Due to the global reach of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies scrambled to fortify their IT infrastructures so that their workforce could work from home. The evolution of remote working is in full swing, although Securus has been remote working since 2012, and helping our customers do the same.
Entire teams are now finding themselves working from home. They are rapidly adopting video conferencing and other technologies to connect with each other, their projects and customers.
The pandemic may have given some organisations an unexpected push into the work-at-home model. However, many already had the tech ground-work in place for management and other employees who travel.
Cloud technologies, video conferencing platforms, and tighter security measures have made remote work more accessible and more secure. Recent events have pushed the working model to the forefront, making us all wonder what the implications and possibilities are for the near future.
End Of The Office?
Working from home is not at all a new concept. Since around 2012 the evolution of remote working has been in full swing. A growing number of companies have adopted work-from-home policies. The percentages have risen steadily, giving more of the workforce the flexibility to work from home or any remote location.
According to a report Gallup published in 2017, 39% of US employees worked remotely in some capacity in 2012. By 2016, that number grew to 43%. (Source)
25% of the employees who worked in 2012 spent 80% of their time working away from the office. By 2016, that increased to 31% of those employees working remotely for that same amount of time.
Fast-forward to this year. The numbers may, of course, be skewed a bit by current events, though more people than ever before can work from home for various reasons. Is it the end of the office as we know it?
Perhaps. Current technology allows us the flexibility to redefine “the office” altogether. Collaboration may need to occur in real-time, although it doesn’t always have to happen in the same physical space.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
The Flexibility Of Home Working
Working from home gives employees a great deal of welcome flexibility, which benefits their employers as well. When employees can better balance their working and home lives, the result is increased productivity and less sick leave.
Working from home means no commute time and fewer transportation expenses. Employees with children can tend to a sick child without missing time from work.
Employees who work from home often put in more than an eight-hour day because the workstation is right in the home. There’s always that little bit of time to answer a few more emails before signing off for the evening. Thus, the benefits on the employer side are better productivity from their staff.
Security Considerations For Remote Workers
Just as security is a priority in the traditional office setting, the same applies to remote work. During this unprecedented time of “shelter in place,” we see images of employees working from their bedrooms, patios, and kitchens.
Whatever the protocol, security measures should be in place to secure the remote employees’ network access regardless of their physical location.
Remote employees have company provided workstations or laptops with secure VPN access to the company network. These devices can be fortified with the appropriate firewall and anti-virus software.
Many organisations also include security dongles as an added layer of protection. Some of these dongles connect using a USB drive; others provide a secure, onscreen key that changes every few minutes.
Team Collaboration Software
To strengthen the remote connections involved in team collaboration, document sharing applications such as Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, and Slack offer additional functionality for work products that require more than one author or creator.
File sharing is no longer a round-robin affair, going from one desktop to another by email or shared drive. Document sharing is collaborative and vital to production.
Through the use of cloud-based technology, multiple users can be in a document at one time. Every change is tracked, along with who made the change and when.
What’s more, version control is built-in. Teams can customise version control settings to meet their needs. Team leaders can have final approval over edits as well as deliver the completed document to stakeholders for official sign off.
Video Meeting Applications
Video meetings are more accessible than ever. What’s more, they are becoming simpler to use and more productive. Due to COVID-19, offices abruptly closed, and companies like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams made the basic versions of their video conferencing applications available to everyone at low or no cost.
The basic versions offer the same features of video conferencing, screen sharing, and audio-only dial-in, perhaps with a bit less bandwidth to meet the demand. Keep in mind that these essential features are all you need to accomplish your meeting goals. Of course, subscribing to the pro versions of these applications gives you more options.
With any video conferencing program (such as Adobe Connect, Webex, and BlueJeans, to name a few more), you can meet with customers or teams face to face.
Screen sharing allows everyone to see your presentation in real-time, and you can switch that feature over to another member to do the same. Participants who are on the road can dial in from their mobile phones using audio-only and can view the materials later.
Of course, any of these features apply to smaller meetings and even impromptu conversations between two or three co-workers. Now that video conferencing is advancing, remote employees can collaborate as they would if they were side by side in the office.
