Whether you are a large corporate client or a small to medium sized business every company faces the challenge of not knowing exactly how to deliver the right home working solution.

You have made the decision to make remote and flexible working a permanent feature of your organisation. You understand the challenges that exist making remote working available to everyone. You know you don’t have the skills and experience in house to make this work and are looking for support.

This is the ultimate guide to making home and flexible working permanent.  In this article we will show you

  1. How to manage the health and safety considerations of remote working
  2. How to change your infrastructure to manage remote work
  3. How to adapt your support to manage flexible working
  4. How to build a business case to justify the program
  5. A high-level implementation plan to deliver remote working

We will provide a step by step guide for each of these topics to help guide you through this project.  

If you have not yet made the decision to make remote working permanent, please read our articles “Flexible and remote working can save you £10,000 per employee” and “How to become a remote working and flexible working pioneer”

How to manage the health and safety considerations of remote working

In our previous articles we discussed what the practical considerations were for ensuring your remote working employees physical and mental health.  A lot of organisations are now offering remote assessments for employers to use which is a great starting point.

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Figure 1 – Display Screen Equipment assessment at a glance

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The question then is what does the employer do with that information?   The key areas to consider are
  • Job security and lifestyle: Does the employee have a routine to follow?  Are they time focussed, or outcome focussed?
  • Confidence and productivity: Can the employee manage work remotely? Do they know how to break work down into daily deliverables and schedule time with colleagues?
  • Do they have a workspace? Whether a permanent space or not is the employee aware of the need for natural light, temperature control and frequent movement?
  • Engagement and support: Are you communicating regularly with employees based on their personality and are you fostering a sense of support and community?
  • Equipment and support: From having the right IT and office equipment to the availability of a reliable home network, do they know what to check and how to ask for support?

As an example, the HSE DSE checklist1 states that screens must swivel and tilt?  What if the screens don’t swivel and tilt?  What if the screen is not at eye level?  What if the chair is not ergonomically designed? 

As part of the support you must provide do you have a reliable service provider to supply these answers and the equipment?     

What you need is a service provider who can virtually perform the assessment with your teams and make recommendations about changes that can delivered during the virtual assessment.  Any additional requirements need to be summarised, fully costed with specifications and sent to you for approval.

How to change your infrastructure to manage remote work

Extending your infrastructure to remote employees with 2 weeks’ notice was always going to be a challenge. But if you have decided to make remote and flexible work a permanent policy you will have a separate set of challenges.

Online security

Cyber threats are very real. With more people working remotely and working from home the number of threats targeted at individuals has increased 300%.  

Whether you believe “it will never happen to me” or you are “completely paranoid” about cyber security, it should be your second consideration after the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees.  We list common cyber security threats here.

Rather than discuss the differences in cyber security solutions here are twenty questions to determine your risk profile.  

  1. Can you access a full list of devices accessing your network?
  2. Do you know how many unauthorised devices are accessing your network?
  3. Are all devices patched in less than 24 hours?
  4. Are all devices managed with Rule Based Access Controls?
  5. Is privileged access only granted on managed devices?
  6. Do you use software information and event management software?
  7. Is a vulnerability report issued each week to the executive team?
  8. Has the business removed all legacy software?
  9. Does all software have multi factor authentication?
  10. Does the organisation have a disaster recovery solution?
  11. Is the frequency of data back up from all devices based on priority?
  12. Does the organisation have firewall?
  13. Does the organisation have end point detection software?
  14. Is end point detection software installed on all devices?
  15. Does the organisation use the same provider for all cyber security applications?
  16. Does the organisation use multi factor authentication on all devices?
  17. Does the business adopt zero trust security policies?
  18. Does the business delete inactive accounts within 24 hours?
  19. Have all employees completed a security awareness training programme?
  20. Does the organisation regularly include cyber security information to employees?

How to score.

