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  • Writer's pictureChaz Vossburg

Remote Working in a Pandemic

A Case Study in Planning and Deployment

From hurricanes and tornadoes to earthquakes and floods, to terrorist attacks and public health emergencies, disasters occur with little to no notice and wreak havoc on business continuity in a myriad of ways. Productivity can decline precipitously, your supply chain lags or stops, and your ability to meet your customer’s needs suffers.  In short, disasters can absolutely decimate businesses and threaten their very survival.  Given the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, organizations are facing the very real possibility of shifting operations to a remote working environment.   

Consider the following two example scenarios of businesses who were forced to transition to full remote operations on very short notice, giving thought to how your own business compares with them. Could your business transition to a remote work environment in a short period of time and maintain operations? What considerations need to be given in order to successfully transition?  Do you or your Managed Services Provider have an executable plan in place? Do you have the infrastructure and resources to undertake such a change?  

-Contoso Ltd is a small non-profit with 25 full-time employees and 5 interns who work in their office located in Washington, DC.  Among the staff is an IT team of two who provide network administration and desktop support, as well as systems management.  They maintain a traditional on-premises infrastructure with four servers: a domain controller/file/print server, an Exchange server for email, an SQL server housing the organization’s donor database and CRM.  The Finance department uses Quickbooks Pro which is hosted on the fourth server, which is a VM.  They deploy a SonicWALL firewall at the perimeter of their network for security. All servers are backed up to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. All employees use company-issued desktops and smartphones, in addition to desk phones configured to their PBX.  File sharing and storage is enabled via network shared drives that are segmented by the department.  They currently have no policy allowing for remote work options except in emergency situations. 

-ABC Association is a small non-profit with 42 full-time employees and is also located in Washington, DC.  Over the last few years, ABC has transitioned from a traditional on-premises environment to a cloud-based operation.  All servers were migrated to Microsoft Azure, including file, domain services, and print, and SQL for their donor database. They utilize Azure Backup for disaster recovery.  After a critical hardware failure on their Exchange server, they migrated to Exchange Online for email and Office 365 Pro Plus for productivity suites.  This allows for extra flexibility because employees can install the applications on their home computers.  Quickbooks Online is used by the controller to manage costs and expenses. Two years ago, ABC had decided that it was cost-prohibitive to maintain an in-house IT team to support its users in addition to focusing on core development tasks, so they engaged a Managed Services Provider to fill this need.  All servers, desktops, and infrastructure are monitored and maintained by the MSP, as well as end-user support.  A VoIP phone system is in use.  All employees use organization-supplied laptops. The MSP had recently gotten approval to implement Sharepoint Online and has been working to upload the contents of all shared drives into Sharepoint.  ABC also found that as a non-profit, they often need to provide enticements to find and retain top talent, so they implemented a liberal work from home policy, offering all employees the option of up to 3 days per week. 

Due to a widespread public health emergency, the DC government declares a state of emergency and begins strongly recommending all businesses to transition to remote working within 72 hours.  Let’s briefly examine the process each organization would need to follow to move to remote working in three days. 

Upon notification, Contoso immediately scheduled a planning meeting to determine what they needed to do.  The IT team scrambled to create a plan and checklist to be accomplished over the next few days to present to the rest of the staff: 

  1. Determine how many employees have computers and internet at home 

  2. Open the necessary ports on the firewall and then begin creating VPN profiles in the firewall and figure out how to test connectivity for each user 

  3. Work to modify any permissions or policies that could conflict with remote access 

  4. Change settings on Exchange server to allow Outlook Web Access to be used, then test with users 

  5. Purchase Office 365 licenses for all staff to provide desktop productivity applications 

  6. Create users and assign licenses, making sure to not have Exchange Online active to prevent email issues 

  7. Provide tutorial on how to log in, download, and install desktop applications 

  8. Coordinate with phone vendor to forward all desk phones to company-issued cell phones 

  9. Provide training to users on accessing drives via the VPN connection 

  10. Look for an easily deployable collaboration and messaging tool  

  11. Due to limitations, it is determined that a member of the IT department will need to physically go to the office weekly to check equipment and backups until a remote monitoring solution can be obtained and deployed network-wide. 

Several employees advise that they either do not have computers at home, or they have access to a shared computer, or only have tablets/iPads.  IT now needs to determine how many available laptops that they have to distribute and get them configured.  They begin to ask for volunteers to assist in order to speed up the process, thereby creating a potential security issue by sharing credentials.  At the next day’s status meeting, it is determined that work will need to continue over the weekend to ensure that all users will be able to perform at least some job functions, as laptops are in short supply and need to be formatted and then configured.  Managers begin working on setting up staggered schedules or altering job functions to mitigate a lack of resources for all staff.  

When the news is received at ABC, they convene all department managers for a conference call with their MSP.  The MSP advises that they have created a checklist of items to verify, but that since there is a remote working policy in effect already, the transition should be fairly seamless. 

  1. MSP assigns an engineer to work over the weekend to complete the Sharepoint migration 

  2. MSP works with staff to get OneDrive for Business configured for each employee to ensure access to all files and data 

  3. MSP requests that all users test and verify Office 365 credentials to ensure that they’re working properly  

  4. Some groups have been using Microsoft Teams, but channels are created organization-wide to ease messaging and collaboration burden 

  5. All cloud-based and online accounts for groups are verified 

Within 24 hours, all employees are advised to go home and set up a home office.  By the requested deadline, the transition is complete and ABC has resumed business as usual. 

These two examples are somewhat extreme comparisons, but certainly not abnormal.  Many organizations fall somewhere between the two, and as such, it is critical to create a plan and be able to execute it using all available resources and options.  Leveraging Wellforce and its team of rapid planning and deployment experts to guide you and get you up and running remotely right away can be the difference between success and failure.  

Click here to discuss your remote working strategy and to learn more about Wellforce’s remote end-user training and support programs.


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