COVID-19 Work At Home Support
With the onset of widespread stay-at-home orders throughout the United States at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAQH transitioned all staff to work-at-home as of March 19, 2020. As the Senior Manager for IT Support Services, it was my responsibility to ensure a smooth transition and ongoing support for all employees working at home. Our transition was very smooth and required only a few new processes to be established due to our existing business continuity preparations.
CAQH had already put in place long-standing business continuity goals that I helped implement that put us in a strong position long before the pandemic began, as we were almost completely prepared for an eventuality that might render our office space unusable. These preparatory measures included:
Every employee was already issued with a CAQH managed laptop, with 99% of employees using it as their primary workstation.
Most of our in-house IT services were hosted either in the cloud (Azure & Office 365) or in a remote private datacenter, reducing our reliance on in-office equipment.
Our IT Help Desk is outsourced and run remotely by our managed service provider for IT, who perform desktop support via phone, email, and screen-sharing as standard.
I migrated our phone system to a cloud PBX (GoToConnect) in 2019, so all employees have a softphone application installed on their laptops and have received training on using it.
All employees have access to and are familiar with a variety of remote working platforms such as GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Slack.
An existing work-at-home policy allowed all employees to work 1 day per week at home, which meant most employees had at least some experience of working remotely.
In early March as it became clear that a period of full-time work-at-home might be coming, we made a few additional preparations before work-at-home was announced:
While our outsourced help desk supports the majority of user issues, some support is done in-house by the IT Support and IT Security teams (particularly for complex issues unique to our systems or regarding our security agent software). To allow this to continue without access to the MSP's remote management tool (Kaseya), we purchased subscriptions to ConnectWise ScreenConnect to allow internal support agents to remotely access end user devices and run remote management commands for troubleshooting issues that our Help Desk was not able to address. The workstation agent for ConnectWise was deployed to all but a handful of workstations in the first week of March, with outstanding installs being performed individually via our MSP's remote management.
Issues requiring hardware repair are dealt with by replacing the user's laptop with a working one, with equipment shipped both ways via FedEx.
Hardware Deployment & Replacement
Normally all workstation imaging is performed in-house using Windows Deployment Service (WDS) and custom scripting for application installs. To enable this process to happen remotely, the following steps were put in place:
All current laptop stock (new and spares) was shipped to the residence of the employee responsible for imaging.
A new virtual WDS server was stood up on high-end workstation hardware with full disk encryption at the employee home office, and a hardware VPN set up on an isolated wired network to allow the imaging server and associated workstations to communicate seamlessly with the office Active Directory environment.
New users log into a freshly-imaged workstation for the first time with the Active Directory credentials by using a ConnectWise Host Pass issued by IT Support so they can remotely log in and establish AD cached credentials on the workstation.
These measures not only allowed CAQH to transition quickly and easily to full-time work at home, but also allowed us to provide for new employees as we continued to hire for new positions. As of June 2021 we have onboarded new employees equivalent to more than 1/3 of our total FTE headcount with the same access to systems and equipment as our pre-pandemic employees.