#RemoteWork: Is it here to stay?

06.05.2020 08:08

The story so far

As the world has suffered through the Covid-19 pandemic, many aspects of our society have changed and may never be quite the same again. For many of us that has meant a global experiment in remote working, as government lockdowns and self isolation orders were decreed. For some sectors and companies it was not a huge disruption, as the whole concept of remote work is not entirely new. The amount of people who work remotely at least once a week has grown by 400% since 2010.

This is something which was happening before the pandemic took hold, yet the overall workforce remained largely on-site. Remote workers were still in the minority – only 3.4% of the workforce in the US roughly around 4.7 million people.

Though for some organizations and individuals switching to some kind of teleworking/remote environment meant a huge shift from business as usual. Team meetings online, digital onboarding even business networking events now all conducted from home. As the world went en masse into home office mode, what have been the effects? Once the pandemic is under control will we all simply return to our cubicles and communal office spaces? Or will working remotely become the new norm? In many ways remote work is here to stay, whether you like it or not. There are many reasons to laud this kind of setup, though surely it is not without its shortcomings.

Digital transformation has continued apace

One stark example is how quickly many organizations were able to switch to remote work setups. Suddenly decisions were made, no endless debates. Continuity was key. For instance, we’ve witnessed a huge percentage of universities across the world offer online lectures, student-to-faculty interaction is now done digitally, no questions asked. It has demonstrated that due to the advances of technology and the tools available to us we are able to carry on. What the big tech companies showed us in February has now been largely mirrored by major and minor organizations across the globe.

Were there challenges? Absolutely. One of the major examples that will go down in digital global history will be the initial stumbling blocks of our intense digital connectivity.

As remote work surged, so did video conferencing. We will all now have moments where we will snicker or smile, as tech or common sense has failed us.Naturally connecting via video conferencing or chat does allow us to connect.

Though for some not all have what it takes to exclusively work remotely at all times.

Yet, it is worth noting the benefits that we all must acknowledge. Both staff and employers will see that remote setups can lead to more flexibility, higher staff retention and increased productivity just to name a few. Of course there are caveats, and some workers will need extra support in adapting to the new normal. Despite all the benefits that seem to stem from this kind of collaboration there is an Achilles Heel: security.

One for all and all for one?

Naturally we are all interested in carrying on with work, paying the bills and providing food for our families. Though with a massive switch , like any major change it will be rough, and there are bound to be problems. Security awareness was already an issue before the lockdown, and given the last month security issues will remain to challenge us for the foreseeable future. Phishing attacks alone have soared to over 600% in the first quarter of 2020. Major healthcare facilities, hospitals and government bodies such as the WHO have all experienced persistent and malicious cyber attacks.

Many of these institutions have trained security personnel, but most companies will not have the resources. Or perhaps this was all centralised in secure internal networks and VPNs. Now with a company’s staff spread across cities and countries, hackers and malicious actors will have a field day in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities. To add to that, with many staff only having a very basic sense of cybersecurity, it will be an even greater challenge to ensure they work safely and keep sensitive data protected.

It is a danger that top management sees as a major risk.  In a recent study, over 57 percent of UK IT leaders believed that remote workers are a security risk and that they may be advertently or inadvertently expose their company’s data which could result in a breach. In fact those fears have been rising in the past few years. Just in 2018 it was 44 % and last year in 2019, 50% of the top IT brass believed their staff are a risk or liability.

Making remote work for everyone

There is no rulebook at this point in time, as much of what we are all experiencing -globally- is unprecedented. There is no youtube video, or the most seasoned life coach cannot give us all the answers. It is the same with remote work. Technology is not simply a silver bullet. It serves as an enabler, and there are two primary points to consider.

As companies and organizations draft or amend remote work policies they should take into account these two crucial factors:The technology factor and the human factor.

Simply providing employees with access to company data remotely, or connecting with web conferencing tools is only part of the solution. The other -and arguably most important- is how companies approach their employees. Are people ready to embrace this kind of work? Do they have the right guidance and the appropriate support?

As we’ve noted security will be of paramount importance. That’s why employees need not only to get the right tools and guidance from their team but also a secure environment to operate in. Additionally this environment needs to be intuitive and easy-to-use. 

Now is not the time to use complicated interfaces and tools that are cumbersome to the average person. Collaboration is how business thrives, and this should be part of any remote work solution.

Increasingly companies and management must realize that the remote setups they deploy now, might be in place for a very long time, and for some employees it may even be permanent. In a recent survey of CFOs by Gartner over 74% of finance leaders stated that

They intended to move at least 5% of their on-site staff to remote positions on a permanent basis. We may see that significant amounts of staff will work off-site in a remote work setup and some may return to the office on an irregular basis to conform with social distancing policies.

One thing certain, those companies and organizations who are not implementing a secure and safe remote work strategy for the foreseeable future, will find it impossible to continue with their business. Adaptation to this ‘new normal’ is now a business as well as a security imperative, as remote work seems very likely here to stay.

 

About the author: 

Sascha Fahrbach – Fudo Evangelist and digital influencer.

He engages himself globally to spread cybersecurity awareness, and the importance of PAM solutions to all organizations. He hosts various digital events for  Fudo Security for a global audience. He’s a media facilitator, hosts Fudo’s podcasts, conducts interviews and runs dynamic security webinars. He’s also a regular guest at a Central European TV broadcaster.