There is no “one size fits all” solution; the best solution is greatly dependent on your specific business needs, the applications you use, how many people will be accessing your systems remotely, the available equipment and dozens of other factors. That’s why you want to look for a consultant who meets the following criteria:
- Look for a consultant who has experience setting up remote access and STRONG (and recent) client references.
Do you really want to be the person who “pays” for your consultant’s training? I’ve found that the price to correct problems created by novices is much greater than the cost to do it right the first time with an experienced technician. Ask for recent references and call them! Past performance is generally a good gauge of future performance.
- Make sure they do a THOROUGH evaluation up front
If your consultant doesn’t insist on doing a thorough evaluation BEFORE handing you a proposal, do NOT hire them! If they don’t do their homework, they could easily sell you the wrong solution, causing you to have to spend MORE money, MORE time, and have MORE frustration getting to what you really need. Most consultants will do a quick, cursory review and provide a free recommendation (proposal) because they want to close the deal fast. Here is a short list of the things they should investigate or ask you:
- What are your overall goals and specific objectives for allowing your employees to work from home or on the road?
- How many employees will be working remotely? Will they be accessing the network at the same time or at different times?
- What applications (including specialty or proprietary apps) and data will your employees need to access?
- What type of devices will your staff use to access the network? (Home computers, smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc.)
- What type of Internet connection will be available on the sending AND receiving end?
- What levels of security do you want in place?
- What level of monitoring do you want in place? For example, are there certain web sites and content you want “off limits?”
- Will the remote worker need to print documents?
- What are your 1-year and 3-year plans for growth?
- Make sure they are able to TRAIN you and your staff.
So many computer consultants are great at installing the “stuff” but fall short on training you and your staff how to use the great “whiz-bang” technology they’ve just sold you. Make sure you hire someone who is able and willing to do the “hand holding” required when installing any new process or technology…we’re only human after all.
- Make sure they can provide help desk support AFTER hours.
One of the main appeals to teleworking is the ability to work at night or on weekends; that means you need someone to be “on-call” during those off-peak hours if you or your employees have technical problems logging in or accessing the network. Bottom line, if your consultant doesn’t offer after-hours support, don’t hire them to do the job. There is no benefit to having remote access if you have to wait until Monday or 9am the next day for support.
- Make sure they INSIST on maintaining the network
Virtual office networks require more ‘care and feeding’ to make sure they work properly and stay secure. You cannot “set it and forget it” or you’re asking for problems. Only hire someone who is prepared to perform regular check-ups and updates of your network, usually under a maintenance or managed services plan.
- Look for someone who can also solve the phone piece of the puzzle, not just the network access piece.
If you want your work-from-home employee to be able to make and receive calls and APPEAR as though they are in the office to the caller, then look for someone who can set up your phone system to work with your remote employee’s home phone or cell phone. Usually this can be accomplished with VoIP technology (Voice Over Internet Protocol). Confirm that whoever you hire can either provide these services and does not out-source this to a third-party vendor. If they should have the expertise to be able to make sure both devices work flawlessly together.
- Make sure your consultant is willing and able to be a vendor liaison for your specific business applications or other specialty applications.
It’s amazing how many critical applications work fine within the office network, but then slow down or shutdown when accessed through a remote location. It’s important to ensure your consultant is able and willing to confirm your applications will operate efficiently remotely, which means they may need to get on the phone with the help desk of one or more of your software vendors. Some consultants do NOT offer this service, or will charge you extra for it.
- Look for a consultant that has expertise in setting up employee monitoring and content filtering.
It’s more difficult (but not impossible) to protect company secrets and proprietary information when it’s stored on a location outside of your office. Therefore, make sure the company you hire has expertise in setting up and managing content filtering and security for remote machines.