Build Security Into Telecommuting

Telecommuting has become commonplace in many industries, as increasing numbers of employees find they are more productive if they don’t have to deal with the daily hassles of commuting and the distractions of a busy office.

Moreover, companies that don’t offer some telecommuting jobs run the risk of losing out on some desirable hires. Nevertheless, once you start offering employees the opportunity to work from home, you must be sure you have taken proper measures to protect critical corporate information. Once your telecommuters are signed up to a dial-up or broadband ISP service, or if they are given specific dial-up or broadband access instructions, you need to get them into your office network. Typically, with a proprietary access infrastructure, a password is enough.

However, whenever IP networking is involved, security risks are higher since there are more users on the Internet than any shared business data network would ever have. Thus, most companies use Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs.

VPN technology is not simple authentication software. It is full-fledged communications technology that creates "tunnels" between end users and servers to transmit encrypted data. It is easiest to use VPN service from one of the multiple service providers offering IP access.

If a service is not available, you need a hardware set-up on the company side to establish and manage those tunnels. Your employees aren’t likely to encounter difficulties using VPNs – but they should know that certain applications won’t work until they launch a VPN gateway and log in.

Which brings us to the final issue of software. If you decide that many employees are going to work out of their homes or other locations, such as hotels, make sure you have a mechanism to push information their way and enable them get the data they want.

Enabling access to data is relatively easy, since much of your corporate data can be accessed via the Internet if applications that you use internally have been designed to work over the Web. If not, your employees might need a special "translation" browser that enables IP-based access, like the one made by Citrix.

And then there is push technology. Since your employees all use e-mail, you may want to upgrade to something like Microsoft Exchange, which stores e-mail centrally with a local copy on the user’s machine and enables contracts, files and calendar sharing. So next time you schedule a company picnic, or set up a telecommuting skills improvement workshop, you’ll have a way to get the news out.

A Multi-Pronged Process: Setting up telecommuting infrastructure requires a great deal of attention. If you can’t afford the time to do it right, hire a consultant who knows your company to craft a policy and carry it through to outside contractors.