Is your team remote-ready? Key questions to answer right now to help your business navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

In technology as in your own health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As an IT support firm based in downtown Seattle – the first epicenter of the US COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak – we’ve spent the past month helping our business clients prepare and transition their teams to remote work for what may be an extended period of time. For example, in early March one of our clients decided on Friday afternoon to transition to remote operations, and by Monday morning had “flipped the switch” to working from home with nary a bump.

But what happens if you didn’t plan ahead? What do you do now if you thought the impacts to your business would only last a week or two, and didn’t take preparations to transition your team to work remotely for a longer period? We’re finding out now that business owners who didn’t take proactive steps are trying to catch up to the reality that they have to find creative ways to work remotely, or face shuttering their business for the long term.

The good news is that IT firms like ours are still here working, providing IT support to our area’s industries and seeing them through this challenge. Our clients have largely been ready for such a circumstance and most have transitioned fairly seamlessly.

The bad news is that if you don’t have strong IT leadership, and your business delayed infrastructure upgrades or maintenance, you may find yourself with far fewer (and more expensive) options in an extended crisis.

For those in the latter camp, here are some key questions that you need to have the answers to as soon as possible in order to help your teams work successfully from remote locations for as long as it takes until we get the “all clear” to return to normal life.

1) Does your existing IT environment already have the capabilities you need to swiftly move employees to remote work? How will your employees remotely access data & critical applications?

The best-case scenario is that your existing IT environment is ready to switch over to remote access. This is made possible by proactive care and upgrades to your IT environment, so you have built-in capabilities that make your business nimble when faced with big decisions in a rapidly developing situation.

While the systems architecture will vary for every environment, in general you’ll need robust internet connection speeds, a high bandwidth firewall and the right security measures to keep it all safe.  If your environment already has key servers, databases and applications in the cloud, then moving your workforce remote can happen pretty quickly.

By now, if you haven’t transitioned to remote work or are having problems doing so, the reason is likely that your IT infrastructure wasn’t as solid and updated as you thought it was. So take this as an opportunity for your business to improve your IT situation for your business’ long term benefit. Migrating email, documents and other services to cloud-hosted environments can improve performance for everyone by reducing the load on the office’s internet connection.

2) How will your team collaborate on documents & projects?

There are many solutions available that allow teams to work on documents remotely, and even simultaneously. Centralized Cloud Collaboration platforms like SharePoint (which is integrated with Office 365) and Google Docs can keep things moving along smoothly.

Your team will quickly grow tired of communicating by email, so an investment in Microsoft Teams, Slack, Basecamp or any of a wide range of collaboration tools will be key to keeping communications and company culture intact.

3) How will you host remote meetings?

Many of these same tools used for team collaboration also offer the ability to hold audio or video conference calls which can, again, provide some level of continuity when in-person meetings aren’t an option. Microsoft Teams supports video and audio calls, and since it is already integrated into Office 365 it can be a good solution.

If your team doesn’t have O365 or wants to consider alternatives then Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts Meet are also possibilities (though unlike Microsoft Teams, each of those options will require separate licensing fees). If you go the Zoom route, make sure to read our COVID-19 security update for additional security considerations about Zoom meetings. (In fact, you should probably read that post anyway because there are a lot of other emerging threats besides just Zoom vulnerabilities.)

To sum up, remember that technology is no different than any other business discipline; if you plan ahead when times are calm you’ll be better prepared to ride out the storm.  If you haven’t had that opportunity, don’t panic as it’s not too late to collaborate with your IT team and external resources to make things better. The sooner you start, the sooner things will get better. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need our help.