COVID-19 coronavirus a wake-up call regarding pandemic planning

We’ve received a couple of inquiries from clients about what they should be doing technologically in regards to preparing for a potential disruption in their workforce availability due to COVID-19, otherwise commonly known as “coronavirus”.

Fortunately, pandemic planning has been a “thing” for financial institutions for well over a decade.  We can recall the day in 2003 when many of the area’s financial institutions attended an industry event put on by the Massachusetts division of banks regarding the steps institutions should be taking in advance of the potential SARS pandemic. We received numerous calls from our clients asking how quickly they could implement a remote access system that can enable simultaneous use by at least 40% of their workforce. The idea being that some of their employees may not be able to come to work because they are the caretakers of sick family members, but they can work remotely enough to keep things moving forward.

At the time, that was a tall order, as most applications still resided on servers within the Local Area Network of the organization, so a remote access infrastructure was necessary. However, up to that point, financial institutions were reluctant to implement such solutions because of the extra security headaches associated with managing a remote work force.

However, in today’s environment, the good news is that the vast majority of all businesses have some form of remote access already in place. Some may leverage a remote access infrastructure to their legacy on-premise infrastructure. Many leverage software-as-a-service (SaaS) line-of-business applications accessed through the cloud, allowing for access from anywhere at any time. In addition, many business communication platforms are also powered by the cloud, such as email through an Office365 subscription, and group collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Slack. In addition, many businesses abandoned traditional on-premise PBX phone systems in favor of hosted VoIP solutions which untether workers from the desk phones in their office.

As you start to put together a pandemic preparedness plan for your organization, we suggest you take the following considerations into account if you are going to consider expanding work-from-home options:

  • Put together a list of which users you want to be sure have remote access capabilities as part of your pandemic preparedness plan. Be sure to review who is or isn’t already setup with remote access, and contact us to see if we need to recommend any expansion of the system to enable remote access for more users, if necessary.
  • Be sure to leverage Multi-Factor Authentication for remote workers. Just because you may feel rushed to provide access is no excuse for ignoring security best-practice.
  • Leverage collaboration platforms for a more productive work-from-home experience. Many businesses leverage Microsoft Office365 for hosted email, and nearly every subscription also includes the ability to leverage Microsoft Teams as a collaboration platform. If you haven’t had the time to build out a test environment and start adoption, make the time as part of your pandemic planning task list and there’s no time like the present.
  • Make sure users are familiar with configuration options for their VoIP phones. Most systems offer features like find-me-follow-me which allow a user to have their office phone ring in a second location, such as a cell phone or home phone when working remotely. However, our experience is most users don’t leverage such features, nor do they remember how to access the portal to setup these settings. Now’s the time to be sure all users understand how to update their phone configurations in case there is a need.

Now is the time to get busy with your plan. When we talk about security, we often use the phrase “have a plan, stick to the plan, keep calm and compute on”. The same can be said about pandemic planning.