If the answer is Yes, score = 0

If the answer is no or don’t know, score = 1

Results

Zero to 5: Well done. Focus on those areas you answered “no”

6 – 15:  Medium risk; Work with your IT teams to review your procedures

15+: High Risk; There is a high probability your systems can be compromised.

If you scored higher 6 – 15 then ask your IT team or vendor to review the following areas within your business.

Review and remove your IP whitelisting for cloud account access from remote devices

  1. Remove legacy applications that do not sustain MFA
  2. Ensure your solutions authenticate BOTH the device and the user on the network to determine permission levels
  3. Assess the costs of installing end point detection and response
  4. Review your end point controls and ensure they are fit for purpose.

If you scored 15+ ask your IT team or vendor to review the following areas within your business.

  1. Extend your end point hardening standards on to personal devices
  2. Patches may not be reaching personal devices and patches must be applied within 24-hour hours
  3. No personal devices to be used for privileged accounts.
  4. Install end point detection and resolution on all company issued and personal devices.

Telephony Network

If employees are now expected to use their mobile devices for calls instead of office phones, then call costs can be expected to increase 400% adding significant cost into your business.

Several options are open to you to manage excessive call costs. 

  1. Move all calls to online applications. Internet calls are lot cheaper than regular phone calls, and they are significantly cheaper than using a mobile phone.  The difference is particularly evident when making a phone call to an overseas destination.  
  • Switch to VOIP telephony. For those who don’t want to video call or need to use their laptop or mobile device whilst working then a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) calling is the most cost-effective way to manage outbound calls.  With crystal clear call quality, VOIP “softphone” which is a mobile device version of the VOIP phone can be installed on mobile devices and used in place of both mobile and landline calls and you can expect to save a minimum of 25% to 50% off your call charges. 
  • Pay a percentage of employees’ home phone bill. This is a bit of an 80s solution and most employees will not want to send their employers a copy of the phone bill.  Employers do not want to have the administrative extra burden of paying out individual expenses for each employee every month.

Several VOIP providers exist who can supply access to a VOIP line for your employees. Providers include 3CX, Xinix4 and Grandstream.  

Hardware

Hardware is obviously essential for working remotely.  If it is company policy to supply any of the hardware, then it must be set up correctly in the employees’ home.   If it is not company policy to supply them then a service provider can supply and configure these for your employees against a set budget.

The four essentials

Laptop

  • Processor: Intel i5 or i7, AMD’s Ryzen 5 2500 or Intel’s i3 at the lowest end

•     RAM: 8GB minimum

•     Storage: an SSD with 256GB of storage minimum, some machines may also come with large capacity traditional HDD too

  • Look for a discrete graphics card made by Nvidia or AMD if you work in a creative content industry, such as photo or video editing or similar.

Webcam

  • Webcams are built into most laptops and tablets, but if you have a desktop or external monitor you might need one now that everyone’s switching to video calls

Desk

  • We recommend sit stand desks. They encourage more movement and provide the flexibility needed for a truly ergonomic workspace. Electric standing desks have been the norm in Scandinavian offices for decades. In Denmark, it’s mandatory to offer desk-based employees a height adjustable desk.  They have long appreciated the importance of movement and ergonomics, that allow individuals the ability to regularly adjust their working height whether standing, sitting or perching

Chair

  • Chairs are very much a personal choice, like choosing a bed.  If you are choosing a sit stand desk, then consider full height adjustment of the saddle seat from sitting to standing positions whether working at a standard desk height or higher standing desk.

You will need.

  • Easy adjustment of height, seat depth, back adjustment and tilt tension
  • Inspires movement and new sitting positions – forwards, sideways and backwards
  • Encourages an upright sitting posture and a natural curvature in the lower back
  • Suitable for all working surfaces with a height of 72cm and higher

Three optional extras include

  • Monitor

You will need a monitor arm (consider how many monitors are needed) and look for a minimum screen size of 32 inches and minimum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160.  It is possible to increase size and resolution based on the type of work.

