As the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses around the world to adopt new remote work operating models, they quickly discovered both the advantages and pitfalls of this new approach. On one hand, productivity and staff satisfaction increased. On the other hand, serious concerns were raised about the level of access employees had to company information, and what they could do with that information now that it was no longer in the company’s control. Remote work also introduced new challenges surrounding the process of setting up computer equipment for new employees, returning equipment when they depart, etc. Fortunately, at the forefront of this remote work evolution, Microsoft advanced several technologies that gave businesses peace of mind and efficiency in this new normal.
The Foundation: Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365, the world’s leading suite of productivity software and cloud services, lays the groundwork for efficient remote work operations. Although most of the world already uses the Microsoft 365 platform, many haven’t adopted the two powerhouse remote work productivity technologies: SharePoint and Teams.
Many businesses are accustomed to a traditional “file server” where employees can centrally store business files that everyone can access. Microsoft SharePoint offers these same capabilities, but with the power and convenience of the cloud. Employees can create, edit, and move documents on their computer exactly like they’re used to with an on-site file server. Behind the scenes, though, the files are automatically synchronizing with the cloud, allowing all users to see changes in real-time without the files having to be copied directly to each of their computers or lost in email threads.
Microsoft’s answer to the ever-popular, consumer-oriented Zoom, is Teams. Built from the ground up for businesses and enterprises, Teams allows employees to effortlessly collaborate in real-time with their colleagues, screen share, host webinars, and much more. Businesses that drive the adoption of Microsoft Teams as their primary medium for company communications quickly find improved efficiency and efficacy of their communications, both inside the office and with their customers.
Security: Microsoft Intune and Conditional Access
With the Microsoft 365 productivity tools implemented, how does the business secure all this information that’s now floating around between the cloud and employee devices? Intune, a solution bundled with many of the Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans, is an impressive and incredibly effective tool for securing company information. Although it introduces many capabilities, it offers two core functions for security: Information Protection and Conditional Access.
Windows Information Protection
Have you ever thought about what happens to your company files that are saved to a remote worker’s device when that employee leaves the organization? Microsoft has, and they have a robust solution to the problem. Windows Information Protection allows businesses to define “where” their company information resides, whether it be on the cloud, browser-based software applications, or local networks. All information residing in these protected areas is tagged as company information, no matter where it is moved to. As long as the employee is active with the company, they can freely access all this company information as normal. The moment they are no longer active, though, all files tagged as company information are immediately encrypted. Even if the employee had local copies of that information on their computer, it becomes unusable the moment the button is pressed to terminate their access.
Whether employees use their personal devices or are issued company-owned devices, the devices must meet certain cybersecurity requirements of the organization. These could be simple requirements such as a PIN on their phone or a strong password on their computer, or as complex as requiring specific versions of Windows or macOS. Whatever the requirements, the business can make compliance with their cybersecurity policies a condition for access to company information. If, for example, the business does not want to permit access to its information unless the employee is connecting from a company-owned and managed device, conditional access can easily enforce this rule. Not only is this an effective security policy for remote workers, but it’s also exceptionally effective at stopping many types of cyber-attacks.
The Icing on The Cake: Windows Autopilot
Also included with many of the Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans is Windows Autopilot. Autopilot is Microsoft’s answer to the challenge of setting up company devices for employees. Very simply, Autopilot allows businesses to register a computer as a company-owned asset. Even if an employee steals the device, tries to factory reset it, or even replaces the hard drive inside, the computer will only allow them to sign in with a company account. If they are no longer with the organization, the computer effectively becomes unusable.
Another benefit of Autopilot is an automated setup for new employees. When the employee receives their computer, they log in with their company email, and then the computer automatically connects them to the organization, installs all the software they need, activates SharePoint access, and much more. If the employee leaves the organization and their computer needs to go to someone else, it can simply be sent directly to the new employee, and they will experience the same convenient initial setup.
The transition to remote work, whether it be forced by a global pandemic or strategically adopted as an intentional plan for success, doesn’t have to hinder a business’s efficiency or security. Microsoft’s suite of productivity and cloud services delivers a comprehensive solution to most remote work challenges in a tightly integrated package.