Navigating Remote Assistance in Air-Gapped Environments: Tips from a Software Consultant

Remote support in air-gapped environments

In the world of software consulting and remote support, especially within air-gapped environments, the importance of not just having solutions but being the solution cannot be overstated.

At Kinetic Data, we pride ourselves on being more than a service provider; we are a team of dedicated professionals who strive to bring unparalleled expertise and a human touch to every challenge. Our approach is grounded in the real-world experience and seniority of our team members, which allows us to navigate project complexities with finesse and efficiency.

This post details a recent, real-world example of how our goal of truly “being the solution” came to life in providing remote assistance in an air-gapped environment. And we do mean “remote”—as in Korea, 14 time zones away from our Minneapolis headquarters.

The Situation

Imagine being back in middle school, seated at a desk with a divider between you and your partner. On the desk were randomly arranged shapes—circles, squares, triangles. The challenge was clear yet daunting: one of you held a card depicting a specific arrangement of shapes, and you had to guide your partner to replicate it without seeing the card.

The twist? You couldn’t see each other’s shapes or peek around the divider. This exercise parallels the remote assistance hurdles software consultants face when collaborating with clients in air-gapped environments.

Recently, I collaborated with a Department of Defense (DoD) client who was just starting with our Kinetic Platform. This project brought its unique challenges. First, the client operated in a time zone 14 hours ahead of ours, complicating our communication.

Second, their work within a closed network barred us from using common remote assistance tools we typically depend on, like screen sharing. Despite these obstacles, it was essential to develop effective communication strategies to guide clients toward their goals.

In this post, I’ll detail our strategy to overcome these challenges and collaborate successfully to deliver remote assistance in an air-gapped environment.

Strategy 1: Face-to-Face Interaction

Meeting in person at the start of a project made a big difference. I had the opportunity to meet our client in person right from the beginning. This face-to-face interaction allowed us to establish a strong working relationship quickly and lay the groundwork for effective teamwork.

Being in the same room also fostered trust and openness, with nonverbal cues and body language playing a key role in enhancing our understanding and collaboration.

Strategy 2: Effective Use of Chat Tools

Effective communication became even more critical when working remotely, especially under tight security constraints that prevented external connections. Recognizing this, we established a shared chat space for all team members, including our client and internal team.

This space was designed to facilitate accessible and open communication, allowing for real-time discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and the free flow of ideas. This informal yet structured setup proved invaluable, enabling continuous collaboration and idea exchange, a practice we maintained.

Strategy 3: Shared Environment

The challenge of users not being able to show us their issues directly often led to a lot of guessing, especially when there was confusion over terminology or with new users. To overcome this, we set up a sandbox environment on our hosted platform.

This special area allowed users to connect through a different network, making demonstrating their issues or trying solutions on our systems more accessible. This approach significantly improved our ability to understand and address their needs effectively.

Strategy 4: Embrace Good Virtual Meeting Practices

Our virtual meetings encountered challenges due to video equipment restrictions, which prohibited a “cameras on” approach. The absence of visual cues made it challenging to judge engagement or confusion. I adopted various techniques to ensure clarity amidst these limitations, including reiterating problem statements and maintaining consistent terminology.

Additionally, implementing good meeting practices, such as addressing individuals by name, actively soliciting input, and summarizing meeting points, action items, and key decisions, proved instrumental in mitigating these challenges.

Strategy 5: Video Recordings for Remote Assistance

One of our team members went the extra mile for complex activities like a system upgrade. She meticulously replicated the customer’s environment as closely as possible and recorded herself performing the necessary steps. This recording was shared with the customer, allowing them to watch and review the process at their own pace.

The client could easily replicate the steps on their system by combining visual demonstrations with voice commentary. The ability to pinpoint specific moments in the video facilitated precise troubleshooting, ensuring quick success.

Strategy 6: Remember Your Customer Is a Person

Remaining responsive and adaptable was essential in remote collaborations. When the client posed questions, they were often in the middle of their work, and a delayed response could lead to a loss of momentum. To address this, we established prearranged “office hours” to ensure prompt responses and facilitate near-real-time collaboration despite time differences.

It was essential to acknowledge that frustrations and technological hurdles were inevitable. Maintaining empathy for users, who grappled with these challenges daily, was critical. By infusing interactions with understanding, encouragement, good humor, and a lot of repetition, we created a supportive atmosphere conducive to productivity and positive outcomes.

Final Thoughts on Remote Assistance in Air-Gapped Environments

Navigating the complexities of an air-gapped environments requires more than just technical solutions; it demands a partner that is both an expert and a guide. Throughout our project with the DoD client, our team showcased technical prowess and commitment to understanding and meeting our client’s unique needs.

By focusing on strategies emphasizing clarity, empathy, and collaboration, we overcame the challenges and reinforced our position as helpful experts. We believe that the success of a project lies not just in the solutions provided, but in the expertise and approach of those who deliver them.

As you consider your needs for professional services, remember the importance of asking about the experience of the team within your unique environment. Our experience has shown that the right team can make all the difference.