The Power Of Chat
Microsoft teams and many of the other applications already discussed have a chat feature that offers users a chance to communicate on the fly. Rather than swapping personal cell numbers, team members can participate in one-on-one or small group chats throughout the workday.
While other communication channels are best for file sharing and screen sharing, chat tools lend value by providing less formal, easy access to teammates.
In terms of building and maintaining team culture and rapport, this is invaluable. While chat is sometimes an overlooked feature, it can be a robust tool that promotes a feeling of ‘connectedness’ in a remote work environment.
Phone System Integration
Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows individuals to make online phone calls, with the option to add video. VoIP technology comes with Service as a Software (SaaS), which is a companion technology that allows an organisation to host the necessary software within a cloud. By doing so, managing remote teams is easier and more secure.
Securus Voice allows all employees, both remote and in-office, to be on the same phone platform. Even when a team member moves back and forth between working remotely, travelling, and in-company headquarters, phone connectivity remains the same.
As companies reach the point where they should either upgrade or replace their phone systems, more are choosing VoIP technology because it offers the highest levels of efficiency, productivity, and cost savings. It’s quickly becoming the accepted standard of business communication.
Thus far, we have discussed how Team Collaboration and VoIP technology works in conjunction with cloud technology. Cloud infrastructure allows employees to access all work resources from anywhere there is a secure internet connection.
In addition to seamlessly connecting your remote teams, cloud technology increases productivity and delivery times by up to 20% because all critical business applications are readily available on the cloud.
That also means an approximate 15% reduction in IT costs because IT staff no longer has to upgrade individual workstations. In this regard, a cloud-based infrastructure helps boost a company’s competitive edge.
FortiClient: Secure Remote Working
Here at Securus, we believe that the key to managing a remote workforce is security. We can help your network achieve greater efficiency and productivity by providing secure connectivity using several exciting Fortinet products.
FortiClient provides next-generation endpoint protection for your network. It’s an integrated system that provides automated, integrated endpoint protection, along with visibility and control of your entire network, from software to hardware.
FortiClient is a simplified endpoint management system that identifies and automatically remediates compromised hosts wherever they are. It ensures endpoint visibility and compliance throughout your security fabric, which prevents known and unknown attackers from breaching the system.
With FortiClient, you have secure remote access via SSL and IPSec VPN to both your office headquarters as well as your remote workforce. Here are some of FortiClient’s features and capabilities that we thoroughly recommend in greater detail.
1. Anti-Virus Protection
Fortinet provides advanced security technologies as part of its anti-virus protection arsenal, including artificial intelligence (AI). The system employs various types of AI that work together to form its security fabric.
AI provides global threat intelligence and advanced analytics to detect and respond to threats from all points of entry. The result is aggressive threat detection throughout your organisation that keeps one step ahead of an ever-accelerating threat landscape.
2. Malware Blocking
Often, endpoints are the target of initial attacks. FortiClient strengthens your endpoint security through integrated visibility and control, combined with proactive defence responses. With this functionality, you can identify, monitor, and assess endpoint risks immediately.
You can also maintain endpoint compliance and mitigate risks by reducing exposure. FortiClient defends your network against advanced attacks. It integrates with the Security Fabric and activates policy-based automation that contains threats.
3. Endpoint Visibility And Compliance
FortiClient goes beyond endpoint protection in terms of visibility and compliance. As an integrated solution, FortiClient contains three modules:
- Fabric Agent for security
- Fabric connectivity with the endpoint security modules
- Secure remote access modules.
Fabric Agent shares endpoint telemetry with the Security Fabric module. The pairing delivers broad endpoint visibility along with compliance control.
Fortinet SD-WAN: SoHo Protection
SD-WAN is another area where Securus provides key consultancy services.
As more companies turn to cloud-based applications for their business-critical functions, organisations with remote offices are switching wide-area networks (WANs) to Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN).
Fortinet SD-WAN solutions leverage the corporate WAN as well as multi-cloud connectivity. The results are high-speed application performance at the WAN Edge of the branch sites.
