• Managing remote workers

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    SMALL BUSINESS COMPUTING By Amy Babinchak These past few weeks have been difficult on everyone, but they’re taking an additional toll on IT profession
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    • #2240539

      Why are VPN and RDP almost always treated as separate solutions?   RDP is pretty famous for being less than secure, so why not run RDP over a VPN?   Particularly for a newly minted home-worker, this seems a lot better than trying to put a work computer in everyone’s home: All the apps are already installed and work just as the worker is used to them working.   There is less chance (not no chance) of information leakage.  This uses a comparatively small amount of bandwidth.   With the whole family at home, there’s going to be a demand for bandwidth at home that has nothing to do with working from home.

      “Define what constitutes an acceptable home office” needs to be presented as a goal, not a demand.  Your newly homebound workers are not too likely to have an unused space to dedicate to a home office they did not sign up to furnish.

      “Assess whether an individual has what it takes to work from home effectively” can be taken a couple of  ways:

      • Stuff (equipment, bandwidth, space, etc.)  At least some of these can be addressed by the employer if it’s really committed to effective work from home.  With the increasing reliance on cell phones,  there’s a real possibility that some employees (particularly ones at the lower end of the salary table) simply don’t have internet service beyond their cell phone’s hot spot capability.  Is that fast enough and does the employer reimburse the extra data costs, if any?  Even “unlimited” plans may have fine print about slowing after so many GB of data each billing period and the like.  (I have yet to figure how Verizon has four different “unlimited” data plans!)
      • Mental.  This is a lot more subjective.  You cover very well the fact that some folks are just not cut out to work from home.   Does the employer have the inclination and resources to coach a former cube dweller to become a free-range worker?  What happens if the employee can’t make the transition, even with coaching, for whatever reason?

      Thank you!



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      • #2252345

        I agree that RDP should only be used over VPN and further that the VPN should be locked to only RDP ports.  But to your question, why are they talked about separately? Because unfortunately that is how people implement them most often. As you and I know, it can be done better.

        Personally I wish that everyone would shift to using laptops that could move from work to home and be dedicated to the purpose.

        As an aside your assumption that it’s lower wage workers that don’t have Internet at home would have been mine too. But our experience while getting our clients setup to work from home, is that it’s actually the top end of workers and business owners that don’t have Internet at home. I’m left to wonder if there’s an elitist thing I’m not aware of. Took my totally by surprise

        • #2252366

          One of the best things to happen to RDP in the last few years is the ability to connect via encrypted TLS 1.2/1.3 over HTTPS using public strong certificates + plus the addition of MFA for remote workers.

          Forget VPN and the double step connection mess to continue with RDP. This also mitigates the VPN security nightmare that happens on small networks when an unmanaged remote machine connects to your server shares.

          ~ Group "Weekend" ~

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    • #2240550

      Addendum to the above:  There are RDP clients for OS, IOS and Android, in addition to Windows.  Likewise, there’s a good chance there are VPN clients for your firewall or other VPN connection point for all platforms as well.

      I’ve used RDP over VPN on iPhones, Android phones and tablets and Apple laptops as well as Windows.

      The only real differences are in the client OS interface in how you get connected and how you can interact with the host computer once you do.  (IO doesn’t have a 3 button mouse; IOS and Android generally don’t have mice, etc.).

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      • #2252346

        Oh let’s not encourage the use of VPN over iOS or Android. Businesses are having enough trouble getting productivity out of these home workers. Not having the right equipment at home is going to become a differentiator as business move from let’s wait this out into layoffs.

    • #2240567

      “Successful work-from-home staff need a dedicated workspace that’s quiet and free from distractions such as child care, pets, family interruptions, and various other background noise.”
      That is all very well if you are recruiting someone to work-from-home on a regular basis, but the current situation is very different.
      In the UK (and I assume the USA is much the same) schools and child-minders are shut except for the children of essential workers who cannot work from home.
      Your pet will expect attention whilst you are at home, and will not realise that you are working from home because of a lockdown and cannot give it that attention.
      Whilst most people would think twice before ringing their partner about something trivial during working hours, the situation is very different if the partner is in the next room, or even sitting alongside them at the same dining table!
      Some people prefer absolute quiet as the best working environment whilst other prefer music (of various styles), and this is even more the case if there are children in the house.
      This means that even people who normally work from home will have distractions such as child care, pets, family interruptions, and various other background noise in the current lockdown.
      The boss cannot just say “You are going to work-from-home during the lockdown, and must have a dedicated workspace that’s quiet and free from distractions such as child care, pets, family interruptions, and various other background noise.” They need to say “You are going to work-from-home during the lockdown, and I realise you will have distractions such as child care, pets, family interruptions, and various other background noise. How can I enable you to be as productive as possible (hardware, software changes in your work), or is that impossible and I should put you on furlough during the lockdown?”

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      • #2252347

        Deciding how much less productivity to absorb is going to be top of mind for businesses in the USA starting now. As I write this, it the the first Monday of a new month of work from home. I’m not disagreeing with you at all. This point in time, there are a lot of exceptions but in the long run, not everyone is going back to the office and businesses need 100% productivity from those home workers and to get there they have to decide what an acceptable home office looks like.

    • #2240935

      Excellent and very thorough article.

      In my opinion, Office 365 Business Premium (or whatever Microsoft is now calling it) is an excellent choice for remote work. It can be installed on up to five computers, which means that the user can install it on his home computer as well as it being on his office computer. Once installed, everything, including Outlook, works exactly like the programs installed on the office computer. For example, your email is immediately and completely available when you are working from home.

      Of course, a fully-functional web version of the software is available via the internet.

      Group "L" (Linux Mint)
      with Windows 8.1 running in a VM
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      • #2252438

        … you still need to transfer or sync the content though, so “immediately and completely” is only after the sync is finished, every time the content changes. Or alternatively transfer on demand only and accept that you’ll have to wait for the transfer at that point.

        So, depends on connectivity and where your data is.

        I have a fairly decent VDSL line here but all the kids being on video lessons and transferring assignments and such does cause some load… and yes, they’re on 365 Education A1 and whatever.

        Also my work doesn’t trust my home PC, the work PC is separate and… well not on 365 anyway, after I changed jobs earlier this year.

        (Distractions, yes… oh well, same for everyone, my boss has kids and dogs too.)

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