In our changed world – where employees are sequestered, physically disconnected, and working remotely – that’s when they need a stable, secure and collaborative work environment the most. As Gartner indicated in a recent study of CFOs nationwide, 74% intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently, and that 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time post Coronavirus pandemic.

But that’s also when collaborative leadership can be the most difficult – YOU are also working from home. The situation is not easy, but there are some simple strategies you can adopt to make it easier. In this blog, we’ll focus on two areas: (1) Quick tips on improving the Collaborative experience when working from home, and (2) Securing and Stabilizing the #WFH environment.

Tips to Improve collaboration when Managing Teams From Home

Scheduling: Establish times on your calendar when you’re “in office” every day, and stick to those hours except for emergencies. This will help maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Informal Leading: Keep your team connected with a virtual “coffee break” at set times of the day.  Scheduling your “casual” accessibility will reduce company email clutter, potentially curl requests for formal meetings, and may foster a culture of continuous improvement
Video Calls: Make sure you have good lighting, with a source that’s not at your back, or it will shadow your face. Keep the angle at eye-level or slightly higher, and have a professional background. Pro tip: You can activate a beauty filter on Zoom.
Choose audio over video: When your connection quality is low, your collaboration suffers. Lowering your resolution or turning off your video may save the call. Calling into a session by phone may prevent feedback and many sound quality issues as well.
Video Etiquette: Be mindful of where you’re looking when you’re lost in thought or talking. Mute yourself when you’re in large meetings, but don’t when you’re in small brainstorms. Call in from a quiet place and keep everything you need close by so you don’t need to leave the screen.
Unclutter your Screen Share: Exit apps you won’t be using prior to the meeting. This will prevent you from sharing screening your Netflix queue or sports chats. Also, close unrelated browser tabs and hide personal toolbars.
Video Call Note-taking: Low-tech: write talking points and reminders on Post-It notes attached to your screen. High-tech: Keep meeting notes on a One-Note page so you can keep your team on point with a meeting outline, bullet-points, and check-marks for completed to-do lists.

Your employees need to feel that you are present, accessible, and available, so when you are not in the building, your technology needs to keep you securely connected. At AllConnected, we can recommend several ways to make your work-from-home environment secure and productive.

Strategies to Secure and Stabilize your Remote Workforce for the long term:

WFH Setup Including Cisco Meraki Z3

Furniture and seating aside, your home office should be separate from your home distractions, free of clutter, and as much as possible, similar to your work office.

Your PC desktop, or laptop with docking station, should have the same applications and connect directly to your company network, the Internet and video services.

Try to maintain the same visual display as in-office setups to maintain productivity. If you use dual monitors in the office, set them up for the home office.

1. Visual Landscape

Working at a cramped coffee shop can be effective for a brief window of time, but to be productive we require space to collaborate, communicate, and visualize. With that in mind, your remote office should be measured not by the size of your desk, but by your visual landscape. If you don’t use a huge monitor or dual monitors, you should. Multiple 23-inch or larger screens may seem like a luxury in small environments but there are two huge benefits to consider:

Better multitasking: Multitasking requires adequate screen real estate to keep multiple priorities in view simultaneously. Customer Service or web design tasks become easier if you can “lock” tasks to specific places on your visible screen without resizing windows to fit the limited screen space.
Enhanced Productivity: Dual monitors increase productivity by 20-50% by reducing the time switching back and forth between tabs. This is especially important for cutting and pasting, and comparing data for coders, media editing and administrative tasks.

2. Power Protection

Don’t plug your PC directly into the wall. If you use a desktop, make sure it plugs into an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) unit that can protect your hardware from unequal power distribution or failure. These allow you to function temporarily and shut down your PC without losing data in a crisis.

If you use a laptop, its internal battery serves as a UPS in the event of power loss, but make sure you plug your laptop, along with monitor(s) and other office equipment, into a Power Strip Surge Protector to prevent electrical damage from power spikes.

3. Protect and Authenticate Your Network Connection

The security of your PC needs the same level of support as the office. By implementing the following hosted and low-cost measures, you can achieve your own personal protection.

