Written by Matt Fooks (Modern Workplace Architect) and Rob Blount (Hybrid Cloud Architect)
The requirement for working from home is becoming more important than ever before with recent events surrounding the COVID-19 “Coronavirus pandemic. Here at SBL, we are seeing many customer’s re-prioritising remote working functionality over other projects as more companies move to more remote working.
Free Remote Working Consultancy Appointment
We are keen to do our bit in helping existing and new customers out in configuring options to enable productivity at arm’s length. In order to do this, we are giving away free advice and guidance consultancy to help discuss through the options your organisation has available to you. If you want a free consultation get in touch with our team who will arrange a conference call with Rob or myself. We will then examine your environment and remote working challenges, discuss the options and next steps. You can then take this information and setup the configuration you require or if you’re requirements are more complex SBL’s professional services teams can assist your business.
Below Rob and I will summarise some of the options that organisations can employ to allow the wheels to keep turning as we ride through the next weeks and months of the outbreak. In remote working there isn’t one size of shoe that will fit every organisation or individual even in that organisation. We all have different requirements; some business rely a lot on on-premises hosted applications while others will be utilising more SaaS cloud applications.
Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365
In some organisations, all that staff require to perform most of their work is access to the Office suite and their email. Add Microsoft Teams to this and you have a great way of collaborating and communicating with colleagues near and far. For myself and Rob, this is how we perform 99% of our role. We are pretty used to not being around the office at the same time, however, location never stops us working on the same document together. Using Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Office is just a perfect combination for collaboration. One that I can’t recommend highly enough. For us just being able to have a whole team working on the same document at once is a massive productivity boost, especially combined that with power of Planner and ToDo. The other benefit is how we still feel connected even when we aren’t sitting next to each other.
Microsoft Teams communication features are excellent at maintaining relationships, team cohesion and communicated in real-time. With us video calls are now the default. Not only do I get to see what rock band T-shirt someone is wearing but, more importantly, I can see facial expressions that make the calls more genuine and impactful. Microsoft Teams can facilitate chats and calls that are 1-1 or 1-many. In others words, you won’t be able to get out of the performance review or team meeting while away from the office (there are always downsides with technology 😉). So, in keeping connected with others during the outbreak for those who are self-isolating or just minimising direct contact with others, Teams is the number one tool.
Currently Microsoft are giving away Microsoft Teams free for enterprises with free Office 365 E1 offer for six months. Talk to us at SBL or your current Microsoft partner about getting these free licenses. Individuals can also get free Teams here.
Bear in mind that your connectivity experience with Office 365 may be affected if you go through a central proxy or VPN. In most cases it doesn’t cause a noticeable issue but at times it can cause slow performance as Office 365 bounces through your internal systems before breaking out to Microsoft. There are ways to improve this experience if you do suffer issues. It’s probably worth tackling this in another article.
Always On VPN, ADFS and AAD Seamless SSO
In organisations that rely on having connections to applications hosted in on-premises data centers you have several options available that replace the traditional Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Remote Access Services (RAS). The new Microsoft way of working is Always On VPN. This does require a couple of Windows 2016 servers. One that is the VPN (Virtual Private Network) server, which sits outside of your corporate firewall, and then an NPS (Network Police Server), which sits inside of your corporate firewall. There are a few other components such as certificates and Active Directory, but we will not go into all of that. The only client requirement for the above is Windows 10 (version 1607) as a minimum but as this is quite old now, I would suspect most organisations will be running versions above this.
There are many other ways that clients can connect into a corporate network such as SSL VPN’s, ADFS etc. There are far too many to mention here.
Finally, you have a method which is great if you need to connect to cloud applications called Active Directory Seamless Single Sign-On. AAD Seamless SSO automatically signs users in when they are on their corporate devices connected to your corporate network. When enabled, users don’t need to type in their passwords or even usernames to sign in to Azure AD. Unlike Always on VPN AAD SSO doesn’t require any on-premises infrastructure. This feature allows you to work from anywhere and connect seamlessly to your SaaS cloud applications.
There are many options and not all are right for every organisation. It’s important to pick one that meets your objectives and is correct for your circumstances. Unfortunately, the same show doesn’t always fit every foot. Rob and I and the SBL team are happy to discuss the options available to your organisation obligation free.