Working From Home: the New Normal
It’s no surprise by now how COVID-19 has driven the demand for remote technologies to new levels in 2020. While remotely working from home (WFH) has existed for years now, the evolving need for physical distancing and adaption during the pandemic has shifted WFH and related technologies into the spotlight. Nevertheless, when faced with such challenges, we do what we have always done: adapt and evolve to the ever-changing climate of the world.
Here is a few technologies and focus points that we leverage to keep running smoothly as we transitioned into a WFH environment this year:
- VPN (Virtual Private Network) – A VPN connection is a very important first step for enabling your workforce to WFH. A VPN creates a private, secure connection to another network (like your private work network) from a public internet connection. This enables your workforce to securely sign in to shared company resources such as a terminal (remote) server, shared files and folders, and so on.
- Remote Desktop Services – Also referred to as a terminal server, is a server configuration that allows workers to connect remotely to a virtual desktop and profile connected to the company resources. This coupled with a VPN will enable your workforce to securely connect to your company’s network and resources and work from machine that is still under your company’s influence of control and policy.
- Collaboration Software – We utilize Microsoft Teams to facilitate both video conferencing as well as chat discussions. Collaborative communication software like Teams enables teammates to communicate with each other over different mediums (video, voice, text). This lets the workforce effortlessly communicate and collaborate despite physical location.
- Office 365 / Hosted services – Hosted services, such as Office 365, are great because they are built with remote and flexibility in mind. Office 365 accounts allow you to access web versions of your favorite Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) and email accounts, keeping you connected and productive wherever you are. OneDrive is another Microsoft tool that is helpful in saving and sharing of documents via the cloud.
Even with these robust enabling technologies, preparation and execution of a remote workforce is not without its problems and challenges. Especially during the initial onslaught of workers transitioning to WFH, many people began to encounter internet connectivity issues as their ISPs (Internet Service Providers) began taking on higher workload than initially anticipated. Disconnections and issues with VPN connectivity resulting from spotty internet can cause headaches for workers trying to access shared resources or virtual workstation instances. While some issues are out of our scope of ability (for example, ISP problems), here are some tactics and ideas you can use to troubleshoot and fix some issues during your time WFH:
- Restarting your system: Yes, the age-old classic “troubleshooting” move. Many connectivity and performance issues can arise seemingly out of nowhere (I’m sure everyone can relate to this). The reason I recommend this as a first step is there will be instances where IT support will be tied up and you, the end user, will be stuck waiting. A simple reboot can fix issues as it closes down and reinitializes everything, the operating system, the network connection, and the programs you use locally on your machine. It’s always good to try rebooting to fix an issue if you find you cannot get immediate assistance. You would be surprised at how often it will solve small issues.
- Close and re-open: Here’s another one that seems like a no-brainer (but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t even try this!). Sometimes, similar to rebooting your system, programs can freeze or become unresponsive and stop working. It’s worth trying to close out that program, wait a moment, and reload the program. If you find you’re having a hard time closing the program, open your task manager (ctrl+alt+del) and find the program there and end task. This will force the program to close out. Note, you can lose unsaved work when task killing a program, so use this wisely.
- Run troubleshooting on your network connectivity: Having internet problems? Try running the Windows troubleshooter on your network connection (right click on your network connection icon, and select Troubleshoot problems). Windows will run through a set of commands to test and reset network settings in an attempt to reset your network connection.
I firmly believe the ability to work from home will create flexibility in our workforce and enable us to maintain productivity though we cannot always be in the office. The movement towards more remote working environments will continue to grow over time and change the way our workforce interacts with each other. Though this is a good direction to be heading in, WFH is not without drawbacks and issues. For one, troubleshooting certain issues requires being onsite and this can be more difficult when your workforce is remote. In addition, there are levels of discomfort for certain users when transitioning to working from home due to unfamiliarity with technology and embracing the changes these technologies enable. It’s important for IT to properly prepare and educate the workforce to maximize the efficacy of remote working. No disruptive technology comes without its challenges and changes, but if your IT team works in collaboration with your workforce to prepare and execute a WFH policy, your business is sure to reap the benefits.
Written by: Derek Guby, IT Specialist