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How IT Can Proactively Manage the Return to the Office

2021 may be the year a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available and more businesses open their doors to customers and employees again. Here’s how IT pros can prepare for their colleagues’ eventual return to the office.

The shift to a remote workforce after COVID-19 restrictions were put into place around the world accelerated the adoption of cloud-based services for many organizations – while it also had employees scrambling to grab work computers and other devices from the office before the facilities closed down.

Fortunately, planning how to transition back to an office environment can unfold under more leisurely circumstances and thus gives IT pros a real chance to figure out how to get their end users back on to all the company systems safely, securely and with a minimal need for support.

The reality at this moment is that we do not know when our daily work routines will fully return to normal. Taking the time now to prepare for a return to the office and implement procedures to return hardware to corporate networks will help in avoiding delays in productivity and collaboration across the workforce.

After six or more months of corporate laptops being connected to at-home wired and wireless networks, IT will have justifiable security concerns about the integrity of those devices and how they can be safely allowed back on the network.

As we researched this article, some common themes surfaced:

  • Flexibility is key to any return to physical office spaces. Check with employees and find out their concerns about a return to the office. Some of these may be IT-related.
  • Do not rush everyone back into the office all at once. This allows IT to transition everyone back on to the corporate networks at a controlled pace, and to troubleshoot without too much time pressure. Work with employees on work schedules that are staggered hours or days in the office during the week and the remainder as remote work. Note: Introducing people back to the office gradually means IT must maintain the collaboration and productivity tools that have been the main avenue of work and communications for remote workers.
  • Early in the pandemic, it was challenging to obtain supplies like disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, bleach and even toilet paper. Make sure your supply chain can keep up with the new demand now that employees will be in offices.

IT should start their planning with the step the end user is likely to make first: reconnecting company devices and other IT assets to the corporate network upon return to the office.

Heather Paunet, senior vice president of product and marketing at network security firm Untangle, shared a few key tips about how organizations can approach the challenge of re-incorporating this hardware into physical offices:

  • Prior to employees returning, conduct a network audit. This should focus on confirming that all software updates/patches are installed, any changes to firewall configurations on-premises or in the cloud have been properly configured, and that all employee changes are reverted as applicable.
  • Back up critical business-related data, security configurations and key infrastructure policies to create a record of the network and data in case of a compromised device.

Another area she shared as being critical with the return to the office – and the return of devices to the office – is employee access levels. It might be time to consider a zero-trust approach.

“In times when employees are coming back to the corporate network with perhaps more personal applications and data on their devices, an assessment is particularly important,” Paunet said.

She continued, “It is much safer to take an approach of denying access to everything, unless it is specifically needed, than to do it the other way around and remove access later.”

Eric Carrell, a DevOps engineer at RapidAPI, suggested a new emphasis on preparing employees for the increased cybercrimes and ransomware attacks that have spiked during the pandemic.

The final recommendation around the return to the office came from Liz Beavers, who is the Head Geek at IT infrastructure management software provider SolarWinds. Beavers confirms that asset management is a critical step in any return to physical offices and the associated planning.

“As a result of working from home, many company’s employees have spread out geographically, meaning company-owned assets and IT are scattered across locations as well,” she said.

“With offices reopening and employees returning, tracking is imperative to ensure all assets are accounted for when transitioning back to the office. This is important to confirm expensive IT devices aren’t lost or misplaced, track any changes employees may have made to their systems or devices, and it helps IT uncover where they may need to purchase new equipment. By keeping inventory accurate, IT teams will have a clear path of what needs to be updated as they return to in-person operations.”

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