When you aren't all in one place - Securing your distributed workforce

By Tim Cronin

The workplace is changing. It was once the norm for a small or medium sized organization, or even a larger enterprise, to operate out of only one building. Even global organizations tended to have a single headquarters with perhaps one or two other buildings in the continents in which the organization operated.

Today this has all changed. Technology has made it possible for businesses of all sizes to have multiple locations throughout the world. This means employers can hire the best employees regardless of their location. Also high gas prices and the desire for a flexible work environment has caused many organizations to offer flex spaces and create connected work policies. As a result, we are seeing a more distributed workforce in companies large and small. The ability to have employees work from anywhere has been beneficial to most organizations.

According to a recent study done by Link Resources, allowing employees to telecommute or work out of remote offices closer to their homes can improve productivity by up to 20%. Factors such as increased flexibility, reduced stress resulting in sick days, and the fact that minor health ailments will not impact an employee's ability to work are all contributing factors to the increased productivity. When working from home or at an office closer to their home employees tend to add the time they would have spent commuting to their work day, increasing the number of hours they will spend working a week and thus increasing their output. Connection is only first step - then you need security So what is the catch to this distributed workforce? - ensuring connectivity and security.

Basic technologies such as a telephones, instant messengers (with or without video capabilities), email and mobile devices allow your employees to stay connected to the office no matter where they are. However, in order to make having office locations worthwhile it is critical for each location to be secure. Deploying separate security devices at each office location can ensure each office is secure, however this creates a huge administrative burden. I know of one company that has eight offices with a combined workforce of less than 100 employees. The time it would take the network administrator to install, maintain and update eight separate security appliances would negate many of the benefits of having a distributed workforce to begin with.

Despite the simple set up and configuration of some security products it is still necessary to have an individual with a technical background manage the initial deployment. With a distributed workforce this means extensive travel just to connect an office, creating a financial hurdle to having remote offices. There are only two ways to avoid spending valuable dollars on travel to connect and secure remote office: 1) don't open remote offices or 2) select security products that can be deployed by anyone - even non-technical employees. This still leaves management as an issue.

This can be combated if the network administrator is able to maintain or update the security solution remotely or from the central office. Having multiple offices in spread out locations is a reality of the business world today but so is the need to secure your network. When an organization's network is distributed across multiple locations it can be a challenge to ensure their security but new technologies are making this possible. An example of this type of technology happens to be from Astaro. Information can be found here: http://www.astaro.com/landingpages/en-worldwide-innovations-2010