In an interview for TAdviser, Valentin Gubarev, Director of Computer Systems Department at CROC, has shared his company’s experience in adjusting to working from home and associated risks and benefits.

TAdviser: Taking care of transitioning to remote work was a complete surprise for some companies. Could you please share your company’s transition experience and tell us about how to help employees adjust to remote work? What are key points to consider?

During this transition period, employers focused on switching personnel to remote work as fast as possible. Therefore, the first thing companies did was to throw the doors open: provide access to internal resources, let employees take office computers home, and stock up with laptops and remote work tools. I think that the majority of companies successfully handled this task in a week, two weeks tops. Next on the agenda was information security, application performance, and user experience. At this stage, a practical way to secure resource access was to deploy Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and take control over connected devices by using Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions. The final step was to supply users with all necessary instructions and help them with this transition.

Many of our employees have already been working remotely, from home or during business trips, and any technical matters have always been dealt with OK, so we just hit the ground running. However, in some cases, we had to increase capacity to support VPN and VC services. Therefore, the IT department worked extra hard to facilitate transition for those who used to work offline only.

TAdviser: Let’s talk more about remote work security.
What threats might remotely working employees face? What kind of solutions can secure their activities?

Remote employees face higher risks due to unsupervised software installation, malicious websites, and unsecured internet connection. To ensure colleagues’ security, information security specialists take advantage of remote access encryption, mobile device protection, secure remote access gateways, and virtual desktops.Therefore, you can use VPN to transmit encrypted information via public networks, eliminating the risk of corporate sensitive information being intercepted.

VDI helps create virtual private desktops isolated from each other and running on protected servers so that employees can use personal computers and even tablets to work in a protected environment – all they need is to install a thin client on their device. Moreover, information transfer beyond the virtual workspace can be restricted or utterly forbidden.

Finally, EMM is a class of solutions to protect and manage employees’ mobile devices when connecting to corporate infrastructure. EMM is a lifesaver because you can remotely erase corporate data or wipe a device thoroughly clean if a smartphone or laptop is stolen or lost.

TAdviser: What should be changed in corporate IT infrastructure when a significant share of employees switch to remote work? What aspects should be considered here?

A readiness check will help provide an overview of a situation and show who can work remotely and trouble-free and on which systems. Companies can do this themselves or engage third-party consultants. CROC‘s experience shows that at least 90% of staff, including finance, logistics, and many other teams, can successfully work from home, if they are provided with laptops, monitors, information security tools (e.g. VPN), and devices to increase mobility (e.g. VDI).

Remote communication channels are growing in importance since matters that used to be discussed personally in the office are now being settled digitally via corporate e-mail, intranet, and messengers. Meanwhile, customers continue with digital expansion, launching online shopping and delivery services, and providing ordinary services remotely. Eventually, computing systems take the heat. Increasing workload is a serious challenge that can halt digital business transformation in its tracks. Therefore, the first and foremost measure is closing that computing resource gap by either buying extra capacity or leasing some from a cloud – the best quick fix for a temporary load increase. We had cases when customers allocated all available capacity to VDI and used a cloud to scale capacity for business-critical services (e.g. e-commerce). Another good example is the project we recently completed for the Higher School of Economics. By leveraging cloud capacity, HSE managed to create classroom digital twins within just a week. Now, teachers have their classes online, thus ensuring students can keep up their good work.

TAdviser: What remote work solutions and services does CROC offer?

The portfolio includes 20+ remote work solutions to close all gaps, regardless of business scope and industry specifics. Solutions are conveniently grouped by task and deployment time, which varies from one day to several weeks. There are universally applicable solutions, such as virtual workspaces, information security tools, and video conferencing from the cloud, as well as specific, yet also powerful, services, such as remote construction supervision or a contact center from the cloud. Furthermore, we are well aware of how important it is now to have detailed visibility of remote employees’ activities, since it gives an opportunity to provide timely technical support and, of course, prevent leaks of confidential information. Therefore, our portfolio includes solutions to address these challenges as well. We've always been responsive to customer needs and therefore our remote service portfolio is updated all the time. Moreover, in the near future, we are going to launch a portfolio of solutions designed to help businesses successfully leave isolation mode, with a particular focus on reducing IT costs.