Cisco Umbrella provides DNS-level security on your Internet use, preventing you from stumbling into phishing and malware-laden websites and preventing malicious call-backs in case your email is compromised. For content filtering and protection against ransomware learn more with: How to Prepare Your Organization to Fight Ransomware.

As we’ve mentioned in How Secure Is Your Multi-Factor Authentication?, Cisco Duo provides simple and effective Multi-Factor Authentication to protect your office data.

To prevent compromised Email, we recommend ATP, as we discuss in Level Up Email Security: Advanced Threat Protection and 10 Tips.

4. Secure your Office Data

Home wi-fi doesn’t provide the security your organization needs, so consider a Virtual Private Networking (VPN) to create a secure, private tunnel that runs through your Wi-Fi connection.

VPNs can be used to access region-restricted websites, shield your Internet use from hackers on public Wi-Fi, and more. For business, it enables you to create a secure, encrypted connection to your company network so you can safely use your resources over the Internet.

5. Virtualize Sensitive Data

For a more secure method to access critical data or a line-of-business application that reduces the need for remote support and bandwidth, you need a virtual desktop. Virtual Desktops present an application running in your secure company office to your remote PC through an encrypted tunnel.

The most common options are Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS), or the more advanced Citrix Service.

Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services) refers to features of Microsoft Windows Server that allow users to remotely access another PC, virtual desktops and Windows applications. If your software needs are simple — if you don’t use any private applications — Windows RDS is the way to go. You will only need client access licenses (CALs) to connect to your company’s authenticating server.

If you use proprietary applications on your network, we recommend setting up a Citrix VDI environment. Similar to RDS, Citrix is an application that allows you to securely connect to a virtual desktop, server, application, or roaming profile through a terminal session (or another computer).

Citrix provides an all-in-one VPN service capable of providing granular access to a variety of resources and server functions to a remote location.

While standard VPNs require data downloads and updates for each individual computer, Citrix runs in a virtual server environment, reducing data transfer and IT support time for software updates or roll-outs of new software.

6. Level-Up your Remote Office with Hardware

Instead of troubleshooting your connectivity issues with your helpdesk, a physical devise connected to the Meraki dashboard can do the work for you.

The Cisco Meraki Z-Series teleworker gateway is an enterprise class firewall, VPN gateway and router. Each model offers five gigabit ethernet ports and wireless for connectivity. Each model is designed to securely extend the power of Meraki cloud managed networking to employees, IT staff, and executives working from home.

The most notable difference between the Z3 and Z3C is that the Z3C has an inherent SIM card slot for Cellular connectivity capability to provide an option for Internet connection failover. The Z3 also has a similar Cellular capability, but requires a separate USB Modem in order to connect via cellular.

This surprisingly functional multi-purpose piece of equipment contains everything a stay-at-home worker would need to securely connect to the main office network via VPN while also supporting their own productivity.

Simple, powerful security from Network to Endpoint: Delivers 802.1x wired port authentication and Wi 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi for fast and reliable connectivity.
Self-configuring, self-optimizing, self-healing: When plugged in, the Z-Series automatically connects to the Meraki cloud, downloads its configuration, and joins your network. In case of WAN IP address changes, the Z-Series self-heals by re-establishing the site-to-site VPN tunnels using the new IP address. Also, if a supported SIM card is installed or a 3G/4G modem is connected and primary WAN uplink connectivity fails, the Z-Series will automatically failover to cellular.
Auto VPN: Connects to your network via a single click without any command line configurations or multi-step key permission setups. It automatically tunnels, hole punches, sets up route tables, and establishes the IPsec connections, completely eliminating the complexity seen in traditional site-to-site VPN solutions.
VOIP: Depending upon your phone configuration, you may be able to set up your company VOIP phone to function through the POE port.
  Cisco Meraki Z3 z3
Recommended use cases Teleworker with VOIP or PoE, IoT, and M2M
Recommended clients Up to 5 devices
Stateful Firewall Throughput 100 Mbps
Maximum VPN Throughput 50 Mbps
WAN Interfaces 1 x GbE RJ45
1 x USB (cellular failover)
Wireless (wi-fi) Dual-band 802.11ac Wave 2 radios
2×2 MU-MIMO, up to 1.3 Gbps data rate
Supports up to 4 SSIDs
LAN Interfaces 4 x GbE
PoE 1 x PoE enabled port (802.3af, 15.5W)
Licensing (annual) Enterprise license
Meraki Insight*
* Requires Meraki MX firewall for data collection