  • Keyboard

The keyboard is the keyboard.  Choosing a keyboard is never really an issue as they are relatively cheap and available.  What we do recommend however is having an ergonomic mouse.  If you are having an ergonomic work area with a sit stand desk and fully adjustable chair, then why not have a mouse to suit?

  • Headphone with microphone

There are two schools of thought here.  The first is to have a set of headphones and microphones for conference calls and video conferencing.   The second is to have noise cancelling headphones to aid focus and concentration especially if there is not a dedicated and quiet home office.  

Home office

You have completed the health, safety and wellness analysis. Identified the most suitable hardware, desk and chair and optional extras.  You have identified additional cost savings using a VOIP solution and ensured that your cyber security solutions can be extended to the remote office.

But what if there is no WIFI?  The UK has one of the poorest networks in the world for the provision of high-speed internet (and by high speed we mean at least 12 megabits per second (Mbps)

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The Uk has one of the slowest download speeds in the world.

Figure 1 – Mean download speed by country

Britain is ranked 35th in the world6 and our average download speed is less than 19Mbps.  What that means is that downloading a 5GB HD movie would typically take just over 36 minutes, which is diabolically slow!

To put this into context, the UK is behind 20 other EU countries and the U.S.A.  This does not seem to be that bad, but the UK is also behind Andorra and Madagascar!

Madagascar, off the coast of east Africa, is one of the world’s least developed countries, with only 2% of the population using the internet as recently as 2012!  Liechtenstein is not far behind in 37th place.

What this means for home workers, home offices and remote workers is that it could be nearly impossible to work from home. 

If you need to check your broadband speed, then you can here (other providers offer a similar service)

https://www.virginmedia.com/postcode-checker?
https://www.bt.com/broadband/availability/
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If you have no WiFi from a main provider try a 4G connection

Your employees should have access to adequate WIFI coverage if you are introducing home working permanently.  If your employees are not served by good broadband connection (the line from the road into the home) then a 4G connection will probably be available.

If there is good broadband coverage or 4G coverage, then the issue may be the internal home network not providing enough coverage.

This may be caused by high demand on the home network caused by multiple people using the service or children streaming whilst adults are working.  Whatever the reason it is possible to install separate WIFI network for business and one for leisure and entertainment.

For executive teams it is common to have either two networks in the home or have a “fail over” network which is activated when internet speeds drop, or power / connection is lost to the main home router.  These are simple solutions to prevent you or your employees losing connection whilst working remotely.

If your broadband speeds are good, better than Madagascar say, that does not guarantee your connectivity. What about your Wi-Fi connection?

Wi-Fi is a wireless connection inside your house between your router and your work

device(s).   Homes built before 1970 (which is 85% of all homes in the UK) have more traditional construction of solid brick making Wi-Fi access more of a challenge.

A client we worked with recently had to work under the stairs right by their router in order to receive a suitable signal, not ideal!

You can check your home Wi-Fi speed here.

https://www.speedtest.net/

If you are adopting a permanent home working policy, it is critical to know if employees can obtain relatively good and stable internet connections.  If not, then productivity will be lost because employees can remain online.  Productivity will also be lost if your employees need to leave home each day and search for a WIFI hot spot to use. 

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Using third party WIFI connections also increases your risk as they are often unsecured guest networks and open to being hacked.  See our earlier point about online security.

If you don’t guarantee the availability of good network for your employees, then they will slowly migrate back to the office environment.  Depending upon whether the employee has poor broadband availability or simply a poor internal network within the home these are the options.

  1. Install a 4G network:  This involves placing a 4G antennae on the property to receive a signal from a 4G network. The location, positioning of the antennae can be completed to ensure that a minimal cable run is needed to a 4G router.  The longer the length of the cable from the antennae to the router, the lower the speeds received at the router.
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Regional performance of 4G networks

4G speeds in the UK are on average 23 Mbps7 which is not much more than the average broadband availability of 18.75 Mbps.

4G coverage is 78% which means there is a higher probability that a signal can be obtained via 4G than by UK broadband.

