EASTON — Mid-Shore business leaders are exploring how technology can help keep their employees safe and their businesses running as the coronavirus, or COVID-19, sweeps the nation, including the Eastern Shore, with one case reported in Talbot County.
Lane Engineering President and Principal Barry Griffith said their leadership team started planning a response to the COVID-19 outbreak two weeks ago, with office protocols progressing from vigilant hand-washing to cancellations of in-person meetings.
The engineering firm has been conducting client meetings through phone and video conferencing, and is practicing social distancing in the office. Griffith said the leadership team is meeting daily as the situation unfolds, with employees updated on an ongoing basis, and assessments and training for remote-access capabilities underway.
“We have always been a family-oriented business, offering employees flexibility in telecommuting on a project basis, for example,” said Griffith. “Moving all of our employees to a telecommuting environment, however — should it come to that — would be unchartered territory. It’s something we’re now exploring as part of our COVID-19 preparedness.”
Griffith said he and his team are gauging the company’s capabilities to move more work online and away from physical offices for its employees. Lane employs more than 30 people in its Easton, Cambridge and Centreville offices, with a multi-disciplinary staff including civil engineers, planners, landscape architects, property line surveyors, environmental planners, CAD technicians, and other technical and administrative support staff.
“With the help of laptop computers and secure data connections to our firewall, for example, many of our staff do have the capabilities to continue projects working from home,” Griffith said. “Sometimes it can be as easy as sending a monitor home, so that work on CAD drawings can be continued, for example. Or as difficult as poor internet or Wi-Fi connections at home.”
Eric Monnen, president of Monnen Technology, an IT security firm based in Easton, said he and his team are working over the weekends and late in the evenings responding to customer demand to enable work-from-home environments.
“We’ve been busy deploying solutions so that companies can continue doing business at a time when working in a physical office is no longer an option, for example,” he said.
Monnen uses Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Network, or SSL VPN technology, to connect remote users securely to organizational resources and data via encryption software installed on remote computers. All network and internet connections are routed through the company’s firewall, adding another layer of security to data and connections.
“Most importantly, we’re maintaining the integrity of the organization’s data through a secure, virtual tunnel so to speak, providing a secure way to access data so that our clients and their staff can work from home,” he said. “To keep data secured, all internet traffic is directed through the corporate network while the home user’s machine is connected, shielding a business’s data from attack.”
Monnen said beyond securely connecting to data outside of the offices, businesses also need to plan how to remotely answer phone and fax lines, and determine how employees will communicate beyond email with one another outside of an office environment.
“Video conferencing is a great resource, for example,” Monnen said. “And your phone and fax lines can be set up to forward to multiple users.”
“Whether we’re helping a pediatrician’s office, working in the service industry or with an engineering firm, we’re also taking precautions with our staff and working remotely,” Monnen said. “We all have a part in doing what we can to stop COVID-19, and we’re here to help businesses minimize disruptions by maximizing the use of technology, especially right now.”
Monnen said professional offices often need access to desktop computers in the office to work on office-based systems. He said clients use cloud-based remote access apps such as Zoom, GotoMyPC, Splashtop and JoinMe to share information, with Microsoft and Google productivity suites enabling remote access to data and to facilitate collaboration.