Businesses across all verticals are struggling to adjust to the new digital workplace driven by COVID-19 and social distancing efforts. However, businesses fortunate enough to stay afloat rely now more than ever on IT vendors and IT managed service providers (MSPs) to keep their employees online and working.
What does a national emergency and sudden loss of normalcy look like for clients of an MSP?
Answering the Call
You’re probably used to seeing your MSP technician at your workplace, installing a new piece of equipment or troubleshooting a persistent issue. But since on-site IT support has halted until the COVID-19 pandemic ends, how are MSPs tackling hardware solutions?
IT Support Coordinator Elena Estrada describes COVID-19’s effect on hardware acquisition as “a perfect storm.” Businesses across the nation raced to purchase laptops for their workers transitioning to work from home—MSPs included. “Lots of our clients realized they didn’t have laptops or home systems to be able to remote into their work computers,” Estrada says. “It caused a mass panic for retail laptops.”
Anderson Technologies typically works with a few trusted outlet partners to provide the best hardware for their clients, but ordering laptops the usual way quickly became impossible as outlets sold out seemingly overnight. MSPs had to get a little creative. “We needed to find other options,” Estrada says. “A local electronics store had laptops in stock that weren’t necessarily what we normally send to clients, but we bought extra sticks of memory to accommodate. We had to bring multiple employees to the store because there was a two-system limit on hardware purchases.”
But finding enough hardware wasn’t the only difficulty. “The most challenging aspect is trying to navigate things that require physical interaction,” says Estrada. “Those types of situations are hard to work out.” Many of Anderson Technologies’ clients are local to the St. Louis area, meaning that mailing or shipping necessary hardware isn’t a customary practice, not to mention it puts unnecessary pressure on essential delivery personnel.
Channels of communication between MSP and client are more important now than ever. One of Anderson Technologies’ clients recently needed a laptop for a new employee. The configured laptop was ready to be given to the client on a Friday, but since the employee would be starting that Monday, the laptop wouldn’t arrive in time if shipped. Anderson Technologies was able to coordinate a drop-off plan with the client, but it shows how challenging it can be to safely navigate and standardize these situations from a business perspective.
Need for Speed
Many businesses have temporarily closed their doors due to statewide stay-at-home orders, and entire companies now work from home every day. When you’re used to working in your professional environment, it’s pretty easy to tell when something isn’t working correctly. This isn’t the case when working from home, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Working from home exposes users to threats they would normally never encounter in their workplace.
“A lot of residential internet plans are not as fast as what they’re used to in the office, which causes some issues with their work,” Estrada says. “Many times, they think it’s a hardware issue or an issue with the program they’re using, but it ends up being that they need a bit more patience with their current speeds.” This makes managing expectations essential to working from home successfully, both for the MSP and the end user.
“I think the majority of people who have transitioned from their office to their home don’t realize that home internet greatly impacts their working-from-home experience,” says Senior System Administrator Eric Dischert. “Throw in some kids streaming music and The Office re-runs on the same connection, and the work-from-home experience degrades quickly.”
“Another issue is the internet line running to their actual office,” Dischert warns. “If that connection is sub-par or there are many users remoting into their work computers, that bandwidth shrinks and might need a boost.” When your work day relies on two internet connections functioning properly, you may experience more hiccups than you would at your normal workstation—meaning more work for your MSP.
Even as MSPs are problem solving new kinds of technical issues, they’re also adjusting to working within stay-at-home orders themselves. “Remoting capabilities have made things pretty seamless,” Estrada says. Anderson Technologies already incorporates remote monitoring software as part of their managed services plan, which made the transition a little easier for providing quick technical support.
Lock Your (Virtual) Doors
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the globe, and bad actors all over the world are taking advantage of the newly-digital workforce. They are tweaking their phishing methods and other online attacks to sneak their way onto your more vulnerable home networks. Remote workers, stressed about their safety and livelihoods, look like sitting ducks to malicious actors. Every cyber security crack must be sealed.
Cyber security training has always been an important part of the MSP-client relationship, but businesses are kicking it up to protect their remote workers. “There are a lot of security issues involved in working from home due to lack of experience in doing so and just being a bit more comfortable in your home,” Estrada says. “Users aren’t as guarded.”
Distractions themselves contribute to users letting their guards down and create opportunities for phishers. “Personally, there are a lot of distractions at home that take my attention,” Dischert says. “Kids, dog, spouse, etc., are all buzzing around and it’s hard to concentrate, especially for people who normally do not work from home.”
Even after the pandemic ends, MSPs expect to see an uptick of clients seeking work-from-home solutions. This is part of a trend that’s been growing for over a decade, as the number of US employees working remotely has increased 159% over the last 12 years. Some workers thrive in their home environments where work arrangements are more flexible, reducing stress and increasing morale. These workers may choose to incorporate virtual desktop software or hardware setups that are easier to carry back and forth to the office.
Until it’s safe to return to their normal routines, America’s workforce will continue to adapt to the daily changes in this pandemic’s trajectory. But working from home doesn’t have to leave you vulnerable or without IT support when you’re working with an MSP. Expert MSPs know that disasters and emergencies are why it’s important to make sure your networks are healthy from the start.
Need help transitioning to a WFH model? Call Anderson Technologies today at 314.394.3001 for a free consultation!