By Bahar Ferguson

Do you need to work from home but not sure where to really begin? Especially in this climate with illnesses and stressors everywhere, people need to be able to work from the safety and privacy of their own home as though they were working from the office. Because of this, we are going to discuss what is needed for you to do all your important work from your living room, kitchen or home office.

First things first. You need to be able to work from your home computer as if nothing had changed and you were still sitting in your desk in the office. To do this, you need a bridge between home and the office.

In order to explain the concept of these bridges, imagine a paper airplane being thrown from your desk to a coworker’s desk down the hall. The paper airplane has a message written on the side. This message could be, “I need the expense report document” or it could be “Check out this funny cat video” or any other digital request. When you are in the office, there aren’t that many issues since the paper airplane can go to your co-worker’s desk without a problem and then they can send a new paper airplane back saying, “Here is the file” or “That was hilarious!”

When you are at home, things become different because throwing the paper airplane from home has a long way to go before it will reach that coworker’s desk and it has those pesky windowpanes blocking things from getting in (these are kind of like the firewalls of the network).

This is where virtual private networks (VPN) come in. They create a bridge between home and the office. That way when you send that request via paper airplane for the expense report or funny cat video, it travels safely across the bridge in order to reach the server where that file is stored. As a bonus, since the firewall knows who is sending the request, the paper airplane goes though the window without issue.  

This is a basic necessity of working from home. With a VPN you can access files and services on the server from your home computer quickly, easily and securely. There are a lot of services that can help create these bridges and they can be as complicated as you want them to be. But, if you want it to be easy and mostly hassle-free, you can talk to your IT department and they can recommend a good one that will play nice with the company firewall.

The final (and sometimes optional) step which can make it really feel like you never left the office, is to use remote tools to be able to remote into your computer. Microsoft has some built-in tools for Windows machines that will work well over VPN connections so that it feels like you are working directly from your computer at the office with minimal downtime and setup. They even made some of those tools available for Mac users so that if you are connecting from a Mac to a PC, it is just as convenient.

Remember this when working from home: The bridge needs to be build before you send out the requests. In the example, the paper airplanes can find the office just fine but without the open window for the VPN bridge it will end up with a broken nose and lost in the bushes.

Another important safety tip is to remember that when you have the bridge between your home and the office set up, you have a direct line to your office. If someone gets ahold of your computer and the VPN is still connected, they can connect to the office just like they were sitting there themselves. This is especially important to hackers who can do a lot of damage if they sneak past the windows.

It is also a great time to ensure you have the proper policies in place to ensure everyone is following best practices while working from home. Your responsibility to ensure your company and customer data does not pause simply because you are working remote. Enlisting your IT partner to assist in a remote cyber training is another way to keep your team focused on the importance of security and on their toes to better avoid any cyberattacks. 

We already have had earthquakes and a pandemic. Don’t add a crippling cyberattack to the mix. Implementing some of these steps will help keep you, your team and your customers a bit safer in an increasingly dangerous cyberworld. 

Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.

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