The Mainstay Playbook: Utilizing Proper Technology to Support a Positive Remote Workforce

By mainstay | April 23, 2020

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations of all sizes have had to rapidly change the way they use technology to conduct business. Within a matter of days of social distancing requirements being announced, businesses and nonprofits rushed to a remote work environment that many were unprepared to handle. The good news is that industries have been moving towards enabling a remote workforce for years, and technology is in a much more versatile place than it was just even 20 years ago. The challenge lies in identifying the right technological tools to maintain connectivity, promote efficiency, and ensure security.

These four recommendations for effective technology use can move you towards a secure and efficient distributed workforce model:

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1. Rethinking Your Local Servers

For most organizations, there are three options for shifting centralized infrastructure to one that is accessible from anywhere.

2. Mobilizing Your Endpoints

The key to mobilizing any organization’s workforce is to ensure everyone has mobile hardware.

3. Peripheral Devices for Home Offices

Since organizations have encouraged their teams to work from home, it is essential to design an appropriate workspace.

4. Choosing the Right Communications Tools

Communication tools have long been important for businesses, but never have they been relied upon this heavily.


1. Rethinking Your Local Servers

For most organizations, there are three options for shifting centralized infrastructure to one that is accessible from anywhere:

  • Option #1 – Cloud-hosted servers or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Both the private and public cloud accomplish the goal of eliminating the need for physical server hosts in a local office. The public cloud consists of cloud-hosted infrastructure provided by major national providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google and is recommended because of its scalability, cost-effectiveness, and level of user control. Private cloud hosting is also an option, which is utilizing space in individual datacenters. Either way, cloud-hosted infrastructure means as long as you have an internet connection, your team can access server resources from anywhere.  
  • Option #2 – Going serverless: For this option, organizations should ask: what does my locally hosted server do, and how can I move those services or application requirements to the cloud? If your organization plans to move away from a locally hosted server environment, you would need to outsource any applications, file storage, or other services currently provided by your local server to cloud-based versions. For instance, QuickBooks may currently be hosted on your local server, but you could migrate to QuickBooks Online instead. Most local servers are also repositories for file storage, which can be moved to applications like Microsoft OneDrive, ShareFile, Google Drive, or Dropbox for Business. OneDrive has been particularly attractive due to Microsoft’s continual improvements, and it may come included for those with Microsoft licensing. Another common function of a server is providing security controls and authentication for the connected computers. These, too, can be moved to the cloud using options like Microsoft Azure Active Directory (AD) or through mobile-device-management (MDM) platforms, which can perform some of those same security functions.
  • Option #3 – Retain a local server with secure remote access: Although cloud-hosted and serverless environments may seem appealing, there are situations that make keeping your current server a viable option, such as applications that require local hosting. If this is the case, the key is to ensure a secure remote connection to your server. This can be done using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is a secured “tunnel” which allows users to access the data held in a server from their work device. Alternatively, Remote Desktop Services allow users to not only access the data from the server but remotely access and control their computer at the office. While the latter has challenges such as bandwidth limitations, it may be necessary and can be utilized effectively through solutions like LogMeIn or ConnectWise Screen Connect. Both a VPN and Remote Desktop Service should utilize multi-factor authentication in order to connect securely.

2. Mobilizing Your Endpoints

The key to mobilizing any organization’s workforce is to ensure everyone has mobile hardware–in other words, laptops! We strongly recommend purchasing “business-class” laptops with solid chassis, the appropriate ports, and no adware or bloatware. All these elements are present in the business-class line of laptops, which are expressed as their own separate section on Dell, Lenovo, and HP websites. These laptops typically have 3-year warrantees, which is considered the industry standard. Computers are one of an organization’s most important tools and should be protected.

In our current situation, demand for remote solutions is high and the supply chains have been weakened by this pandemic. As a short-term solution, bringing home a desktop or purchasing a non-business class machine from a retail store might be the only immediate solution.  While taking a desktop home from the office is a quick solution for working at home, desktops are not made to be mobile, often lacking an internal wireless card which allows Wi-Fi connectivity. External wireless cards are a solution to this, but if none are available, you may need to have an ethernet cable long enough to connect your desktop to your router.

