The Challenge of Going Remote from an End-User’s Perspective

Editor’s Note: This post is from Leeza Malachevsky, ControlUp’s events manager.

Last month I took the trip of a lifetime to Japan amidst growing concerns of novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Since I returned, the threat of the virus has grown at an exponential rate, with ControlUp being among the many companies taking precautions by asking employees to work from home until further notice. As I write this, I’m in my third week of working from my city apartment next to my clingy (albeit adorable) pup, and I cannot help but wonder – what impact does this truly have on remote work?

Every day I look at the news or talk to my friends in tech and see that more and more companies are urging employees to work remotely until further notice – up to three months!

How many of us are actually home?

I think this begs a few questions – how are companies adapting to the challenge of remote work? How are they using modern infrastructure to facilitate this rapid change? And what impact does this have on the world of End-User Computing?

To start answering these questions, I wanted to bribe, I mean ask…my followers of varying audiences on a couple of different social media platforms if they’re currently working remotely as a direct result of the coronavirus.

Thanks to the power of social media, I was able to gather input from 195 total individuals. Out of 124 Twitter participants and 71 Instagram participants, I found that 43% of them are currently working from home as a direct result of COVID-19.

This may not seem like a significant percentage at first, but when compared to the August 2019 statistic from Global Workplace Analytics that 3.4% of the workforce is remote more than half of the time, the difference is striking.

What do we need to be effective remote workers?

Upon asking my Instagram followers this question I found that an astounding 68% of them require an external connection to access the tools they need to work remotely.

The Challenge

This poses an obvious challenge to IT administrators – how can they quickly and effectively make a sudden shift from enabling office workers to remote workers? The obvious answer is to leverage Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Remote Desktop Services (RDS). Giving remote end-users a connection to either their personalized desktops or a centralized server with the necessary applications should make it easy, right?

But, upon consulting with our resident EUC experts, Trentent Tye and Tom Fenton, I discovered that the move is, in fact, not easy. One of the biggest challenges of VDI and RDS is that they require true infrastructure. If IT needs to support a remote workforce and wants them to use VDI, IT has to first procure the necessary hardware and then spin up the virtual machines, a process that usually takes months. Due to work-from-home edicts driven by the COVID-19 threat, some of our customers have more than doubled their VDI infrastructure last week, which is miraculous given that for most the lead time to acquire and launch the necessary hardware could be up to 12 weeks. For our customers that have spun up new VDI infrastructure, adding ControlUp is relatively easy and fast to do.

Is there a solution?

Although possible with experience, trying to spin up a bunch of VDIs in such a short period of time may not be the best option during a global pandemic given budget and time constraints. So what is?

I received a response on Twitter from an infrastructure engineer who said that the “vast majority of [their] work for the last two weeks has been gearing up for [their] place shutting down.” So I asked them to elaborate on what exactly they are doing to prepare their organization to be completely remote. “I’m currently packaging up Citrix RemotePC for being deployed using [Microsoft] Configuration Manager.”

With Citrix RemotePC, the end-user can leave his/her work computer in the office and connect to it via their home device. With VMware Horizon, end-users can use their home device as a VDI client. All the administrator has to do is run the Horizon agent on the end-user’s work computer, add the computer to a desktop pool in a Horizon connection server, and entitle the user to that computer. Both these solutions require less time and considerably less hardware investment.

There is a clear implication here. In order to be able to effectively transition an organization to be remote in the necessary timeframe, an administrator must have the capability to monitor the remote physical machines that the end users are connecting to from their homes. ControlUp can simplify this – the ability to screen capture, screen shadow, reboot machines, and see exactly what issues end-users are having can lessen the stress on administrators as their organizations go remote. (Editor’s Note: watch this space for an upcoming post with tips and tricks on using ControlUp for monitoring physical machines.)

So, what now?

Now, I am not an infrastructure engineer, but I am an end-user. From my perspective, this sudden global pivot towards remote work is not only fostering the health and safety of employees, but is also improving productivity and overall quality of life. In fact, a 2-year study conducted by Stanford saw a 13% improvement in performance for remote workers. Since eradicating my hour-long traffic-riddled Bay Area commute, I’m getting more sleep. I’m eating healthier because I have the bandwidth to cook myself meals during the day. I’m able to put forth more effort into my work because I’m not being bogged down by all these external factors.

Will the coronavirus threat bring about a corporate reevaluation regarding how and where we work? COVID-19 is forcing us to be more effective and productive as highly-distributed organizations amidst global pandemic, which might be part of how we eventually can come out stronger from this time of crisis.