Some clients have tried satellite, but we have found the latency (Latency is the time delay between the initiation of an event and its perception by some observer) to be an issue for most clients.

Installing a new 4G network is one of the most expensive options but for some regions in the UK it may be the only option.

  • Extending a home network: This is a simpler solution as it involves cabling an access point from the router to the home office. By extending a network in this way you can guarantee that there is a good network coverage in the home office. The network should not be disrupted as it is “hard wired” back to the router.

If the home office is in a location that does not have a good broadband connection, then you may need to both install a 4G antennae and router AND extend the network.  A good service provider will be able to perform a survey in less than 60 minutes and provide you with an answer.

  • If you have a decent connection but the costs of extending the network are excessive then you could change the router. Most broadband providers claim to provide access to every area of the home, but this claim is quite easy to challenge.   Changing the router to a more modern router may improve your coverage.  This is a less expensive choice than options 1 and 2.
  • Use a range extender:   Compact yet powerful devices allow you to increase your WIFI’s speed and range by “grabbing” a signal from your router and amplifying it to reach even the furthest corners of your house. This is often the cheapest solution but usually the least effective.  If price is a consideration, then this may well the best option open to you.

A whole set of options that can be provided to your employees for their remote working comfort and security.  But what if you don’t or can’t provide this level of support to them?

We suggest providing your employees with the advice to manage these choices for themselves.  There are home routers such as the nighthawk AC3200 router that will increase home coverage up to 2000 square feet, provide them with cyber security and allow them to install parental controls, if they wish to.

Support & Training

Based on feedback from 6000 remote workers these are top considerations they need from you.

  • Support: Offering permanent work and flexible work means working out of hours.  That is a fact. If you can’t get something finished during the day then working when kids have gone to bed (or before they wake up) will probably become part of the routine.  This means being able to call someone outside of office hours with technical queries.   You will need to increase the hours of your support operation or recognise that productivity will be lower than you need and that outcomes may not be delivered on time.

Many managed service providers offer an out of hours responsive support service where tools such as web chat, anydesk and team viewer can be used to resolve most IT issues.

But what if the issue is nothing to do with your company software or hardware but more to do with their home network?  Well again many Managed service providers (MSPs for short) have a solution for that.  Providing they have the permission of the network owner they can remotely log on to the home network and analyse where any issues may be.  If the problem is with a router or access point, they can reset it remotely and all of this should take no longer than 10-15 minutes.  This means your employees can continue working without losing productivity and work towards delivering your outcomes.

  • Security: Another request from employees was to be “cyber secure” whilst working both at home and remotely.  Although we have discussed this in detail earlier in this article it worth noting that 31% of remote workers felt uncomfortable conducting company business remotely due to security concerns.

We strongly recommend offering ALL remote workers online security training and certification.  This training is available for as little as £5/employee per month for a distance learning course which can be completed at the employees own pace.  Each role should be assigned a risk weighting based on several factors including

  • their permission levels
  • the type of devices and applications they will be using
  • your own internal IT cyber security policies
  • where the employee will be working. 

3.Remote working training:  Providing both virtual and face to face training will be essential for compliance and insurance purposes.  You will need to work with a provider who can provide

  • Identify typical remote working risks in relevant environments
  • Identify appropriate working environments and set-ups depending on the task
  • Identify risks of using display screen equipment
  • Understand best practice for using laptops
  • Awareness of work-related stress and wellbeing

If you are considering using a managed service provider (internal link) then please review our previous article on the pros and cons of managed service providers.

How to build a business case to justify the program

No good change programme succeeds without a robust business case.  There are a few tricks to making a business case work.

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Include your assumptions
  3. Gain buy in from the finance team
  4. Make sure it is achievable

When building your remote working business case, you will need to define the total cost of the programme, the benefits both hard (financial) and soft (satisfaction and retention) and a list of these can be found in our previous article (include link)

For every company the exact business case will be based on several factors so here are the headlines for the business case.