TAdviser: Which products are most demanded for remote work?

VC solutions and messengers are at the top of the list. We advise our employees and customers to use protected platforms like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Jabber.

In addition to VC, businesses are also increasingly demanding VDI, information security services, and IaaS. There is also escalating interest in Robotic Process Automation and Business Process Management (RPA and BPM), as well as remote e-document management systems.

TAdviser: What about your company’s experience in arranging remote work for employees? What challenges may threaten real projects and how can they be overcome?

When an entire company switches to remote work, administrators, engineers, and technical support will be busier than ever. Everyone needs help ASAP, and escalations may happen without reason. I believe companies should focus on keeping up morale and support employees in embracing this new reality, while motivating helpdesk to do all that is possible to ensure their colleagues adjust to home office working. We were lucky because our staff followed our advice carefully, allowing for a smooth transition.

Even though we prepared and shared technical instructions beforehand, it was a real challenge for our helpdesk as people called non-stop on the first day. It took the company a couple of days to solve all key issues, teach employees how to use remote work tools, and start getting back on track. By that time, our HR specialists had already started holding remote work training and sharing relevant rules and life hacks with all employees. The very first webinar on team management attracted a record number of attendees, showing that employees have a thirst for knowledge and are ready to adapt to and work effectively in line with the requirements of our new reality

A real matter of concern is remote work tools (in particular, video conferencing and telephony solutions) that may be on-premise, cloud, or publicly available services. Companies should let employees choose, while still being able to control data channels and monitor activities in them. Furthermore, employee home networks pose another threat. Indeed, we see that hackers and cyber fraudsters are becoming more and more active; therefore, companies need to foster a security culture among workers because technical protection tools can’t provide an iron-clad guarantee.

TAdviser: Switching to remote work may adversely affect efficiency for many reasons. What would you recommend companies do based on your experience?

First of all, I would recommend them to start communicating with their teams more. Group chats in messengers are a perfect way to quickly exchange information that can replace live communication with colleagues in an office, while corporate email should still be used for business matters. It is important to keep these communication channels separate to avoid leaking business critical information via chats.

I would also recommend team members to be in sync with each other. At least once a week, they need to have a zoom meeting to exchange news, keep track of results, help each other address challenges, and set targets for the next sprint. For this purpose, some of our teams have daily 30-minute sessions.

During the pandemic lockdown, our HR department and top managers started holding regular web conferences for employees. In addition, we often have training webinars where external speakers share their life hacks on various aspects of remote work: how to manage a team, communicate with customers, hold job interviews, and so on. Moreover, we now enjoy weekly 30-minute coffee breaks with top managers, where we discuss business at hand and answer questions from our colleagues. Such meetings are attended by approximately 30% of employees and are recorded for those who cannot be present online. CROC’s mornings now start with an online workout, which acts as both a real energy boost and a team building event.

TAdviser: In your opinion, how many employees will keep working from home once the coronavirus pandemic is over?

I have already seen how many teams have not only managed to remain effective, but actually improved their performance. When people spend an hour and a half to get to the office, they feel exhausted before a work day even starts. That is why many teams work better now. Of course, we can’t just stay home forever, people want real-life communication. But I don’t think we will be working at the office five days a week like before. During the lockdown, we have built remote work skills, which may be useful in the future. I see at least two benefits of remote work. First, it saves money on office space since I believe that companies can switch whole groups of employees to remote work. All they need to do is configure VDIs and implement work time trackers. We are ready to provide this highly demanded service. Indeed, we can see the change in attitude now that many colleagues are realizing that employees can effectively work from home. The second, even more important, benefit is the limitless geographic boundaries of distributed teams. Access to a comprehensive remote work infrastructure allows people with necessary skills to coordinate with each other via video conferencing systems and group chats. In addition, such technology also makes it easy to engage specialists from other regions and even different countries to instantly join the work process and start bringing value.

The original article can be found on the TAdviser website.