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Remote access dos and don’ts: Reap the benefits, not the risks

Iain Ferguson
Business and Technology Journalist

Iain is a freelance writer and editor with extensive experience in journalism and corporate communications.

Iain Ferguson
Business and Technology Journalist

Iain is a freelance writer and editor with extensive experience in journalism and corporate communications.

Mobile technology has transformed the way many businesses and employees connect, collaborate and carry out their work. But, as with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to manage remote access within your business.

Giving workers access to data and applications from outside the office can provide a clear competitive advantage for your business. However, to realise these benefits, you need to develop a plan that details the risks, rewards and practical steps required to implement remote access. 

Image shows a man sitting at a laptop computer in his home office. The right remote access strategy can improve your business.

This plan needs to address a range of questions, including (but not limited to): What job roles can benefit most from remote access? How can my business secure and control remote access to its data and applications? How can my business ensure that remote access provides the same opportunities for collaboration and productivity as in-office workers enjoy?

 Even if you already allow employees to work remotely, it’s not too late to develop a plan to mitigate risks, optimise workflows and identify exactly how your business benefits. 

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Agree on the reasons for remote access

The success of any strategy depends on having clearly defined goals that everyone can agree on. Therefore, the first step should be to review the rewards of remote access for your business, ideally in consultation with your employees. After all, they will be the ones using the new remote access and achieving these benefits will rely on how the team adopts the new processes, so everyone should be positively invested in the outcome. 

Possible benefits for employees may include:

  • Lower travel cost for workers who access data and applications from home for a few days per month      
  • The potential for more flexible working arrangements, creating a better work/life balance 

Possible benefits for businesses may include:

  • Less pressure on office floor space and resources, reducing overheads and other routine business expenses 
  • Productivity improvements due to boosting worker engagement and satisfaction  
  • The opportunity to work with skilled employees and contractors regardless of their location.

Demonstrating how these benefits align with broader business goals – such as improving the bottom line – may also help in gaining support for remote access from other members of your team. 

Remote access security

Once the case for remote access is approved, you should address the security of the relevant technologies and develop clear policies to minimise risk.

This involves ruling out or applying very strict rules governing the use of relatively insecure networks, such as public Wi-Fi or hotel Ethernet connections. Workers who use these networks may expose business computers, smartphones and tablets – as well as the data accessed through them – to malicious individuals. 

By contrast, security-aware and educated workers can use a virtual private network (VPN) for safe remote access. When selecting the VPN that best meets the needs of your business, you may apply criteria such as:

  • Does the VPN incorporate robust authentication and encrypt traffic to minimise the risk to sensitive data?      
  • Which workers need access to the VPN to perform their roles and under what circumstances? (For example, VPN usage policies should prohibit ‘always open’ access to view emails)      
  • What passwords and passphrases should workers be able to use when gaining access to a VPN?
  • Confirming all devices used to access the VPN have up-to-date anti-malware systems and patched software.

Smooth online collaboration

Another point to consider is how remote access can maintain or even improve productivity by enabling workers to collaborate effectively when out of the office. Cloud-based applications can deliver this capability to both fixed and mobile devices.  

However, you need to be confident that the adopted applications meet the needs of all groups (workers, system administrators and senior management) affected by remote access. Some of the features to look for include:  

  • Support for secure internal and external sharing of documents across authorised tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, as well as desktop PCs      
  • Enabling the synchronisation of folders and desktops, making it easy to share and collaborate on files too large for any email workflow.     
  • Allow the creation of documents on one device, with seamless handover to continue editing on another without versioning issue.      
  • Providing controls over permissions to prevent unauthorised access and delivering reports and audit capabilities. 

These tips cover just some of the considerations when enabling remote access at your business. If you carefully plan and execute your remote access strategy, you are positioning your business to improve its people, performance and profits.

Originally published June 14th, 2017. Updated March 4, 2019.    

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