One year ago, only a tiny fraction of employees worked from home on a regular basis. Today, thanks to the pandemic, working from home has gone mainstream, and there is plenty of evidence that the trend is here to stay. Companies of all sizes and across all industries have learned that employees who work from home are not merely able to do their jobs, but actually tend to be more productive. Remote workers also save companies as much as $10,000 per employee annually in real estate costs and make it easier to attract top talent by eliminating the need for new hires to relocate.
Yet despite all of the benefits that remote work offers to companies, it also presents challenges. Over the next year or two, companies’ ability to adapt effectively to the technological, security and regulatory roadblocks that can get in the way of an effective work-from-home strategy will determine which firms are the winners and which the losers in the distributed-workforce landscape.
With that reality in mind, here’s an overview of what companies should be doing to ensure that they are ready to take full advantage of the work-from-home trend.
Why work from home is here to stay
Early in the pandemic, it was easy to assume that the pivot to remote work was just a temporary trend, and that most workers would return to the office soon enough.
The past half-year, however, has demonstrated a different reality. Now, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a large number of workers will continue to work from home, at least part of the time, even after the pandemic recedes into memory.
A University of Chicago report predicts that employees will spend more than one-fifth of their work days working from home after the pandemic ends. Likewise, Gartner believes that nearly half of employees will work remotely at least on a part-time basis post-pandemic. And managers report much less concern about allowing employees to work remotely than they did before the pandemic, suggesting that the C-suite won’t be looking to thwart the ambitions of the more than 90 percent of employees who express a desire to work remotely.
What could get in the way of widespread remote work for some companies, however, is failure to implement the technologies, security protections and compliance solutions necessary to ensure that employees can work effectively from home on a permanent basis.
Work-from-home technology challenges
Perhaps the most obvious challenge for supporting ongoing remote work is ensuring that employees have the technology they need to do their jobs remotely.
It can be easy to underestimate this difficulty. Many companies have long had remote-work solutions like VPNs and Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) in place, which allow employees to connect to on-site IT infrastructure while working from home.
The challenge companies are likely to face, however, is that these technologies are insufficient in many cases for full-fledged working from home. It’s one thing to let your employees use a VPN to log in and check email once in a while. It’s another when the majority of your employees are logged in remotely to data-intensive apps all day, overwhelming your VPN server and bringing network connectivity to a crawl.
Along similar lines, employees who work remotely on a frequent basis need to figure out ways to connect peripheral devices like printers that they use at home to the remote workstations they use when connecting from off-site. This can be done using technologies like a VPN, but setting it up is far above the paygrade of the typical employee. Unless workers understand how to configure things like split tunneling and manual routing tables on their home networks, connecting a local printer to a remote VPN is not very feasible.
Fortunately, technologies exist that can radically simplify these headaches. Chief among them are cloud desktops, which allow businesses to replace VPNs and RDP clients with cloud-based virtual desktops that employees can access from anywhere. Many modern cloud desktop solutions also integrate seamlessly with local printers and other devices without requiring complex setup on the part of users.
Securing remote workstations
Another challenge that can be easy to underestimate is ensuring that data and applications remain secure when employees work remotely on a massive scale.
Here again, it’s one thing when employees log in from off-site occasionally to perform basic tasks like checking email. It’s another when they are logged into the company network permanently from at-home devices and networks that may not be secure, and that are impossible for employers to monitor for vulnerabilities or insecure configurations.
Cloud desktops offer a solution to these challenges as well by making it possible to build virtual desktop environments that are completely segmented from whichever at-home devices and networks employees use to connect. With cloud desktops, it doesn’t matter if employees log in from malware-riddled personal computers. The desktops run in isolated virtual machines, essentially eliminating the risk that security problems on personal devices could spillover to company desktops.
Although no major regulatory framework explicitly forbids working from home, many major laws, like HIPAA and the GDPR, include rules related to securing physical access to private data. That becomes much harder to do when employees are downloading sensitive information to their personal devices, or installing business applications directly on them, in order to work from home. Even performing security audits, which is a requirement of regulatory laws like the CPRA, becomes a major challenge if employees are working from home and their desktop environments can’t be reliably monitored from a central location.
Cloud desktops can help on this front, too, by consolidating applications and data in the cloud, where they can be centrally monitored and managed. Cloud desktops also eliminate the need for employees to download sensitive data or applications to private devices. Instead, data can always reside in a secure location in the cloud, while employees still enjoy the flexibility of accessing it remotely.
The solutions businesses need to enable secure, reliable, compliance-friendly remote work solutions for their employees on a permanent basis are out there. The challenge for many companies will be in upgrading their traditional remote-login technologies to support the needs of employees who work from home on a massive scale. Conventional solutions like VPNs and RDP servers won’t necessarily deliver the functionality businesses need for most employees to work remotely, but newer types of platforms, like cloud desktops, can.