How to Enable Remote Work for your Employees?
This is part 2 of a 4-part series where our CIO, Prasad Ramakrishnan, was interviewed by our very own Alan Berkson, Global Director, Community Outreach, and Analyst Relations at Freshworks. Their freewheeling conversation covered important topics like business continuity planning, remote work, digital transformation, and more. For more such videos, please visit our Remote IT support page.
Note: The interview transcript below has been edited for clarity
Alan Berkson: Hi I’m Alan Berkson and I am the Global Director of Community Outreach and Analyst Relations for Freshworks. I’m joined today by our CIO Prasad Ramakrishnan and we’re going to be talking about how IT teams can enable remote work for employees during emergencies. Hey, Prasad!
Prasad Ramakrishnan: Hi, everyone. Hello, Alan. It’s always wonderful to chat with you.
AB: Let’s dive right in, Prasad. We’re all well aware of the impact this current pandemic has created in the world of tech-biz. With employees mandated to work from home, what are the steps IT teams need to take to enable a stable remote work environment?
PR: Right. First things first. From an employee perspective, to enable remote work, computing devices could be issued. It could be a desktop or a laptop, but preferably a laptop because desktops are harder to transport. Next, a stable internet connection. It’s also wise to arrange a secondary internet connection because when the primary connection is cut-off we’d be in a lot of trouble. For example, wifi dongles could help address this issue and act as backup internet devices.
Speaking of internet connectivity, I probably should also mention Virtual Private Networks or VPNs. Because when you’re dealing with sensitive data like customer details or company information, using a home internet connection makes you prone to more cyber attacks. VPNs help bridge these gaps by creating a tunnel that connects you to your highly-secure corporate network.
Most companies would have a VPN, but they’d have had the capacity plan for, say, 5% or 10% of the employees logging into the VPN network. So investing in the additional capacity and infrastructure would be critical. From an end-user perspective, ensure you have tools like to provide a virtual desktop interface, which would be useful especially when your employees
might not have a powerful computing device.
Another important factor that customer-facing teams might easily overlook is noise-cancellation in their headphones. Because when you’re working from home, there is going to be a lot of ambient noise when you’re attending business calls. It could be from your kitchen, kids, pets, or even the TV. So, investing in good noise cancellation so that you can filter out all the unnecessary noise in your business conversations with your colleagues, customers, or your partners.
AB: So I’ve been working from home for a long time and I can tell you the challenges from the employee side. But from an IT side, what are some of the common challenges when enabling employees to work from home. And you talked about security. How do you ensure security when your employees are working from home?
PR: Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, provisioning a secure VPN is probably the most important step, as it will help your employees connect safely to the corporate network. Another avenue you could look into is investing in the right technology and business services. Brownie points if they are SaaS-based, because one, they are extremely secure, and two, they are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Let’s take an example here. Your employees might want to access payroll information, which is usually available on your internal HR management system. When you plan and invest upfront in your HR management system, we need to ensure that the provider that we are working with does have the required security, according to our business needs.
As another measure, you can enable mandatory two-factor authentication on all your users’ devices, as it brings in two layers of security. Using a directory service like Azure AD is another option, where you can obtain a birds-eye-view of your entire organizational structure. You can enable security and group policy settings across the company with the help of your IT team, set up restricted access at extremely granular levels.
If you’re a product company like us, there’s going to be a lot of engineering work that goes on. Given that your teams are going to be working remotely, whatever be the environment—GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, you’d want to ensure that your developers and testers have the most secure environment to work in.
During times like these, companies tend to get vulnerable. Cybercriminals leverage these gaps and perform phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. I’m sure that’s the last thing you’d want. If you compromise on your security measures, you’re opening up a window for these attackers to take advantage of these vulnerabilities.
Another side of the coin is educating your end-users on all the possible attacks and providing clear instructions on what their responses to such attacks should be. If you read the press, there has been a significant increase in the number of cyberattacks since the world adopted the remote work culture. These cybercriminals are faking as though it’s an important message from the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization, which would then persuade people to click on those malicious links. So educating employees and making sure that employees are aware of all of these vulnerabilities is also an extremely critical aspect of strengthening your security measures.
AB: As with most things, it’s not always about technology, right? It’s about people and processes as well. You have to do the training. So for IT teams, how do you deal with it because, with employees who are using personal devices for remote work, they’re easy targets. What happens when they only have their home computers?
PR: I’m glad you asked this question, Alan because this is not a hypothetical situation. Think about the effects of the disaster that we are in. A lot of companies are still onboarding employees. Some companies can ship laptops to their new employees, but in many cases, they aren’t able to because of logistical issues. In this situation, one of the approaches that could be taken is setting up virtual desktop interfaces. This way, employees can use their Google Chromebook or their home computer and log in to a virtual desktop setting in which all of the security parameters are applied by default. And this makes the employee feel like they’re using a company machine, whereas they’re in a simulated session. Addressing these critical factors, you’d have all the bells and whistles in terms of security and business services that your employees need to perform their job.
AB: Right now, my ITSM background makes me cringe when I think about the sheer volumes of different and often unique requests coming from employees working from home. How do you handle that? How do you enable your IT team to do that?
PR: So I’m going to give you give a two-pronged answer to this. I think part of this comes down to the company and the company culture. And the second part is the technology infrastructure. If you look at IT departments, you’re going to have different functions like infrastructure, operations, software applications, etc. All these functions will take on several levels of incoming support tickets. What has worked for us once we went fully remote is, we’ve merged the level one and level two teams into one big team, with the idea of completely removing all the friction on the end-user side.
Coming to the technology aspect, providing employees an easy way by which they can report an issue, has made things really easier for us. In addition to using a robust and easy to navigate self-service portal from Freshservice, our internal ITSM solution, we set-up dedicated slack channels for the IT helpdesk. At pressing times like these, the slack channels helped our team respond instantaneously to every single issue raised by our end users.
Now our customer satisfaction survey results are off the charts!
AB: So you may even want to shut down one channel or direct them from one channel to another because you’re going to be limited in terms of how much support you can give. And you want to direct people to the one where you can give them the best support.
PR: Not exactly. But as far as the end-user is concerned, don’t shut out all the doors, but try and channel them to places where everybody’s listening and is jumping in to take care of the issue, right. We pretty much went ‘all hands on deck’ where it doesn’t matter which team you’re part of (within IT of course), just jump right in and try to resolve the issue.
AB: Alright. If you had to give three tips for IT folks looking to ensure a service delivery continuity for their employees working from home, what would they be?
PR: Yeah, so I would say, one—acknowledge that there’s going to be a new normal. Assume these are extraordinary circumstances that generate an extraordinary number of incoming tickets, even if some of them are frivolous. It’s easier in the office, you could just walk over to the IT desk and ask for help. But now, all you can do is walk from one bedroom to another, or from your living room to the kitchen, right?
Two—Communicate. Set the expectations right. Tell your end-users clearly as to what they can expect from the service at this time. Reassure them that you’ll try your best to get things fixed asap.
Three—Have a solid cloud-based ITSM solution that enables you to do the appropriate routing because the last thing you want is an employee feel like they raised an issue and nobody cared.
AB: I imagine going forward we’re going to have more remote work given we just talked about ‘the new normal’. And I think that’s a great tip. Whatever we’re doing right now to establish better services during business continuity, is probably going to be something we’d have to carry through going forward, as well.
Thank you, Prasad, for sharing some great insights on how to enable remote work for your employees and help them be more effective.
PR: Thank you, Alan. And thank you, everyone. Hope to see you all again.
Check out our Covid-19 resource center to find more useful content on business continuity.
Blog cover by Saravana Kannan