Jay Ryerse, Vice President of Cybersecurity Initiatives for ConnectWise, explains how organisations need to prepare for bringing remote workers back to a shared work environment after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Nearly three months ago, the rapid onset of COVID-19 brought with it the sudden move to home working that many of us have been getting used to ever since. It’s been a huge talking point and there are lots of employers who have had their views on the subject completely turned around. Where previously there was skepticism or outright opposition to the idea, today there are a range of businesses who are converts to the home working culture.
While some organisations will undoubtedly never return to their old office setup, many will - over time - bring people back to the shared working environment, guided by government rules. But in contrast to the overnight revolution that showed how agile many organisations can be under pressure, any return to the corporate office does have one thing in its favour: time to prepare. With that in mind, here are some useful ways to get the process started:
1. Retrace your steps during the home working transition – and document them. First of all, review what you have learnt from lockdown. By writing down the processes involved in implementing a remote working environment, businesses will be better prepared for possible future lockdowns and will know which mistakes to avoid.
This kind of documentation will also reveal potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Key questions to ask include: What was the impact of rushing to move businesses out of the office? In the process, were new security vulnerabilities created and how can they be mitigated as teams return?
2. Prepare for a remote workforce that can be turned on and off. The ability to quickly deploy remote workforces was a steep learning curve for almost everyone, so make sure your business is using the right tools to quickly and securely make this happen as needed. As we all now know, building flexibility into tech infrastructure is now much more important, and cybersecurity must adapt accordingly. Understandably, many businesses were completely unprepared for the sudden change in working conditions three months ago, but should a situation like this happen again in the future, there will be a wider expectation that organisations will more rapidly adapt and meet the needs of customers in a seamless manner.
3. Understand the short and long-term effects of the crisis on technology strategy. As organisations review the strengths and weaknesses of their shared office environments, there will be renewed interest around cybersecurity, backup strategies and outsourcing services. The cybersecurity industry should be prepared to meet a wide variety of needs as organisations find their feet and reactivate their shared office space. Customers will be looking for high quality and responsive support from their service providers, and this is another opportunity to reaffirm strong relationships and add value.
4. Be prepared for return to the office reluctance. Contrasting guidelines and varied information and opinion from friends, media and the government will make some employees apprehensive to resume working in shared spaces. In addition some employees will quite legitimately argue they were just productive, if not more so, working remotely.
As a result, businesses should re-examine making a long-term commitment to flexible working hours. This will not only help employees find their most suitable working patterns but also enable organisations to retain the positive elements of working from home seen in recent months.
What’s more, for some organisations, lack of office space may not be sufficient to allow everyone to return to work at the same time - planning for that possibility now will give them the option to stagger the number of employees working in the office at one time to maintain social distancing.
5. Maintain a clean office and communicate with your employees. At the end of the day, every employee wants to know their physical and mental health are a top priority. Increasing cleanliness, providing masks and checking in with your staff will let them know their health is valued. As time passes and we become more familiar with our ‘new normal’, it’s vital that we continue to maintain high standards of cleanliness and adhere to the processes we all know will help keep us safe.
6. Prioritise security through education. With an increase in virtual events and webinars over the past couple of months, online education has become an accessible resource for providing cybersecurity training for businesses who may not have had the time or resources to attend in-person sessions in the past. Businesses everywhere have gained valuable experience in delivering online training and have seen how effective it can be - even at short notice. We should all be taking this forward and investing more time to teach employees about the best practices to prevent cyber threats.
While this may be a challenging process, taking time to prepare will allow businesses to reopen shared office space that’s secure for employees and technology alike. That’s a great starting point for the months ahead.
Jay Ryerse, CISSP, is the Vice President of Cybersecurity Initiatives for ConnectWise. He brings more than 25 years of experience providing information technology and security solutions to businesses of all sizes.
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