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SME Survival Guide: How to manage IT for remote employees

IT
Remote working
SME
Work from home
by Oonagh McCutcheon
18 Sep 2020

As the world has adjusted to Covid-19, one of the biggest impacts on companies and staff has been working from home – it even has its own acronym, WFH.  Some of the challenges faced by workers, such as balancing work and family, mental health issues and health and safety issues have received a lot of attention.  However, the process of managing remote teams and WFH staff from an IT perspective also needs to be addressed.

Planning is essential

Many SMEs outsource their IT support and don’t have the skills in-house to manage the new WFH environment. Even when workplaces reopen fully, it is expected that there will be a demand for more flexible working with staff working a few days a week in the office and a few days at home or in a digital hub.

Now is the time to start planning and have systems in place to allow this happen securely and safely. It is advisable to create a structured IT plan to support remote working, seeking the input of an IT expert if you don’t have an in-house team.

Tips to help you transition to a more structured process

  1. Work-supplied equipment should be used only for work related activities, and should not be used for kids zoom parties, or shared with any other household members. Staff may not be aware of the security risk this poses, whether that’s getting a virus or inadvertently accessing confidential company information.
  2. Passwords and login details should be kept safe and secure. It’s best not to write them on a sticky note and attach to the screen! We recommend use of a Password Manager to ensure secure storage of passwords.
  3. Login passwords should be set to time out after a couple of minutes of inactivity to ensure no one can access computers if the user is away from their desk.
  4. If work materials are printed out, especially customer details, they should be stored in a locked drawer to prevent GDPR breaches.
  5. As the employer, you need to ensure that it is a requirement to change passwords frequently. A company might set a 3-6 month password policy in their central authentication system along with a policy regarding password complexity (length, various character types eg. %$, capital letters, numbers etc.). The important thing is that there is an official policy on it as opposed to depending on the staff member.
  6. Staff are most likely logging in to the company server through a virtual private network (VPN), and it’s important to ensure the connection is secure. Two Factor Authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security when you log into the company server, much like the way online banking asks for user ID and a pin code.
  7. Keeping anti-virus software up to date is vital because computers are regularly threatened by new viruses. Encourage staff to respond to notifications about virus updates.
  8. Staff should use the company email system and avoid using personal email for work related activities. Documents sent via personal gmail accounts may not be secure. If documents must be sent via gmail, make sure the attachments are password protected, and don’t include the password in the body of the email.
  9. Train staff in how to spot suspicious emails. With people working remotely, it can be easy to be duped.
  10. Public wi-fi offers great convenience, but there are risks in using it. You don’t know who else is connected to it or how it was set up. There are some simple steps that can help reduce the risk, including using encrypted connections.
  11. Use technology to manage documents signatures if this is a factor for your business.

Troubleshooting

In an office environment, workers often rely on colleagues for help with IT issues. It’s easy to lean across and ask a colleague how to do things.

In a WFH environment, such support is not available. It would be worthwhile to create a checklist with common IT issues that arise in your company and provide tips and advice on how to fix them.

 

Further reading