One strategy companies of all sizes are using to retain employees and increase the pool of potential hires is to allow employees to work remotely. This strategy makes a lot of sense with the proliferation of high-speed internet, mobile, and remote tools that allow employers and employees to communicate and work together effectively.
WordPress and Basecamp are two examples of companies that have embraced remote workers. Both believe it gives them distinct advantages over competitors who require employees to report to an office each day. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a book titled Remote: Office Not Required where they provide tips and best practices for managing remote workers. I’ve read the book and recommend if you’re considering going to the remote worker route.
But for this article I’d like to take a different approach and focus on a few tools and practices I’ve learned over the past couple of years since I became a remote worker myself for Puget Systems. As the first employee to go remote, I’ve spent a lot of time researching tools that allow me to perform my job as well as keep me in communication with my team and manager.
But the tools only tell a part of the story. As an MSP, you’re probably faced with some of the logistical and technical challenges that result when employees work outside the office. We’ll take a look at some options for how you can assist remote employees in securing their mobile devices.
Over the past two years I’ve tested dozens of products that promised to make my life easier. That’s a bold promise to make, and I found that few lived up to that promise. While I’m constantly evaluating software, I’ve settled on a number of tools that actually work as promised.
Email is the backbone of corporate communication today, and it becomes even more critical to the remote worker as most communication takes place over email. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about alternatives to Microsoft Exchange, and while decent alternatives exist, I still believe Microsoft provides the most complete and consistent product suite for most companies. OWA has been refined over the years to the point many people consider it superior to stand-alone Outlook.
I’ve been using Zimba, and found it to be a good alternative to Microsoft Exchange. One of my favorite features is the ability to share tasks with my manager. This allows him to review my progress at any time without an email or meeting. One challenge I’ve had to overcome is making sure my colleagues and manager still observe the work I’m asked to complete. When you’re sitting at a desk for 8 hours each day there’s an assumption that your work is getting completed. Putting my weekly tasks on a list that’s shared with my coworkers has made it simple for them to see what I’m up to. It also helps me prioritize my tasks because my manager sees exactly what I’m working on each day.
Microsoft Lync is a powerful and popular solution for IM, video conferencing and telephony. If you’re a Microsoft shop it’s definitely one of the first options to consider. If you support customers using Windows, Linux, and Mac it’s worth taking a look at other options such as TeamViewer.
One of the benefits of being a remote employee is that I’m not invited to as many meetings. I’ve enjoyed being able to focus on my work rather than spend half my days in meetings, but I can’t avoid all of them. When I do attend meetings, I use TeamViewer. It’s cross platform and runs on a number of mobile devices as well. I’ve found it to be a lot easier to digest than some solutions that are far more complex.
TeamViewer allows for screen-sharing and the video conferencing controls are easy to understand. I use a Logitech HD Webcam C920 for video and a Corsair 1500 headset for audio, and both work together well along with the TeamViewer client.
Microsoft and Google cover the bulk of my file sharing needs. I began using Google Docs many years ago, and I was willing to forgo some advanced features because Docs made it so easy to share files. Over the past few years, Microsoft has caught up with Office 365 making it just as easy to share Office documents. The solution that’s best for you might depend on whether or not your employer is married to Microsoft Office.
Both Microsoft and Google provide apps that work across Android and iOS making it easy to edit documents on the fly. For other files such as pictures or video I like Dropbox. There are options that cost less and give you more storage, but none of them have worked as consistently as Dropbox for me.
Having another employee working outside the company firewall can introduce new security challenges. Employees are working across more devices than ever before. They may work at a desktop PC, take notes on a tablet, and send email from their smartphone.
Fellow Recovery Zone writer Contel Bradford wrote an excellent article on security measures MSPs should take to secure mobile devices. I agree with all the points he makes. I would add one more: Set clear policies and enforce them. Some of the most common line items include:
- Mobile devices must be password protected
- Encryption must be turned on and enabled on all mobile devices
- No rooting or “jailbreaking” allowed
Continual training can go a long way to making sure all employees are on the same page in terms of keeping company information safe and secure. As your company grows and your need to find skilled workers increases, consider allowing employees to work remotely where it makes sense. Start off with a small group of trusted employees and learn from them before you expand it.
You will encounter challenges, but that’s where you as the MSP can assist in creating clear policies and selecting the best tools that will allow employees and employers to benefit from working remotely.
*Photo courtesy of MillennialCEO