Thanks to the still-rising number of COVID-19 cases, many people remain unable to return to business as usual. Those hoping for a quick end to social distancing and stay-at-home mandates have seen state and city leaders slide back and forth on reopening the economy, as the coronavirus continues to spread. For now, those who can work from home are choosing to do so until it’s safe to return to the office—which means, it might be time to upgrade your work-from-home capabilities.
Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, remote work could become the new normal. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Square and the like have all said they would allow at least a portion, if not all, of its workforce to permanently work from home. Additionally, 77 percent of remote workers globally say that they are just as productive working from home, and 90 percent say they would like to continue “some level of working from home in the future,” says Dave Seibert, chief information officer at IT Innovators. Having remote work capabilities can be the key to not only saving costs on office space, but attracting the right talent.
Being able to support remote working can not only be a lifeline, but an investment into a business’ future. Below are five cloud-based tools that businesses should have to optimize their work-from-home operations.
A cloud suite is an integrated collection of technologies and products, and there are a number of different ones that small businesses can take advantage of, says Seibert. Google has G Suite, which includes Google Docs, Sheets, and chat and video functions, and Microsoft offers their Microsoft 365 for home. There are, of course, other providers, but those are the two Seibert singled out as being the best for businesses.
“I do have a strong preference for the Microsoft cloud suite, and the reason I do is that it ties into more business solutions,” Seibert explains. Although many people think Microsoft 365 is mainly just Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Seibert adds that it also offers overlooked but highly useful tools like Yammer, an enterprise social network; OneNote, a free-form digital note-taking app that allows collaboration across multiple users; and OneDrive, a shareable personal cloud storage provider.
Most businesses operate by sharing documents and files between employees and teams, which is why cloud services that provide file-sharing is so useful. Instead of having to copy files onto a USB or relying on emailing them to yourself (and even then, there are file size limitations), accessing them on a centralized cloud database that all employees and/or team members have access to is much more efficient.
For that, Seibert has a number of recommendations: Microsoft’s OneDrive, which offers up to 5 gigabytes of storage for free; Synology; and QNAP.
Both Synology and QNAP are relatively inexpensive and offer great services, believes Seibert. “They allow you to…centrally store and back up all of your files in a central location,” he says. “You can actually access those files on Synology or QNAP remotely from the cloud, so anywhere you are in the world, you can remotely connect.”
Seibert recommends connecting Synology or QNAP with OneDrive by installing a network-attached storage (NAS) for added security.
“The advantage of a cloud computer is it's extremely fast—much, much faster than anything you have at your office.”
“You can save all your files on OneDrive and automatically sync down to the NAS—and the NAS automatically would be backed up every single night, so now you have your files in the cloud backup, your local files backed up, and you can access them all currently and kept up-to-date at either location,” Seibert adds.
Virtual machines are software that mimic a computer system and work like physical computers. Microsoft has Azure, which offers services like Windows Virtual Desktop, but there are a number of different virtual machine software providers you can choose from that also offer monthly billing.
“The advantage of a cloud computer is it's extremely fast—much, much faster than anything you have at your office,” says Seibert. “And you don’t have to pay out $1,500 or $2,500 for a high-end computer. Imagine that you have a workforce and had 50 people that you needed to put at home—think about the cost of buying that many computers. Well, instead for about $15 to $20 a month, you can have a complete computer running in the cloud, all the time, really fast.”
He adds that virtual machines are also much more secure than having personal laptops or desktops, which is another benefit.BREX
Given the many stories about Zoom call mishaps, video conferencing is no new thing for most people working from home. However, Seibert emphasizes that it is an extremely useful tool for people to get that face time with one another.
“You're able to have one-on-one meetings with your leadership team, your staff. You can have group meetings, you can have webinars like this with your clientele, and you can do it from a laptop, a desktop, a tablet, or a smartphone,” says Seibert.
Aside from Zoom, businesses can also look into Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex, and many others. Seibert reminds people that there are many free video conferencing tools out there, but depending on the level of security you want, you may want to pay for a more secure version.
Of course, once you start utilizing all these cloud services, it’s important to establish proper security measures to protect your work and your business.
Whether you’re at home or in the office, Seibert warns that many devices are connected to the internet and each of these serves as a potential access point for hackers. “Your Internet of Things, your thermostats, your smart refrigerator—everything is connected to the internet,” he says. “And hackers use automation, and they hack by the millions and millions of connections, constantly.”
Seibert recommends looking for a firewall provider like SonicWall, which specializes in small businesses but can also handle the needs of larger companies. “For several hundred dollars, you can buy a firewall, and it protects everything behind it,” he says. “It protects the computers, it protects the laptops, all your wireless devices, your Internet of Things, and it protects them in real time. It protects them from when you go to web pages and websites with malicious code; when you receive your email it strips out viruses within your email. It really is amazing how far it goes to protect your business.”