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Stay at home: navigating the new normal

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay
(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay)

The entirely unprecedented crisis that Covid-19 has caused has forced many companies to move to a ‘work-from-home’ model, at scale, that no-one could plan for. With pressures coming from all sides, organisations have been left wondering: was their approach the best approach? Are there aspects of the situation they didn’t consider that they should have done?

To try and ease some of these concerns and gain some insider perspective, ITProPortal spoke to seven IT experts for their advice on how to navigate this ‘new normal’ as the world continues to work from home. 

Remaining collaborative from afar

“The impact of Covid-19 is changing our lives, and many of these changes are likely to stay with us permanently,” explains Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora. “It is critical to respond to these conditions to ensure that your businesses can not only survive, but thrive in this new normal.

“Among the challenges for enterprises is how they continue to transform their software delivery factory in a world that has gone beyond decentralised teams to decentralised – remote – teammates. Maintaining high-quality, efficient software delivery that delights customers and delivers value to the business has been dealt quite a blow with a suddenly mandated remote workforce. What is needed is complete portfolio and pipeline visibility, smooth handoffs between teams, governance and compliance, and a system that facilitates collaboration, even in a distributed world.

“Value Stream Management Platforms (VSMP) provide the foundation and visibility necessary to do just that. Visibility while working remotely during the Covid crisis and beyond is extremely important, especially if your development culture, like most, has been face-to-face. People, process and technology all play a role in achieving this, and technology leaders should address them all now in order to succeed in the new world we are stepping into.”

Time to act fast in the contact centre industry

“Coronavirus is affecting many operational areas across all industries and organisations are making contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event all of their staff are required to work from home,” comments Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “While at this stage that represents an extreme precaution, it may well prove necessary as the situation evolves.

“The contact centre sector is a prominent example where businesses need to act fast. Contact centres employ more people in the UK than any other industry, so being unable to support a remote workforce presents a significant risk. For those businesses still relying on legacy on-premises infrastructure, and particularly those that have been sitting on the fence for some time, Coronavirus could well act as the catalyst needed for change. With the likelihood of mass quarantine becoming a real possibility, it wouldn’t be surprising to see most contact centres start looking at how they can adopt a cloud-first approach which allows agents to work from wherever they are based, as a matter of emergency.”

Keeping agile

“In the wake of Covid-19, the move to working from home is in full swing in businesses across the world,” says Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing. “This has left companies scrambling to purchase new laptops, desktops and other devices that are now in short supply. While it’s always possible to connect each employee directly to an existing work desktop using remote desktop protocols, this can be tedious, challenging, time-consuming, and have significant security implications, especially working across a variety of devices and enabling VPN on these devices as well as software packages required.

“One option is to use VDI plumbing to set up gateway and connection broker services to take the hassle out of connecting ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) devices. The gateway gives your employee a secure point to connect into the office network and the connection broker handles connecting the authenticated employees to the correct desktop systems from anything with a browser.

“In the longer term, which may even still be under the scope of isolated workers, it is a good idea to think more seriously about virtual desktop solutions or terminal services. These solutions allow employees to work from home with as few disruptions as possible, and from a variety of devices, while keeping sensitive and business-critical data safely residing in a centralised data centre. These VDI solutions, at a minimum, should become part of your DR and long term planning.

“However businesses choose to do it, it’s imperative they get their remote employees connected as quickly as possible. The sooner they do that, the sooner they can focus on next steps that will allow them to stay productive during this challenging time.”

Know when to ask for help

“The ‘normal’ business landscape will likely be changed forever once all of this is over,” points out Richard Buxton, Director at N4Engage. “The biggest change will be how working environments continue to move away from traditional office-based to more remote workforces. A lot of the companies that were hesitant to deploy remote working before, or didn’t think they could operate in this way, have found that actually, they can. While it’s unlikely that all companies will be working remotely from now on, I do believe more organisations across all industries will have the capabilities to offer it as an option to employees, safe in the knowledge they can be just as successful working in this way.

“Deploying and effectively managing a remote workforce is a big task, and having the correct and all-encompassing strategy as support is paramount to success. Security concerns are a big factor for most companies, especially when it comes to setting up secure remote workforces in a crisis scenario. It can often feel rushed and unprepared.

“Utilising a managed service provider (MSP) can be a big help, as it can alleviate all of the stress around this and ensure that every precaution is taken - even when things have to move very quickly. They are able to use due diligence to ensure that the solutions implemented are suitable and meet the compliance, security and reliability needs of the business.”

The security element

"The shift to widespread remote working and collaboration, often via a cloud-based or hybrid environment, is a steep learning curve for most security teams,” emphasises Sam Humphries, Security Strategist at Exabeam. “In navigating this new environment, organisations are contending with a larger attack surface, as well as the new opportunities malicious adversaries now have to take advantage of public interest in Covid-19 in their attacks.

"Targeted phishing and malware campaigns have already caused disruption amid the uncertainty. In one instance, security researchers identified a phishing campaign impersonating the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the ploy to tempt users to download a free e-book with complete research and guidance on the global pandemic. It prompted a wave of warnings across the world for users to be mindful about the impersonations of cybercriminals and to verify authenticity before responding, sharing information or downloading anything.

“Security leaders need to make sure remote teams can work securely, applying best practice despite the unprecedented changes. On one hand, the security organisation needs to ensure remote employees remain vigilant and maintain sufficient cybersecurity awareness. However, security teams themselves will need to place more focus on email security and deploying threat intelligence solutions that can help identify new campaigns. Using behavioural analytics can support teams in identifying novel abnormalities and malicious attempts – this could include suspicious attachments, abnormal user domains or unusual email countries of origin. By baselining normal activity, behavioural analytics can automatically look for deviations from the norm and identify attacks as they happen, so security teams can respond faster when an attack occurs.

“We are all still adjusting to the ‘new normal’, however, taking the steps now to ensure your security teams are prepared and remote employees are clued-up for the changing cyberthreat landscape will be crucial in the coming months. On a positive note, it will also continue to benefit the organisation when we return to business as usual.”

"As companies around the world face today's unfortunate and uncertain reality a rapidly growing number of employees are joining the Work From Home culture,” explains Raif Mehmet, AVP EMEA at Bitglass. “This means that the security of organisations is now at an increased risk of being compromised due to the heavy traffic flowing in and out of the cloud. Salesforce, O365, Confluence, and Slack are just a handful of apps out of the thousands that currently host their information in the cloud. As a result, organisations must become increasingly vigilant in regards to securing apps their employees may have access to. Company data can be remotely accessed from anywhere in the world due to the cloud, and ensuring that all sensitive content is protected is a forerunner in this battle of cloud security."

Preparing for a shift in demand

“As businesses around the world are sending their employees home to work to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, more and more companies are relying on online business,” concludes Bob Potter, CEO at SentryOne. “Customers are physically not allowed to go into shops that have likely been closed down temporarily, so online shopping – for essentials as well as non-essentials – is currently booming. This puts a huge strain on the databases for company websites, some of which are now struggling to cope.

“Downtime now would have a huge financial impact, particularly at this time where every penny counts, and so IT leaders may benefit from implementing solutions that can help keep databases on track. Full visibility of where data is, where it’s going, and any bottlenecks that are starting to appear can help IT teams keep their databases running at full capacity, enabling the possibly unusual influx of online customers to complete their requests quickly and smoothly. Priorities are likely to be elsewhere at the moment, but for business to continue as close to normal as possible, ensuring that management of your databases is covered should be front of mind now, so that it doesn’t become a worry on your mind later.”

IT Experts