The road to recovery has been a bumpy one. The new school term brought with it fresh hope that the return to offices would gather pace, yet the most recent tranche of Government restrictions has only highlighted how fragile the situation is.
In recent weeks there has been a Government plea to get businesses back into the office, yet footfall figures show the message hasn’t been widely received, with businesses instead either taking their time to make such decisions or – as in a number of high-profile cases – not sanctioning the return to offices for many months yet.
What the lockdown did provide, in effect, was a global trial for remote working, giving businesses a rare opportunity to get remote working and collaboration policies right. Frankly, it’s an opportunity they can’t mess up. Generation Z will soon make up the majority of the workforce, and this is without doubt the approach they favor.
There can be no doubt that remote and flexible working technologies have been growing in importance before the pandemic hit, but many businesses had yet to adopt the appropriate software, systems and processes to make it truly work. This created a mad scramble once the UK went into lockdown in late March.
For many businesses, staff had been coming into the office, using machines plugged in to a local network with support, connectivity and face-to-face meetings. This remained the status quo.
The major operational challenge in lockdown was creating an environment where productivity was as high as possible, enabling staff to work with as little disruption as possible. For those with a robust business continuity plan, the transition was somewhat easier. But it certainly wasn’t the case for everyone.
Whether purchasing hardware such as laptops and headsets, to software services like video conferencing and cloud storage facilities, the immediate priority was keeping businesses moving.
We are very clearly beyond that stage now, with businesses now becoming increasingly aware that continuity must not come at the cost of security. There have been high-profile victims of cyber-attacks during the Covid-19 pandemic, with criminals taking advantage of ‘distracted and disorientated’ firms, finding holes to exploit in plans that have been hastily drawn up.
There are a number of fundamentals to a remote-working strategy that businesses simply cannot get wrong, or risk blowing this opportunity to re-model their business for the workplace of the future. They are:
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Staff using their own PC or laptop for work can often find adopting new policies and software both confusing and messy. They are likely to be competent on their own PC or laptop, but struggle with new software put in place to enable them to work effectively. There has been a clear increase in ransomware and phishing attacks linked to Covid-19. This form of attack isn’t likely to vanish any time soon. While the natural reaction is to focus on identifying and patching software vulnerabilities, one of the weakest security points is always the end user. The importance of keeping staff updated on what suspicious activity looks like and how they should respond is crucial, particularly when they are being asked to use new and unfamiliar tools.
The sharing of files, both large and small, is absolutely fundamental for staff that are widely dispersed. This migration to the cloud must be easy, with everyone getting the access they need to do their jobs effectively on mobile, web and desktop. This also extends to third parties outside of the organization itself. A further point to note is that connectivity issues at home are almost unavoidable, which can have a devastating impact on productivity. Giving staff the ability to work offline as well as online is often overlooked, but perfectly possible. As businesses adopt hybrid working policies, this ability to work seamlessly will be fundamental.
Not all cloud services have been created equal – and differentiating between them can be the difference between a successful cyber-attack or not. The more trust you place in a cloud provider to store your device, the more you put your business’ security in their hands. But the balance of power is shifting, with businesses recognizing that they have a choice, brought on by a gradual erosion of trust in ‘big tech’. The response is client-side encryption, where the cloud services provider has zero knowledge or access to files. This means data and files are already protected, preventing the chance of an attack. Coupled with a choice over where users store their data, a more active and engaged business will be better placed to fend off a cyber-attack.
While the Covid pandemic did usher in this enforced remote working trial, it could easily be argued that the economic impact would have been more damaging had the pandemic occurred 10 or 15 years ago, when communication and collaboration tools, secure VPNs, established videoconferencing tools and even wireless internet were not as established. Working from home would have been all but impossible.
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The lockdown has demonstrated the need for investment in both the technology, but also cultural tools to make flexible and hybrid working a reality. This means that, regardless of where they are working, staff will continue to bring their best value to the organization.
Despite all the tools at their disposal, simply waiting for the virus to pass isn’t a viable option for businesses. The workplace will never be the same again so businesses must consider this an opportunity to implement the right working practices that will see them navigate not only the Coronavirus crisis, but beyond.
Failure to empower staff, empower seamless working and adopt the right security tools could mean they walk from one disaster into another. Fortunately, there is a growing acceptance now among the C-Suite that remote working is not only possible, but beneficial to their business. The very nature of the workplace is going to change, with IT playing a leading role in making this possible.
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Tunio Zafer, CEO, pCloud (opens in new tab)