The cost of IT

  • Hardware – All devices, (laptops and smartphones) and networks and servers.
  • Software and services (including all existing applications both on site and cloud based)
  • Personnel – salary, hiring, training, replacement.
  • Productivity loss

The first two costs are easily quantified. But consider this.  If you were to move to a managed service model you could avoid some CAPEX costs. For example, do you have any equipment that is due to be replaced? Do you have any legacy software that does not support multi factor authentication that will ne to be upgraded? If so, include these costs int o your business case. These can be counted as cost avoidance and passed to your MSP to include in to an OPEX model.

The third cost depends upon whether this will be done virtually or face to face.  Companies often include the costs of training remote workers but forget to include the costs of their own internal teams.  If you use a local IT team, they will need to be trained on managing home networks, remote support and cyber security.  It may be that if you are moving to a completely virtual model then a lot of on-premise hardware will need to be virtualised and the training costs for this should be included.

The fourth cost is a little more difficult to quantify so let’s take a worked example.

Productivity losses are caused by insufficient support or remote access issues preventing employees completing their work.    Let’s assume that each employee loses 25 minutes a day dealing with IT issues.  Some of you will be thinking “that is too much” and others “that is not enough”, good let’s work with that as an average and you can adjust it in your own business case.

Example: 25 minutes per day

Working week = 5 days per week

Working weeks in a year = 43

25 x 5 x 43 = 5,375 minutes

5,375 minutes = 89 hours

89 hours (based on a 7-hour day) = 12.79 days per year per employee

Assume you pay £11.87 per hour = £1,062.72 per person

This cost is insignificant when compared to the property related costs we discussed in (insert link) but should also be factored into the costs above for hardware and personnel costs.

Medium sized businesses employing 25 people will pay…

£8,851 in property costs (minimum)

£1,500 in hardware and personnel costs

£ 1,062.72 in productivity and overhead costs

This is a total of £11,413.7272 per annum per employee

When looking to decide if remote working will work then your business case is a simple one

A basic remote working solution can cost in the region of £50 per employee per month for basic support to £349 per person per month for a fully supported package that includes training and all equipment, hardware and software.

This will provide a return on investment in the region of 12:1 to 2:1 and breakeven in less than 12 months.

A high-level implementation plan to deliver remote working (assume 25 to 100 employees)

ActivityDurationCumulative
Employee engagement2 weeks 
Design of remote working package by role1 weeks3 weeks
Design of support package1 weeks4 weeks
Supplier selection and contract award2 weeks6 weeks
Supply and configuration of equipment1 week7 weeks
Internal staff training1 week8 weeks
Employee training1 weeks9 weeks
Implementation period4 weeks13 weeks
Your remote working implmentation plan

Within 3 months you could have you busy fully “agile” and be ready to significantly reduce your property footprint.

Conclusion

You have made the decision to make remote and flexible working a permanent feature of your organisation. You understand the challenges that exist making remote working available to everyone. You know you don’t have the skills and experience in house to make this work and are looking for support.

In this ultimate guide to making home and flexible working permanent we have shown you and provided examples of…. 

  1. How to manage the health and safety considerations of remote working
  2. How to change your infrastructure to manage remote work
  3. How to adapt your support to manage flexible working
  4. How to build a business case to justify the program
  5. A high-level implementation plan to deliver remote working

The challenge you have is to find a managed service provider who can co-ordinate and manage these activities with you.

Financial cost savings between £5,000 and £9,000 per employee are achievable with ROI values between 12:1 and 2:1 and the soft benefits are also clear

To implement a full remote working policy with upgraded security and support should take no more than 3 months.

If you are going to make remote working a policy for your organisation, then you can use this framework to manage the implementation.

About Us

Altus Digital Services is digital consultancy and solutions provider who specialise in solving commercial and residential technology issues. We design and install corporate and residential home working solutions.   If you would like to discuss anything within this article, please contact us