Remote Access: Insurance Against Flu Season Woes

Worried that a flu outbreak will put your small business on life support? A remote access solution can help to keep affected workers productive -- while also keeping them safely at home.
Worried that a flu outbreak will put your small business on life support? A remote access solution can help to keep affected workers productive -- while also keeping them safely at home.Many companies are more worried than usual about the impact that a flu pandemic might have on their bottom lines. Whether or not it really turns out to be as bad as some experts predict, one thing is clear: This is no time for companies to tolerate -- much less to encourage -- employees to "tough it out" and show up to work when they're sick.

I realize that is easier said than done, especially for firms with lots of customer-facing positions where there is no alternative to face-to-face contact. When alternatives exist, however -- even if they cost your company money in the short run -- it is better to accept them than to risk making a serious health problem even worse than it needs to be.

The challenge is finding the right technology to help flu-proof your small business. That means enabling employees to work from home without hindering either their productivity or your company's IT security.

As a recent Network World article illustrates, larger firms are already investing a great deal of time and effort to implement secure remote access solutions that will help them ride out the H1N1 storm. The problem is that many remote access technologies require authentication software, VPN appliances, and other components that simply don't match up well with smaller firms' limited budgets and overtaxed IT support resources.

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That is why Web-based remote access services offer such an important alternative for small and midsized firms. I'm thinking here in terms of a few vital issues:

- Cost-effective scalability. Obviously, it is impossible to know just how many employees might require remote access as part of a flu-related crisis management plan. By implementing a software-as-a-service remote access solution, your company can add precisely the capabilities it requires to deal with a crisis without over-investing in expensive on-site infrastructure and IT support.

- Robust security. Web-based remote access services employ a gateway-based approach that implements robust, reliable security. A small business doesn't have to deal with configuring its firewalls, Internet gateways, or other security systems, which means that it also doesn't run the risk of accidentally exposing internal network resources to potential security threats.

- Real-world productivity advantages. Employees don't plan to get sick, which means they also don't plan to work at home. A telecommuting strategy isn't as likely to bear fruit unless the documents and applications sitting on an employee's work desktop are accessible on a moment's notice. With a Web-based remote access solution, any Internet-enabled laptop or desktop PC is all an employee needs to get the documents they need, when they need them.

There is one problem that these solutions can't address: a lack of preparation. Your company needs to weigh its remote access options and to pick a solution now -- not when half of the office is sitting at home sick. It needs to establish a business relationship with a provider, understand what types of service options and what sort of fee structure is involved. And it needs to begin working with that provider's solution in order to get comfortable with it and to address any potential support issues before they cause problems.

If a flu outbreak turns into a full-fledged public health crisis, many companies will clearly face serious consequences. That is precisely why remote-access contingency planning is so vital; in a pinch, it could spell the difference between success and failure for companies that are already dealing with more than their share of economic challenges.

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