Technology Challenges in the Pandemic’s ‘New Normal’

We’re several weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, and businesses are settling into new modes of working. Employees are adapting to working from home full-time, with the various technologists involved in maintaining office systems and software—from sysadmins to project managers—hopefully keeping up with an altered workflow and new challenges.

Now that the “settling in” period of the pandemic is behind us, these technologists are refining their approach to remote work, both their own and that of the employees they support. What are the key tech issues confronting companies in this “new normal”?  

Remote Hardware and Security

Sysadmins and others in charge of their companies’ tech stacks have spent the past several weeks of the pandemic wrestling with remote employees’ hardware configurations. For those offices that primarily utilized desktops to get work done, the need to supply employees with company-owned laptops—or relying on those employees’ personal ones—has become a key stress-point. 

Slow shipping times and the unavailability of certain items has only made this scramble for hardware more difficult. Then there’s the not-so-small matter of getting the connections right. 

“While it’s always possible to connect each employee directly to an existing work desktop using remote desktop protocols, this can be tedious, challenging, time-consuming, and have significant security implications, especially working across a variety of devices and enabling VPN on these devices as well as software packages required,” said Alan Conboy, who is the Office of the CTO at Scale Computing, which handles virtualization and infrastructure issues. “One option is to use VDI plumbing to set up gateway and connection broker services to take the hassle out of connecting ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) devices.” 

Such gateways, he added, give employees “a secure point to connect into the office network and the connection broker handles connecting the authenticated employees to the correct desktop systems from anything with a browser.”

But that’s a relatively short-term solution during the pandemic, Conboy added. “In the longer term, which may even still be under the scope of isolated workers, it is a good idea to think more seriously about virtual desktop solutions or terminal services,” he said. “These solutions allow employees to work from home with as few disruptions as possible, and from a variety of devices, while keeping sensitive and business-critical data safely residing in a centralized data center. These VDI solutions, at a minimum, should become part of your DR and long-term planning.”

Cybersecurity and overall stability are also crucial elements here. Although businesses might devote tons of resources and time to ensuring that their customers and partners are happy (or at least happy as can be) during these unsettling times, it’s also important to “get your own business in a stable, secure and functioning place,” said Jason Magee, CEO of ConnectWise, which builds business-management software.  

It is imperative that organizations ensure they have access to up-to-date security tools and services, proper cybersecurity awareness training and access to mission-critical applications and documents,” Magee added. “Taking these steps will ensure that you and your clients are prepared to enable a secure remote workforce and continue being productive. Moreover, businesses that make these changes now will be well-positioned to thrive when this crisis ends.”

The New Pandemic Backup Plans

And as much as the current situation might feel like a natural, “can’t fail” stress test for a company’s network and tech stack, it’s still important to continue testing the resiliency of various systems. “When reassessing your DR, backup and business continuity plans, it’s crucial to test again and again,” said Avi Raichel, CIO of Zerto, which builds tools for resiliency and backup. “Knowing your organization can recover from an unforeseen event with all or part of your team in place (and done 100% remotely) is invaluable at a time like this.” 

In fact, sysadmins and cybersecurity experts can use this pandemic crisis to refine their continuity plans; after all, we’re all seeing in real time how our systems react to intense stress. “A crisis will undoubtedly put a strain on your infrastructure, and you’ll need to be able to support max loads on an ongoing basis, not just typical day-to-day usage,” Raichel said. 

What kinds of things should executives and technologists consider as part of those resiliency plans? Many companies are already moving more operations into the cloud; in fact, this crisis may hasten the overall transition from on-premises datacenters to a cloudier architecture. “Moreover, take the time to inspect storage, bandwidth and capacity needs,” Raichel advised. “If you foresee increased load on some business applications, scaling resources to the cloud will be easier and cheaper than purchasing new hardware. Your organization will produce and consume data, so make sure to scale your storage needs and—most importantly—review your bandwidth capacity.”

Ease of Search

Connecting employees to their office networks is one thing; making sure they have easy access to the data they need to do their jobs is another. For sysadmins, project managers, and others, it’s key that the team knows where to find the information they need, and that they can access it easily. You don’t want people scrambling to locate the right file in the right cloud drive five minutes before a big remote presentation to a client.

“The digital workplace is dependent upon easy access to information, and enterprise search is a critical component to any digital workplace,” said Alexandre Bilger, CEO of Sinequa, which has built a platform for hosting, retrieving, and analyzing internal data. “It provides a central location from which to look for files, documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other media, making it extremely efficient to access information quickly, regardless of location.”

The New Pandemic Normal

Technologists are already well-aware of the vital role that collaboration tools, as well as synchronous and synchronous communication apps, are playing in this new, remote environment. Employees, meanwhile, are doing their best to adjust to the pandemic’s all-remote workflow. Now’s the time to look at things structurally—how will companies (and tech stacks) endure through the pandemic? 

While some issues (such as bandwidth and cybersecurity) apply to all firms, the ultimate answers to those structural questions will differ from company to company. Technologists know that their firms’ needs are unique—and often demand unique solutions. 

For more COVID-19 content, check out the COVID-19 Jobs Resource Center.