I really did not want to write this month's article about "what I learned during the blizzard" or how what I learned during the blizzard is important to solo practitioners, but the reality is that I did learn a great deal which can be applied. So, rather than be stubborn and not share what I think are some important (and not so important lessons) to avoid being obvious, I just decided to go with it.
Staying in Touch and Sharing Information
Although the MSBA had electronic discussion groups in 2003, there were far fewer members on them and much less reliance on how important the sharing of information would become. In March 2003, I actually wrote an article about how to use electronic discussion groups, the value of them and some rules for using them effectively (www.msba.org/departments/commpubl/publications/bar_bult/2003/march03/techtalk.htm).
How Time Changes
During the Blizzard of 2003 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_blizzard_of_2003), which at the time was the worst to hit the region, law firm technology did not connect us to the extent that it does now. I looked at some diary entries from the days during the blizzard and I was not even able to get my MSBA e-mail from home at that time. There were no smart phones. There was little, if any, remote access, except for the largest firms. Although the Internet was certainly around in 2003, it was not as robust and interactive as it was during the blizzard last month.
In 2010, more and more practitioners are remotely connected between their offices and their homes, so the impact of not being able to get to your office was not as great as in the past. Although I have been able to access my MSBA e-mail, as many of you know, I did not have access to my MSBA files on our network.
social media and remote access allowed me to spend the time learning and connecting in ways that was not possible just a few years ago.
Between the first and second blizzard, I tried a 30-day free trial of GotoMyPC (www.gotomypc.com, or http://tinyurl.com/ykug8rg), a Citrix product, which allowed me to access all my MSBA files from my laptop at home. There are fewer issues with security when using a product like GoToMyPC, but systems and policies must be created to make certain that you are not opening up your office computers to problems because of lax or non-existent security measures on your home PC or laptop (read some FAQs regarding security at http://tinyurl.com/3p9maw). It was very easy to set up, and it allowed me to get a lot of work done that otherwise would have waited until we returned to the office or I was forced to come to office under difficult circumstances.
In researching this article, it appears as though the biggest security risk is not remote access from your own computer or laptop but in using "public" computers, or those other than your own, to access your office computer.
If you are only going to use your computer from home or your laptop or smartphone, you will have more control over the safeguards that you will have to have on those devices. That is why it is critical that you establish rules to make sure that your remote computers are just as secure as your office computers (assuming for that you have taken serious steps to make sure your office computers are secure).
If you are the only one in your office who will have remote access, then the need for strict rules are diminished, but if you are considering offering the opportunity to others in your firm, you need to create policies for "telecommuting".
One of the most important rules to create for anyone who will be doing office related work from a remote location is who has access to your computer/laptop. If you or anyone else in your firm is doing client work on a home PC or laptop, then it must be controlled in the same way in which your office computers are monitored. It must be password-protected and others must not use the computer. It cannot be the computer that is used by your children or other family members; there is confidential information on the computer, and it must be treated as such.
Below are some helpful and current articles on remote access (Note: This article is available online at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/index.htm, under "Tech Stuff".)
- Remote Work Policies. http://mobileoffice.about.com/od/getmobilized/a/remotepolicy.htm
- Using the Internet to Connect to the Company Office. http://tinyurl.com/yfsrdvq
- The Secret Passage: Securing Remote Access. http://netsecurity.about.com/od/perimetersecurity/a/aa060304.htm
- What is VPN? http://compnetworking.about.com/od/vpn/a/what_is_a_vpn.htm
- VPN Tutorial. http://compnetworking.about.com/od/vpn/a/vpn_tutorial.htm
If all this discussion about remote access gives the impression that I think we should be working all the time, that is not the case. But technology has now given us the ability to work more efficiently despite some disruptions, and that is not a bad thing. Another lesson I learned while trapped at home was how much worse television was than I imagined. The Internet, social media and remote access allowed me to spend the time learning and connecting in ways that was not possible just a few years ago.