With the COVID-19 coronavirus continuing to spread in the UK, and Italy and China placing lockdowns on their towns and cities, it seems likely that the UK will follow suit if the outbreak continues apace.  Experts have stated today that the spread of the virus in the UK is around 2 weeks behind Italy.  So it is likely that in two weeks time the UK could also be on lockdown. If employees are prevented from gathering, effectively being homebound, this is a worrying time for businesses.  However, many businesses can significantly mitigate the impact of a coronavirus lockdown by providing tools allowing employees to work more effectively from home.

What tools do you need?

Most desk-based workers will need a productivity suite, email, and a communication and collaboration platform. If you are not familiar with communication and collaboration platforms, they are applications that allow teams to share information, chat, collaborate and attend meetings.

a home working desk setup

Examples are Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Slack. These platforms allow your employees to work as if they were working in the same office enabling real-time collaboration.

Other applications that may be required are essential line of business (LOB) applications, and possibly access to shared files.

What can you do?

So what exactly can you do to enable your employees to work from home?

Email

Email is easy as it has been possible to get email remotely for years. Most email is cloud-based, and even on-premise systems have the facility to connect remotely. If you don’t have this capability look at something like Office 365 (Exchange Online) or Google G-Suite. There are many providers out there that offer cheaper email services, however, you get what you pay for and most of these are very basic.  I believe there is nothing available on the market today as good as the Google or Microsoft offerings.

Productivity Suite

If you are a Google G Suite customer you will get an online word processor, spreadsheet, presentation app. If you are an Office 365 customer you can use the web-based versions of Word, Excel & PowerPoint or install a copy of Microsoft Office on five computers per user.   This means you don’t need to give your employees a computer to work from home, they can work perfectly well on the home computer.

Collaboration Tools

a woman working with a virtual team

Both Microsoft and Google recently announced they will temporarily provide Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts for free because of the coronavirus.  The Microsoft trial is a very generous 6 months for existing Microsoft business customers.  Having spoken to a contact at Microsoft they are genuinely doing this for the greater good to enable businesses to collaborate in the midst of this outbreak.  Microsoft Teams is incredibly feature-rich collaboration tool, so signing up for this is a no-brainer if you are an eligible customer and do not already have a collaboration tool.

Line of Business Applications

If you have cloud-based line of business applications your users will be able to work remotely in pretty much exactly the same way as they do from the office. However, if the application is installed on a server in your office then you will have to provide a VPN.  A VPN is a secure tunnel that connects directly from a users computer to your business.  It is secure, if configured correctly, and provides your employees access to systems within your office.  If the system is a client/server application users can connect to work PC’s using remote desktop and work as they were in the office.  This will prevent the need for users to need to install the software on their home computers, although they will need help setting up the VPN.

Shared Files

If users need access to shared files in your office you can use the VPN method to access them.  However, mapping drives from a home computer to a business server would not be recommended.  Without expensive systems in place, you cannot verify the security of computers you don’t control!  If users require access to shared files it is best to provide a computer with your security software installed.  Or move to a cloud-based file storage solution.  Both Google G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 provide cloud file storage solutions worth checking out. These are called File Stream and Shared Drives for Google and OneDrive and SharePoint for Microsoft.

I hope this article helps you to understand how you can get prepared for any kind of lockdown that may be imposed because of the COVID-19 coronavirus.  If you want to learn how we can help you prepare, please get in touch.