The COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass disruption to almost every industry, with higher education experiencing some of the greatest impacts. With very little warning, colleges and universities were forced to move their students, faculty and staff off campus and continue their operations in a fully remote environment.
Many schools have some form of online education, albeit rudimentary and not scalable, but none have operated a school with no one on campus. This reality has left many schools reeling as they try to figure out how to comply with government orders to close campuses while continuing to educate their students and perform essential business functions.
4 Technology considerations to enable a fully remote workforce
Having the technology required to operate in a fully virtual world, coupled with 24×7 technology support, will determine how quickly your workforce becomes effective and productive in this new environment. The following critical areas should be a priority as you make this transition.
1. Computer devices
Unless laptops are standard issues for all employees, it will take extra planning and effort to ensure staff has the computer devices needed to securely access business systems, therefore this is a critical first step. If possible, institutions should provide school issued computers that are configured with the standard applications and security protections. To accomplish this, you could consider repurposing laptops that were previously used in classrooms/labs or assisting employees with taking their desktops home so they can remain productive until a laptop is available.
There is currently a shortage of laptops and accessories (webcams, headsets, etc.) in the market so it may take time to acquire the necessary equipment, therefore some schools will be left with no choice but to allow employees to use their personal devices to access business systems. It is important to understand the data security risk this approach introduces. If you are in this position, be sure to take the time to implement important security software on all devices.
In either scenario, it is vital that these devices stay patched and upgraded to ensure the on-going protection of your systems and data. This may require additional technologies and protocols since not all devices will be connected to the network on a regular basis, which may be necessary in order to “push” patches to computers.
2. Secure access to business systems
Many of the software applications used in higher education are cloud-based and can easily be accessed via the Internet, but some will require a virtual private network (VPN) connection. Your network and infrastructure teams should immediately review hardware and software capacity. It is likely that they will need to increase limits since networks weren’t typically designed to support all users working remotely at the same time.
As mentioned previously, extra caution should be applied to ensure that access to confidential student and school data is protected, which may require additional software installed on machines. If you are relying on your staff to access such systems from their personal devices, it is likely those devices do not have the same security software as your school owned equipment. Consider deploying a CASB (Cloud Access Service Broker) solution to any personal devices that will be accessing business systems to enforce the appropriate protocols on their devices and protect your sensitive data.
3. Virtual collaboration tools
Staying connected with your constituents during this time is vitally important. There are fantastic tools being used by many schools for teaching and learning – now is the time to evangelize the use of this technology for staff members to collaborate real-time with each other. Consider implementing an institution-wide chat tool that allows your staff to quickly connect about daily business activities. Providing this avenue will increase productivity and help avoid a severe uptick in email communication.
Implementing video or web conferencing can also be a valuable way to maintain connection while in a remote environment. Face-to-face engagement is critical, so having the ability to use video for group meetings can help increase productivity and comfort during times when your constituents are displaced across cities or even different states.
For your admissions teams and others who rely heavily on their telephones to conduct business, you might also consider installing “soft” phones on their computers. This software allows calls to be made in the same fashion as they would on their school phone, including the same caller identification/branding.
4. 24×7 virtual tech support
While your onsite technology teams may have historically done a great job providing technology support, the move to a remote environment requires a new way of operating. During this time, expect your IT help desks to be flooded with questions about connecting remotely, accessing systems, setting up virtual meetings, resetting passwords, etc.
It is critical that technology support is available any time/any day to help with these challenges and give your employees a sense of security knowing they have access to get the help needed to do their jobs. The tools your IT team uses and the protocols they follow to provide support will inevitably have to shift to support this new 24×7, remote environment. For some it’s not feasible to manage this level of support internally and schools should therefore consider engaging with a partner for some or all of this work.
Maintaining continuity in staff productivity
Even as physical campuses close, institutions are not stalling efforts to maintain educational access and opportunities. Empowering your workforce in a remote environment will be crucial to continuity, productivity and engagement.
Collegis Education is here to support the higher education community as it navigates the challenges of moving to a virtual, online workforce. Our solutions can seamlessly integrate with your current support teams and tools to ensure your staff and students have the technology support they need, when they need it.
If you are seeking guidance or recommendations for personalized solutions, reach out to us – we are here to support our community during these unprecedented times. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org today.