Three keys to a long-term remote working strategy

With remote working set to continue, short-term solutions must be developed into long-term strategies

For some time, remote working trends have been travelling one direction. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, forward-thinking enterprises were investing in the right mix of software and hardware to enable working from home, be it on a part-time basis for locally-based employees or a full-time basis in order to attract talent outside of the office’s proximity.

Undoubtedly, it’s these enterprises which will have rode the pandemic most smoothly. Others less prepared will have scrambled around for the right technology mix their remote workforce needs in the final weeks leading to lockdown, resulting in overly complex and under-performing strategies.

Fortunately, even those who formerly struggled with enforced remote working have a chance at redemption, and that’s because remote working is here to stay. The short-term pandemic fix is becoming a long-term ‘new normal’ strategy.

For this, employees themselves deserve praise in cementing change. Most workers have stated they don’t want to return to the office full time following the pandemic, citing boosted productivity and flexibility with working-hours enabled by remote working. Global enterprises are supporting their employees' wishes; Facebook has announced that half of its staff will work from home permanently, while Google is offering staff a working from home allowance of £800 to cover the costs of "necessary equipment and office furniture".

The road emerging from COVID-19 may be shrouded by uncertainty, however it is laid with a long-term remote working strategy. To drive your business through the mist, three key factors to remote working must be considered.

Security

This new remote-working model may pose the biggest security challenge your IT team has ever faced. These suddenly dispersed networks have created new vulnerabilities and amplified others – vulnerabilities that can seriously disrupt operations and potentially cripple businesses unless addressed through a strategic and systematic process.

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While the switch to remote-working was sudden for many businesses, it’s vital that any long-term strategy be supported by a secure, future-proof infrastructure able to support business operations wherever your workforce is based. Cyber threats continue to evolve, with malicious actors taking full advantage of new vulnerabilities created by the events of 2020. A robust appraisal of your existing security systems should be carried out without delay to inform whatever changes need to be made to properly protect your network.

For example, employees logging in remotely opens your business up to any of the vulnerabilities of their home networks – potentially unsecured systems that typically won’t enjoy the same levels of protection as on-premise networks with their firewalls, blacklisted sites and anti-spyware. And without the tools and systems available to spot threats, IT teams may be lured into a false sense of security – they may not know of a security breach, and consequently, remain unaware that data has been compromised.

Enterprises should begin integrating security into remote working operations by ensuring antivirus software is installed on each company-issued device. Each device should then be monitored, eliminating the threat posed by shadow devices, and set up with a VPN capable of encrypting the pathway from user to data. There are various endpoint security solutions available that combine a suite of protections along with remote access and oversight for IT teams. With these defences in place, an enterprise will be well on its way to ensuring employees are working securely.

Employees

Remote working simply isn’t possible without staff buying into the strategy. No matter what level of security you provide, if users struggle to conduct themselves, productivity will slump. Staff need to feel connected to the enterprise, which without physical contact with neither the office nor colleagues, is no mean feat. 

Here, communication is key. In addition to the host of daily and weekly ‘catch-ups’, staff universally need to be updated to the changes in work practices and security protocols. However, most companies simply aren’t doing enough.

According to VMware’s 2020 Global Threat Report, over a quarter of respondents to its global C-suite survey admitted to severe lapses in communication with employees, with almost 80% stating these lapses were slight or very significant. Interestingly, the report also found that larger employers reported higher breach frequencies. It appears greater resources devoted to security aren’t enough to offset the dangers of flaunting a large online surface area, which cyber criminals will look to exploit. 

Staff particularly need to be educated as to the threat of phishing emails and other scams, tactics which may sound simple but are very effective when met with the uneducated user. They should be encouraged to use only enterprise devices, strong passwords, or preferably, single sign-on authentication should be enabled across the business. 

Business continuity

There are occasions where no matter the precautions, and no matter the levels of security, breaches do occur. Damaging at the best of times, with the bulk of employees working remotely any disruption has the potential to grind business operations to a halt. 

However, although remote working puts businesses at greater risk compared to being based on-premise, it also presents an opportunity. With hindsight, businesses can look back at the problems they experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown and move to address them. 

Forensically examine bumps to business continuity and identify the tools and systems which, if implemented, would smooth them over. Crucial operations and systems should also be earmarked, with disaster recovery and backup strategies created to prevent downtime in the future. Automating these processes can play a role in enabling a swift response while mitigating human error and maximising efficiency.

The COVID-19 crisis has done enough damage for a lifetime. Now is the time to reflect and learn the lessons that it taught us.

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