Also, when purchasing a laptop from a retail store, it is vital that you work with your IT staff or vendor to ensure the machines have the appropriate specifications to ensure the machine will perform the functions needed.

Most importantly, home laptops should not be utilized to access business networks, applications, or data whenever possible. While a secure VPN can keep a connection to the office secure from outside attacks, that does not secure your organization’s data from a hacker who has gained access to a machine.

3. Peripheral Devices for Home Offices

Since organizations have encouraged their teams to work from home, it is essential to design an appropriate workspace. Docking stations are a tool which act as a centralized hub for various ports that connect your devices like multiple monitors, wireless keyboard and mouse, wireless headphones, printers, and computer charging. They are relatively inexpensive, small, and essential for any sort of long-term remote office setup.

Printers and scanners are other devices that are commonly associated with a complete office setup, but we strongly recommend avoiding these devices, if possible. Organizations have slowly been moving towards paperless operations and this is an opportune moment to go completely paperless. If an employee’s job role requires the use of printing, looking for a cheap solution will cost you in the long run. Upkeep and support for a low-quality printer/copier/scanner will result in a much higher overall expense, which is not worth the money nor frustration.   

4. Choosing the Right Communications Tools

Communication tools have long been important for businesses, but never have they been relied upon this heavily. For example, in December 2019, Zoom’s number of daily participants was 10 million and by March 2020, that number increased to 200 million! Consider these remote communication solutions as well as some options:

Phones: This communication tool has evolved over the years from old cords to on-premise digital phones to a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) approach, which is essentially phone lines over the internet. In more recent years, “Unified Communications” platforms have grown in prominence where all communication modes such as instant chat, voice calling, and video calling are included in one solution. Both VoIP and Unified Communications tools are software applications that can be downloaded on a computer and utilize headsets rather than physical phones to communicate. A headset benefits the user through hands-free listening to allow easy notetaking. Unified Communications platforms, like Microsoft Teams, bring many forms of communication into one solution likely decreasing costs at the same time. Ultimately, this will go a long way towards saving an organization both the cost side of maintaining separate solutions, but also will simplify the line items you are being charged for technology.

Video Conferencing: There are many communication tools in the market that serve the purpose of video communication (Google Hangouts, Cisco WebEx, Join.me, Adobe Connect, etc.).

  • Microsoft Teams has many benefits, such as its ease of integration if your organization is already in the Microsoft ecosphere along with its positioning as a Unified Communications tool. Teams can provide collaboration capabilities like phone calls, instant messaging, screen sharing, and video conferencing, and has native integration with Outlook. Other integrations include SurveyMonkey, Salesforce, and MailChimp. Teams also has a 250-person maximum for audio and video calls, as well as a 10,000-person maximum for a live broadcast.
  • Zoom is another scalable, user-friendly videoconferencing platform whose primary benefit is that it is not tied to a specific ecosphere and can be utilized by anyone who wants to create an account. It has been an industry leader and has some of the best performance we’ve seen for video conferencing applications. It is also natively built for webinars, which make it an easy go-to for immediately setting up a tool. Zoom’s main benefit can also be a con, however, as it is not integrated natively with Microsoft or Google and may not function as smoothly as their native applications. Unfortunately, Zoom does not have the ability to replace your business phone system, so it cannot be considered a Unified Communications platform like Teams. Also, recent security issues have brought Zoom under scrutiny and they continue to communicate improvements to identified challenges.

Bonus tool: For voice email and quick walkie-talkie style messages, there is a tool called Voxer. With both a mobile and desktop application, Voxer allows the sending of voice messages either to a single person or group. A user can record messages up to 15 minutes which can be listened to in real-time or played back at up to 4x the speed. Tools like this are extremely useful when a voice conversation is needed, but schedules don’t align. It’s free to download and can be found on your phone’s app store.

Much of this information provokes the need to make decisions about shifting infrastructure, which can seem like a daunting task. Mainstay Technologies is ready to help you navigate through these waters now more than ever, as we all determine the next steps towards structuring our organizations for sustainability, security, and success.