In April 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced its latest reporton the state of home working in the UK – given a somewhat unexpected new shape as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Between the 9thand the 20thof April 2020, 45% of adults in employment in the UK said they had worked from home at some point over the previous week.
The same report underlines that workers in the information and communications industry are most likely to work from home, followed by those involved in professional scientific technical activities, real estate activities, agriculture forestry and fishing, financial and insurance industries, and education. In other words, an impressively broad spread of sectors are facilitating home working, and this only looks likely to increase. Thanks to a combination of improved technology and superfast internet access at residential premises, demand for more flexible working practices and of course, the ongoing pandemic, organisations are going to come under greater pressure than ever before to facilitate effective home working for those employees who are able to do so.
The question is – how to do it.
Facilitating effective remote working
For organisations to facilitate effective remote working, a few different technological and procedural elements need to come together.
From a technological perspective, all staff need to be equipped with both the hardware and the software they need to carry out their responsibilities smoothly from home. Remember that if home working is going to last longer than a few days, the shape of this might change – staff might need to be equipped with larger screens, for example, or provided with more comfortable office chairs.
From a procedural perspective, staff need to be able to collaborate and communicate with each other as effectively as possible. They need to be able to share information, ask and answer questions, and work from the same documents.
A virtual desktop can be an ideal way of bringing many of these functions together.
What is a virtual desktop?
A virtual desktop is essentially a remoted hosted desktop. It makes everything that a user would expect to access via their work computer – the tools and applications, the documents, the operating system, the processing power – available remotely via the cloud. Which means, in turn, that the user can access the same computing experience whether they are in the office, at home, or somewhere else altogether. It is the foundation for many organisations’ remote working practices.
What are the benefits of a virtual desktop?
Virtual desktops offer myriad different benefits. Here are some of the most salient.
Security and compliance
Home and remote working can open up new security and compliance challenges for organisations. Employees may suddenly be using their own devices, and they are certainly using their own internet connections. Many organisations within the UK have experienced data breaches due to remote working.
Virtual desktops enable users to remain secure wherever they are working from – and enable organisations to monitor and control user access through passwords and multi-factor authentication. And because no applications or data are actually stored on the device itself, should that device be lost, stolen or infected with malware then there is no risk to business-critical information.
Particularly for small and fast-growth organisations, cost-effectiveness of business technology is a critical concern.
Virtual desktops, as a cloud-based service, enable organisations to pay for precisely what they need, rather than overinvesting in computing power or hardware which goes unused, or underinvesting and needing to upgrade more quickly than they would otherwise have to. Virtual desktops come with fixed monthly costs and therefore enable long-term budgeting and business planning, whilst virtual desktops can seamlessly be scaled up and down as staff join or leave the organisation.
There are other elements of cost-effectiveness to consider too. Using a virtual desktop infrastructure lowers maintenance costs and might even remove the need to employ certain in-house IT personnel. Most virtual desktop plans include dedicated, round-the-clock support so you can allocate budget which might have gone on maintenance and advice to more strategic growth. And of course, facilitating more remote and home working can in itself reduce on-premise costs in relation to energy consumption and even rent, if you end up needing a smaller office space.
Backup and disaster recovery
With tools, applications, data and documents stored in the cloud rather than on employees’ individual machines, the risk of losing critical information in the event of fire, flood – or a simple broken device – is mitigated. Working through a virtual desktop means that data is always automatically backed up, no matter what happens to individual hard drives and offices. It also means that if a particular member of staff is unable to work for a while due to illness or similar, then colleagues can seamlessly access their documents and pick up on tasks.
A virtual desktop enables you to manage application settings across all devices at once, whether rolling out an entirely new tool, or making adjustments to an existing application. Every member of staff can be provided with the apps they need, configured precisely to their needs. And when changes need to take place, these can be rolled out on a single computer, as alterations made to the ‘parent’ desktop are automatically reflected across all connected devices.
Employee experience and engagement
Any business which wants to be an employer of choice needs to think carefully about employee experience and engagement. Staff need to be empowered to work in the way which suits them best, and they need to be properly equipped to carry out their tasks to the best of their abilities.
Virtual desktops make this a reality by fostering more flexible working practices, something which is likely to become even more in demand amongst employees following the COVID-19 pandemic. They enable staff to work as effectively from home as they do in the office, and also to remain connected and collaborative with their colleagues.
Choosing a virtual desktop: Why Windows Virtual Desktop
So, your organisation is convinced that a virtual desktop is the right choice for underpinning home working – but how do you choose the right virtual desktop for your needs?
At APH, we recommend Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), particularly for small and medium sized organisations. Here’s why:
WVD is hosted on Microsoft Azure. It describes itselfas the only virtual desktop infrastructure which ‘delivers simplified management, multi-session Windows 10, optimisations for Office 365 ProPlus and support for Remote Desktop Services (RDS) environments’. In other words, WVD enables multiple users from across your organisation to use Windows 10, likely to be the foundation for most of your core business applications.
WVD comes with sophisticated built-in security and compliance features, meaning your sensitive data is protected and it is easier for your organisation to demonstrate compliance with key data protection frameworks and other regulations.
WVD is a highly cost-effective virtual desktop. A license to access WVD comes with several useful Microsoft 365 subscriptions, and you do not have to pay for the Microsoft Azure resources consumed.
Setting up WVD is easier than deploying an on-premise virtual desktop solution. Services like the gateway and the load balancer are taken care of by Microsoft. Furthermore, in April of this year, Microsoft announced a series of updates to various parts of the overall Microsoft 365 ecosystem, including a whole new management experience for WVD. Previously, a substantial amount of previous Microsoft Azure experience was necessary to set up WVD, but now setup has been made much easier. It is quicker and more straightforward than ever before to get started with WVD – something which is particularly important for small and medium businesses, or those which are trying to rapidly adapt to home working because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a related point, Microsoft has now made it easier for video meetings over Microsoft Teams to be set up through WVD, which should further enhance home working through the virtual desktop.
Finally, from a management perspective, Microsoft has created more visibility around how people within your organisation are using different applications and devices, and how they communicate and collaborate. This opens up possibilities for more productivity, more employee-centric working practices and more business improvement.
In other words, Windows Virtual Desktop does not merely enable home working – it makes home working work.
If you are interested in getting started with WVD, get in touch with APH today.