Back to the office: Tech tips for a successful COVID-19 restart
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to change how they do business quickly. Over the course of four days, Plante Moran temporarily closed all 25 of its U.S. and international offices and set up 3,200+ staff to work remotely. Other companies are changing entire business models. General Motors and Ford Motor Company, to name two, are retooling facilities to build ventilators instead of cars.
Many organizations have moved operations to a full or partial remote telework environment with staff accessing company resources and systems from home. In some cases, normal operational policies and standards have been relaxed to allow staff to use personal computers, phones, and other devices to bridge technology gaps.
Now, as states begin to relax shelter-in-place restrictions and organizations plan to restart operations, it’s time to review these decisions and put the necessary technology and personnel plans in place so that staff can return to the to the office. Here are some strategies to consider.
A business resumption team should start planning and strategizing how to resume office operations safely and securely for your most important asset — its people.
It’s important to identify and assign individuals to check the physical security, administrative, and environmental controls of the office building before employees return. Key questions they’ll need to answer include:
- Is the roster for authorized personnel (such as employees and contractors) for building security current and up to date?
- Is the workplace properly secured to restrict access to only authorized personnel, and do controls such as locks and badge readers still work? A workplace should make a plan to reactivate badges and check to see if they’ve exceeded their expiration date.
- Is the workplace environmentally ready to house the returning workforce? Checklist items include power, water, fire suppression systems, and smoke detectors.
- Is a process in place to vet returning personnel to ensure they’re healthy and COVID-19-free?
- Is social distancing (a new norm) in place for common work areas?
We recommend a phased approach to allow time to work out issues that may arise. Perhaps start with the IT department, followed by HR the following week. Where possible, prioritize departments that support the most critical business processes.
Next, organizations should review the changes of policies and procedures by a mandated remote working environment. Will the changes still apply when staff return to the office? Will additional updates need to be made? Some key process considerations include:
- What is the plan for staff to use personal devices (BYOD) to access company resources? Will use of these devices be eliminated?
- What is the plan to ensure local documents on personal devices are stored on the appropriate company resource?
- What measures will be taken to delete sensitive and confidential data from personal technology used during the work-from-home period?
- What administrative policy changes should be made to the work-from-home program to align with the new normal?
Prepare a plan for a phased transition to reduce or eliminate BYOD. This includes instructions on how to move or copy company documents back to approved resources such as SharePoint or a secure file sharing portal and to check that the documents synced properly before deleting the local copy. Additional steps should be taken to identify and ensure adequate removal of sensitive and confidential data from nonapproved devices or locations.
Returning to the office will change an organization’s logging and monitoring network activity baseline. Reassessing monitoring solutions and the thresholds for triggering alerts ensures the detection and reduction of potential malicious activity and the number of false positives.
If the organization didn’t have a remote work program for employees before COVID-19, you may want to offer it as a full- or part-time (e.g. one day a week) benefit after returning to the office.
When preparing for the restart phase, it’s important to reassess the technology that was used in a remote operating environment and determine whether and how it should be permanently integrated into the networked environment. Interim solutions may be necessary to facilitate a smooth transition as temporary solutions are disbanded. Key questions include:
- What infrastructure and technology changes will be required to support the transition back to a state of normalcy?
- How should the organization handle returned company assets and repurpose computer equipment and technology that was issued for the work-from-home environment? It may make sense for employees to keep the technology at home in the event of a new wave of the pandemic.
- Will the organization continue to support and pay for tools and licenses needed for all employees to access resources remotely such as VPN, collaboration software, Office 365, or mobile applications?
- How will the organization manage the backup and retention of data before sanitizing devices? This is particularly important for privileged and protected data on work-from-home devices that may be subject to federal and state privacy regulations. Ensure the backups are tested to ensure they work.
Organizations face a great deal of uncertainty about when and how they’ll emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. A successful restart of operations needs careful planning and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Our COVID-19 task force is standing by to help.