Making ‘Work from Home’ Work

As the “shelter-in-place” orders rapidly clamped down on our mobility, the massive and sudden shift in how we worked forced employers and employees to scramble. Equipment and security became the key issues to address.

Most of the equipment issues our clients faced revolved around laptop computers. Because of last year’s chip shortage, computer manufacturers were already behind in building enough machines to meet the market’s needs. Those needs shot up as COVID-19 hit, making computers as scarce as toilet paper. Simply, there are just not enough business-grade laptops to go around. In some cases, our clients have gone to consumer electronics stores to buy home-use laptops for employees and have us set them up.

In our view, that’s better than just having employees use their personal devices to log onto a business network and access files and apps. Unless an employer knows exactly how a computer is set up for security and how secure the employee’s home network is, that employer is rolling the dice.

Many employers have VPNs (virtual private networks) to protect the security of computing from the office to their servers or cloud servers. But that only covers the traffic between their covered computers and the server. Those who regularly work remotely use the VPN, but their computers and devices should have security measures installed, and the users should have been trained in internet security.

When your employee sets up a computer or device at home and logs into your network, here’s the worst-case scenario. Your employee may not have up-to-date anti-virus and malware protection software installed and running. Your employee may not have an adequate firewall – or any firewall – installed and running. Your employee may not have a secure Wi-Fi network. If your employee’s security system is like Swiss cheese, you can be sure a hacker will find a way to tunnel into your corporate data.

Fortunately, we have found a workaround.

Working with your employees, we can install VPNs and we use your ISP’s (internet service provider) IP address as an external IP address when your employee logs into your work network from home. That helps keep the connection secure. Then, we use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop to connect the home computer to your office network and the employee’s office computer. That allows employees to work just like they were in the office.

The keys to making this workaround successful are making sure that all the office computers are on and that someone can monitor the office computer system to make sure everything is functioning properly.

If you haven’t taken these steps yet, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to schedule the work and to run through a checklist of things to be done before we begin.

Home Remodeling – Technology Style

Homes were caught short when everybody had to stay home to work, learn and entertain themselves. Wi-Fi networks and the internet had to carry much more traffic, and the rapid rise of new technology needs created holes for hackers to tunnel into systems. Here’s what you need to do.

First, shore up your security. Treat every device in your home that’s connected to the internet like it’s a block of gold in Fort Knox. Make sure your gateways, routers and firewalls have up-to-date security patches and bug fixes installed and running. Do the same for the firmware for every piece of hardware and software for every operating system and application that everyone in your household uses. That includes all of your smart-home devices and TVs – and make sure you have changed the default user names and passwords that came along with those devices.

We can’t emphasize this enough. That’s because between work, school and socializing, we all have more people coming in contact with our systems and every other system we’re connected to. If you have weakspots in your home system, the security of your personal financial and health data could be at risk, and so could the systems at your place of work.

In short, you may need to “remodel” the technical architecture of your home to make sure your systems and devices are airtight.

Second, make sure everyone in your home understands the security settings of all the new software you’re using for work, school and social interaction. We and our kids are all into using the latest and coolest collaboration tools, and the providers of those tools and the users need to pay special attention to how to set them up and use them safely.

Zoom is the collaboration tool that comes immediately to mind. Ever since stay-at-home orders went into effect some three weeks ago, very few people knew about Zoom, which is still considered a startup company. To encourage people to use it, Zoom quickly spread the word about its free service that allows 100 people to gather interactively online for up to 40 minutes. The two operative words here are both four-letter words: Zoom and free. You get what you pay for.

To make a long story short, Zoom rushed out the adaptation of a business application as a consumer app, and it left a lot of security holes. Two of the glaring issues, which were acted on by Zoom two weeks ago, were the sale of user data to partners for marketing purposes and the insidious “Zoombombing” incidents. The latter problem led to hackers placing porn material in school lessons and white-supremacist invasions of meetings, classes and chats sponsored by religious organizations.

Zoom stopped some of the data sales and reworked its privacy setup. It also ramped up the security requirements for people to join a Zoom session.

One other thing that home users likely have noticed is the drop-in internet speeds from their ISPs. That’s a consequence of the ISPs trying to manage the massive demand for data. As a result, you’ll all need to manage your internet use to optimize performance in your homes.

We can help you with security audits, setting up security software and automatic updates for firmware and software. We can also help you with security settings for apps like Zoom. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.

What Will Change When We’re Healthy Again?

Be careful of what you wish for. Employees have pushed to work at home, and employers – for the most part – resisted it. More remote working – and learning – will become the new norm as our coronavirus ends, and dynamics will change.

Our workplace and school dynamics are under scrutiny, for sure. People are adapting – at least for now – to the reality of not being able to gather and interact. Are they more productive? Our collective adrenalin is still pumping, and we’re all finding ways to make this new environment work. But what will happen as time goes on?

If working from home becomes more the norm, employers will add more tools to monitor the productivity of their remote workers. A lot of them are already available in the office, where the computer can be just like the boss sitting on a worker’s shoulder and recording every work-related and non-related movement. Will that kind of oversight extend to the home? Right now, an employee suddenly working at home can probably take a break to do some cooking or laundry, especially if they need to meet the needs of a family that’s suddenly at home all the time. What’s going to happen next?

My personal feeling is that everyone is going to miss the personal interaction of the office – and for kids, the interaction at school. There’s much to be gained from the social experience of collaborating in person – and it’s a huge part of a young person’s development. Yet, at the same time, I also think that working and learning through online channels will eventually become more stressful for people who have felt the need to be at the office or in the classroom.

We are social beings, and the people who need to mingle will want to return to an office. We see signs of it as we socially distance ourselves now. When we met some neighbors to walk together, we walked on one side of the street, and they walked on the other side. We came upon other neighbors who were having “picnics,” with their picnicking partners each on opposite sides of the street. Anyone with kids who go to school knows that the kids are trying to find more ways to connect and engage with their friends. Even homeschooled kids have needed social interaction.

The internet will continue to provide a way for people to gather, but it will always be a remote gathering. Will we be able to accept some of this as a new norm? I believe we’ll need to come to grips emotionally and politically with new ways of working, learning and socializing before we address the technology needed to make it happen. Once we decide on our direction, we’ll be able to add the required internet capacity and build the necessary security infrastructure.

Are there any insights into what may be our new way of life? If the observations of our neighborhood UPS driver are any indication, we’re setting up more home offices. He said his most-delivered items are boxes from Staples, monitors and office chairs. Once we have the means to work at home in place, the more likely we’ll all be to work at home exclusively or to a greater extent.

And what about our relationship with online shopping? We’ve taken Amazon and our entire package delivery system for granted; overnight delivery is the rule. Will next day become next week?

In the meantime, we can help you keep up with the technology you need now to meet your evolving everyday-living needs – and maybe help you map out what you might need going forward. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.