Our world has turned upside down with the Coronavirus pandemic. The phrase “working from home” has now been appearing much more frequently in the messages sent from information workers. As the weeks of “physical distancing” drag on in response to the pandemic, businesses need to re-think locations where work can be most efficiently performed.
Many workers in the information industry have been working from home offices for years. Many others are just being introduced to this style of work. The “Techno-Giants” (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, etc.) are well equipped for this. They have copious IT resources at their disposal and a very tech-savvy workforce. For smaller companies, the sudden and unexpected cessation of commuting to the office poses considerable challenges.
My colleague Dana Riel’s recent post outlined some very sensible strategies for meeting this challenge. I would like to augment her advice by presenting a framework for approaching the “working from home” decision.
I believe that there are three broad categories of remote computing that can facilitate working from home:
- Remoting into an office workstation
- Remoting into a hosted server
- Moving to Cloud-based applications
For some businesses a combination of these approaches will make the most sense. Many others may be able to put all of their “virtual eggs” into just one of these baskets. The choice of approach is heavily dependent on the applications now in use in the business, internal IT infrastructure, and available IT support resources. One size most assuredly does not fit all.
Remoting into an office workstation
This approach is the easiest one for companies to adopt, in that it piggybacks onto existing computing resources. Remote workers access their office PCs, where all of their business applications are already installed and maintained, from a home PC running some sort of remote connection software. Remote connection software is relatively inexpensive and easy to configure, and puts remote workers in familiar terrain, since they are essentially using their office PC to perform their daily functions. Products like Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, TeamViewer, and RemotePC all are reliable and readily available applications at reasonable price points. Configuration can be moderately challenging if your firm has concerns for overall network security (and you should!), so outside expertise may be needed to provision these apps for your remote employees.
Remoting into a hosted server
In this approach the remote worker connects directly to a server rather than to an office workstation. If an internal server, that server will need to be running either Microsoft Terminal Server (if a Windows server) or will need to have one or more “virtual PCs” configured in Microsoft Hyper-V on a Windows server. In this latter scenario the virtual PC essentially replaces the desktop PC used by the employee when physically in the office. This approach offers somewhat more network security, and also makes maintenance by competent IT staff easier, since the PC exists entirely in software, operating exclusively on the hosted server.
A third option for remoting to a hosted server is to purchase “remote hosting” services from a hosting provider. In this instance the server is owned and maintained by a hosting company, and your company “rents” space and computing resources from that hosting company. Most of the time this approach replaces any internal servers now in place, with all of the business’s applications installed instead on the hosted server. All employees, no matter where located (in the office, at home, on the road) access the company’s data on this hosted server, from whatever PC they happen to be using to connect. All that is needed is a reliable internet connection and a browser (and login credentials for the hosted server!). Popular hosting providers include MindShift, Procirrus, and – for law firms – Uptime Legal.
Moving to Cloud-based applications
This is probably the most radical approach to “working from home” computing, but is also the fastest-growing option. In this instance the company’s internal software applications are replaced by similar applications optimized specifically for access via the Internet. The application is designed and maintained directly by the provider, and access to the application – along with support, training, periodic updates, etc. – is provided via a monthly subscription fee. Companies moving to this model need to abandon their current software, and move their existing data – to the extent feasible – into the new Cloud-based applications, which can be painful in the short term. Once the transition is complete, however, the company is “liberated” from the routines of software licensing and annual maintenance tasks, and from the necessity to be working from a specific computer.
There are innumerable “nuances” to each of these approaches to “working from home”, and many factors to consider before committing to a direction. Recent world events, however, suggest that businesses that hope to survive in an age of pandemics and other global business disruptions need to begin planning for remote computing NOW.
Does all of this technology make your head spin? We can help to point you in the direction that makes the most sense for your business, to ensure business continuity in an era of unanticipated business interruption. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 877-357-0555 to pose your questions and concerns. We can provide both advice and referrals to the best solutions for your needs.