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12/2/2009
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Can You Support Remote Workers In Case Of Flu Outbreak?

With the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention this week reporting widespread H1N1 flu outbreaks in 32 states, many companies are dealing with or anticipating the need for staff to work remotely in the months ahead. This can present a challenge for IT organizations that haven't in the past dealt with large numbers of remote workers.

With the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention this week reporting widespread H1N1 flu outbreaks in 32 states, many companies are dealing with or anticipating the need for staff to work remotely in the months ahead. This can present a challenge for IT organizations that haven't in the past dealt with large numbers of remote workers.But whether it's the flu or another crisis that prevents workers from getting into the office, companies can take steps to be prepared supporting remote staff in a pinch.

"Whether it's a chemical spill on I-95 that prevents workers from coming to work, a flood, or swine flu, supporting remote workers is part of disaster recovering planning" for most companies, says Nick Cavalancia, VP of Windows Management at ScriptLogic, a subsidiary of Quest Software and provider or desktop and security management products.

Desktop management tools, virtualized desktop infrastructures, and hosted desktop environments can be configured in advance to support telework, allowing users to be productive even when they didn't anticipate working out of the office, said Cavalancia.

Remote support solutions that allow users at home using their own PCs or mobile company-owned computers to connect to office systems can help enable telework on the fly, he said.

That includes products that allow users to connect to corporate VPNs and access desktop applications they'd normally use while in the office, while restricting access to other corporate systems. For instance, "you wouldn't want to provide access to the payroll system" to users working remotely with a home PC, he said.

When preparing to support remote users, IT administrators should conduct a hardware and software inventory to determine if employees are equipped to work remotely and what applications they'll need to use. Software tools that can quickly configure remote workers access to desktop applications can help.

Other factors to consider when preparing for staff to work remotely include assessing whether specific jobs can be performed from outside the office and whether employees' homes or remote work locations have broadband access.

Fears about swine might spotlight the need for preparedness in supporting remote users, but for many organizations, planning for the unexpected is well, not unexpected.

Orange County United Way ramps up its plans to support additional remote users every December, said Christian Metz, director of IT at the Orange County, Calif. non-profit organization. Not only is the end of the year a time when United Way sees a spike in charitable donations, it's also often a time when more staff members are out due to sickness or vacation time, he said in an interview with InformationWeek.

Metz's organization for about 2-1/2 years has been using Desktop Authority, a desktop management tool from ScriptLogic. The software allows remote users to log in to the VPN and quickly but securely "access the desktop applications they'd normally use," said Metz. The software saves times for IT administrators when users need to work remotely, while providing the users "with the desktop experience" they'd expect working in an office, he said.

"Whether it's supporting one or a thousand users, it won't take any more time" to get the users productively working remotely using the Desktop Authority tools, he said.

While having the ability to support remote workers during a crisis should be part of disaster planning, apparently not all organizations are fully prepared--including government agencies.

A study last May of 307 employees in more than 30 federal agencies by the public-private group Telework Exchange found that only 26% of respondents noted that their agency incorporates telework into their continuity of operations planning related to flu pandemics.

Meanwhile, just 26% of respondents said they'd definitely show up for work if H1N1 cases were reported in their office.

Is your organization ready to support teleworkers in a crisis?



Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and a range of large and small healthcare providers are using mobile apps to improve care and help patients manage their health. Find out how. Download the report here (registration required).

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