IT Roundtable: Enabling Productive Remote Workforces

CompTIA’s IT team discusses the challenges that many companies faced when employees began working remote during the pandemic, best practices for IT departments, and recommendations to enable productivity and secure remote work environments.

IT RoundtableThis story first appeared in CompTIA World magazine, Issue 8.

In March, IT departments around the world jumped into action when companies announced that employees would begin working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, CompTIA’s IT team, including Robert Rohrman, vice president,
IT Infrastructure; Edgar Flores, senior manager, network operations; and Wendell Thacker, manager, network operations, talks with Seth Robinson, senior director, technology analysis, about the challenges that many companies faced, best practices for IT departments, and recommendations moving forward to enable productivity and secure remote work environments.

Seth Robinson: The situation everyone found themselves in was needing to quickly connect employees from home, and that was not a goal a lot of companies had before. Can you describe what this shift was like for IT departments?

Robert Rohrman: If every staff member in your company already had the ability to work from home, the COVID-19 challenge—for IT teams—was relatively small. But if your company didn’t, quick action was necessary.

There are multiple strategies on how to enable remote work. IT teams had to look at their companies holistically and then from the employee perspective. What did they need to do their jobs and what technologies were out there to do those things remotely? The IT staff also needed to consider security—what was a company willing to accept as a risk? Then they needed to pick a solution and implement it.

Seth: Training everyone to be an enabled endpoint, that was the first part of the equation. What about making sure everyone had a device that works for them?

Wendell Thacker: As an IT person, you think, how can I futureproof? You want to make sure people have the hardware or devices they need. This is the same advice I give family members that ask me for recommendations on a laptop or personal computer, it depends on what you're going to use it for. When you make that decision, you're saying, for example, this person is a web developer, they need a lot of RAM and a good processor speed as opposed to my grandma who needs to check email.

Edgar Flores: On top of that, you want to create a baseline, so most devices meet certain requirements. Companies that had a baseline for laptops, they weren't as overwhelmed as companies that didn’t.

Seth: You’ve mentioned security being a concern in remote work environments. We’ve also seen an increase in phishing attacks. What security tools were critical when companies made the switch?

Robert: Convenience and security are typically opposing forces—when one goes up the other goes down. There was a dramatic increase in security issues at the beginning of coronavirus that put companies in a compromised security position because they had to let everybody work remotely instantly.

Wendell: The uptick in phishing scams was tough. The weakest link is always people. Seth: Someone recently asked me, what gets in the way of IT teams being able to do what they need to do? I think there's a lot of culture in it. What needs to start happening, if you're being strategic with IT and trying to futureproof, is that the IT team needs to put together an ROI statement and say, if we invest this much, this is what we expect to happen. That hasn't always been done because IT has been more of a cost center. Moving forward, how much does IT need to be able to show value in what they're doing to upper management?

Seth: Someone recently asked me, what gets in the way of IT teams being able to do what they need to do? I think there's a lot of culture in it. What needs to start happening, if you're being strategic with IT and trying to futureproof, is that the IT team needs to put together an ROI statement and say, if we invest this much, this is what we expect to happen. That hasn't always been done because IT has been more of a cost center. Moving forward, how much does IT need to be able to show value in what they're doing to upper management?

Robert: A new startup can go 100% cloud relatively easily. They're not worried about anything in the past; they don't have old database servers. Most companies don't have that luxury, especially if you have hundreds of employees. Then there are old habits. Until this year, there was no urgency to enable staff to work from home. Once the urgency hit, corporate directives changed on a dime.

But modernizing applications and making things secure is a challenge. And it's not just modernizing one component or moving something to a more accessible location. What’s the “bring your own device” policy? What are the security ramifications for remote access to a legacy application? What other investments do we need to watch the endpoint? What other applications sit next to legacy applications and need to talk? Interconnectivity always has to be considered.

Success as a manager comes when you consider all of those things. You cannot promise this can happen for free. There needs to be an investment.

Wendell: When you have the mentality of “that's how we've always done it,” whether it's IT or management, you're not going to change because it's working. But sometimes you could be doing it a better way. It takes a catastrophic event to convince people to change, but more money was spent because it wasn’t done on the front end.

Edgar: It’s clear now that investments need to be made. It makes for a more robust workforce if your employees can work from anywhere in the world.

Seth: Even when we’re no longer worried about COVID-19, we might drastically change the way we work. Particularly for companies that stitched together a remote solution with duct tape and baling wire, what considerations need to happen now?

Robert: A year ago, if you had a new application, you could say, that's not going to be accessible remotely. If you want to access this, you have to be in the office. Now it’s not reality. Anything that comes online must be accessible by a remote and mobile workforce, while maintaining high security standards.

Wendell: The core values behind that are adaptability and accessibility. Adaptability, as far as being willing to change, and accessibility for your customers or employees, depending on the situation, that they can access what they need.

Edgar: Security has to be thought of on the same level as a system or data moving to the cloud. You need to make sure you aren’t tackling one side of a project by saying, we can access it remotely, but now we're left with a vulnerability.

Seth: What considerations need to go into IT support and the help desk if you can’t count on people being in an office?

Robert: It is a potential endless support situation for IT staff if they are troubleshooting every person’s home network. They are typically insecure, you don't know who's on it, or how far away from wireless the worker is. There's an infinite number of problems that can arise. There must be clear lines of what is being supported by IT staff, and what is not.

Edgar: We need to make sure people are funneling all requests to a help desk, especially when people are working from home. It seems easy to pick up the phone or send a quick message, but that can overwhelm the IT staff.

Seth: Moving forward, what recommendations do you have for collaborating with business leads so they understand how to make tradeoffs and enable productivity?

Robert: First, as an IT person, analyze the tools. Do you have collaboration tools in place? Then, go to other departments, and ask them if they are having challenges on any platforms. Do basic intelligence gathering. Pull reports from the help desk and if you see an increase a certain request, then maybe it's time to put a training in place to educate staff. If you get that out there, those help desk tickets could disappear or you get in front of potential issues in a proactive manner.

Edgar: Other departments now get emails from salespeople saying, modernize your applications so you can work more efficiently. They get into these conversations and they're talking about moving to cloud environments. You want IT there from the beginning so we can establish the right process and ask the right questions.

Seth: Any unique challenges with upper management, getting buy in for things, anything that you would want to add?

Robert: Many companies are in discretionary spending cutbacks or complete freezes. To ask for money right now is not easy. IT shouldn't shy away from making proposals if there is a security problem or difficulty with the remote environment that is solvable by an IT solution. Explain the request from a business perspective and don’t get caught up in the technology. Show how it's going to contribute directly to the effectiveness and efficiency of the company's ability to support a remote workforce.

Check out the latest issue of CompTIA World

Read More from the CompTIA Blog

Leave a Comment