Telework/Remote Worker considerations

Working from home or on the move being a mobile worker is on the rise. A quick google and countless pages tell of employer/employee satisfaction. Large companies and small business can all thrive from the “remote worker” but providing its done right. For, as many success stories there are, there’s also horrible  fails.

But with the advent of recent hardware/software changes telework is an easy thing to introduce for employees, its benefits for employer office space wise, and employee not facing the dreaded commute are amongst the main advantages. But, how can both maintain good productivity?

Sadly, although some employees may expect “teleworking” as a perk, the productivity can fail. Employers offering the facility working from home can start to notice “failings”. As with anything there’s good/bad practices.

As an occasional teleworker for a continental company I can see these, but good practices get rid of the failings. Bridging the space between the office and home worker is the real key important factor, provision of equipment, and availability on Skype or some other conferencing tool, is not just the answer, there’s some liability on the employee themselves, to be effective and productive working remotely.

 

Internet Access

Sounds a silly, subject to check but even today there are still some blind spots with internet access, slow speeds and unreliable connections. If you’re offering home/telework as an employer, ensure that the user has an adequate internet access speed to be capable of doing the work. Certain providers effectively “block” some some forms of home working by adding security to the router and disallowing VPN types, or recognise your using bandwidth for business not home purposes. Get the employee to check they’ll be able to work out of office. A simple trial connection to the office and the software the user will need over a day or two should suffice, but be prepared for changes too.

Without doubt a good solid base landline /cable connection is needed, although 4G is nice, it’s not reliable. I live near five schools, and come lunchtime try and get a 4G signal as the kids are on lunch, as the local mast gets hammered, is a lottery connection wise. Mobile data is fine, but consider the environment, you should be fine in a town or office, but not if your working in an environment, that’s like a cellar in an old stone building! Check in advance of your visit that internet connectivity is possible for you, or that there’s some alternative arrangements connection wise.

Seeing staff grumble their internet connection is down, on social media when they have no backup is not what employers or clients want to be seeing. After all your expectation is going to be what is this person doing remotely without a connection? Colleagues working for larger companies have the “luxury” of having the internet provided for them by the employer, its not always the case and internet connectivity by the home worker is the top priority, you should not want to hear that “my connections dodgy today” from end users..

Also the watch out for the café culture  free wifi is handy, but firstly sending data over an unsecure connection (more on this later) is a bad idea. Also, be aware of your environment, do you really want a skype call from the local burger joint, where kids are screaming in the background, and the shouts of the bar / café staff? Think how this would look professionally.

 

VPN

Remote workers benefit pure and simple from VPN, not only does it offer a secure encrypted connection (getting around the internet access from free wifi we mentioned earlier). It allows access to the corporate/company domain facailities remotely.

Yes the employee has their company issued machine at home, or may even use their own if you allow BYOD, but do you really want your data saved on a remote machine? Simple answer NO, it should be stored on the corporate network. Or, at least somewhere accessible to the company such as cloud or local domain storage, in the even of loss/thief or accidental damage to the device.

Ok, you can protect a device with for example bitlocker, so if the device gets lost, stolen the information is unusable, but it’s still lost! If stored locally on the device hard drive. Encourage use of cloud storage and saving to the domain, its fine to have a local copy but lose the device, drop and damage it and you’re up the creek without the proverbial just keeping things local.

 

RDP/RDS

For the BYOD brigade use RDS or remote apps, even let the employee remote into a desktop device on the office for security sake. IT should basically not allow external devices onto the network, unless they’ve been checked. Maintaining domain access via a networking method is a good way of avoiding risks, as the network defences are the same both internally and externally for users.

The moment someone has a different machine the toll of IT support starts to rise with the can I have this installed, product X doesn’t work the same when I’m at home. Provision of a familiar environment always sounds like your clamping down on the end user, and to a degree you are. Otherwise, ensure that the end user has some base IT knowledge so they can map to drives they have permission or access  to. They don’t need to be a  Bill Gates of knowledge, work on the car principle as I call it. You need to have knowledge of changing the oil, water and wiper blades to maintain its running, but when something goes wrong, the user has to be able to tell you where the knocking sound is coming from at least, so the mechanic can know where to look at resolve the issue quickly.

Sadly too many remote workers have a lack of Basic IT skills, ensure that you offer training or assess their capabilities, before you let them work remotely. Again this avoids end user frustration not being able to complete tasks, and a whole lot of time for your ICT staff.

 

VOIP

Keeping the remote user on the same phone network eases having to remember mobile numbers, enables you to transfer calls, so you or other clients don’t have to ring or give out alternative home/mobile numbers of remote workers to contact. Remember VOIP will run on phone and device , so the teleworker when away from the device can still be contactable. Voip generally uses less bandwidth as does teleconferencing, if your office uses it, the remote work can simply join in on conference calls as they would frm their own desk.

