On March 12, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, the infections disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) a pandemic, urging organizations to implement remote working policies in order to help their employees maintain social distancing and thus reduce the spread of the virus. Not surprisingly, transitioning to a remote workforce comes with a range of complex challenges and questions.
Some Are Better Prepared Than Others
For high-profile companies such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Goldman Sachs, or PwC, work-from-home policies are nothing new. Such companies already have the infrastructure and policy needed to move their employees out of offices and into their homes.
The same is, unfortunately, not the case for many small and medium-sized enterprises. In fact, only 24 percent of employees in the United States did some or all of their work at home, according to data published in 2018 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Now, countless organizations whose employees have been working exclusively side-by-side are being trusted into remote work. Business leaders across all industries are quickly discovering the challenges and risks that come with remote work, and only 30 percent of them feel their organization is well prepared for the rise in remote work.
An unprepared remote workforce is not only unproductive, but it also represents a huge security risk that’s already being targeted by opportunistic cybercriminals who don’t hesitate to exploit remote workforce-related vulnerabilities for their own financial gain.
Choose the Right Tools
When employees don’t share the same roof, team collaboration and communication can greatly suffer, bringing productivity down with them. To prevent this from happening, it’s essential for organizations to equip themselves with the right tools, and establish policies governing their use, to support their remote workforce.
All teams need a way to communicate in real-time easily, and modern communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Slack provide a plethora of features to keep information flowing and employees informed. To boost everyone’s morale and prevent employees from feeling isolated, organizations should encourage friendly banter between employees and perhaps even set up a separate channel to serve as a virtual lounge room.
Of course, there’s a fine line between employees exchanging the occasional joke or chatting briefly and productivity-shattering procrastination. Time-tracking tools like Toggl or RescueTime can be used to help employees stay in control of their time, and project management solutions such as Trello or Asana make it easy for managers to keep remote teams focused on their goals.
Tighten Your Security
Weeks before the WHO officially declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, cybercriminals had already been busy targeting remote employees, many of which swapped their hardened office computers for unprotected personal devices.
Cybercriminals impersonating government organizations and legitimate businesses have registered a large number of COVID-19-related domains and used them to launch targeted phishing campaigns, spread misinformation, distribute malware, and conduct other illegal activities, many of which focus on organizations with remote employees.
To avoid a cybersecurity disaster, organizations must tighten their security without standing in the way of productivity. All employees should understand that they’re responsible for their organization’s data and are expected to play an active role in protecting it by adhering to information security policies and taking advantage of the cybersecurity tools provided to them.
Employees should be required to access the organization’s internal network using a virtual private network (VPN) to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. Cloud-based services should be protected by multifactor authentication (MFA) to minimize the risk of a data breach caused by a leaked password or device theft.
Just as important as the existence of adequate security policies is the ability to remotely support employees if they encounter an issue that could result in a breach. While more tech-savvy individuals might be able to figure everything out by themselves, most people appreciate IT and cyber security support being just one message or phone call away.
Is Your Organization Ready For Remote Work?
The current pandemic has accelerated the migration to remote work and forced many organizations with limited resources to adapt to the unprecedented situation. Remote work arrangements eliminate or lessen the burden of commuting, provide better work-life balance, and save organizations a substantial amount of money.
However, for each of these benefits, there’s a challenge that requires careful preparation to overcome. Only organizations that successfully equip their employees with the right tools and tighten their security to prevent them from becoming points of intrusion can remain competitive in the era of social distancing.