai Vishnu Vippagunta and Hifaz Khan 

Blog illustration courtesy: Swetha Kanithi

For now, stay home and stay safe. We’re all in this together. 🙂

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