SD-WAN gives you centralised control, allowing you to determine and deploy the ideal route(s) for traffic, whether that be MPLS, 3G/4G/5G, or broadband. Users can quickly access cloud applications.
Fortinet’s secure SD-WAN solutions add much-needed security in a single, simplified offering.
When small office/home office (SOHO) worker sites have an SD-WAN firewall, standard hardware no longer fits the bill. Fortinet combines SD-WAN functionality with next-generation firewall security together in one box.
Fortinet offers full-SD-WAN features through its FortiGate next-generation firewall. These units reduce the costs of your WAN while also boosting your software security.
Fortinet firewalls for SD-WAN contain all the functionality you need to keep your operations secure across all your remote locations.
This solution is simple to deploy, affordable, and gives you a centralised management system through a single box for your security and networking operations. You can oversee your entire networking system, including authorised VPNs in your remote areas.
SD-WAN features are expanding and evolving to provide additional security and efficiency. Next are a few features that Fortinet can help you take advantage of the full solution.
1. Zero-Touch Provisioning
Zero-touch provisioning is a standard feature on SD-WAN devices. It configures the device automatically, right out of the box. The only requirement is an internet connection, which allows the device to connect and auto-configure.
Zero-touch provisioning does away with the old procedures involved in manually configuring branch office network equipment. You no longer need to bring the physical device into a staging area and then ship it to the remote location.
Now, the device is preconfigured using a template and sets itself up automatically once it arrives at its destination and makes an internet connection.
2. Application-Aware Routing
With application-aware routing, SD-WAN products can inspect traffic up to Layer 7. It can apply granular routing policies for specific applications.
For instance, use an application firewall to accept traffic on a particular port (layer 4) while blocking traffic with an identifiable vulnerability in higher layers, such as a malicious telnet command.
SD-WAN devices can identify up to 3,000 applications and recognise the performance requirements of each app. With this feature, companies can optimise telecom costs at granular levels.
The devices can monitor latency, delay, and jitter in real-time so that it can shift applications to the most efficient transport method. Such adaptable functionality is perfect for networks with remote access points that are not all consistent with one another.
3. Optimised Cloud Connectivity
One of SD-WAN’s most desirable benefits is cloud breakout, which enables you to connect branch office traffic to the cloud rather than back to the data centre. If you couple that with an IaaS, you can create a virtual instance of the SD-WAN router within the cloud. From there, administrators can measure the app’s performance.
The SD-WAN device connects with the nearest SaaS point of presence. It makes real-time decisions and chooses the best path. In some cases, performance improves by up to 40%.
4. Next-Generation Security
As more organisations embrace remote workers, more processes are migrating to the cloud and employing SaaS applications. Companies and security vendors must now consider an approach that covers the entire infrastructure.
SD-WAN plays a crucial role in next-generation security. Each SD-WAN branch expands a network’s attack surface. Thus, the chosen security solution must offer protection far beyond the data centre. It should include security architecture that enables centralised visibility and control.
Companies need a next-generation security solution that includes an IPSec VPN that spans multiple locations, web-filtering, an integrated NGFW, IPS, and high-speed SSL inspection performance.
5. Flexible Connection Options
An SD-WAN network can route traffic over multiple channels. Those channels include MPLS circuits, broadband, LTE, MPLS, 5G, and WIFI 6. The result is that your mobile workforce has a consistently efficient way of managing WAN connectivity and overhead. You can leverage more flexible broadband options at a lower cost.
Conclusion – End Of The Office?
The world’s concept of working from home has evolved steadily over the last decade. The current global crisis of COVID-19 has thrown millions of workers in the remote platform without much warning. Luckily, the needed technologies are in place. Now, it is a matter of navigating the learning curve for many professionals, including the IT teams that support them.
Providers such as Fortinet are ready to assist organisations in strengthening and expanding their networks so that remote workers and teams can work and collaborate seamlessly and securely.
Please get in touch to discuss your FortiClient and Fortinet SD-WAN requirements with us in more detail. We offer a completely free consultation with one of our WAN experts to fully go over your precise needs.
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