Tools for Telework in the New Era
In fiscal year 2020, 2 percent of federal employees were eligible to telework. Despite reports that agencies continue to make progress in using telework to support mission goals, relatively few agencies and employees truly embraced it — until recently. In a short span of time, agencies have been forced to allow virtually all employees to telework, at least temporarily. Today, agencies are reporting that upward of 90 percent of employees are working remotely. Some agencies have been more ready than others for the onslaught.
“In most cases, agencies were prepared to an extent, but not for people to work remotely for so long,” said Brett Schambow, a sales director at CDW•G focusing on the DoD. “We’re finding that most were doing well with laptops, desktops, displays and other hardware for employees to work from home. On the other hand, some were less prepared to deal with the challenges of bandwidth and secure access.”
Those functions — adequate bandwidth and secure access — are critical components for effective, safe work from home. Without them, everything is harder, from collaboration to efficiency to application access.
Bandwidth issues can affect not only the internet connection itself, but the speed with which employees can access information. It’s important to address these issues at both ends — at the end user and at the agency, says Patrick Porter, a business development professional at CDW•G. Agencies should perform some capacity modeling or analysis to determine what they need to handle the inevitable bottlenecks that will occur when supporting a larger, concurrent user base.
For end users, one of the best ways to address bandwidth problems is by upgrading employee access with enterprise-grade wireless technology. In addition to enabling employees to more efficiently use a
Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access agency networks, it will bode well for the future, he says.
“The right technology allows for more social distancing within and around federal buildings as they start to open up,” Porter says. “It will allow people to potentially sit outside in courtyards and around facilities and keep social distancing intact.”
Security is the other challenge. There is plenty of guidance to help agencies manage security in the era of telework, but it boils down to focusing on two major areas: the network and end-user devices. On the network side, it’s about securing networks in ways that take into account the vast numbers of users remotely accessing them. Securing end-user devices at this volume is equally important, and it is testing the limits for many agencies.
In the network arena, another important consideration for remote work is network capacity.
That includes capacity planning, updating bandwidth, and rearchitecting many of the core components within the data center to optimize how systems are communicating internally.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) also is becoming a popular option for remote work. Not only is it efficient with bandwidth versus traditional VPNs, but agencies have full control over what employees can access or do.
It’s not all about hardware and infrastructure, however. Fullscale telework requires upgraded collaboration tools. One large agency with worldwide locations, for example, found that it couldn’t provide its employees with the ability to communicate with each another outside the network. Working with CDW•G the agency implemented Microsoft Teams, a collaboration hub for Microsoft 365. When it proved successful, the agency decided to expand the implementation.
While these changes may be painful, they are necessary, and many agencies are making the best of the situation by upgrading their remote work infrastructure. “This is, to a certain extent, a new norm,” Schambow says. “It’s an opportunity for agencies to take a really hard look and prepare for the inevitable future.”