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Office closings, remote workforce transitions, phased reopening guidelines -- the first three quarters of 2020 threw at lot at U.S. businesses. Now, as the year barrels along through the fourth quarter, many companies must prepare for another shift: return-to-office initiatives.
Unlike the rapid changes in March and April, this transition provides businesses with more time to plan and organize a more sustainable structure for the near future. A recent webinar presented by SolarWinds MSP, an IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas, discussed return-to-office best practices tailored to MSPs.
Top return-to-office best practices
A recurring theme throughout the SolarWinds MSP webinar was the importance of communication.
SolarWinds MSP's "head operations nerd," Eric Anthony, put it plainly: Any good plan starts with a discussion about what returning to the office would look like, the obstacles, and how the transition can be made as frictionless and as secure as possible. Anthony recommended being proactive with your clients. Many customers are unsure of their own plans, and these meetings will help prepare them for the change. "It's all about setting expectations -- how to do this, their responsibilities and when you might be able to get it done," he said.
Anthony also advocated for MSPs to start these discussions now. "This is not something where you can have 20 customers come to you at once and say, 'We're going back to the office this week.' That's not going to work for you, and you're probably going to have some upset clients," he said.
Eric AnthonyHead operations nerd, SolarWinds MSP
SolarWinds MSP head security nerd Gill Langston also had plenty to say about return-to-office best practices. Langston noted how many corporate networks were heavily and quickly altered to enable remote workforces. It was a necessary risk, but now that employees are gradually moving back to the office, partners should go back and check documentation to undo network changes and re-boost security measures. Additionally, you might be able to remove some of the licenses that will be no longer needed. During this process, don't let things get lost in the shuffle. Keep good documentation.
SolarWinds MSP head backup nerd Eric Harless discussed why good backup systems are so important during a workforce transition like this. "Backups are the last line of defense for when all else goes wrong," Harless said.
On top of all the moving parts, the reintroduction of potentially compromised hardware can create a sizeable security gap. Planning for more direct cloud backup for remote users and increasing migration to cloud services are fantastic ways to ensure recoverability, Harless noted.
These two things -- cloud backup for remote employees and cloud services migration -- should be automated, added Marc-Andre Tanguay, SolarWinds MSP head automation nerd. Tanguay recommended automating everything you can. "If you've been doing less automation since [this started], do more, invest more," he said. "For those who have been doing it, don't lose momentum. Keep doing what you're doing."
Maintaining the remote workforce
No matter what the near future holds, remote workforces are here to stay. According to TechRepublic, "84% of U.S. organizations expect a broader and more permanent remote-work adoption after the coronavirus pandemic passes, despite the spiked security concerns associated with working from home."
If that's the trend, why fight the future? To help ensure remote employees' equipment is secure, Langston advised MSPs to put their own agents and information protection on employee-owned resources and add additional authentication measures such as two-factor authentication and VPNs. Some customers might have pushed back against authentication measures in the past, but if they have adopted any during their remote workforce transitions, try to keep them in place, he said.
Langston also noted that MSPs can expand their agreements and offerings to permanently include the temporary remote work support. "Add work-from-home as a perk," he said. "You are going to be supporting a more distributed workforce for a longer period of time. Your clients are going to want this support if they're going to be at home. You have to shift the way you secure the environment."
Anthony, like Langston, agreed that MSPs and their customers need to bolster support for remote workforces, both from a security and productivity standpoint. He said MSPs should do what they can to secure and optimize employees' workday. The pandemic was a big disruption to their workflow, and another organizational transition can easily impact them indirectly. Try to control their environment, provide accessible IT support and maintain good communication.