The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we run our businesses–some think permanently. 8 months in and many businesses are finding the need to rethink how they use technology post-COVID, and they are asking what they have to be aware of. What are their options? Should they be doing something differently? That is what we’re talking about on today’s episode, specifically disaster preparedness, recovery and security. My name is John Virgolino and I’m the host of ConsulPod.
Good IT and arguably good business practices dictate that you should anticipate the worst-case scenario and then figure out how you would handle it if it actually happened. This is called disaster recovery planning. It’s not a fun, to be sure, but you are walking through what our engineers call a nightmare scenario in order to figure out whether or not you are prepared with the right tools and resources in place in case it does happen. COVID-19 turned out to be a nightmare that many were not prepared for.
Most nightmare scenarios center around natural disasters like floods and hurricanes, or non-natural events like a robbery or a building fire. Each one of these scenarios could mean a loss of data and possibly equipment like servers and computers. Like, if your office building burns down, do you have an alternate location lined up? Or would your team work from home until you can move or rebuild. What is required to make that a successful transition? These are some of the questions you work to answer during a project like this. COVID seemingly came out of nowhere, no one was expecting a global pandemic that would require shutting down our economy. However, if you think about it, the shutdown of businesses was a disaster in and of itself, we are now forced to work differently because of the proximity we have to keep from others. This is a disaster recovery plan in action. It’s just that most of us didn’t know we were doing that. In the US, states imposed limits on how many employees could be in a building, sometimes allowing 50% or less on-site. Where did the rest of the people go and how do they function? And how is security and compliance affected because of that?
If you have a professional handling your IT, they should be able to help you to answer these questions and work with your business leaders to figure out the appropriate plan and budget. COVID forced businesses that could stay open to move into a nightmare scenario plan and implement changes really quickly.
But then an unexpected realization came after months of this nightmare, business leaders observed that these new alternatives actually work for many of them! I have spoken to business owners who were previously absolutely convinced that a work-from-home model would never work for their business. They had said, “I can’t keep an eye on what my team would be doing. If they are not disciplined, how will any work get done? If they can’t collaborate, they can’t function, it’s how we do what we do,” and so on. These are all reasonable concerns, I don’t think most employees believed they could successfully work from home either, let alone while watching their kids deal with remote learning. But for many of them, they functioned and survived and are now considering keeping the work from home model going permanently in one form or another. There is the potential for tremendous cost savings and increased employee morale too.
With so many schools still closed, requiring parents to stay home to watch their young children while they learn remotely, many employees can’t possibly go back to an office full-time. And if they can’t keep working from home for their existing employer, they would have to find another job or role. This is incredibly disruptive to the business, to employees and their families. Accommodating work-from-home means your team feels secure and can focus on being productive. They figured out how to work and you figured out how to manage them. There is potential here.
Remote technology, like affordable video conferencing, secure corporate VPN access and cloud applications alone make it possible to rethink your entire workflow. If you don’t need as much office space because you don’t need to sit as many employees in an office, this saves on rent, energy, and maintenance costs. If you run a manufacturing business, don’t be too quick to disqualify work from home for your back office staff. You may need to keep your line team on site, but your sales, administration, and other supporting departments might be able to take advantage of a new model, even if it’s mixed and you rotate working from home.
But another big exclamation point in this story is security. So many businesses had to scramble and set up work from home options and ended up leaving security as a second or third thought. This is super dangerous and leaves you vulnerable. Hopefully, during the process you didn’t expose your infrastructure to the internet and you absolutely have to consider the home networks that your employees are connecting from. Make sure you aren’t exposing RDP or some other remote control software, you need to do that through a secure corporate VPN solution. Most small business firewalls offer this capability out of the box. Speaking of VPNs, there are things that you need to know, like that you should turn off split tunneling, this will force all traffic to go through your corporate network which means any security tools and policies you have in place will be used. Also, remote PCs and laptops should be running anti-malware software and should have local firewall software running. Ideally, you would want to provide a dedicated network at home that connects to the office, but this is likely too costly or complicated for an average small business. The point is, make sure your IT considers security in any work-from-home scenario and if they don’t know, see if you can get a security specialist to help. This is not something you want to DIY.
COVID really derailed us on many levels and forced us to act quickly and adapt. If you were fortunate enough to keep your business going then there might be a small silver lining here. It might be a great time to take stock of your IT setup and try something new. If working from home is working, it could be the time to set yourself up correctly and securely for a permanent approach. Take that step back and see where you can change for the better and give yourself and your team a chance to walk through the nightmare scenario so you are better prepared for when the next COVID, hopefully, doesn’t happen.