It’s no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 health crisis is unlike anything we’ve experienced before in our lifetimes—the risks and disruption to families, businesses and society at large is palpable. Social distancing and the postponement of large scale events are forcing a radical shift towards mass remote working. It’s a scary time for everyone, including the IT teams that are tasked with keeping critical applications and infrastructure running for everyone. To help keep remote employees online and effective during the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to share some considerations and resources for a successful transition.
The Challenge of Managing Remote Employees
A shift of this scale to remote working is not something many organizations envisioned having to roll out this year. Needless to say, this digital transition is placing immense stress on corporate and consumer infrastructure. In the article, ‘Coronavirus is exploding the remote workforce - here's how IT should prepare,’ Diginomica’s Kurt Marko put the challenge in sobering perspective, “IT organizations that have designed and staffed for a small number of steady remote workers, with the bulk of telecommuters doing so primarily as a day-extending convenience, will suddenly be faced with hundreds or thousands of remote users accessing infrastructure built for a fraction of the load.” One of Kurt’s guest commentators, Gregg Siegfried, Gartner Research Director for Cloud and IT Operations, added some additional perspective, “Although the technology to support large scale remote work is nothing new, companies without a material remote workforce are unlikely to have invested in the infrastructure to the extent they can easily absorb a massive increase in the remote workforce.”
There’s a Lot You Can Do to Support Remote Team Members
As is so often the case with a complex problem, the key to success is breaking it down into manageable chunks. Knowing where to start is half the battle. Marko’s article helpfully details some key areas IT teams should prioritize, such as: ensuring capacity for VPN, VoIP capacity and remote number extensions. He also highlights leveraging VDI infrastructure or SaaS services as well as the importance of establishing remote security and client support staff. Addressing these areas should be the bedrock of a plan to support remote employees.
Don’t Forget the X-factor: The Internet
The instinct of many IT teams will be to focus on the in-house infrastructure—it’s there, it’s familiar and it’s directly accessible—and that is definitely a key concern. Marko emphasizes the importance of testing all infrastructure, adding that enterprises perform “Thorough testing of remote network infrastructure—links, VPN gateways, other security appliances—to identify performance bottlenecks and potential failure points.”
But, this is only part of the picture, as enterprise-grade software doesn't always perform well away from the high-bandwidth connectivity many branch offices enjoy. One of the biggest challenges with a remote workforce is the dependency on the Internet. Marko notes, “Monitoring remote network infrastructure is particularly challenging because traffic traverses multiple ISPs in sometimes unpredictable ways.”
We couldn’t agree more—the Internet can be an unpredictable place. Don’t assume all employees will have seamless and reliable online access—Internet geography (and workload latency) matters. Thankfully, ISP performance can be tracked, and public cloud platform performance can be measured, which can help identify changes that can be made in online routing. If you’re not sure how well your digital ecosystem will cope with the remote working wave, then test, test and test!
Prioritize Critical SaaS and UCaaS Workloads
It’s fair to say that popular SaaS and video conferencing applications (such as Slack, Zoom, Workday, O365 and more) are powerful in their own regard, but they also have many complexities taking place under the hood that need to be monitored to fully ensure users are experiencing the reliable performance you expect. IT should test and evaluate any major application that remote employees rely on to stay productive.
Traditional monitoring tools can’t provide insight into the performance of video calls or SaaS applications, such as Office 365, so you’ll need specific solutions that are designed to handle the task. Gregg Siegfried, who we mentioned earlier, was one of the Gartner analysts who co-authored the report, “Solution Comparison for Microsoft Office 365 Monitoring Solutions” (Gartner subscription required). It’s a great resource if you’re looking for an independent perspective on the vendors who can help. The report also touches on many important considerations—things like the endpoint types you are using, endpoint locations and the spread of Office 365 data centers you will be using.
This kind of operational context is important because managing remote workers also adds new complexity and different (unplanned) infrastructure components into the mix. The traditional SaaS/UCaaS performance you experience across your branch network will likely be smoother than the experience your users experience on their home broadband (particularly if they’re in a sparsely connected rural area). Proximity to your service providers’ data centers, ISP performance and Internet connectivity can all have a critical impact on the user experience.
- Manage your digital ecosystem—evidence is your BFF
Ditch your old “find and fix” instincts, adopt an “evidence and escalate” mindset to keep the providers in your online ecosystem honest regarding their performance. Read our previous DNS report for data points that can help you choose the optimal Managed DNS provider for your business. Also, ensure your own house is in good order. Brush up on your best practices for CDN and DNS.
- Ensure you have an integrated view of your IT environment
It’s important that you take a correlated view of performance across applications, networks and the Internet itself. In a digital context, each one of these environments has its specific quirks and behaviors, but they also influence each other, so ensure you can monitor in an integrated fashion and have a comprehensive view of the interplay between these environments.
- Read widely and reach out for help
Many media companies, tech vendors and IT consultancies recognize the severe existential business and societal risks that the COVID-19 pandemic poses. As a result, many are offering free resources (see our previous blog for details of some of the offerings out there). We are also offering free usage of our user experience agents until July 31, giving you on-demand and real-time visibility into every employee’s experience of SaaS and Internally-hosted applications, as well as underlying wireless LAN, WAN, Internet connectivity and system health. If this is of interest to you, reach out soon — enrollment for this offer ends on June 30, 2020.