Again the remote worker should consider their environment, if making a business call listening to “little Martin” screaming in the background, or being on the receiving end of remote workers taste in streamed music is a no no.

 

Skype/Teleconference

This is classed as one of major tools of tele/remote work, but in honesty it’s a blessing and a curse. Some folk simply don’t use Skype correctly, and as such is a constant source of distraction, with the bleep/bloop ring tone breaking the users concentration from their task.

Software has safety features, such as informing others your available, busy etc. Use them, don’t ignore them. Being in contact and knowing what remote workers are doing is essential, the manager should know that they are busy finalising an urgent  report, and therefore keep other minor interruptions clear of the worker.

As with any two edge sword, they should also wonder why the remote worker isn’t available when they’ve or clients have tried to contact them too.

If you’re going to conference with clients, don’t do it from the local burger emporium, or the living room with the tv/radio on.  It sets a very unprofessional presence, if you’re working from home, ideally have a home office, or at least a real quiet corner so you can focus on the call.

 

Collaboration software

Really that’s up to what the user and the company needs. Office 365 is a real boon, with the ability to share work, pick up others work and continue. You’re not bound to the device, and can pick up and work on the bus, from home, hotel etc.

Ensure remote users know how to work with a shared file system, again a number of times there’s been “I can’t edit the spreadsheet, as Fred’s in it” I’ve had to fend off, purely because users left files open and did another task, or the internet connections dropped leaving the file lock marker and IT wasn’t notified.

At the end of the day the worker is remote NOT ISOLATED they should report problems to IT and be able to contribute in their solution.

Remoting the remote worker for “repairs” to issues is easy Windows10 has facilities built in, or other products such as TeamViewer make ICT ‘s job of being their easier. Make sure you facilitate for such events. A remote worker without that the facility to work remotely is a waste of time effort and money.

Cloud provisioning

All of the above fits nicely into cloud, VPN to the corporate domain servers ensures access and security of information, working hand in hand with the collaboration  and ability to share work. DaaS accessibility to workers etc.

Onedrive/Drop box all allow the saving of information securely and remotely allowing other access if required. Cloud is something that should be explored not ignored for true remote working.

 

 

 

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To Sleep, perchance to Hibernate or Shutdown ?

With the wide collection of new Windows mobile computing devices such as tablets and 2 in 1’s the question to Sleep, Hibernate or shut down a machine has become more of a grey area. Is there a right or wrong way?
Well No basically, it really does depend on what and, believe it or not, where/how you use the computer, as users utilising sleep often encounter issues caused by how they use the machine and in what environment.

As the computer that can be used anywhere brings in further problems which users may not even consider, how many users, do the following close the laptop lid, slide the laptop into their case and dash off after meetings. Or, at home leave the laptop on the couch/settee cushion when they work, or lay on the floor carpet.

Basically, blocking the air vents on devices with small footprints that rely on circulation to keep cool, is a bad idea and can lead to hardware problems. Try using a tablet after streaming a movie, and you’ll notice it gets warmer to hold. It really does depend on what you’re doing. Light use such as email, browsing hardly uses any power, so you don’t get heating problem as the processor isn’t breaking a sweat, so closing the lid is less of a worry.
Any way the rules of thumb I’d recommend, aren’t just for battery/power saving but also take into consideration the actual components in your machine.

Sleep
The option to use if you’re away from the machine for a short period of time, and want the device to start up quickly when you return or get to the next location in a short time. As all power except to RAM is effectively disconnected. The system has basically remembered what it was doing, so it can recall that state instantly on power up.
Problem is, leave it for a long time or during lower battery and you have the risk of RAM fail and possible corruption of memory, with the system not waking correctly and having to do a reboot.

Hibernate
The big sleep, the entire state of your computer is saved to disk basically, so when you wake the machine from this state it takes a while longer than sleep as the saved file contents are read back to reinitialise the machine from the state prior to hibernating. So you can you this for long periods, as power save is more effective than napping/sleeping the system
Issue you have here is inexperienced users panic in the time it takes to wake, and start hitting power buttons keys, which can interrupt the reinitialise and therefore they start thinking it broken, when it doesn’t restart instantly.

Power off
For me the better option, yes it takes longer to start the machine in comparison, if it’s taking ages, I’d recommend reviewing the apps you have is start up, are they all necessary?
Why is it better? Re starting the machine, gives you clean disk caches, reloads the registry, and clean RAM, so everything is ready to go with a clean slate. The start clean ensures no memory resident stuff left from apps that you may have run still hogging memory from sleep/hibernate is cluttering, or even more dangerously still holding in memory resident possible threat (malware for example)

Lots of users have ‘bad habits’ my heart sinks when I see folk wandering around the office with an open laptop balance precariously in one hand, mug of tea in the other, knowing that another possible “repair” is coming my way. The above functions work, use them in the correct fashion and you’ll be able to come back to, or transit a machine without a problem. Also note that the battery life is a recommendation not a guarantee when using them 🙂