Over a year into the global pandemic, we have found ourselves in a world that functions differently, and one where consumers and the workforce alike are demanding more remote services. Some companies embarked on a journey, prior to the pandemic, to position themselves for remote operations. Others have struggled to implement a plan of how employees can perform all processes with adequate controls remotely while continuing to provide high-level service to their clientele. Some challenges they have encountered include:
- Remote access software deficiencies
- Bandwidth limitations
- Video conferencing options
- Software limitations
- Security concerns
A few of these issues can be handled quickly; however, others, such as bandwidth limitations, can take a significant amount of time to correct. Fortunately, Snodgrass anticipated that, someday, remote capabilities would not only be needed, but would be preferred by employees and clients alike. Our journey to instituting remote work began about ten years ago. Without a necessity to institute this practice, the firm had ample time to make adjustments as issues arose. Briefly outlined below are five key challenges Snodgrass faced, along with the solutions implemented, to overcome each challenge:
- Bandwidth – We realized that without the bandwidth to support software and hardware needs, no other plan to work remotely could be implemented. The firm thoroughly evaluated (and continues to evaluate) bandwidth requirements and partnered with companies that allowed us to avoid data bottlenecks due to low bandwidth. We ensured upload and download speeds were able to handle the network load needed for a remote workforce.
- IP Telephony and Video Conferencing – IP telephony allows for voicemails to be forwarded to an employee’s email and can be used for setting up video conferencing and other features. This, like bandwidth, is not something that can be initiated as a short-term project. For example, businesses in buildings not originally designed to support this technology could face substantial costs and require abundant time to re-cable an entire office for separate voice and data lines. Employees working remotely require a way to video conference with clients. Researching and finding a video conferencing solution that is functional, secure, and professional can be challenging, even in this technological age. We suggest businesses utilize software demonstrations before making a final decision. Snodgrass considered several options, and as technology evolves and new products become available, we continue to review this as a key element to satisfying client needs remotely.
- VPN – Our firm was fortunate to have been in an industry that initially required employees to work from client locations. While the industry has shifted and now allows for the majority (if not all) of the work to be done remotely, that initial demand positioned a secure and functional VPN solution at the forefront of all endeavors. While we have changed vendors over the years, the demand for a secure VPN solution has remained the same. Regardless of a company’s stance on accessing data in the cloud, some data will need to be located on the company’s network, which requires a path for remote employees to securely access the information.
- Endpoint Security – Every device utilized for remote work should be company-issued and have endpoint security, such as anti-spyware and antivirus software. Patching of these machines needs to be addressed to ensure employees do not require an office visit to receive security patches to keep data safe. Additionally, companies should expect employees to use these same devices for some personal use; therefore, web filtering to block undesirable or known malware-infested websites is necessary on each endpoint being used to access data. Along with security, backing up remote devices must be addressed. While our firm stresses that an extreme minimal amount of customer data should be stored on endpoints, these machines still require a backup solution that can address remote work. At Snodgrass, as our ability and need to work remotely has grown, so have the solutions that we have chosen to provide endpoint security. Each year, our network administrator and management attend conferences where vendors showcase the latest technology trends, and changes are made in each of these noted areas as newer technologies and products become available, to ensure our clients’ data always remains safe and available.
- Software and Data Storage – Today, the benefits of cloud computing are greatly outweighing the risks of storing data outside of a company network. The move to the cloud is a crucial decision that should not be entered into unadvisedly, but vendor due diligence and selection of the correct vendors will allow cloud-based data storage in a secure fashion, with many added benefits. Bandwidth limitations (noted above as an immense challenge) can be greatly reduced if data is stored outside of a network. This drastically limits the number of remote employees who need to connect to a company’s VPN to obtain client data. Any internet connection can route them to data without having to connect through the internal network and cause a higher bandwidth demand. While security may be a concern, partnering with the correct cloud vendors can increase a business’s security posture. Large cloud vendors have more resources than small- to medium-sized companies and can afford and allow 24/7 security monitoring. While once an option that Snodgrass did not wish to pursue, the past five years have brought about a strong desire to move data off our network and place it in an easily accessible cloud location. This move has ensured our bandwidth needs did not skyrocket as more employees worked remotely. Keep in mind that software vendors often seek long-term contracts; therefore, as contracts are due for renewal, it is important to allow ample time to test other options and reevaluate current providers. Overall, software and data storage cannot be changed overnight, as contract limitations, timing required for conversions, and proper testing before rolling out the software solutions must be evaluated.
As discussed, it is a long journey to assess and implement a safe, successful plan to conduct business remotely. No matter where you are in the journey, we invite you to reach out to us with any questions or concerns you may have. Please contact Jeremy Burris at email@example.com or 724-934-0344.