Mar 20, 2020 - Technology

Remote work shift calls for fast footwork

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Air CEO Shane Hegde received a frantic call last week from New York nonprofit Robin Hood (not to be confused with the brokerage app). The organization needed to immediately finish moving all its digital assets to the cloud as it was suddenly sending employees to work from home.

The only solution: He dispatched an employee to Robin Hood’s offices to pick up more than 20 hard drives and upload their contents as fast as possible.

The big picture: Despite the popularity of cloud-based work tools, all kinds of sophisticated organizations ran into technological challenges when the spread of the coronavirus suddenly forced them to send employees to work from home.

Between the lines: Many companies are set up to have some small portion of their employees working remotely at any given time, but few are prepared for all of them do so at once.

  • Not enough drawbridges: One popular remote work tool is the virtual private network (or VPN), which lets employees log into the company’s secure system without physically being at the office to log in. But as Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, whose company sells a cloud-based version of this tool, tells Axios, companies often don’t have these capabilities for all employees.
  • He adds that a 100-person travel agency recently called Cloudflare because it could only have five employees using a VPN at one time but needed to immediately move everyone home. Its outside IT vendor could come upgrade its equipment, but that would take two weeks, he says.
  • Other companies that are not usually set up for fully-remote work have to comply with government regulations or security requirements from business partners with whom they exchange data, adds Prince.

Even Silicon Valley’s tech giants ran into problems. Some Apple employees couldn't access work tools from home due to security precautions around unreleased products, while Yelp had to quickly purchase laptops for employees who didn't have them for work already, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: Many companies will likely rethink their policies on remote work, both culturally and technologically, after this crisis.

Editor's note: The story has been updated with the correct spelling of Shane Hegde's name.

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Why it matters: The move comes as tech companies hope to limit the spread of the COVID-19 both among their employees and the community at large. Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and others have also encouraged employees to work from home, albeit in most cases not as broadly as Google.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 11, 2020 - Technology