SaaS applications such as Office 365 are part of what is allowing the global shift towards remote working. Having everything in the cloud means that employees enjoy much greater flexibility about where and when they work, and organizations can reduce their real estate footprint. However, using cloud-based services does not mean that IT can forget about data backup and disaster recovery. While there are lots of good reasons to enable remote work in your organization, cloud services don’t end the need for complete data protection, wherever your employees are located.
Microsoft Office has long been the preferred communications, collaboration and productivity application suite for organizations. So, when Microsoft shifted Office to the cloud with Office 365, it was a strong signal to organizations that SaaS was here to stay. All of which was good news to IT departments that are weary of the time and money spent on supporting the old on-premises model.
Now, with automatic updates, employees always have the latest version of the software and can collaborate seamlessly on documents. When integrated with Microsoft’s other powerful cloud platforms like Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive and Teams, any size organization can have the full benefit of this powerful platform for communicating, sharing, and creating information to help drive their business.
Whether employees are working in the office, remotely or while on the move, they can utilize the Microsoft SaaS suite of applications thanks to support for operating systems ranging from Windows to Mac OS and Linux, including IOS and Android tablets and other mobile devices. With all of their data in the cloud, employees can move from device to device with complete confidence that the latest version of their documents and files are available to work on from anywhere, via any device.
As easy as this all sounds, there are still a bunch of requirements and policies that IT departments need to consider when implementing remote workers and Office 365.
BYOD Security Policies
Employees love the freedom that Office 365 gives them to use their own devices. While it may still be best practice for employees to use only business-supplied equipment, for many organizations, BYOD is here to stay. Thus, it is important to set up the right policies for remote workers. For instance, not sharing work devices with family members or, if that’s not possible, ensuring a separate password-protected account for the remote worker on the family machine.
Collaboration and Communication Policies
If the remote employee is using equipment provided by the business, the policy should be to disallow any sharing or personal computer use on the office-supplied laptop — or, at the very least, personal email and social media communications must have a separate account on the device. Email best practices are the same for all employees, and they should be well trained to spot phishing attacks. Documents of importance to the organization should be worked on in SharePoint with proper version control and access controls implemented.
Configuration and Remote Access
Remote updating of laptop configurations is not so different for remote and office workers if remote desktop software is installed. OS updates have to be scheduled with the employee but are easily managed with an internet-facing WSUS server. Management of Office 365 licenses is also similar. Don’t forget that with more workers accessing internal servers remotely, you have to have enough certificates on hand to support NSA multi-factor authentication for those times when remote working volume spikes.
Office 365 Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery
Finally, the need for regular data backup and disaster recovery planning does not go away just because the data is in Microsoft’s cloud. It is true that with cloud services, hard drive failures and lost laptops do not pose the same level of concern regarding data loss as they once did. But these are by no means the only ways to lose precious data.
The most common cause of data loss is user errors. Unfortunately, businesses often learn the hard way that many SaaS applications, including Office 365, lack comprehensive support to remedy these issues. In fact, many SaaS providers specifically exclude covering user error issues in their terms and conditions. Users can overwrite files by mistake, accounts get deleted, folders disappear, and malicious emails are opened. In addition to the applications themselves, you need to have a comprehensive data backup and disaster recovery policy, and workstation backup services that allow you to recover to previous versions of a file, folder, or even an account.
There are other serious considerations around archiving and searching records. If you delete a user license when an employee leaves, Microsoft Office 365 will only keep a backup of an employee’s email, contacts and calendar for 30 days. OneDrive files are kept for longer, but not forever. Thus, when employees leave the organization, it is critical to have a full backup of their files and protection of historical email in case you need them later to maintain continuity with suppliers or customers. You may also need those long-term backups and archives because of legal actions and compliance with audit regulations such as GDPR, PIPEDA, and HIPPA, which require businesses to maintain intact records for multiple years.
On the disaster recovery front, remote worker’s devices are more vulnerable to loss, damage and theft because of the public nature of the places they may work and their frequent mobility. They are just as exposed as any other part of the business to ransomware attacks, which are on the rise. Office 365 and other Microsoft services are often a primary target of such attacks.
Thus, it is crucial to maintain endpoint security for remote devices, managing the remote user’s anti-virus and spam protection. Given the vulnerabilities associated with Wi-Fi, especially public Wi-Fi services, employees should use a VPN to access the enterprise intranet, as well as for connections to cloud-based applications like Office 365. Despite the higher risks that are associated with remote work, a comprehensive offsite or cloud data backup service is your ultimate backstop should they experience difficulties.
The need for these precautions shouldn’t outweigh the advantages of remote work, and there are ways to avoid the extra overhead associated with managing your remote workforce. Look for a partner who can help you get the most out of the Microsoft productivity platform with cloud-based data backup and disaster recovery, as well as management of Office 365 licenses, user account management, end-point security, training and set-up assistance.
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