How to manage a remote workforce

Managing remote staff doesn’t have to be a disaster. With the right tools in the hands of skilled IT professionals, they can be handled almost as easily as those workers in the office.


Before the advent of laptops and the rise of remote and mobile workers, when problems occurred IT departments knew where to go to fix them - the devices that needed tending to were all likely to be somewhere in the office.

Modern IT pros have no such luck. Whether in satellite offices, telecommuting or operating as road warriors, workers are now much more dispersed. To make things even more complicated, remote workers rarely only have one device, such as a laptop, with them now. This is not a trend that can or will be reversed; the new reality is an expectation of ubiquitous access to applications and data at any time of the day or night and all with a requirement for security against a much more diverse range of cyber threats.

The fact that these workers are so far removed from the IT staff makes it harder to keep systems updated and performing well, never mind fixing them when they break. The business staff are not going to come back to the office to have their systems fixed and the IT professional cannot go out to fix them one by one in the field. Companies need solutions to address this problem in a way that supports the requirements of the business without spiralling costs of IT service delivery.

The security issue

The biggest issue is that machines used by remote workers are harder to protect than those used in-house as there are several issues that put these devices at greater risk.

Organisations need to have a security policy in place and it must be extended to accommodate mobile and remote workers. This policy should define who can access the
company’s systems, what resources they can get to and what device types are allowed. This includes deciding whether use of personal devices (BYOD) is acceptable, and if so, how these devices are handled. In order to achieve all of the above it is essential that IT departments pick the right tools. Which tool works best will depend on the organisation, but the IT professionals within the business must make sure they have tools to protect against malware, handle remote troubleshooting, support robust system monitoring and web content filtering and ensure that systems are fully patched.

Picking the right tools

Cloud-based anti-virus/anti-malware technology is an ideal way to safeguard a dispersed  workforce. As the volume and diversity of malware continues to rise, traditional technologies are making remote and mobile devices hard to protect and IT departments have a bigger challenge in get access to these systems in order to protect them. Mobile computers should all be scanned continuously for malware and viruses, and any malware found must not only be detected but also blocked and safely deleted. Utilising the advantages of a management platform that is hosted in the cloud means that the IT administrator has visibility of the status of all of their systems wherever they are, and that the malware definitions are kept up-to-date in real-time, irrespective of location.

Equally important as part of the security arsenal, software patching is a vital component in ensuring protection of systems in the field. With the cloud, patches can be pushed out to an organisation’s machines, whether they’re on LAN, in a remote office or in a hotel room on the other side of the world.

Software vulnerabilities are a phenomenon that exists in the products of every software vendor and encompasses operating systems and application software from major players such as Microsoft, Adobe and others. Web browsers of all sorts are an increasingly prevalent source of system compromises. In order to address these threats it is essential to find a multi-platform patch management tool.

The third major component of a comprehensive security strategy is web content filtering. With an increasing number of applications being accessed and data being exchanged over the web, the threats of either system compromise or data loss are much greater than they were just a few years ago. Inappropriate or malicious content on the internet poses a threat both to the integrity and security of an organisation’s data and to the productivity of the organisation as a whole. Appropriate use policies are important but without the right tools they are more or less unenforceable in practice. Web content filtering tools limit inappropriate access and provide internet usage reports.

Managing remote users doesn’t have to be a disaster. With the right tools in the hands of skilled IT professionals, they can be handled almost as easily as those workers in the office.

Understand the problem

The first part in understanding the remote support task is to know who is out there and what they have. Rather than asking all workers what they have and getting largely
incomplete answers, use asset management to query the remote system. An up-to-date inventory of hardware and software is a critical enabler to effective troubleshooting.

Find a way to train

Remote users are by definition more vulnerable than those behind internal firewalls but many users may not be aware of the extent of the threat. User education is important to help staff understand how to set up secure passwords, avoid phishing and other email exploits, and make sure that their systems are secure.

Standardise and control

It is always easier to support systems that use a standard configuration. Make sure all remote workers have company-supported operating systems and applications. Then lock down the system by restricting admin access so these configurations can’t be changed either deliberately or inadvertently.

Stop problems before they happen

It is far better to prevent the common PC problems than to have to remediate them after they have occurred. The right combination of tools provides an efficient and effective solution to that requirement. In particular, effective anti-malware, comprehensive software patching and web content filtering tools are essential to protect the modern connected business from business data loss or impaired productivity. The most efficient way for IT administrators to deliver these tools is through an integrated, cloud-based management platform that can be managed from and operates over any location in which the business conducts its operations.

Alistair Forbes. Image credit: LogicNow

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