By Kevin Torf, managing partner, T2 Tech Group
With the spread of COVID-19, strict social distancing and shelter-in-place policies, the practice of working remotely and implementing applications that limit in-person interaction have become the new norm.
Hospitals and health systems are at the forefront of this shift, and many are struggling with managing the IT infrastructural challenges created by the sudden massive demand for remote technology needed to cope with the global crisis.
Those able to work remote may not be used to working outside of the office, nor do they have the proper equipment or office space to comfortably and efficiently work from home.
We assume that in 2020 each employee has access to a decent internet connection, but how can you really make sure they do? What about your infrastructure? Are you confident that your systems currently in place can withstand a different workflow? Do you have the right security measures in place? How do you trust that your employees are still being productive?
As health organizations continue to provide the same high quality of care and service while also keeping clinicians safe and healthy, we see IT challenges arising in numerous areas. While there is a great deal of depth to this topic, the following outlines a few of the major considerations for health organizations and IT teams shifting to a remote workforce.
When was the last time you evaluated key areas and were provided with recommendations for improvements in your IT environment? Take this opportunity to ensure you have the systems in place to facilitate strategic shifts and new initiatives like working remotely.
- Network and remote access: to meet dynamic business needs, an organization’s network environment needs to be efficiently architected to facilitate high-performance at the right cost. As end users and devices accessing a network remotely increase, this service becomes a more important and critical responsibility. Optimize and manage bandwidth to ensure your network can withstand the rapid influx of traffic. Also, don’t forget to account for the number of licenses you will need to support your remote connections.
- Virtual desktop infrastructure: remote workers can be deployed faster and supported more easily by using a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). VDI allows for a consistent and simplified computing environment both locally and remotely. With VDI, IT support staff are better equipped to manage desktop computing due to centralized management tools that ease the burden of software updates, endpoint security, end-user support, endpoint replacement and future expansion
With employees working remotely, employers will understandably be concerned about their data. Firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention appliances provide access control and protection at the perimeter and around data center services.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN), proxies and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) solutions provide a secure way to access services remotely. Be sure to set up proper user controls and ensure remote devices are regularly patched.
In addition, if you are able to use VDI then it inherently isolates the remote device it is running on from the virtual desktop inside your network, providing a very secure barrier.
Any remote connections should be managed through Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) requiring a token be sent to the person’s mobile phone in order to get access. The use of MFA will provide a layer of security preventing a person’s password from being used by someone else if stolen.
Other forms of connectivity such as a VPN, when VDI is not available, will provide another layer of security. The use of next generation firewalls will also provide a layer of security as a corporate network opens up to more outside connectivity.
What document repository are you currently using? If it’s not working well for your staff now that they are working remotely, it may be time to evaluate other options.
Make sure employees have access to the documents they need when they need them. Consider whether you might need to offer levels of permissions for access and decide whether you need users to edit or only view certain files and/or documents.
Communication is key and the glue to keeping the puzzle pieces together. During such a transition, transparent and consistent communication will help your employees adapt to change. Have a proper internal communication plan before and during the transition to move your employees to remote work.
They will have a ton of questions on what to do and how to do it. Within your messaging, ease their uncertainties by reassuring that they have the same resources as if they were located within the four walls of the office.
Change is difficult, especially when it involves people, beliefs and established behavior patterns.
However, embracing remote work and virtual collaboration is one of the most impactful things employers can do today to address the increasing complexity of the current public health and economic crisis.
Though everything is in flux, being proactive in IT efforts should remain a top consideration to ensure a smooth transition to a virtual workforce.