One of the major positive side effects of the rise of cloud services to the IT mainstream is that remote work has now become more possible and potentially fruitful than ever before. With cloud infrastructure, the various resources that businesses use most - employee collaboration tools, href="http://www.cbeyond.com/services/voice">business telephone systems, project management applications - are accessible via a Web connection. This means that employees no longer strictly need to be within the confines of the physical office in order to access their most essential tools.
Companies have caught on to this fact and are implementing remote work policies in order to reap the benefits that can come from giving their staff this added flexibility. By putting parameters around acceptable work-from-home options, businesses can give their employees the balance of freedom and structure they need to find the work patterns that make them most productive. Alternatively, a highly talented prospective employee who lives across the country can be brought on full-time, without saddling the worker or the company with the cost of relocation.
But in order to ensure that your small or mid-sized business can implement a remote work policy without its staff becoming disconnected, it's essential to pinpoint the potential sources of disruption and develop a strategy that addresses and avoids them.
Find the applications that work for your business
It's important to bear in mind that remote work relies first and foremost on cloud-based applications that can deliver key business materials - documents, databases, etc. - via the Internet so that employees can access them from anywhere. But cloud hosting in and of itself isn't the only criterion for what makes an application suited for a remote work environment. You also need to ensure that your chosen apps provide your staff with workflows that reflect their day-to-day needs and the processes they've already come to learn during their time at the company.
In determining which apps to invest in, here are a few questions to ask about your staff's habits and your business's needs:
- Do your employees need to collaborate in real time on important projects and deliverables?
- Do you have a high volume of data you need to store?
- Do your staff members need access to workflow applications on their business mobile phones?
- What are the channels (phone, email, etc.) through which your team most often communicates with clients?
Take a serious approach to security
One of the major risks implicit in remote work is that it lacks the kind of centralization that makes information security in the traditional office setting somewhat easier. In a column for Tech Page One, tech writer Andy Patrizio recommended that companies with remote offices prepare for the worst when it comes to data protection.
"Assume hardware loss. If it happens at the home office, you can bet it will at a remote office. Remote offices are more likely to have a mobile staff that is out of the office more often than they are in. That means laptops constantly being taken in and out of the office, and that means a higher likelihood of loss," wrote Patrizio.
He went on to provide five recommendations for security in remote work environments:
- Ensure strong password protection, implement two-factor authentication and use laptop tracking.
- Encrypt all data stored on the laptops and mobile devices of remote workers.
- Update applications for security.
- Back up all data to the cloud so that device loss doesn't mean data loss.
- Go beyond the traditional firewall to keep out unwanted third parties - use a host-based firewall or additional intrusion-detection application.
Protecting your SMB's assets while enabling employees to be remote and/or mobile is contingent on effective cloud security. If your data and applications are hosted in a secure cloud environment, you're already headed in the right direction.