The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is having a suffocating effect on businesses across the world, forcing many decision-makers to prioritize IT transformation and optimization as a matter of survival. Companies that were caught by surprise have had to quickly adopt new technologies and management strategies to keep their operations running. For end users, the transition to remote work environments has been sudden and aggressive, especially for those who are working from home for the first time.
Adapting to this new normal has quickly become the top concern for business leaders and IT managers across industry lines. Even a cursory glance of search engine results will show that supporting remote employees is a hotly debated issue with a near-infinite number of proposed solutions. But to have a truly meaningful impact on the lives of remote workers, companies must balance their technological investments with actionable, process-based strategies that can help solve specific problems.
The current state of remote work
Prior to the global health crisis, businesses were already looking to capitalize on remote work to help cut costs and improve productivity. According to one study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, telecommuting has increased by 115% since 2005, with roughly 3.9 million U.S. employees working from home at least some of the time in 2017. Of course, this trend has rapidly accelerated during COVID-19, as calls for social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have stymied traditional in-office environments. In fact, research from the analytics and advisory firm Gallup found that the percentage of employees working from home doubled during the last three weeks of April 2020, from 31% to 62%.
Proactively supporting a growing remote workforce comes with a variety of technical and operational challenges that can’t be solved with temporary provisions. Instead, businesses should focus on optimizing their IT infrastructure and management applications in ways that enhance their disaster readiness and long-term business continuity. Even after COVID-19 has passed, there’s no telling when (or how) the next global crisis will disrupt the supply chains, daily operations and business planning strategies companies rely on.
In terms of specific challenges, the following remote work issues have forced many IT managers to rethink their approach to tech integration and enablement:
- Difficulty tracking employee performance and IT usage
- Supporting workers who do not have access to company-owned devices
- Maintaining best practices in cybersecurity and patch management for personal computers
- Resolving end users’ hardware, software and general IT issues remotely
If left unresolved, these IT-related problems can lead to major productivity losses, unplanned downtime and mismanagement of daily workflows. For example, if an employee doesn’t have the latest OS version installed, they would likely have to completely restart their workstation and wait for the update to run its course. Research from Robert Half Technology – conducted in 2016, long before the COVID-19 outbreak – found that the average office worker wastes roughly 22 minutes per day trying to resolve IT issues. However, now that companies are shifting a major portion of their employees to a remote capacity all at once, this estimate is likely much lower than what IT managers are seeing. Considering it takes 24.2 hours (on average) for internal IT teams to respond to support tickets, according to research from Zendesk, it’s likely that many organizations are struggling to provide remote workers with the direct help they need.
Supporting remote workers during COVD-19
Technology is both the problem and the solution to common remote work management issues, but choosing the right applications and vendors requires careful planning. While cloud-based platforms and software-as-a-service products have seen a surge of interest thanks to the ongoing crisis, there are near-limitless options available. As a result, IT managers are having to prioritize investments that help enhance their visibility and control over remote employees’ workstations. Organizational controls – like two-factor authentication and VPN communications – are crucial during this period of uncertainty, but without direct oversight, many workers may encounter IT issues that will distract from their business-critical duties. To stay adaptable, IT managers should look for solutions that offer the following capabilities:
- Rapid implementation: Integrating new cloud-based solutions may be more straightforward than on-prem deployments, but they still require proactive change management. The longer it takes to roll out new IT solutions, the more downtime and business interruptions an organization will suffer. This issue becomes even more complex for companies that use outdated or disorganized management systems, or rely on siloed cloud platforms.
- Automated app management: Managing individual updates for every user, workstation and application is not only inefficient, it can also lead to patching issues down the line. Rather than relying on manual administrative processes, IT managers should look for ways to automate batch updates without the need for end user involvement. With more employees using their personal computers to complete work-related tasks, mitigating vulnerabilities and zero-day exploits is a top concern.
- Contactless OS updates: While cybercriminals often target application vulnerabilities, outdated operating systems can also allow malicious actors to take control over employees’ workstations and launch company-wide malware attacks. Even if these risks are eliminated, users will experience a greater volume of IT issues if they’re running outdated OS versions. This accounts for why patch scanning capabilities for Windows and Mac devices have become an essential feature for cloud-based management platforms.
Faronics’ Deploy application combines these and other features to deliver an intelligent, centralized IT management solution that can meaningfully support remote workers. Using this platform, IT managers can enhance their visibility and control over employee workstations, roll out batch updates for applications and operating systems, and collect granular information about device usage. In times of crisis, Deploy can provide the application-level insight needed to keep remote environments up to date without any end user involvement. This enables organizations of all sizes to focus on what really matters: Maximizing profitability, business continuity and customer satisfaction.