Covid-19 taught us how important video meetings are for staying connected to our employees and clients. And it reminds us how managing our home office technology should be a priority. Adding the Z3 creates a quality of service at home that eliminates choppy audio with Teams meetings. I’m really excited AllConnected’s checklist gives us a methodology to ensure our employees and clients have what they need to be effective working from home.

7. Automate PC Management with a RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) Tool.

There are a handful of widely used and trusted remote management IT resources that every experienced IT department uses to efficiently manage PC’s. It does not matter which tool your IT team uses, from bundled tools with Microsoft 365 to hosted third party systems, but the key is for your team to use them daily to ensure your hardware and applications are patched and the team is able to easily troubleshoot performance issues.

Microsoft includes basic tools with 365. Your team could combine them with tools like Meraki’s Insights and SolarWinds® N-central® for its remote management of IT resources.

SolarWinds® N-central is the #1-rated remote monitoring and management automation solution for Managed Service Providers and IT professionals. Its flexible license model, available as an on-premises or hosted solution, helps you:

Onboard, configure, or patch hundreds of devices with powerful automation tools
Protect your customers with advanced security solutions
Resolve issues faster with information at your fingertips and robust remote support
Improve customer uptime with proactive alerts and self-healing capabilities
Monitor and manage Windows, Mac, Linux, virtual machines, and network devices
Organize your services and customers in a single interface
Customize scripts to meet specific customer or device-type needs
Improve technician efficiency, customer retention, and service margins

8. Real Time Collaboration

Microsoft Teams: now part of most Office 365 subscriptions, Teams is a full-service collaboration and communication suite. You can set up Kanban task tabs, make Skype video calls and embed recordings, send direct chats and group message to channel team members, and collaborate on documents from other apps, such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

Other options from Google G-suite and Cisco Webex Teams give you a space to chat, share documents and collaborate at home as if you are in the office. Plus, with the new instant messaging and video/voice services, you can build rapport from home without ever missing a beat.

9. Level-Up your Home Network and Internet Monitoring

Trying to lead a meeting with poor audio and video quality is one of the biggest reasons we retreat from home usage and meet in the office. The solution to that problem is not simple given the number of potential weak links at home.

This is why we recommend a network management tool to keep your connectivity smooth. We have all shared issues with IT that are not present when troubleshooting, so capturing the data within a tool is important.

Meraki Insight helps IT administrators optimize the end user experience, significantly reducing the time it takes to isolate network or application problems. Advanced options are available with companies like Auvik, and if you are using a product like the Meraki Z3 mentioned above, the included Insight application will share everything needed to ensure performance is smooth. If not, an investment in more, or secondary bandwidth is needed.

The small price and size of the Z3 combined with Network Management enables you to create both a QOS (quality of service) and a secure connection for your home office. If you need an additional guarantee of performance, you can also connect a second 4G LTE (cellular mobile connection like a SIM card found in your iPhone/Android) for an always-on internet connection.

Summary

Your employees need executive leadership whether you’re in-office, on-the-road, or working-from-home. As you adapt to the new business environment and implement effective WFH communication, consider how a comprehensive WFH solution will drive productivity and satisfaction. Remember to include:

Regulate your power consumption with UPS and Power Strips
Protect your network from cybercrime with Cisco Duo and Umbrella
Virtualize critical applications with RDS or Citrix Virtualization
Upgrade your network connection with a personal Firewall/router
Maintain and troubleshoot your hardware and connectivity with RMM and Network Management

If you have more questions or concerns about effective remote work, please let us know. 

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