May 08 2020

Preparing for Disaster: How to Maintain and Protect Networks for Remote Work

Resilient and protected networks are key to ensuring small businesses can stay afloat during tumultuous times.

The state of business several weeks ago was a chaotic one. Small businesses were working tirelessly to get the right equipment into their employees’ hands as workforces shifted from traditional workspaces to home offices, desperate to maintain production during widespread remote work.

As often is the case amid disaster, IT departments were pushing to keep their organizations above water from an operational perspective, focusing on acquiring the seemingly limited technology needed to keep going. Once that’s completed, it’s important that small businesses put in place the right networking practices to both keep company data safe and maintain business continuity, regardless of the circumstance.

How to Maintain Connectivity Through Unusual Circumstances

The first order of business is making sure that the company’s connectivity is resilient. Businesses cannot maintain operational continuity if their employees can’t connect to the network or each other.  

Many businesses already have this infrastructure in place, through virtual private networks or virtual desktop infrastructure. The challenge has been expanding those tools to the entire workforce. Organizations that aren’t in a position to increase their capacity can manage their networks by managing access to critical applications.  

“You’re looking at doing some interesting internal juggling by tiering your applications,” Stan Lowe, global CISO at Zscaler, told BizTech. “Email, instant messaging and conference installations are actually the most critical business applications. You’ve got to figure out how to support that.”

Another solution that many businesses have turned to is software-defined wide area networks. SD-WAN allows IT departments to manage networks easily while improving user experience, network performance and agility. For small businesses that may have limited resources, another perk of SD-WAN is that it can also potentially reduce network costs.

Bring Workers’ Office Experience to Their Homes

For many companies, having a workforce that’s almost entirely remote is far from business as usual. Employees are adjusting to new work spaces at home, whether that means having to account for new distractions or finding a routine that enables them to be as productive as possible. One way IT departments can help is by making the work experience resemble the one in the office. 

VPNs, VDI and other digital workspace solutions give employees a sense of familiarity that can help them work optimally. Enabling workers to use the same applications, files and interfaces they’re used to having at the office can go a long way toward ensuring productivity.

Re-creating the office environment in terms of human interaction is also important. Employees need to be able to communicate and collaborate on projects in order to maintain workflow. Making sure that networks can support tools like videoconferencing, document sharing and whiteboard can keep workers connected. 

MORE FROM BIZTECH: How conferencing technology can help small businesses maintain business continuity.

Protect Access to the Network

Cybersecurity has been front of mind for organizations of all sizes during widespread remote work. Having a higher percentage of employees connect to business networks from places outside the office has presented new challenges for IT departments, particularly at a time when employees might be distracted and therefore not as vigilant to potential security threats. 

There has been a sharp spike in cyberattacks targeting workers, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security issued a recent warning about it. Identity access management is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, particularly now that the physical security measures businesses are accustomed to no longer apply.

“The ability to put some controls around where people are, what people are doing and what they’re doing it with, have become very, very fluid,” said CDW Cybersecurity Practice Architect Paul Shelton during the Future of Work Virtual SummIT. “We don’t have some of the compensating controls that we used to have, that we used to depend on to keep us safe and to keep our information safe.”

Organizations must therefore rely on tools like multifactor authentication to ensure that only the right people are gaining access to the network. With the right practices in place, small businesses can create a work structure that will remain consistent through any disaster.

This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #SmallBizIT hashtag.

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