By MARTY HOOPER
As more and more cities, states and the federal government restrict gatherings during this current coronavirus crisis, many companies are making the decision to have their employees work from home.
This is especially trying for construction companies. With a mix of office staff, field personnel and folks who work in both the office and field, how to limit personal contact but still keep your employees working is a challenge. The first obstacle is gaining network access for office personnel from home.
There are a few ways to access your work network from remote locations. The quickest way to get up and running from home is to install SSL VPN access on your company’s firewall. This allows users to login to the network through a secure tunnel and access resources. The only drawback is that accessing large documents or databases may be slow since a lot of data is flowing back and forth across the Internet. Even though it is through a secure tunnel, the lag time tends to make remote VPN access non-workable.
You can also access the VPN and then connect to your desktop using Remote Desktop. That’s a service built into Windows that allows users to access their work desktop that is inside the network from home. It’s a little clunky since you have to login to the VPN and then login to your desktop. It also requires some setup before it will all work. That solves the lag problem since you are working from your desktop and just basically sharing the screen. Of course, that doesn’t work for people who have a laptop and take that home with them.
The best and most efficient way to access company documents and resources may be to move to the Cloud. Instead of being restricted to a local server and having to find a way to access from a remote location, moving all of your server functions to the Cloud means 24/7 access to all of the resources your employees have now from anywhere in the world with Internet access.
Cloud servers are just as secure as a local server. In fact, with the right security in place, they can be more secure. The same access rules can apply. Your employees can access the documents and programs that they are allowed to access, just like on your local network. While workers are at the office, they access the Cloud the same way, so that when it’s time to work remotely, there’s not any additional setup, education or training that needs to happen.
The major concern from companies who have not moved to the Cloud is, “What if our Internet goes down? Then we can’t work?” While that is a legitimate concern, with the reliability of most high-speed internet providers, that’s rarely an issue. If it does occur, there are a couple of ways to make sure your people can work. A backup Internet service is one way, so that if your primary ISP goes down, your network will switch automatically to the backup. Most folks may not realize that they can also use their cell phone as a hotspot and share that with their computer. One of the great features of the Cloud, if set up properly, is that the data and processing remains in the Cloud. So, accessing it and working from the Cloud uses very little cellular data.
One of other benefits of cloud computing is the hardware cost. Since cloud servers are all virtual, there is no expensive hardware to buy up front and then replace every five years or so. Maintenance costs can be less as well, since there is no actual hardware to maintain and troubleshoot. It’s all virtual so no hard drives, memory, network adapters, etc. are vulnerable to failure as in a local server environment. Most major cloud providers have redundant data centers so no matter if large segments of the Internet are affected by an outage, users can access their data from one of the redundant servers.
Moving to the Cloud can also benefit your field personnel. With the right cloud setup, project managers and supervisors can access job plans, drawings, work orders, change orders and job assignments from remote laptops, tablets and even cell phones. That way, jobs can be managed without coming back into the office. Most systems also allow your employees to submit time and expenses remotely without the need to travel back to the office with receipts and time sheets. Not only does that help protect your work force during a crisis, but it can also pay dividends in increased productivity – no matter what the current climate is.
Talk to your managed service provider to see if the Cloud is right for your company. Your provider may not be able to get you up and running in the Cloud for this crisis, but you will be better prepared for whatever the future holds.
Marty Hooper, regional account executive for Common Sense Solutions, has been helping businesses grow for more than 15 years by managing all of their technology. The past six years, Hooper has specifically focused on IT in the construction industry. Contact Marty at 314.720.8312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.